5 Things You Should Do Before You Move Abroad

If you take your time and plan it right, you can absolutely make a big move abroad work. See more real estate pictures.
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For some, it's the romance and adventure of the unknown; others found a better job, or maybe connected online with someone halfway around the world and decided to go for it. Whatever the reasons for leaving one's home country for a more or less exotic realm, it's one of the biggest moves you can make, and success in your new life abroad often depends on how well you plan for it.

There's the obvious -- setting up housing, researching schools if kids are joining you, asking the post office to forward your mail. But moving abroad requires more than that for a smooth transition, and people who skip important steps can end up right back at home where they started -- or worse, stranded in a foreign country in less-than-ideal circumstances.

The fact is, making a new life abroad will probably have some hiccups. So will making a new life in the next state, for that matter. But with some good, solid planning, patience and knowledge, you can absolutely make it work.

Here, five things to address before you get on the plane -- preferably well before. The first requirement on the list, in fact, could take months or years to accomplish ...

5
Save Your Money
Relocating to a far-off destination like Cape Town, South Africa, will require some serious savings.
Relocating to a far-off destination like Cape Town, South Africa, will require some serious savings.
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If you've ever made a big move, whether to the next town or to the opposite coast, you know it takes cash, and often a lot of it. When you're moving to another country, it takes a lot more.

Consider all the unique costs of moving and living abroad: visas and other legal clearances, travel to get there, long-distance shipping of possessions, big-ticket purchases if you decide to store large items like cars or furniture at home, return trips home in case of emergency (or homesickness), possible taxing by two different countries. It's a big list of potential financial drains, and ideally you'll have the money to cover all of it before you leave.

Experts recommend having at least seven months, preferably nine months or more, of living expenses in hand before you make the big move. Running out of money in a country where you don't speak the language, don't know the customs, and/or don't have a support network is even scarier than going broke at home.

If you don't have that much saved up yet, your best move is to wait. If waiting isn't an option, make sure you have enough to cover initial housing costs and emergencies, including a trip home and unexpected medical needs.

Next, boring but crucial ...

4
Do Your Paperwork (and Check It Twice)
Figure out any tax complexities before the big move -- you may wind up paying in two countries.
Figure out any tax complexities before the big move -- you may wind up paying in two countries.
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Oh, the red tape surrounding an international move -- and the unbelievable inconvenience of arriving at your far-off destination only to find out you're missing a document required for you to live there.

Moving to another country is not quite the simple, hop-on-a-plane-after-a-bad-breakup thing we see in the movies. You will be filling out official visa and passport forms for your current country of residence and your intended one, making copies of every important document you have ever signed and every policy and legal document (will, power of attorney, etc.) you have in your name, jumping through the hoops of global money transfers, submitting new tax information to the authorities, obtaining necessary health clearances, and, if you are bringing along family members or pets, arranging for them to have the proper documentation (and quarantine arrangements, for non-humans) to accompany you.

If any necessary forms are incomplete, you will find yourself in a pickle of international red tape, overseas phone calls, and, in the best-case scenario, visits to your country's embassy so someone in the know can help you figure out your options. In short, don't get on that plane without confirming, more than once, that you have everything you need, signed, completed and backed up in case of loss.

For help knowing exactly what your individual documentation needs are, have a look at the U.S. State Department's travel resources and living abroad tips.

Next, something lots of people don't realize ...

3
Research Shipping vs. Storage

Strange but true: When relocating to a far-off locale, bringing along the car, furniture and other big-ticket items you already own can cost you more than buying new (or new-to-you) stuff once you arrive.

It can seem counterintuitive, but in many (if not most) cases, the shipping costs of an international move can be so high as to defy the financial logic of using things you've already paid for. Especially if the move is overseas, you can end up paying thousands of dollars just to get your car to the new destination, not to mention furniture, clothing, books and other dear objects -- and that's just for the overseas part. You'll also have to pay to get those possessions from your current home to the shipper's starting point and from the arrival point to your new home on the other end.

You'll have to do the calculations, of course, and if you plan to make your international move a permanent one, you may decide it's worth it to have certain large items at your new location. But if you anticipate returning in a year or two, you'll probably find it's more affordable to store your belongings at home and buy what you need when you get to your new location. A fully furnished apartment and locally purchased car (which would then meet local emissions, safety and driver-side standards) can go a long way toward simplifying, both logistically and financially, an international move.

Next, don't forget your shots (for a start) ...

2
Address Any Health Needs

Any time you travel to a different country, you're faced with variations regarding health and medical regulations. Depending on where you travel, these differences can be slight or dramatic; either way, you'll save yourself a lot of trouble if you address them before you go.

You will likely need, at the very least, proof of the vaccinations you've already had as a child (the obtaining of which can be tougher than you think) or as an adult. On top of that, you may also have to get boosters or, in some cases, completely new vaccinations if your destination is particularly exotic.

Making sure you've had the right shots -- and documenting that fact -- is just one component of the medical issues surrounding international relocation. Just a few of the myriad other ones include the following:

  • Will your current health insurance policy cover you as an expatriate? (Answer: Almost definitely not. Moving abroad will most likely mean you have to buy a new policy, probably from a company that specializes in international coverage.)
  • Do you have back-ups for eyeglasses, contact lenses, medical appliances and anything else that might be difficult to replace early on in your relocation if it gets lost or damaged?
  • Will you be able to bring refills for any necessary medications? If so, how many, and how will you get new prescriptions when you run out?
  • If you are bringing prescription medications, have you checked to make sure none are considered illicit drugs in your prospective country of residence?

It's also a good idea to research the overall health care system of your destination country so you know what to do, whom to call, where to go and what to expect should you need medical attention (or a simple checkup) during your tenure abroad.

Finally, back to the cash ...

1
Set Up Your Finances

With everyday instant transfers and apparently seamless banking integration across borders, you may think your current monetary setup will move with you to your new home. In fact, you need to set up access to your finances in your new country, and do it quickly.

Since cross-border banking clearances can take some time to be confirmed and instituted (partly a side effect of money-laundering crackdowns), you should begin the process of choosing a bank, at least for a local checking account, and delivering the necessary paperwork before you actually move. Your current bank or the U.S. State Department Web site can help you navigate these waters.

Other money matters to address before you leave include setting up automatic payments for any recurring bills that will continue to come in while you're abroad; determining which credit cards you can use internationally without incurring fees (and letting your credit card companies know you'll be relocating so they don't freeze your account due to abnormal charge locations); and talking to the IRS or an accountant to figure out what your tax situation is. You may have to file in your home country and/or home state in addition to your new one -- or not. To avoid any trouble down the road, figure out early exactly who will be expecting tax forms from you once you relocate.

This may sound like a lot to manage, and in truth, it often is. But regardless of your reasons for making a life for yourself abroad, you'll probably find the effort to be more than worth it once you get to your new locale.

One final bit of work to do before you leave? Learn a few words in the language. Moving to a new country without being able to say "hello," "goodbye" and "excuse me" in the local language is kind of tacky.

For more on international travel and the logistics of a big move, check out the links on the next page.

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Sources

  • Diggs, Barbara. "7 money moves for living abroad." BankRate. (Jan. 16, 2012) http://www.bankrate.com/finance/personal-finance/7-financial-considerations-for-expatriates-1.aspx
  • Gallagher, Karin. "Preparing for an Overseas Move." Transitions Abroad. (Jan. 16, 2012) http://www.transitionsabroad.com/publications/magazine/0007/preparing_for_overseas_move.shtml
  • "Preparing to Go Overseas." U.S. Department of State. (Jan. 16, 2012) http://www.state.gov/m/fsi/tc/c49333.htm
  • "Tips for Traveling Abroad." U.S. State Department. (Jan. 16, 2012) http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/health/health_4971.html
  • Wilson, Andrew. "Finding the Best International Health Coverage." Living Abroad. (Jan. 18, 2012) http://www.liveabroad.com/articles/health.html