9 Steps to Get You Ready to Move Abroad
Taking vacations to your favorite faraway destination just isn't enough for you anymore. You need to be in the place you love full-time. You must eat your favorite foods, see your favorite sights, and be immersed in this place every single day. So, then, it's time to pack your bags and move abroad. If you're ready — and we mean really ready — to make that leap, we're here to support you. But not just emotionally support you — you have real-life friends for that. Instead, we're here to help you with a few of the logistics involved in moving to a new country.
There are indeed ways to make the entire process manageable. To help you start, we've rounded up nine steps every future expat should take before they leave their home country no matter where their next destination may be.
1. Start saving for your move — and tack on an extra 10% while you're at it.
Moving down the street can be expensive, but now multiply that by 10 and you may get close to how much it costs to relocate across the world. Global living costs include typical items like housing deposits, movers, and transportation, but it also comes with a few fun additions like visa documents, international insurance, and even the potential need to hire a lawyer to help you through it all.
This is when the age-old advice of having six months' worth of savings indeed becomes sound, but that really should be a minimum when moving abroad. Start by researching exchange rates, the cost of living in your new home, and then work with your income to develop a monthly budget that will fit your move. Then, try to save six months' worth of that budget before your move, so you're ready for any surprises that may come your way.
2. Apply for or renew your passport ASAP.
You must have a valid passport to apply for a visa. Some countries require you to have a valid passport for at least six months beyond your final travel date. If you do not have a set return date and your passport expires while you're abroad, you can renew your passport at your local U.S. Embassy or consulate.
3. Apply for a visa.
Getting a visa is perhaps the most nerve-racking part of the moving abroad experience, as they could really deny you for any reason at any time. To help mitigate that risk, check with your destination's official government website to see what supporting documents you need for your application and ensure it's all in good working order. For example, if you're applying for a student visa in the United Kingdom, you'll need to provide a copy of your offer letter from the university and proof that you have enough money to support yourself during the course of your studies. You may also need to set up an appointment at a U.S. Department of Homeland Security application support center to submit your biometrics (e.g. fingerprints and a photograph). Give yourself plenty of time to get these documents together before your visa appointment to avoid any stress.
4. Think about health care.
Health care varies significantly around the world, and your access to a local system could depend on what kind of visa you hold. Before you go, find out if your current health care provider will cover you while you're abroad. Also, take a moment to ask your health care professionals for medical records and get all the necessary immunizations. You can find which ones you'll need around the world here. You'll also need to find out if your prescription medications are permitted in the country and whether they're easily accessible. If not, plan to bring an extra supply with you or figure out alternative means of getting them.
Once in your new nation, it's a good idea to figure out the local health care system immediately and whether you can gain access to it with your visa status. For example, in Portugal, you need a residency card to acquire a health number, which allows you to take part in the nation's health care system, but you need to go through all the proper channels to get there first.
5. Register with STEP.
Stay informed by enrolling in the U.S. Embassy's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to get the most up-to-date information about your new country's safety conditions. Your enrollment will also help the U.S. Embassy quickly notify you in case of an emergency, whether it's a natural disaster or family issue.
6. Do plenty of research.
Even if you're relatively familiar with where you're going, you'll need to do a lot of research to plan for the big move. Among the many questions you should ask yourself and consider:
Shipping vs. Storage vs. Selling
Will you ship your belongings to your new residence or store them in your home country? You'll want to weigh the logistics and costs of each, which can add up to thousands of dollars. You may also wish to sell your belongings if you're making a more permanent move. If you're planning to move abroad with two suitcases and a carry-on, find out now where you can purchase must-have items like furniture, bedding, kitchen appliances, and utensils. (As someone who recently moved from the U.S. to Europe, I would deter you from shipping major items. I shipped a small crate of personal belongings from the U.S. in July 2021. At the time of publishing, the package has yet to arrive. Simply put, try to Marie Kondo your life and only bring along the things that absolutely fill you with joy.)
Will you drive, or is your new spot accessible by public transit? If you plan to drive, you'll want to consider the pros and cons of shipping your car, buying a new one, and renting a car. Depending on which country you live in, you may also need to get an International Driving Permit (IDP) before you move (and a new driver's license when you do).
Get acclimated to the culture before the big move by researching the history of your new home and how its government currently operates. Read up on its social norms and rules of etiquette, indulge in books and movies that take place in the country, and learn a few words and phrases if you're moving to a place where you don't know the language. Researching and understanding the culture will help offset culture shock and minimize social faux pas. And if you don't already speak the language, invest in classes, or at minimum, try downloading a language-learning app, which will help you fit into your new surroundings and make new friends.
7. Contact your bank and phone providers.
The Expat's Manual recommends keeping your current bank account to maintain your credit score and make direct payments for any ongoing bills or outstanding loans. But do make sure to inform your bank and credit card company of your move, and consider getting an international credit card to avoid foreign transaction fees. You should also research banks in your new city and find out what paperwork you'll need to set up a savings or checking account.
Since international cell phone plans can get costly, we also suggest asking your carrier to unlock your smartphone ahead of your trip. Once you're abroad, you can purchase a SIM card from a local carrier and replace it with the one in your phone to make local calls with ease.
8. Make copies of important documents.
Make sure you have backups of all your important documents, including your passport, driver's license, birth certificate, immunization records, and any visa information. These copies will come in handy for any residency appointments. If you do want to store this information online, make sure to do so on a secure website that comes with two-factor authentication to keep your identity safe.
9. Throw a goodbye party.
Bid adieu to your friends and relatives with one last hurrah (complete with all your favorite comfort foods) and get excited for the most unforgettable experience of your life. Then, invite them all to come to visit you so they can experience your new home, too. Yes, it will make you a little sad, but know that there are only good things ahead that will bring new joys you've never even dreamed of before. Now, off you go to explore a whole new world filled with possibilities.