According to the U.S. State Department, about 10 million Americans live abroad.
More than 25% reside in Mexico, while Canada, Great Britain, Germany, and Australia round out the top 5 destinations.
While most expats are between 25 and 34-years-old, retirement age folks make up the next largest demographic.
It’s no surprise that moving locally or to another state can be a life-changing experience.
Now add in language barriers, foreign bureaucracies, COVID-19 restrictions, and culture shock, and moving abroad can be downright chaotic.
Starting a new life in a new country can be rewarding and exciting too, but it’s not for everybody.
If you do decide to move abroad, you’ll need to spend even more time planning and jumping through hoops than those relocating domestically.
Thankfully, our international moving checklist will help.
Before reading on, check out these helpful pre-move resources:
Proceed with caution
Like most new experiences, living abroad is often far different in the early going than it is years down the road.
Many new expats fall hopelessly in love with their exotics surroundings, but this phenomenon is usually short-lived.
In other words, making long-term commitments too soon may be unwise.
Here we’re talking about –
- Selling your home in your native country
- Buying land or a home abroad
- Starting a business
- Marrying a local
Many expats do some or all of these things later on, and most couldn’t be happier with their decisions.
But for others, the expat life is best enjoyed in small doses.
If you decide that living overseas isn’t for you, too many commitments can make returning home difficult.
Get an early start
Now that the disclaimers are out of the way, we’ll assume that you’re definitely moving abroad.
If so, you’ll need to get organized, stay motivated, and start the moving process three to five months before your proposed move date.
Bar none, there’s no better way to sabotage an international move than by procrastinating.
Research possible destinations
Once you’ve made a list of likely international destinations, fire up the laptop and find out everything you can about each one.
Pay special attention to:
- Crime rates
- Cost of living
- Cleanliness and sanitation
- Cultural norms (like the prohibition of alcohol)
- The availability and quality of housing, healthcare and schools
- Job prospects and average salaries for expats
- Number and distribution of expats (most live in major cities and resort towns)
Remember, culture shock is one of the main reasons why many expats return home erlier than expected.
Did you know?
In some countries, many crimes go unreported, so official statistics can be misleading.
Pay close attention to entry regulations
Whether you’re moving for work, adventure, or a once-in-a-lifetime volunteer opportunity, understanding entry requirements is key.
Official country websites are great places to start.
Additional resources include –
- The U.S. Department of State’s country information website
- The website of the embassy or consulate in your new host country
- Online expat groups and forums
- Your employer (if moving for work)
- Your school (if you’ll be studying abroad)
- Your aid or volunteer organization
Of course, entry rules and regulations are subject to change, and important items can and do get “lost in translation.”
Ultimately, making sure you and your family have everything you need is your responsibility.
Address housing issues on both sides
Each year, between 20 and 40% of all expats return to their home countries prematurely.
The truth is that living in a foreign country can be stressful and depressing.
As such, it’s a good idea to give the expat life a test drive before selling your house in your home country.
In addition, signing short-term rental contracts is usually the way to go, especially for the first year.
This will allow you to get your bearings without locking yourself into an apartment or area that you’re not crazy about.
Did you know?
Young travelers often stay in guesthouses and extended-stay hotels while getting familiar with their new countries.
Consider storing most of your items while you’re away
International moves aren’t cheap.
Worse yet, many expats ship their household goods abroad, only to discover that:
- Their appliances don’t work
- Their furniture looks out of place
- They prefer living in their own country
Instead, consider placing most of your items in long or short-term storage before departing.
Most employers pay for moving costs when relocating employees internationally, but negotiating relocation benefits may be up to you.
Whatever the case, employment contracts often contain clauses stating that employees must repay moving costs if they return home before fulfilling their commitments.
Storage can be expensive, but it’s far cheaper than getting stuck with a $20,000 international move bill.
What you take with you will largely depend on how old you are, where you’re going, and who you’ll be traveling with.
We suggest sticking to:
- Vital travel documents
- Professional gear
- Electronic devices like phones and laptops
- A few personal and recreational items
Generally speaking, the less you take the less burdened you’ll feel.
If the expat life suits you, you can ship the rest of your household goods once you’re all settled in.
Nothing is more important than your health and well-being
The quality and cost of healthcare vary greatly from country to country.
For young expats, healthcare isn’t generally a big concern.
In fact, many forego expat insurance altogether, especially in developing countries where basic healthcare costs are low.
That said, for older professionals, families and retirees, healthcare is often a major concern, especially when prescription medications and regular check-ups are necessary.
You’ll want to find out if the country has qualified doctors, if pharmacies carry the medications you’ll need, and whether or not you’ll need a prescription to get them.
If possible, bring enough medication to get you through the first month, and seriously consider purchasing a decent expat health insurance plan.
On the downside, international health insurance isn’t cheap, and many plans don’t cover routine doctor visits or emergency medical services.
Did you know?
In many developing countries, counterfeit medications are a huge problem.
Think about your finances
Few things are more important than supporting yourself and your family while living abroad.
For many retirees, moving to less developed countries is a great way to stretch pensions and nest eggs.
Whether you’re a retiree, job seeker, or a digital nomad, living within your means is essential.
Thankfully, doing a pre-move financial analysis isn’t much different for international moves than for domestic ones.
In the end, it’s all about income versus expenses.
Cost of living varies significantly from country to country
Cost of living statistics are easy to find online.
When researching the cost of living in your new country, you’ll want to consider:
- Public transportation
- Clothes, housewares, furniture and electronics
- Food and drinks at markets, restaurants and bars
- Healthcare and expat medical insurance
- Tuition at colleges, universities and international schools
- Fees for work permits and driver’s licenses
- Airfare for trips home to visit friends and family
Did you know?
The internet is a great tool, but nothing beats communicating with expats who already live where you want to move.
Consider the job market for expats in your field
If you don’t have a new job lined up, you’ll want to spend ample time researching the job market before heading out.
Be realistic, and take the following factors into account:
- Your age
- Personality type
- Ethnicity and language(s) spoken
Finding out that your prospects are limited to volunteering, teaching English and pouring drinks at expat bars can put a serious crimp in your long-term plans.
In addition, some countries will require you to get a special visa and/or work permit if you plan on finding a job.
Did you know?
If money isn’t a major concern, a six-month stint as a volunteer will look great on your resume, and it could lead to a paid position later on.
Taxes, taxes, and more taxes
Wouldn’t it be great if the Internal Revenue Service forgot about you when you moved overseas?
The IRS never forgets, but for most Americans getting taxed twice isn’t a concern.
Here’s why –
According to the tax pros at eFile, those able to pass either the Bona Fide Residency or Physical Presence Test can generally exclude up to $112,000 in foreign-earned income.
This is huge because few expats make anywhere near $112,000.
Conversely, your foreign income will probably be taxed by your host country if you’re employed by a local company or an international company with an office there.
Either way, meeting with a tax professional before moving is always a good idea.
Get your documents together
Especially now in the age of COVID, would-be expats are routinely turned away at connecting airports and their final destinations, simply because of documentation issues.
Talk about having the wind knocked out of your sails, not to mention wasting hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Documentation varies by country, but you’ll almost always need:
- A valid passport
- Proof of vaccination (for people and pets)
- Results from a negative PCR test (this is becoming less common)
- Proof of travel insurance (if required)
- Alternate forms of identification like a driver’s license and Social Security card
Though you may not need them to get in, the following documents may be necessary to find a job, get married, open a bank account, or leave the country with children:
- Up-to-date resume or CV with detailed work history
- College diplomas and professional certifications
- Birth and marriage certificates
- Divorce papers
- Adoption and child custody papers
The week before your departure, double and triple-check that you have everything you need.
Did you know?
Some countries (like Vietnam) don’t issue visas on arrival, so you’ll need to get one online or at an embassy in your home country first.
Give that old passport a thorough once-over
Just because your passport hasn’t expired doesn’t mean it’ll get you into your new country.
Many countries require that passports remain valid for at least six months from your date of arrival.
If yours will expire a month after you get there, you may be turned away.
Likewise, most countries require that you have a certain number of empty visa pages left.
As a rule of thumb, if your passport expires in nine months or less and has fewer than five empty pages, you’d be wise to get a new one before heading out.
Ask your pets if they want to move abroad with you
They’ll definitely want to go, but moving pets internationally is far more complicated than moving them domestically.
To prevent the introduction of exotic diseases, nearly all countries have strict entry requirements for animals.
Verifying each country’s requirements can be tricky, which is why it’s often best to hire a specialized pet mover.
Regardless of how you move your pets, you’ll need:
- Immunization records
- Veterinary records
- A vet-issued international health certificate
In addition, some countries restrict less common pets like birds, lizards, turtles, and fish, while others prohibit dangerous animals like pit bulls.
In many cases, your pets may need to endure a long quarantine period before being released.
Check out this post for more helpful information about moving pets.
Make sure everyone knows that you’re moving overseas
Long before your actual move date, you’ll want to notify, update or cancel:
- Banks and credit card companies (your cards may not work overseas if you don’t)
- Magazine subscriptions
- Insurance companies
- Streaming services like Hulu
- The U.S. Postal Service
- Social Security Administration
- Utility companies
- Your old employer
- Your landlord
- Friends, family members and coworkers
You don’t need to inform the IRS that you’re moving overseas, but you’ll need to let them know you’re an expat at tax time.
Find a top-notch international moving company
From passports and packing lists to teary moving day farewells, relocating to a foreign country can be a trying experience.
If you’re traveling lightly, you may be able to take your personal items with you on the airplane.
When this isn’t doable, you’ll need to do the unthinkable – hire an international moving company.
Don’t worry, vetting international movers isn’t that much different than it is with domestic movers.
If corporate relocation isn’t an option, ask friends, family members for referrals.
Check shortlisted companies out with the Better Business Bureau and online review sites like Yelp.
Then, once you’ve verified that they’re licensed and insured, get your free quote by scheduling a virtual or in-home survey.
Did you know?
On international moves, all cartons must be inspected or packed by the moving company.
Last-minute tips for moving abroad
- Have enough cash or traveler’s checks on hand to get you through the first week or two
- Familiarize yourself with currency exchange rates and watch out for exorbitant transaction fees
- Get a sim card at the airport when you arrive
- Get a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phone number so you can call home inexpensively (or for free)
- Give yourself a few days or weeks to relax, recuperate and explore before looking for a job or long-term apartment
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