Every year tens of millions of people move across the world to call a new country home. They do so for a whole variety of reasons — for work, a lower cost of living, or a better quality of life. Whatever their reasons for emigrating packing up your life in one country and moving to another is a major undertaking.
Trust me — I speak from experience! In March 2015 my wife and I packed up our life in London, England and moved over 5,000 miles to San Francisco, California. You can read a little background to our story on the About page.
The key lesson I have learned from my experience? To move abroad successfully you must plan ahead. Every year embassies and consulates report having to help out their citizens because they’ve found themselves in financial hardship or run into legal troubles.
Your exact checklist will vary depending on where you are moving to and your specific circumstances. My wife and I have been quite fortunate: we didn’t own a home in the UK, we do not have children, and our parents are still spritely young things. However, if you’ve got assets or care obligations for example, your move may be more complicated.
Most moves will, however, require thinking about similar issues. What, then, were the 10 major areas on my moving abroad checklist?
#1 Research visas and other legal entry requirements
Unless you’re an EU citizen moving to another EU country, you will very likely require some sort of visa in order to enter and live/work in your chosen destination. In general the local embassy will have details on their website detailing their specific requirements and how to apply.
For example, my wife and I are in the United States on a J-visa (because, as a research scientist, my wife qualifies as a visiting scholar), though there are literally dozens of categories. Whatever your visa category the paperwork is likely to be extensive, so start your research early.
#2 Research housing options
Great! You’ve been granted a visa and you can legally enter your chosen country. Next you need to decide on where you are going to stay.
It might be tempting to try and arrange a lease or even to buy a property before you move — Don’t do it. While you should certainly do extensive research ahead of time — into the best districts to live in, the average property prices, the local housing laws etc. — it will never match the experience of actually paying it a visit.
Arrange a short-term rental (very easy since the arrival of Airbnb) to give yourself time to settle in and explore before committing. We spent our first two weeks in San Francisco squashed into a basement studio. It wasn’t comfortable, but it gave us the breathing room to find the great apartment we’re now leasing.
#3 Start to familiarize yourself with your new home
It’s important, in order to minimize the possibility of culture shock, to get a good handle on the main events, politics and cultural goings on in your new home. This is particularly important if, like me, you’ve never actually been to the place you’re moving to!
In addition to general preparatory reading on expat life, I started regularly reading the San Francisco Chronicle and the SFist blog months before I moved to California. I became so up to date with the city’s news that I was, for example, complaining about Muni’s reliability before I’d even stepped foot on a bus!
#4 Decide on what you want to move abroad with you
In our case this was really simple — barely anything. Squeezing as many possessions as you can into airline sized cases and selling literally everything else as we did is a bold move, though.
However, both storage at home and international shipping are expensive options. You’ll want to think carefully, and early on, about whether you want to take most or all of your possessions with you and to plan/budget accordingly.
#5 Agree how you will stay in touch with friends and family
For so-called “digital natives” this barely merits mentioning — you’ll stay in touch via Facebook of course. But how will you keep in touch with your older, potentially less tech savvy, friends and relatives?
In our case this meant gradually introducing our parents to Skype, FaceTime and Google Hangouts. I recommend introducing the concept of video-chats early and scheduling a few trial runs while you’re still around to offer technical assistance.
Here in California we have an eight hour time difference with most of our friends and family in the UK, so we find it easiest to schedule catch-ups in advance to avoid any unfortunate middle of the night calls!
#6 Understand your costs and prepare a budget
The vast majority of people will be moving with paid work already set up or with an existing pension. But, while you’ll know what your likely income is going to be, you might be not be so up to speed with your probable outgoings.
Before I moved to San Francisco I didn’t really believe that anywhere could be more expensive than London — but here I am paying $2000 a month for a studio apartment! Research housing costs and use a cost of living index, such as Expatistan, to get a sense of the likely cost of food, transport, utilities etc.
#7 Plan for your health
If, like me, you’re from a country with a universal health service, organizing health insurance might not be the first thing on your mind. In places like the United States it is really important — so as to avoid potentially huge bills — that you have health insurance.
Check with your future employer about what coverage they offer and whether it will extend to your immediate family. In particular, check when the coverage will begin and, if necessary, arrange temporary insurance for the period between your arrival and your employer-paid scheme kicking in.
You’ll also need to inform your doctor, dentist etc. that you’re leaving and to obtain from them copies of your medical and dental records to take with you.
#8 Tell the relevant people that you’re moving overseas
In addition to your doctor and dentist, there are likely to be a huge array of state authorities and companies that need to know you’re leaving. In most countries you will, at a minimum, need to inform your tax office and your social security office that you are leaving the country.
You’ll also need to get in touch with your bank, your pension fund, your mobile phone company, your utilities companies, any organizations you have direct debits with… you get the picture! Tell everyone you’re leaving.
#9 Redirect your mail
It’s a good idea to set up a formal mail redirection service with your post office. Of course you won’t know where you’ll be living in your new country, so ask a friend or family member if they’ll accept your redirected post for you.
#10 Plan / hold a leaving party
Or better still, have your friends and family organize one for you!
This is a non-exhaustive list of things to consider when moving abroad. You may want to consult a legal professional to assist with some of the more fiddly paperwork – it depends on your circumstances!
Have you recently moved? What were the things you thought about (or wish you’d thought about!) before you left? Share your thoughts in the comments.