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Whether you’re moving abroad for a work assignment, a new adventure, or a fresh start, our comprehensive moving abroad checklist will help ensure a seamless transition. We’ve compiled the best advice and most important to-dos into a step-by-step guide for expats. From navigating visa requirements to choosing the right moving company, here’s everything you need to do before moving abroad.
Step 1: Research Your Destination Country
Learn everything you can about your destination country, from its visa requirements to its health care system and housing market. The U.S. Department of State website is a good place to start. Pay particular attention to any official travel advisories that pertain to your destination.
Determine Visa and Immigration Requirements
Research the legal requirements for traveling to and working in your destination country. Identify the type of visa for which you should apply and the documentation needed to obtain it. At the very least, you will need a valid passport. Depending on the country and visa category, you may also need to provide financial statements or find a sponsor.
Consult with your destination country’s embassy or consulate for more information about the visa application process. Seek advice from an immigration attorney if you would like to apply for dual citizenship or become a permanent resident.
Research Health Care and Insurance
Your current medical insurance is unlikely to cover you while you’re living abroad, so research the health care system of your destination country. There are four main types of health care systems:
- Beveridge Model: In this model, the government pays for and provides health care. It is funded by tax money and free at the point of service.
- Bismarck Model: This model is similar to the U.S. system, except the insurance companies operate as nonprofits.
- National Health Insurance: Also known as a single-payer model, this system is a blend of the Beveridge and Bismarck approaches. The government pays, but public and private actors provide services.
- Out-of-Pocket: In some countries, health insurance is either extremely limited or nonexistent. Instead, consumers pay for health care directly.
Secure Housing and Accommodations
If you are moving for a temporary work assignment, look for affordable hotel accommodations or an apartment to rent. For a longer stay, it may be worth investing in a home you will own. Reach out to people in your network for referrals, or ask your employer for assistance. Alternatively, you can search for housing online or consult a local realtor.
Look Into Transportation and Infrastructure
Whether you are moving for work, retirement, or adventure, you will need a way to get around in your new country. Research the local infrastructure and transportation options, then plan accordingly. Depending on what you find, you may need to set aside money for a bus or subway pass, bring a bicycle, or buy a car.
Research Climate and Weather Conditions
Familiarize yourself with the climate and weather conditions of your new home. Find out what to expect during different seasons so you can pack appropriately. Research the following:
- Does the area experience any extreme weather, such as hurricanes or blizzards?
- How many hours of sunshine does the area get each year?
- What is the average annual rainfall?
- What is the average temperature in summer and winter?
Read Up on Culture and Communication
Research the culture and language of your new country. You can find a wealth of resources online or at your local library, from travel guides and blogs to full textbooks. If you know someone from that country, ask for their expert tips.
Even if a majority of citizens speak English as a second language, it is both wise and respectful to learn at least the basics of the native language. Apps such as Duolingo or an immersive language program could help.
Step 2: Sort Your Finances
After your initial research, spend some time sorting out your finances. Meticulous financial preparation will empower you to navigate your move with confidence.
Contact Your Bank
Inform your local bank about your upcoming move. Ask what international services it offers and whether any fees or restrictions will apply. Depending on the answers, you may need to open a foreign bank account online or visit an international bank as soon as you arrive. You should also notify your credit card company so it does not flag foreign transactions and freeze your account.
Make sure you have sufficient cash on hand to cover immediate expenses when you arrive at your destination. If your home bank cannot convert your funds to the appropriate currency, ask for a referral. Keep an eye on currency exchange rates in the weeks leading up to your move so you can get the best possible value for your money.
Determine Tax Implications
Research the tax implications of moving to a different country. Consult a qualified tax professional for help complying with the tax laws of both your home country and your destination. Make sure you understand your tax obligations and reporting requirements as well as any exemptions or tax treaties that may apply.
Budget for Your New Location
Finally, create a budget. Research the cost of living in your new country, and compare it to your current budget. Then, go through your existing budget line-by-line, and make adjustments as needed.
Set aside some extra money for one-time moving expenses. Request quotes from the top international moving companies to find out what it will cost to ship your belongings to your new address. Make sure your moving budget includes full-protection moving insurance and covers all travel costs.
Step 3: Plan Transportation
With your finances sorted, turn your attention to travel arrangements. Make sure your plan accounts for all of your family members—including pets—and your personal belongings.
Create an Itinerary
Craft a timeline or itinerary for your move. Start by reserving your moving date with a reputable moving company. Your itinerary should also include the following details:
- Anticipated move-in date
- Flight departure and arrival times
- Any transfer flights or layovers
- Transportation to and from the airport
- Car rental details, if necessary
- Hotel check-in and check-out times
Ship Personal Belongings
The best way to ship your personal belongings depends on the volume and type of items you need to transport. Identify three or four long-distance moving companies that handle international moves, such as International Van Lines. Then, request and compare quotes to find the best deal.
Arrange Transportation of Pets
Some international moving companies offer pet relocation services, or you can hire a separate pet relocation specialist to help you navigate customs and transportation. You can also work with the airline directly to arrange for your pet to travel with you. Smaller pets may be able to ride in a carrier under your seat, while larger pets would have to ride in a travel crate as cargo.
Book Flights and Accommodations
Research and compare the various airlines and flights available, accounting for not only price but also baggage fees, refund policies, and potential layovers. Consider the proximity of the airport to your final destination and the transportation options available. If you have to stay in a hotel, look for one near key amenities or attractions you’d like to explore.
Step 4: Pack for the Move
Packing for an international move requires even greater efficiency and organization than for a local or interstate move. Here are some top packing tips to streamline the process.
Sell or Store Belongings
Go through your belongings carefully and decide what to sell, donate, store, or bring with you. For instance, it may be less expensive to buy replacements for large or heavy objects than to ship them. If you have items that you want to keep but cannot take with you, consider renting a storage unit for short- or long-term use.
Regardless of whether you hire professional packers, it’s important to pack the essentials yourself and keep them with you in a carry-on or checked bag. This includes toiletries, a few changes of clothing, important documents, your phone charger, your laptop, and outlet adapters, if necessary. Make a packing list of what you need to tide you over until the moving company delivers the rest of your belongings.
Stock Up on Medications
If you have any ongoing prescriptions, stock up before your trip. Make sure you have enough to get you through the transition period while you figure out the country’s health care system and find a new doctor. Research the availability of your medications in your new country and any regulations that might make them difficult to obtain.
Organize Your Travel Documents
Keep all of your travel documents secure, organized, and easily accessible throughout the moving process. This includes your birth certificate, social security card, marriage certificate, medical and dental records, proof of vaccinations, driver’s license, travel insurance policies, and work permit.
Following our comprehensive moving abroad checklist will help you have a promising start to your new life. Planning ahead and packing efficiently will reduce the hassle and expense associated with an international move. Ensuring you have ample funds to get settled is also important. We recommend opening a bank account in your new location to avoid international fees and exchange rates. Make sure you book travel and accommodations well in advance to avoid a last-minute scramble and rate hikes.
We recommend hiring a professional moving company to help with the logistics of your international move. Be sure to get quotes from at least three movers before making a decision.
Moving Abroad FAQ
How much money should I save before moving internationally?
You should save several thousand dollars before moving internationally. At the very least, you will need enough to cover travel, shipping your belongings, your visa application, and your accommodations.
What is the best way to find a job in a new country?
The best way to find a job in a new country is to see if your current employer has offices in other countries or will allow you to work remotely from another country. Alternatively, you can check online job boards, company career pages, job fairs, and your existing network of contacts for opportunities.
What are some countries that are good to move to?
Which country that’s best for you to move to will depend on your personal preferences and lifestyle. However, some countries that are good to move to include Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, and the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and the Netherlands. All of these countries consistently rank high on lists of the best countries overall and countries with the best quality of life.
Do you have to have a visa to move abroad?
Visa requirements vary depending on your destination and nationality as well as the length and purpose of your stay. In most cases, you do have to have a visa to move abroad. However, some countries may allow U.S. citizens to stay for a limited period of time without a visa.