Moving abroad is an adventure pregnant with promise and excitement. Unfortunately, this journey can come with some unexpected surprises along the way which can easily derail our happiness and peace of mind if we aren’t adequately prepared. Listed below are seven things no one told me about moving abroad, but secretly wished they would have mentioned before my friends and I disembarked overseas to study a semester in Europe (who could turn down Christmas in Paris?), stay a few extra months in Greece, and teach English abroad for a couple of years after college. While those moments were priceless, we could have saved ourselves a lot of stress and anxiety with adequate planning.
To help make your transition easier, learn from our mistakes and scroll through these 7 tips to help with your move abroad:
Start the paperwork now. Moving internationally can be complicated, especially when applying and paying for passports or travel visas. Don’t wait until the last minute. This will save your sanity and prevent any mistakes from interfering with your plans. It can take weeks to get the right forms to the correct offices for approval, filing, and forwarding to the next place.
It’s gonna take money- a whole lot of spending money. To quote one of our favorite Beatles, George Harrison, in the song I’ve Got My Mind Set On You, “It’s gonna take plenty of money to do it right child”. Many of us envision the expat lifestyle as cheap and affordable, however moving to a new country can be expensive. Figure out how much a visa will cost or if you need to pay for other legal clearances, factor in travel, shipping costs for furniture or vehicles, storage fees, return trips back home (yes, while it might not seem relevant there is always a possibility that you might actually get homesick or want to be home for the holidays at some point), new living arrangement expenses, travel insurance, and if you will need to pay taxes in two different countries. In addition, be able to cover upfront costs like down payments or deposits before leaving so you can still eat and live in relative comfort once you arrive. There will come a time when budget friendly beans and rice aren’t exactly exotic and you crave a more substantial culinary experience. Start planning today by saving money on your bills anyway you can, because all the penny pinching and budgeting will be worth the sacrifice once you get to open your front door to the world.
Get your finances organized. In addition to unexpected expenses, moving abroad can wreak havoc with our debit cards, bank accounts, and credit cards. Today, a majority of our finances happen instantly, so it is important we are able to access our money from our new homes as soon as possible. Also, many institutions charge additional fees if cards are used internationally. Avoid any surprises by talking to your bank and credit card companies to find the steps you need to take BEFORE moving. Take it from me, you don’t want to have your accounts frozen due to suspicious activity in a foreign country and then have to wait weeks for a new card to be issued and mailed to your new residence. For me, my bank stopped my card after a $14 debit from the UK. Suddenly, paying for a meal or renting a car becomes a little more difficult.
Visit before you commit to moving abroad. The expat lifestyle is appealing for many different reasons, but before selling everything and settling down in a foreign country, be sure to visit first. Take a few days to tour your potential new home and get a feel for the local atmosphere. This will allow a sneak peak into living conditions, cultures, costs of living, housing markets, and more, all the while familiarizing yourself with the community and customs. While on a tour during my first college semester abroad we visited Greece and decided we wanted to spend extra time there in between college and the real world. This visit helped us mentally and physically prepare before the big move.
Learn basic language and customs. Many of us choose this lifestyle for the experiences and opportunities of being immersed in a new culture. However, it can be frightening and dangerous if we aren’t able to communicate effectively with the local population. For us, the Rosetta Stone program was a lifesaver and helped us practice pronouncing words and phrases correctly long before we set foot in our new host countries. Also, take time to learn basic phrases and social etiquette to ease the transition and prevent you from committing a social faux pas. When we stayed in Africa to help teach English classes with a dear friend for 8 weeks at a missionary school, we encountered a local “sour milk” concoction that our midwest upbringings couldn’t stomach. However, it was rude to refuse this treat and we had to navigate this delicately without offending our host families.
Start getting rid of things now and travel light. Many of us have a lot of stuff and it is essential to start paring down all collections and household goods. By embracing our inner minimalist, we will be saving on shipping fees and storage costs by not storing all your belongings. It is also a good idea to take a few minutes to digitalize all of your photos, favorite movies, important documents, certificates, passports, VISAs, vaccination records, and more just in case you lose these priceless mementos and papers in transit or your luggage gets lost. When we sold our stuff, we were able to pocket a nice chunk of change to add to our travel funds and, in the long run, we didn’t really miss all of our extra purses or old movie stashes.
Plan for your pets. Our furbabies are part of the family and often go where we do. However, moving abroad can pose some unique challenges for our four legged friends. Contact the State Department Embassy for the country you are moving to get the requirements for animals being brought into the country and ask about mandatory microchipping, quarantines, vaccination requirements, and more. Make sure to provide an updated vaccination record and all the necessary paperwork required so your pet can enter your new home without spending any time in quarantine. When we lived in Greece for a bit, we were able to bypass a lot of problems by simply microchipping our dog and making sure he was up to date on all of his shots before our parents brought him over. I had a friend who wasn’t so lucky and her pooch had to spend 21 days in a quarantine simply, because the country required a wait period before traveling after being microchipped and receiving a rabies shot.
What advice can you share for others before moving abroad?