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How to move to another country

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by Jessica Render ConsumerAffairs Research Team
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The life of an expat is full of adventure and new experiences. You get to immerse yourself in a different culture and possibly learn a new language. Making a move from the United States to another country isn't easy to do on the fly, though — even if you're not moving to a permanent residence. It takes planning and preparation in order for things to go smoothly. Here are some ways to make your move to another country as stress-free as possible.

16 steps to move to another country

There’s a lot to think about when moving to a new country, and the experience can be a little overwhelming. This checklist will help you prepare for your big move; you can take what's relevant to your situation.

1. Secure your financial health. Finances are important. It may take a while to get started at a job and get a few paychecks, so you need to have a fund that is separate from your savings. This will feed your lifestyle until your salary can sustain you. Any debt from credit cards, loans or elsewhere should be taken care of, too. You want your financial status as clean as possible.

2. Learn the local language. Many foreign countries do teach English and other languages in their schools and universities, but that doesn’t mean the entire country speaks your language. While it is true that the best way to learn a new language is to immerse yourself in it, you will want to know some basics when you arrive — or at least have a dependable translator on your phone. Experiencing a language barrier at inopportune times, like when you need the restroom or are trying to buy food, can be frustrating and make your move much more stressful.

3. Study the local culture. Most people experience some degree of culture shock when they arrive in a foreign country. It can help significantly if you learn about the local culture beforehand; what's not offensive to people in your country may be extremely offensive to your new neighbors. Study the holidays and festivals, try the local cuisine, visit museums and ask questions to get to know the culture better. It also helps to have some understanding of the area. Read about its history, its people and the landscape.

5. Find a job. If you aren’t moving for a job, then you'll probably be looking for one. Responding to international job postings is useful, but you can also reach out to companies that aren’t advertising and give them your resume. Often an international company will hold interviews in a virtual environment like Zoom or Skype, so you might be able to speak with potential employers prior to the move. Make sure your salary expectations line up with your new cost of living. You may also need a work permit, so make sure you look into that process if so. Some places offer a relocation package for new employees moving abroad.

6. Make sure your passport is up to date. Begin this step as early as possible. If you were older than 16 when you got your passport, it should be valid for 10 years, according to the U.S. Department of State.

7. Apply for a visa and research the citizenship process. Whether you are making the new country your permanent residence or you plan to hold a dual residency in your home country as well as the new one, you'll want to do your research. If anything is unclear, talk to an attorney who specializes in helping people moving abroad as permanent residents or dual citizens. Make sure you give yourself enough time for the visa application if necessary.

8. Research the process for moving abroad with pets. There is a process for moving to another country with a pet. It can include quarantining the animal for several months and providing vet records. Some people choose to re-home their pets, but many knuckle down and go through the process to bring their pets along. If you want to bring a pet with you, we recommend starting the process early.

9. Plan for necessities. Think about the things you'll need for daily life, including:

  • Health care: Find a doctor and any medical specialists you might need, including a pediatrician if you have children. Research the hospitals and health insurance, if applicable.
  • Banking: You'll want a bank account for checking, savings and financial transactions.
  • Phone and internet service: You might use a landline or rely solely on cell phones, but either way, you will need a provider. Some places have several internet service providers (ISP), while others have just one. These days, most of us want to know ahead of travel how we'll get access to the internet.
  • School: If you or your children go to school, you'll want to figure out how to make these arrangements. You can start by finding out what you need to provide the school and how to transfer school records. You should also ask about any required vaccinations.
  • Storage in the U.S.: If you aren’t bringing all of your belongings with you and you plan to return at some point, you may want to put some of your things in storage. A climate-controlled storage facility with good security can provide you with safe, convenient, long-term storage.

10. Get copies of important immigrant documents. Moving to a new country may feel like a new start, but there are some things you'll need to bring along with you. Below are some of the more common items you should have when you move. Some may not apply to you, and there likely are things we've left off this list, but this will get you started:

  • Birth certificate
  • Social Security card
  • Tax records
  • Driver’s license (photocopy the front and back)
  • Debit and credit cards (photocopy the front and back)
  • Adoption records
  • Living will
  • Diploma
  • Marriage certificates and/or divorce decrees
  • Health records (including inoculation records)
  • Stock and bond certificates
  • IRA or 401(k)
  • Executor and estate planning paperwork
  • Mortgage statements
  • Car title (if you are bringing your vehicle)
  • Home deed (if you're keeping your home)
  • Military service/retirement records
  • School records
  • Veterinary records
  • Current photos of everyone in your household who's moving with you
  • Emergency contact information

11. Find a place to live. It’s much easier to find a place to live when you're in the area. Moving to another country and looking for a home to buy or rent without actually being there is tough, but it isn't impossible. Do some internet searches for rental property or homes to purchase. You can also look for someone local who can help you in your search. There are foreign real estate agents who specialize in helping people moving to a new country. Also, don’t forget to learn about property taxes and fees.

12. Find out if you can bring your car. If you want to bring your car you should first find out if you're allowed to drive it in your new country. Each country has its laws and requirements for licensing or operating motor vehicles. An international auto transport company can help you coordinate shipping a vehicle.

13. Plan the move. Once you have everything lined up, you can begin to plan your move. Moving expenses can be considerable, especially when moving to a new country. This is where you nail down how much money you'll need to move and establish a tentative timeline. You might want to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), a free service from the U.S. Department of State. It lets you enroll with the nearest U.S. Consulate or Embassy.

14. Downsize so you only move what's important. As you begin packing, use the time as an opportunity to get rid of unnecessary items. The less you have to move, the less your move will cost — and the smaller the hassle. If you're moving large items like furniture, find out how much it is to ship to your destination country as opposed to buying the items once you get there. You may find that it is more cost-effective to leave some things behind and buy them new when you get to your new country.

15. Arrange for your belongings to be moved. Hiring a moving company may be less expensive than handling the moving yourself, and it will almost certainly be less stressful. Research the company first, though, to make sure it's a reputable business.

16. Say goodbye. Once your move is set in motion and you're ready to leave, it’s time to tell your friends and family goodbye. Make sure to give them your contact information, including your address, phone number and email. A nice touch: You can have small contact cards printed with the information and give them to each important person back at home.

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    How to move your stuff to another country

    The less you bring with you when you move abroad, the lower your moving costs will be. It’s a good idea to trim the fat before loading up and shipping your things to your new home. A good rule of thumb is to take half the belongings you think you'll need and twice the cash you estimate. In other words, downsize, downsize, downsize (in terms of stuff).

    Set up three piles: one to keep, one to junk and one to sell (or donate). As you go through your things, handle each item and try to imagine your life without it. If you feel OK about it, put it in one of the piles to go. If you absolutely can’t live without it, put it in the keep pile. If you're not sure, set it aside and come back to it later.

    International car shipping costs tend to range from $700 to $5,000 or more.

    Things like your large television (some countries won’t allow you to bring electronics like TVs), kitchen appliances, books and furniture should probably go in the sell or donate pile. You can replace them when you get where you're going. If you're moving to a country with a warm climate, then your snow boots and heavy winter coat might be unnecessary.

    There are two ways you can ship your belongings when moving overseas. The most common (and least expensive) option is sea freight. The less common is air freight, which is more expensive. Air freight also typically has a weight limitation, so you may not be able to ship everything you want via air. Sea freight is much easier and more flexible. However, if you're on a tight timeline, then air freight is probably your best option. The scheduling is faster, and your things will get there faster.

    If you're taking your car, you'll also need to look into shipping it. Sea freight is usually the transport of choice for shipping a car overseas, although air freight is also an option. An international auto transport company can help you decide which method is best for you.

    Research international moving companies to find the right one for you. Check out reviews by verified customers, the company’s policies and its prices. While finding a company that fits your budget is important, you also want to find one with a good reputation and great customer service. You should also make sure they have these credentials:

    • Member of FIDI
    • Certified as using ISO standards
    • Member of OMNI (Overseas Moving Network International)

    International moving costs

    Moving abroad is not cheap, especially if you're moving your belongings — which happens to be the biggest cost. How much is a lot, though? It depends on what you ship and the weight. International shipping costs are determined by the weight of the goods shipped. Other cost factors include the type of transport, the moving services required, the relocation distance and route and even the time of year.

    Professional packing and unpacking typically comes with an additional charge. If you want to save some money, consider doing the packing yourself. Keep in mind that you may not be able to pack in some situations because some countries require that international movers vouch for what is shipped, which prevents illegal imports. Professional packing is often recommended because your belongings have a better chance of arriving at their destination undamaged.

    International car shipping costs tend to range from about $700 to $5,000 or more. The size and weight of the vehicle and the transport method factor heavily in the price.

    You should also consider moving insurance, which costs from about $100 to over $1,000, depending on the value of the items shipped.

    You'll also need to check on customs duty charges and taxes. These fees are charged for certain items, including vehicles. If you're putting anything in storage, you will need to allow for those costs too.

    Depending on where you're moving, you may need a visa, which means visa fees. These fees run from around $150 to $2,500 and must be paid each time you renew your visa.

    Getting your things to your new country is one thing, but you can’t forget about the costs of getting yourself there. Airfare costs depend on a variety of factors, including your origin, your destination, the time of year, the day of the week, how far in advance you purchase your ticket and how much luggage you're bringing. Book far in advance to get the best rates.

    If you don’t already have housing arrangements, allow room in your moving budget for temporary accommodations.

     For more information, read what to know about moving quotes.

    Pros and cons of moving to another country

    There are pros and cons to moving to another country. Research and planning will go a long way in helping you make a smooth transition and adjust to your new life. Research the country as well as the city to get a good idea of what's in store for you. The internet is a wonderful resource; sites like YouTube have videos on just about every city in the world. Look at several different resources to get a good idea of what your new home will be like.

    Pros

    • New experiences
    • New travel opportunities
    • Personal growth
    • New friends and relationships

    Cons

    • Culture shock
    • Language barrier
    • Not knowing your way around
    • Loneliness/isolation

    Frequently asked questions

    How hard is it to move to another country?
    The truth is it can be hard to move to another country. You could run into visa or immigration problems, there could be issues with moving your belongings, you could find that the costs are more than your budget allows — and it can be difficult to separate from family and friends.

    The other issue you may encounter is the feeling of being an outsider. In some places, foreigners aren't well received. You may find it difficult to assimilate, and the culture may be difficult for you to understand.

    However, if you meticulously plan and prepare, it can be fairly smooth — or as smooth as unrooting yourself and moving across the world can be.

    How long does it take to move to another country?
    The length of time it will take to move depends on several factors. You have to consider the country you're moving to, how much you're bringing with you, how you're going to move your belongings, if you'll bring any family or pets and if you need a visa.

    It can take several months to a year or more to move, depending on your planning and preparation. Difficulties with visas and immigration can also cause delays. Shipping alone can take a month or two — or even longer — if you're shipping by sea.  You also have to get everything in order, find a job, find a place to live, arrange for your things to be moved and arrange for your pet if you're bringing one.

    How long can you live in another country without citizenship?
    Most countries allow citizens of the United States to stay for quite a while. Some countries require expats to report every 90 days to the immigration authorities. If your objective is a permanent residence or a green card, each country has its own requirements, which you'll have to research before you leave.

    You can establish residency in some countries by renewing your extended visa periodically. For instance, Italy requires nonworking expats to renew visas every two years, and residency is established after six years if you can prove you are able to live there and not work. Each country has its own requirements, though.

    If you're moving for work, you will have to get a work visa. Different countries have different requirements and time frames, so you will have to check with your destination country. There are usually specific instructions and requirements that must be met.

    If you're moving for school, you can get a visa to stay as long as you are enrolled and attending classes.

    Can you move pets overseas?
    It is possible, in most cases, to move your pet abroad, but you will have to take a few extra steps. First, research the pet import laws of the country you're moving to, and make sure your pet is allowed. Find out what vaccines they will need, if there's a mandated quarantine, if your pet must be microchipped and other rules.

    Talk to your vet about moving your pet to make sure it can make the trip. If your pet is older, sick or has a problem with anxiety, you may need to explore other options. A pet relocation service can help if you can’t bring your pet on the plane with you. It can also help you with any international regulations and import laws.

    Bottom line: How to move to another country

    Moving to a different country is not like moving to a new neighborhood or even a new state. You're essentially picking up your entire life and replanting yourself in a completely new and different place. It's exciting — there will be many new opportunities and experiences you would never have access to in the U.S. — but it's not likely to come without some difficulty. If you’re moving abroad, allow yourself plenty of time to research and plan so your move is less stressful.

    For more, learn about how to avoid moving scams.

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    Profile picture of Jessica Render
    by Jessica Render ConsumerAffairs Research Team

    As a member of the ConsumerAffairs research team, Jessica Render is dedicated to providing well-researched, valuable content designed to help consumers make informed purchase decisions they can feel confident making. She holds a degree in journalism from Oral Roberts University.