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How to move to another country

A step-by-step guide to emigrating

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Written by Jessica Render
Edited by Cassidy McCants

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    As an expat, you get to expand your horizons and immerse yourself in a different culture. Making a move from the U.S. to another country isn't easy to do on the fly, though — even if you're not moving permanently. It takes planning and preparation to ensure this big change is as smooth and stress-free as possible.


    Key insights

    • If you’re considering moving abroad, you’ll have to decide what you need (and can afford) to take with you — including your car and any pets.
    • If you don’t have a financial cushion, especially if you have yet to find a job in your new country, you might want to save some money before you depart.
    • The cost of transporting your belongings depends largely on the weight of your items, though time of year and type of transport also affect the total.

    15 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 and leave what doesn't apply.

    1. Secure your financial health.

    Finances are important. It may take a while to get a job and start making money, so you’ll need some funds to access as needed for the move and for your first few weeks (or even months) in your new home. This will feed your lifestyle until your salary can sustain you. It’s also smart to take care of any debt from credit cards, student loans, car loans, etc. You want your finances in good shape before you leave the country.

    2. Make sure your passport is up to date.

    If your password was issued after you turned 16, it should be valid for 10 years. If you need a passport or it’s time to renew yours, begin this step as early as possible. You can expect your passport application to take six to nine weeks to process unless you opt for expedited processing, which takes three to five weeks as of publishing, according to the U.S. Department of State. This does not include time in the mail.

    3. Learn the local language.

    Many foreign countries teach English and other languages in their schools and universities, but that doesn’t mean the entire country speaks your language. While it’s 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 app. 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 transition much more stressful.

    4. Study the local culture.

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

    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 can work, but it’s also a good idea to reach out to companies that aren’t advertising and give them your resume. International companies often hold virtual interviews, 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 necessary. Some workplaces offer a relocation package for new employees moving abroad.

    6. Apply for a visa and research the citizenship process.

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

    7. Research the process for moving abroad with pets.

    There’s typically a specific process for moving to another country with a pet. This can include quarantining the animal for several months before the move and providing vet records. Some people choose to find new homes for their pets, but many knuckle down and go through the steps to bring their pets along. If you want to bring a pet with you, we recommend researching any qualifications and starting the process early.

    8. Plan for necessities.

    Think about the things you'll need for daily life, including but not limited to the following:

    • 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 bank accounts you can access for checking, savings and financial transactions.
    • Phone and internet service: Whether you plan to use a landline or rely solely on cell phones, you’ll need a provider. Some places have several options for internet service providers (ISP), but others have just one. These days, most of us rely on cell and internet access, so make sure you know the situation ahead of travel.
    • School: If you or your children go to school, you'll want to know how to make these arrangements. You can start by finding out what you need to provide the school in your area and how to transfer education records. You should also ask about any required vaccinations.
    • Storage: 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.

    9. Get copies of important immigration documents.

    Moving to a new country can bring you a new start, but there are some things you'll need to take with you. As you gear up for moving, check for the following documents:

    • 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’re 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

    10. Find a place to live.

    Looking for a home to buy or rent without actually being there is tough — it’s much easier to find a place to live when you're in the area — but house hunting from afar isn't impossible. Do some internet searches for rental property or homes to purchase. There are also foreign real estate agents who specialize in helping those who are moving to a new country. And don’t forget to learn about the specifics of property taxes and fees.

    11. Find out if you can bring your car.

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

    12. Plan the move.

    Once you have the bigger-picture things lined up, you can begin to plan the details of 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. One smart step might be 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.

    13. 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. Is it time for a garage sale? 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’s more cost-effective to leave some things behind and buy them new when you get to your new country. Consider donating items in good condition if you don’t want to move or sell them.

    14. Arrange for your belongings to be moved.

    Hiring a moving company may be less expensive than handling the move yourself, and it will almost certainly be less stressful. Thoroughly research any company you’re considering first, though, to make sure it's a reputable business and not a scam.

    15. 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 this info and give them to your loved ones before you go.

    International moving costs

    Moving abroad isn’t cheap, especially if you're taking lots of your belongings. How much you can expect to spend, though, depends on what you ship and the weight. Other cost factors include the type of transport, the moving services you choose, the relocation distance and route, and even the time of year.

    It could cost several thousand dollars to ship your car, so consider whether your vehicle is really worth the trip abroad if you’re moving overseas.

    Professional packing and unpacking typically comes with an additional charge (make sure you know what your moving quote means). If you want to save some money, consider doing the packing yourself. Keep in mind that you may not be able to pack all your things yourself if you hire a mover; some countries require that international movers vouch for what’s shipped to help prevent 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, with the size and weight of the vehicle and the transport method factoring heavily into the total price.

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

    Additional moving costs to consider (estimates)

    Type of service/feeCost
    Car shipping$700 to $5,000+
    Visa fees$150 to $2,500
    Moving insurance$100 to $1,000+

    You'll also need to check on customs duty charges and taxes. These fees apply for certain items, including vehicles. If you're putting anything in storage, you’ll need to prepare for those costs as well.

    Depending on where you're moving, you may need a visa, which means visa fees. These fees may run from around $150 to $2,500 — and they 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 where you depart from, 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. Booking far in advance doesn’t always guarantee the best rates, but it could help.

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

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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).

      Rule of thumb: Take half of the things you think you’ll need — and twice the cash you expect to get you through the move and the first few months.

      Things like large TVs (some countries won’t let you bring electronics), kitchen appliances, books and furniture should probably be donated or sold. 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 to ship your belongings overseas. The most common (and least expensive) option is sea freight; air freight is more expensive. Air freight also typically comes with weight limits, so you may not be able to ship everything you want by air. Sea freight is the more flexible option, but air freight could be your best option if you’re on a strict timeline. Both scheduling and transport are faster with air freight.

      Thoroughly research moving companies to find the right one for you. Check out company reviews, policies and prices. Finding a company that fits your budget is important, but you also want to find one with a good reputation and great customer service. Make sure they have these credentials:

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

      FAQ

      How hard is it to move to another country?

      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. In some cases 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 — and it’s a way to test yourself and grow while finding adventure.

      How long does it take to move to another country?

      How long it takes to move to a foreign country depends on several factors. You have to consider the country you're moving to, how much you're bringing, how you'll 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 let U.S. citizens stay for a while. Some require expats to report every 90 days to immigration authorities. If your objective is permanent residency or a green card, each country has its own requirements, so make sure to research these before you leave.

      You can establish residency in some countries by renewing your extended visa periodically. For instance, Italy requires nonworking expats to renew their visas every two years. You can get residency after six years if you can prove you’re 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 for these, so check with your destination. There are usually specific instructions and requirements to meet.

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

      Can you move pets overseas?

      It is possible, in most cases, to move your pet abroad. Research the pet import laws of the country you're moving to — and make sure your pet is allowed. Find out what vaccines they need, if there's a mandated quarantine and if your pet must be microchipped.

      Talk to your vet to see what they think about relocation. 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 with any international regulations and import laws.

      Bottom line

      Moving to a different country isn’t 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 place. It's exciting — with new opportunities and adventures you wouldn't find 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.

      ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. To learn more about the content on our site, visit our FAQ page. Specific sources for this article include:
      1. U.S. Department of State, “Processing Times for U.S. Passports.” Accessed Nov. 9, 2022.
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