So, you’ve been offered a contract overseas, and suddenly you’re planning an expat relocation.
There’s so much to be excited about! Living in a new country? Experiencing a new culture? Exploring a whole new region?
How soon can I get started?
On the other hand, there’s the small matter of packing your whole life into boxes (gulp!) and you probably have a hundred other questions too.
How do I tell the kids? How do I tell my parents?
Can I take the dog?
What do I do with the house? Do we take the car?
Where do I even start with finding a home, choosing a school, knowing what I need to do?
What about all the questions I haven’t even thought about yet?
Before you smother yourself in overwhelm, take a breath. Pour yourself a cup of coffee. Put your feet up. And read on. Here’s our 10 step guide to a smooth and successful expat relocation.
#1 Tell the kids (or not)
If you know you’re moving abroad, or even just considering a relocation, it’s human nature to want to talk about it. Be careful. Once the information is out, things will change.
Once your kids know, they may lose focus at school and start distancing themselves from friends. When you tell your friends and family, expect your move to be the main topic of conversation going forward.
If you have kids, you’ll want to make the transition as smooth as possible for them. Decide when and how will you tell them before you talk to anyone else. You don’t want them to hear it from someone else, but equally, you don’t want to feel you have to tell your kids because you’re worried someone might let it slip. Make a plan and stick to it.
If they are young, 3 months is enough time to include them in planning, and allow them to say goodbye. If they are older, consider what else they have going on in their lives, especially at school.
Some people believe very strongly that the children should be included in the decision whether or not you move. Make sure you are confident they are mature enough to consider all the pros and cons. Can they see the bigger picture in terms of your career and your family’s future? Can they cope with the responsibility of being included in a decision as big as this?
Even if you decide the final decision about the move lies with you, it’s really important your kids feel they have some control over what’s going on. So when you decide to tell them, find ways to include them in the process. You could let them help you look at potential homes online, for instance, and have some say in which school they go to. You can also plan some fun trips together for when you arrive in your new country.
Involving your kids in the process and talking about the reasons for your move will help them adjust quicker.
For more information on preparing your kids for an overseas move, check out our article.
#2 Start thinking about schools
You’ll need to research the schools in your new country as quickly as possible, as many have waiting lists.
Get advice from people on the ground. If you have any contacts in your new location, even you don’t know them very well, email or phone them and get some local info about schools. If you have no-one to ask, go online, find an expat forum and post some questions.
While you’ll be able to get a lot of information online and through contacts, there is no substitute for visiting. If you get the chance for a look-see, grab it. Going to a school is the best way to really get a feel for a place.
#3 Find a great expat relocation company
The thought of packing up your whole life and moving it to another country can feel pretty overwhelming. You might feel like going into a decluttering frenzy, or just want to crawl under the duvet until it’s all over.
Stop… Breathe! It’s really not so bad.
Remember, the most important thing about your last few weeks in your home country is spending time with the people you are closest to. Possessions are just stuff and they are likely to get jumbled up in the packing process anyway. Plan on spending time unpacking when you arrive and you are making a home. For now, just get rid of the obvious stuff (e.g. don’t move snow boots to Singapore – what was I thinking?) and let the packers deal with the rest.
Beware of storage! If you don’t need it, give it to someone who does. Take with you everything that is important to you. When you arrive, you’ll want the familiarity of your things around you.
Talk to your relo company about a clear timeline. If you’re moving a long way away, you‘ll likely be able to send some boxes airfreight so you have the essentials while your main shipment is transported by sea. Find out how many boxes this will be, when the empty boxes will be delivered and when they will be collected.
#4 Rent your house and the paperwork
If you’re renting out your house while you’re away:
- Get advice from a rental agent about the availability of tenants in the area, what you need to do to get your house ready, and their terms if you decide to use them to manage your house while you are away
- Talk to your mortgage company about getting permission to rent out your house, and see if you need to change your mortgage
- Check with your insurance company to find out what cover you need
- Don’t forget to inform utilities that you are leaving and transfer them into the name of your tenants if necessary.
Other official things to do before you move:
- Contact your home country’s tax office to see if you still need to make contributions if you are non-resident
- As well as insuring your house, you should check your travel and life insurance policies before you go, as these are easier to organize at home than when you land
- Make sure you still have a year until your passport expires and see if your driving licenses need renewing
- Check if you need birth and marriage certificates notarising
- Do you need a visa for your new country? Who is responsible for applying for it?
- Arrange for post redirection. Change your address at the bank, and on credit cards
- Be careful not to leave yourself open to identity theft. Inform your car licensing agency, tax office, electoral register, council and anyone else that you can think of that you are becoming a non-resident
- Finally, set aside all official documents to go with you in your hand luggage. Take copies to put in your shipment and make electronic copies to store on Dropbox or Evernote.
#5 Organise pet transport
First of all, make sure you can take your pets to your new country. Bear in mind, there are places where it’s difficult to relocate pets for health reasons, because it’s difficult to get accommodation with them or because of local attitudes.
If you are taking a pet, contact a pet relocation company to find out the procedures and costs. Find out about quarantine laws, availability of vets and kennels for when you take vacations. Find out too about what sort of carrier is necessary for air freight.
It goes without saying that if you’re the expat partner and you work you’ll need to have a conversation about resigning, or work out if it’s possible to take a leave of absence or work remotely.
Don’t underestimate how difficult it might be for an expat spouse to get a job in your new country. The terms of your residence permit might mean that you can’t work. Even if you can, some jobs might not be available to you, or there might not be the kind of work that would interest you.
At this stage, if there is an opportunity to take a leave of absence or work remotely, consider it. You can always resign at a later date, but once you’ve burned your bridges, this might not be possible.
If you have no choice or you choose to hand your notice in, it’s a great idea to get testimonials from your current employer or anyone you might have worked with on a voluntary basis. Testimonials are a great way to stand out from other applicants in a recruitment process, especially if you are in an unfamiliar market and have had a break from employment.
It’s also much easier to get a good testimonial while your great work ethic and skills are still fresh in your employer’s mind!
Most expat packages include some sort of health insurance. Find out exactly what is covered and if you need any additional insurance before you leave. Ask whether you will need to pay for health services and claim it back, or if your insurance company will deal directly with your providers. If you can, get Dental included too.
Before you leave you should also:
- Check what vaccinations you need for your new country with your family Doctor
- Have check-ups with your Doctor, Dentist, Optometrist etc so you don’t need to worry about this for a while
- If you can, obtain copies of all your health records so you can present these to your new providers on arrival.
#8 Choosing a new home
If you’ve known you’re going to move for a while, you’ll no doubt have been scrolling through online real estate sites for weeks trying to imagine what your new home will be like and where it will be.
While it’s a good idea to start researching neighborhoods and getting to know the market, don’t let this distract you from spending time with your friends and family.
In actual fact, in most locations, you can easily move into temporary accommodation on arrival, which has the advantage of giving you time to suss out the neighborhoods and options before you make a decision.
For more information on choosing a home, check out our article.
#9 ID, banks, phone
In many countries, you can start the process of applying for permits before you arrive, but most places will require you to be a resident before it is finalized.
If you have a relocation specialist, get a breakdown of exactly what documentation you will need to register and make appointments before you leave. You’ll want to sort out all the official stuff ASAP because it’s probable you won’t be able to get a phone or bank account or rent a home before you have the required paperwork.
In most places, you won’t be able to open bank accounts or get a phone contract until you have an address, so make sure you have a credit card, and/or international access to your bank and a phone to use in the interim.
#10 Plan your Par-tay!
Even if you aren’t a party person, consider how you are going to say goodbye to your friends and family and what you are going to do to mark the occasion. Don’t underestimate this move, it’s a big deal. Holding a celebration in some form will allow you to feel that you have said goodbye well, and give you happy memories to associate with the transition.
It’s also really important that you give your kids the opportunity to mark the occasion with a celebration. If you’re worried they will get upset or find a party too overwhelming, keep it low key like a picnic or a gathering at your house.
Saying goodbye is hard. But remember all those cliches about endings being new beginnings? They are all true!
A last word about expat relocation
Planning an expat relocation can be overwhelming. Breaking it down into chunks should make it more manageable. Remember, the most important thing at this stage is to spend time with your family and friends. Make sure you say goodbye well, and create some happy memories for yourself and your family in the process.
When it’s time to go, smile and don’t look back. You have an amazing journey ahead of you. Enjoy the ride!