Moving abroad? Here’s seven top tips to help with your move

27 August 2018

1. Prioritise your health

Your health (and that of your family) should be one of your first priorities. If you don’t know where to start, speak to your current doctor: arrange an appointment, explain your situation and let them know when you intend to leave.

Then you can use the opportunity to discuss:

  • Outstanding appointments
  • How to transfer your medical documentation to a new doctor
  • Alternative names for current prescriptions (including Latin names)
  • Any vaccinations you may need for your new destination

We also recommend that you find out where your nearest medical facilities will be. You can find you new local hospitals and emergency treatment centres online. And when you arrive, you’ll need to register with a new doctor and dentist.

It would also be wise to explore your health insurance options as once you’ve moved you probably won’t be entitled to any state health cover in your home country. Depending on your plans, you might want to look at expatriate health cover – you can set it up anytime so it can cover you both before you go and once you’ve arrived. They also give you the option to have treatment back in your home country and will often include emergency treatment options which might not be available on local plans.

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2. Try before you buy

While it’s unlikely you’re being tempted abroad simply by better weather (and greener grass), it’s still important to emphasise that life after your move will be easier if you’ve had the opportunity to familiarise yourself with your new location before you go. Try to make time to have a short break in your new neighbourhood before you move – this will be a good opportunity to fact-find and possibly even find friends and favourite places that you can look forward to returning to.

3. Plan your move

Having been seduced by a wonderful destination, the next thing on your list will be finding a new home. Think about what’s important to you and your family. Do you want to be close to transport links? Do you need to be near a school? Is it important to be close to your workplaces and other amenities?

Then, how you seal the deal, whether you’re renting or buying is also important. You might feel more comfortable opting for independent legal advice from a firm who speak your language, and when dealing with a real estate agent you shouldn’t feel pressured to go with their ‘preferred’ option.

Moving your family and belongings abroad is inevitably more complex than moving locally. Depending on where you’re moving from and to, you may need to move items via air freight or shipping container: the former is quick and expensive, while the latter can save you money (you can share a container) but will take considerably longer.

4. Remember money matters 

Even in the earliest stages of your move, you probably don’t need to be reminded that moving abroad isn’t cheap. However, ‘money matters’ go beyond being financially prepared for the move – beyond even having a buffer in case of unforeseen circumstances. It’s worth considering:

  • Moving accounts, there’s a lot more to consider. In the UK banking is often ‘free’ - you can get a regular account at no cost. This isn’t always the case in other countries. In Germany, for example, you pay for the privilege of having an account.
  • When exchanging money your best bet is to shop around – as you would when going on holiday

Before you leave you need to decide which accounts you will keep and how you’ll manage your daily money and savings – and through which accounts. When you transfer money abroad look closely at the fees: some banks charge a set amount, others charge a percentage. Get this wrong and it’s likely you will lose money on transfers.

Now while you should be able to use credit and debit card services in most countries it’s always good to have a backup. So it’s wise to have enough local currency in cash to cover daily expenses – especially when you first arrive. There are also traveller’s cheques (or now prepaid credit cards), which are much safer, if a little less useful.

5. Moving with family? Leave no-one behind 

Your move will involve challenges for every member of the family, so do everything you can to involve them from the start of the moving process. One way to do this is get them to make their own ‘to do’ list and plans for when you all arrive.

Children can be highly sensitive to foreign moves; it’s very likely the decision to move was related to your job opportunities so it may leave them feeling a little isolated. To help them integrate well, you may consider trying to find a local school that has experience with expat children rather than an international school. Picking the right time to move is not easy either. Ideally choose a time that won’t interrupt schooling too much, so it’s also worth considering the time of year – Christmas may not be the best time for a family to relocate, for instance. 

6. Let the government know 

You will need to inform a number of government authorities if you intend to leave. You should provide your local council with a forwarding address and notify the health service, tax office, and other agencies. You should also contact the International Pension Centre to find out how moving may affect your pension.

Settling things with the government in your country of origin is only one half of the process - you’ll also need to set yourself up in your new country too, with your applying for your Visa, if you need one at the top of your to-do list. Bear in mind that the Visa application process can be a lengthy one – allow anywhere between 30 to 90 days, depending on your destination. Familiarise yourself with the country’s regulations too – you may need to have a minimum level of health insurance in place to get a visa, for instance.

7. Plan to make new connections and integrate 

Plan to integrate, rather than leaving integration to chance. After the upheaval of moving abroad the last thing you’ll want is to feel isolated and there are expat organisations dedicated to welcoming new arrivals – so why not make contact before you move.

One of the greatest bonuses of expat life is discovering a new culture. This is something the whole family can benefit from and perhaps the most rewarding part for your children. A big part of this will be learning a local language – start with just the key phrases (and get the family learning too). Good starting points could be asking for directions or for help. Then once you’re settled, try to speak the language if you’re ordering in shops and restaurants. And don’t worry if you’re struggling at first; you’ll find just making the effort will make you friends and open doors.

Integrating into your new location is a major factor in becoming a successful expat. Reading up on local laws and customs can help you avoid any unforeseen difficulties. For example, this way you can be sure you’re wearing acceptable clothing as well as respecting religious traditions and observing the courtesies that come with them. In Saudi Arabia, during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, it is illegal to eat, drink or smoke in public (source: gov.uk). It’s also important to be aware of more specific laws such as, in France all drivers must carry a breathalyser (source: Eurotunnel).

In some cases, if you aren’t abiding by local laws it can lead to imprisonment or deportation, so make sure you know before you go! There are plenty of resources online such as Kwintessential which work as a guide to etiquette and customs in different countries to help you research your destination.

Source for statistics used in imagery: a multiple-choice online survey of 463 expats conducted by market research agency Atomik on behalf of AXA in Dec 2015.
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