Whether you have a short term work contract, are indulging in slow travel or straight up immigrating your entire life to a new location, when I say move, I mean to stay in a foreign country for an extended period of time, to live and work
The preparation is different than for a holiday or backpacking trip. Today I am not going to address packing lists or hotel deals. Instead, I want to create a list of things that you may take for granted in your everyday life, things like healthcare and drivers licenses which are hard enough to update in your own country.
There are so many things to remember when moving countries. If you are considering an international move then you probably have something drawing you to your new location: job, family, a relationship, so you have a place to start building a life around.
Beyond that things can get a little overwhelming. There is so much to consider and you can put yourself under unnecessary stress trying to remember everything. Below is a list of building blocks: the basic things you will need to establish your new life. Armed with this list of things to consider and the knowledge of where to find people to help you, you will find immigrating a systematic and painless process.
VISA – Visas are your foundation in a new country. You may already have a visa sorted through work or family, but if not then this is definitely the place to start. You can choose to explore your own visa options or hire a visa agent to advise you (make sure you use a certified agent). Visas are available for different things work, holiday, spouses, etc. and can take months to be approved, so start early. The first place to do some research is the webpage for the embassy of the country you wish to move to. For example if I am in New Zealand and want to move to Canada I will go to the website for the Canadian embassy in New Zealand. On these pages you will find basic visa info and you can contact them to ask basic questions.
Finding work – Depending on the visa you have applied for, finding work may be a priority. Luckily nowadays it is perfectly acceptable to apply and even interview for a job over the internet. Google or a friendly expat forum should be able to point you in the direction of local job boards and at the very least you should be able to line up some interviews for when you arrive. Just make sure you are clear about your visa status, there is nothing as heart-breaking as winning your dream job only to find out you are not eligible to work in that country or industry.
House hunting – My recommendation would be not to commit to something you haven’t seen in person unless you have a trusted friend/family member on site. Rentals can be found easily online, I would suggest getting yourself a map of your new city that shows the suburbs clearly. Then jump onto your local expat forum for suggestions on which neighbourhoods are the best or cheapest. Ask if there is anything unusual in rental standards: some countries don’t have laundries in the home, some only rent monthly, require extensive rental history and references, etc. Then, looking at your map of suitable neighbourhoods calculate how far to work, school, the shops and if public transport is reliable. Then book viewings for the week you arrive. You can rent houses without looking at them but there are so many things that can go wrong. Get a nice short term rental or house swap for the first month and then make sure you are getting the place you want to live in.
Bank account – To pay and be paid you are going to need a bank account in your new country. Depending on the country you are moving to, this can often be done before you leave. Check online comparison sites for bank fees and be aware that other countries sometimes have different fee structures and restrictions than your own. If you find a bank that meets your requirements simply fill in the online form on their website or email them to ask for the application form. You will need to provide two forms of ID and will generally be required to pop into a branch with a proof of address once you arrive in the country.
Tax number – Tax is scary enough in your own country, right? Well don’t worry too much, as long as you are aware of what is required of you, tax time can be far less intimidating. To start off, you will need a tax number if you are working and the sooner you get this, the better. Check out your new country’s tax site, since many countries allow you to apply online. You will need a valid visa, your passport and a postal address for your application. If you are confused or having trouble with language many sites have phone lines available in a range of languages. A short phone call at the beginning of your stay can explain any forms that will need to be filled in, ID required and tax that may need to be saved. Once you know your obligations and the dates these are due you can stop stressing and get on with your new life.
Healthcare – This is one of the areas of greatest variation country to country. Most developed countries provide either a subsidized health system or some kind of compulsory insurance. After you have been in a country for a certain length of time, you will become eligible to apply for government subsidies. It is good practice to check your new country’s embassy web site and ask in expat forums what to expect. Healthcare can be forgotten in the rush of immigrating, but it is vital for your wellbeing so don’t take any risks. Be aware of how long until your new healthcare system kicks in and purchase temporarily health insurance in the meantime (if you don't make a claim on your insurance 50% may be refunded to you if you change to government insurance within the first three months). If you have chronic injury or illness ask your existing doctor if you can copy your medical record for your new doctor; and if you are on ongoing medication ask your doctor to provide a signed letter to insure you will be able to access vital medication quickly in a new country.
Insurance – Some visas require insurance. If yours does not or, as soon as you are eligible to do so, I would suggest transferring to a local insurer for a cheaper, more efficient alternative to blanket policies. Research what local requirements are like regarding any new insurance you may take out like car insurance and check with your insurance companies to see if your existing policies such as life insurance are effected by the move. You may consider insuring your belongings during the move or other specialized travel insurance in addition to healthcare. Start a list of things you currently have insured or will need to have insured in your new home and check comparison websites to find the best option for you. Make sure you keep your insurance info handy during your move, you never know when an accident may happen.
Transport – Transport in your new country may be as easy as checking if you are close to public transport routes or as complex as importing a vehicle (check insurance and tax requirements as these can be astronomical). First step to driving in a new country is getting a local drivers license. Many countries run a license exchange program where with a valid address and ID you can swap your license for a local license. Other countries will require you to retake a drivers test. Check online for your new countries requirements. In the interim most home countries will issue a three month “international license” for around $30 if you go into your local authority with ID and valid license before you leave. Remember though, this may make it legal for you to drive on international roads, but it pays to research local road rules so you are prepared, particularly if you will be driving on the other side of the road. Other considerations include if car insurance or inspections are compulsory in your new country. Sometimes using a local car co-op or rental agency is a good idea until you have a handle on all the new requirements.
Finding community – Ok, so you have all the technical stuff under control. You have lists of all the administrative requirements of your new life, but that’s not all there is to starting a new life. When the dust settles and you have everything sorted, you are going to want a community to support you and show you around your new town. The internet is a great help in establishing new connections even before you land. Expat forums contain many helpful locals happy to share their expertise. There are sites like meetup.com where you can join groups with similar interests and participate in activities. You can also find many activities and community events advertised on boards at the local community centre or library.
Immigrating is a big step and it is important that you have a strong support network even if you can only access them via skype. The easiest way to a smooth transition is to get involved in your new life and community, put yourself out there and you will soon find new friends.
Moving to a new country can be a daunting prospect, but by taking it one day at a time, it is not as scary as it seems. Being aware of the things that will need doing is the biggest step to feeling in control of your move. With this 9 point checklist and a little internet research, you will soon have control of your move and be able to focus on the many exciting opportunities that your new country has to offer.
If there is anything you feel I have missed here or have any resources handy for new immigrants please feel free to post in my comments section on my main blog page.