Dabbling in Jet Lag
Moving abroad is a great opportunity to learn not only about other cultures but also about yourself. It’s a chance to gain new experiences, step out of your comfort, and explore the unknown. But moving abroad is not all glitz and glamour. If you plan on legally living in a foreign country (i.e., not a tourist visa), you will need to do some serious planning.
After 10 years living abroad, I’ve experienced all the ups and downs and learned a lot along the way. From visa problems in the UK to the language barriers in France, there is no problem I have not encountered.
So, I’ve put together a list of everything you need to know BEFORE moving abroad.
1. Visa Requirements
It’s easy to want to move abroad, but you first need to check if it’s possible. For most countries, you must apply for your visa in your country of residence before arriving. So, this should be the first thing you do.
Visas can be expensive and there are often hidden costs.
As an example, when I was paying for my UK visa, I discovered that I needed to pay for the National Healthcare Service in advance. It was £624 pounds per year of my visa. So, it was £3120 plus the cost of the visa application.
Then, for my spouse of a French citizen visa, I was told by the French consulate that my visa was free, which was true. I submitted my application for free, but once I arrived in France, I had to pay an arrival fee of €250.
Finally, there are different types of visas, such as work visas, talent visas, and family visas. It’s imperative to check which type of visa best suits your needs. More often than not you can’t transfer between visas without having to return to your home country. So, it’s important to be aware of your options before applying.
Opening a bank account might seem like a simple task, but many banks refuse to open accounts for foreigners.
In Switzerland, I was denied several times because of regulations set by the US Securities and Exchange Commission. I ended up with PostFinance, and I had a debit card that was unusable outside Switzerland.
Switzerland was not the only place I had issues. Both in France and the UK, I faced similar problems. So, it’s important to do your research ahead of time.
Finally, you will want a bank that can carry out foreign transactions for (nearly) free. You will most likely be dealing with several currencies, and you will want to avoid any unnecessary charges.
One solution to the above problems is digital banking. There are several options available, depending on your needs. I, personally, use Wise.com.
It allows me to hold accounts in several currencies. So, I can pay and transfer money in different currencies without extra fees. I’ve been using it for several years, and it’s been a lifesaver.
Send your money abroad at the cheapest rates with Wise.com!
Useful Tip: If you are on a work visa, your employer might be able to help you set up a bank account.
Knowing how you can support yourself financially in a foreign country is not as simple as getting a job.
There are several things you need to consider.
First, many countries have high unemployment rates. Examples include Spain, Portugal, and Italy. The chances of finding work in these countries are lower. So, while it might seem great to live in a place with beautiful beaches, you might not be able to find a job.
Second, many countries in the EU have a right-to-work law. This is a legal requirement for anyone looking to work in the EU. It means that you only have the right to work in an EU country if you are a citizen of the European Economic Area.
It can be expensive and time-consuming to hire someone who does not have the right-to-work. So, companies will often make this a requirement before even applying.
Useful Tip: Let’s say you get a job and move abroad with a work visa. This does not entitle you to right-to-work status, even if you are paying taxes. You must secure a permanent resident card or citizenship to have this privilege.
Finally, remember that your skills and experiences are not guaranteed to transfer. In many countries, you will need to re-do your degree or get additional certification. This is especially true for law and medical degrees. And you will need to do this in the national language.
4. Tax Obligations
Understanding how to pay taxes in a foreign country is never easy.
Every country collects taxes differently, and you will want to know how to pay your taxes before you arrive.
As an example, when I first moved to France income taxes were paid in a lump sum at the end of the year. So, I needed to calculate the amount I owed every year, and then, determine how much I needed to save each month. It was a very archaic method that has since changed.
Then you will want to know how much you need to pay. Many countries have online tax calculators. It’s important to use the calculator provided by the government to get the best estimate.
When I moved to the UK, I knew exactly what I was going to pay. So, when my first paycheck was taxed at a higher rate, I was able to solve the problem. I realized I had not registered for my social security number, and once I had, I was refunded and taxed correctly.
Finally, you will want to know your tax obligations for your home country while you are living abroad. For example, US citizens still need to file a tax return every year when living in a foreign country.
5. Living Arrangements
Renting an apartment/house in a foreign country can be complicated. It’s even more so if you try to secure something before arriving.
Some rental agencies offer virtual viewings, but these are few and far between. And, I never wanted to sign a contract without seeing the apartment. So, before arriving, I contacted several rental agencies and set up viewings.
Purchasing an apartment/house is a whole other beast. It’s important to verify the requirements for owning property in a foreign country. In fact, many countries don’t allow foreigners on temporary visas to take out loans.
6. Language Barrier
Learning the language of the country you plan on living in is essential. You don’t want to have a translator for everything.
When I moved to France, I did not speak French. As a result, I needed help with everything, from filling out documents to seeing a doctor. It was extremely frustrating. But once I learned French, I found it much easier to settle in, make friends, and even go to the grocery store.
If you don’t speak the language beforehand, you should plan on learning when you arrive. It’s an important part of adapting to your life abroad, and it will greatly enhance your experience.
If you need help learning a new language, I recommend iTalki! I use it to learn both French and Spanish. And it was a lifesaver. Click here to get $10 USD in iTalki Credits when you purchase more than $20.
Healthcare is different in every country. In some places, it’s provided by private companies while in others there is national healthcare.
In France, for example, there is a national healthcare service. But, you must be living in France for 3 months before you can use it.
Be aware that national healthcare does not mean free healthcare. It’s paid for by taxes. This goes back to my point above where you should verify what is included in your taxes. As an example, income taxes in France are roughly 40%. This might seem high when compared to the US, but healthcare is included.
You should know how to get healthcare if it’s private or national, and the cost.
You will need to know how to get around. If public transportation is not available, you will need to buy or lease a car.
You will also need to exchange your driving license. And, for most countries, you will need to exchange your driving license within your first year.
Most European countries do not accept US driving licenses from every state. As an example, I could exchange my driving license in France because it was from Illinois. If I would have had a driving license from New York, I would have had to retake the written and practical exams.
9. Personal Possessions
When you move abroad, you will need to decide how to handle your personal possessions. Do you want to bring everything? Hire a storage unit? Throw out certain items?
When I moved to Switzerland, I could not take everything. I had to sell and give most things away. It can be an emotional barrier for some, and it’s something you should start organizing early on.
10. Developing a Support Network
Building a strong support network of friends/family will help you deal with the stress of adjusting to life in a new country. Connecting with other expats can also help. Many expats face similar difficulties, and it’s reassuring to share your experience.
It’s easy to forget the value of a support network, but it’s one of the most important things to consider when moving abroad. In fact, a recent survey found that most expats wished they would have prioritized building a support network over banking, logistics, and housing.
11. Adjusting to Life Far from Home
Adjusting to life in a foreign country is one of the biggest challenges expats encounter.
In the beginning, you will feel lonely and miss your friends and family back home. So, it’s important to find stability and stay grounded. Finding an activity that positively impacts your life is a good place to start.
At times you will feel lost, but as you adapt and integrate this feeling will disappear.
Bonus #1 – Prepare for the Experience of a Lifetime
As you prepare to move abroad, be patient with yourself and be ready for the change. Remember to give yourself time to settle in and adapt.
It might be difficult in the beginning, but moving abroad has several advantages. From learning a new language to self-discovery, it’s a journey that you will be glad you did.
Read More Moving Abroad Articles
I hope you enjoyed my article on things to consider before moving abroad and found it useful. Here are some more articles about moving abroad that I think you might find interesting.
- How I Got My Long-Stay Visa (Spouse of a French Citizen)
- Losing My Identity: An Expat’s Journey to Self-Discovery