Moving abroad might well be the biggest decision you ever make, and there are a lot of different things you’ll need to take into account.
Here are our top tips for moving abroad. We’ve covered everything from planning your finances to tracking down the perfect location.
Let’s get started.
You’ll want to have every bit of your finances nailed down if you’re planning a move abroad. The last thing you want is to wade into your new life and find out six months down the line that, actually, you can’t afford it!
There are a number of different things to look at, including…
First things first, how much does it cost you to live in your new home country? Put together a checklist that covers all your major monthly expenses:
- Food costs
- Rent/mortgage payments
And so on.
As with any budget, it never hurts to overestimate things. Better to do that and have money left over than to get it wrong and find you’re struggling to make ends meet!
Understand the local job market
Every country’s job market is unique.
As an expat, you’ll likely locate work easier in certain sectors. Some sectors will be friendlier towards expats than others. This’ll vary country-to-country, so take your time to do the research in advance!
There are some jobs that are naturally well-suited to expats, of course, with remote roles, in particular, a great way in:
- Freelance consulting
- Development work
- Freelance writing and journalism
- Graphic design
- Web site building
Take the time to do your research, so you know before you arrive where the best opportunities are. Unless, of course, you’re planning to retire there, in which case…
Know the pension system
Whether you’re depending on a private pension, a state pension or a combination of the two, you’ll need to know two things:
- That you can continue to claim these pensions from your new location
- Whether you’ll pay any charges for doing so
This is a matter of contacting the International Pension Centre (IPC) who should be able to help you understand how your pension will work in your new country.
If you’re a British Citizen, you’ll need to contact the Department of Work and Pensions regarding Brexit if you’re moving within Europe.
Though the government has promised to honour British Pensions abroad, for now, it’s still uncertain what impact Britain’s final exit from the European Union will have.
You’ll also need to take care of your day-to-day bank accounts.
In some cases, you may be able to stay with a different branch of your existing bank, as many banks have international arms.
(Check this with your current bank.)
If you do need to transfer your money to a new account, arrange to do so as soon as possible. You need to allow any time to resolve teething problems well in advance. The last thing you want is to arrive in your new country unsure if your money is waiting there for you!
An alternative option is an e-wallet service, like the one we offer here at Privalgo. An e-wallet acts as multiple bank accounts in one place. You can:
- Receive payments and send payments in more than 50+ different currencies
- Store currency in your wallet, before withdrawing it in your chosen currency
- Easily move money between the different currencies within your wallet
If you’re planning to move multiple currencies around, it can be a great option without you needing to open multiple bank accounts in different countries.
Plan your investments
As with pensions, your ability to access certain types of investments – such as ISAs (or other localised savings accounts) may be affected if you move abroad. You should be able to transfer your money to similar accounts in your new country but prepare accordingly.
If you have a substantial investment portfolio, you should take the time to talk to both a financial advisor in your home country, as well as an English-speaking local expert in the country you’re heading to.
There are some investment options that are available to British investors that move abroad, such as offshore investment bonds. However, you will still be expected to keep track of your tax obligations if you want to keep these kinds of investment accounts open.
Again, if you have a decent investment portfolio in place, consult expert advice. It’ll almost certainly save you time, effort and money!
Wherever you’re heading, you might find that the healthcare service is quite different to what you’re used to. (For better or for worse!) Either way, you should plan your healthcare accordingly:
You’ll typically have two choices:
- Relying on local healthcare (which may be expensive depending on where you are)
- Taking out private health insurance
Many expats go down the private route, simply because they prefer peace of mind. Which option you go for will likely depend on your budget.
IMPORTANT – Don’t rely on the EHIC
The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) allows citizens to access healthcare across all EU countries without paying the full cost.
However, the card will STOP being valid for British citizens this EHIC card after 31st December 2020 due to Brexit. If you’re moving from Britain, you should make a contingency plan for the post-Brexit period.
It’s also worth noting that if you do move abroad, you’re no longer automatically entitled to treatment under the normal NHS rules when you return to Britain, as the NHS is based on residence.
(You’ll actually need to remove yourself from the NHS register before you leave Britain.)
A word on local healthcare…
Many expats rely on local healthcare with no problems. However, you should expect to pay patient contributions of some kind, whether it’s ‘over the counter’ or via the local equivalent of national insurance.
If you’re looking for more information, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office actually provides a wealth of information for anyone moving abroad from the UK.
When it comes to finding somewhere to live, only one thing matters: getting a place that’ll allow you to live the life you want.
So, it’s your decision: buy or rent?
Buying and selling
If you’re planning to sell your current property and buy in your new country, it’s very important to give yourself more than enough time to complete the chain. (More than you normally would buying and selling in the same country.)
There’s no guarantee it will take longer of course, but think how much of a pain being locked in a housing chain is normally…now imagine doing that across different continents!
The other thing to remember is that you’ll need a contingency plan in case your home sells faster than you think and there’s a gap before you can move to your new country.
For this reason, many expats instead choose to lease their existing property rather than sell, so they have the option and the security of returning in case their move abroad doesn’t work out.
This, of course, will depend on your own circumstances, and how comfortable you are going ‘all-in’.
If you’re planning to buy with a mortgage, it doesn’t matter how much you think you know. You need an English-speaking solicitor or mortgage broker to help you.
Every country – and often, individual regions within countries – will have their own unique property laws and regulations. You don’t want to get caught up in red tape or, even worse, lose a lot of money as a result of some regulation you’ve overlooked.
(Be sure to check with the local authority so you can find a certified financial advisor or broker.)
Because of the difficulty in dealing with local mortgage companies, many expats choose to rent a local property for at least the first year or so.
It’s typically a much easier option to arrange, and it gives you the time to look into the local housing market for a few months. You can get a better idea of what a good deal is before you decide to buy it this way.
Or, of course, you might decide that you don’t want to buy at all. There’s certainly a lot of flexibility to this, and if after a year you decide you want to move to a better location in your new city, you can!
Preparing your documents
Different countries will ask for different documentation for immigrants. However, you should plan to present any (and all) of these:
- Passport (unsurprisingly!)
- A working VISA or another kind of right-to-work document
- National Insurance Number
- Birth Certificate
- Your medical records
- Driving license
- Social security cards
Keep several copies of each. You might be surprised how many times they’re requested.
(Also, don’t make the mistake of packing your documentation. Keep it with you. That way, even if your luggage gets damaged or lost, you can at least prove who you are to the local authorities.)
If you’re moving for work, then your new employers should be able to help you arrange your right to work documents and your VISA. If not, it’ll be down to you to sort out your residency.
Typically, this will come in one of four forms:
- Temporary/holiday visa
- Student visa
- Working visa
- Family visa
Needless to say, you should prepare well in advance so everything’s completed before you move. It might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people take more chances than they should.
Don’t forget to say you’re leaving!
If you’re moving from the UK, it’s not just about the government in your new country. You also need to keep the UK government informed.
(Again, you might be surprised how many people simply jet off, and then return to find a pile of bills on the doorstep!)
There are a number of departments you’ll need to alert if you’re moving from the UK:
- Tell your local council, so they don’t attempt to bill you for council tax.
- Let the relevant benefits offices know; they’ll be able to tell you how to keep receiving any relevant benefits while you’re abroad.
- Contact the International Pension Centre to arrange for your pension to be transferred, and to find out how you can go about claiming it.
- Tell the student loans company you’re moving – if applicable – so you can pay any necessary remaining debts.
- Let HMRC and the DWP know so that you can clear any outstanding debt or claim any rebates before you move.
Finally, you’ll need to register for a distance vote if you’re still planning to participate in your home country’s elections. This will need to be re-done once every 12 months.
Getting the most out of your currency exchange
If you’re moving abroad, the chances are you’ll be making at least one big currency transfer.
Many expats make the mistake of just relying on their local bank because it’s the easiest option. What they don’t realise is that banks are usually charging a premium and that you can get a much better deal elsewhere.
The result? Expats can end up receiving thousands less in their new currency than they should.
In some cases, you could end up paying the equivalent of several month’s rent or several mortgage payments in “extra payments”.
And be wary of anyone promising ‘zero commission’ transfers. Though technically this may be true, you’ll often find that the commission is still hidden in the exchange rate itself. Technically zero commission…but still more expensive than it needs to be.
Make sure to seek out a transparent broker who can offer you the real exchange rate. The ones the banks make when they deal with each other. This can make a big difference to how much you take home when you transfer larger amounts of currency.
There will normally be a single one-off fee, but the amount you’ll save on a high street bank’s rates will still usually leave you much better off.
Locking down the exchange rate with “forward contracts”
If you’re still a few months away from your move, a good FX broker may also be able to arrange for a ‘Forward Contract’.
This gives you the option of ‘locking in’ your exchange rate.
So, if there’s an excellent exchange rate in place now and you don’t want to lose it by the time your move comes around, a forward contract will do exactly that: let you lock the rate down.
This means that even if the markets move against you in the months before your move, it won’t affect the rate you transact at.
(This can also take a lot of the financial uncertainty out of any big move.)
Picking your location
Chances are that if you’re reading this, you’ve already picked a country! But if you’re still unsure about which city or town you want to live in, here are a few things to take into account:
- City or countryside. If you’re heading abroad for excitement and thrills, chances are you’ll want to pick a city location. Looking for a quiet life? Then a countryside location will probably be more your style.
- How expensive is it? The good thing about being an expat is it’s possible to enjoy an active, fun city life while spending much less than you would in major cities like New York and London. At the same time, different towns will still have different costs of living. You don’t want to make the big move and then find out you can’t afford the kind of life you want!
- What’s the language barrier? Of course, you’re probably planning on learning the local lingo if you’re making this kind of commitment. But it’s worth knowing that you’ll be able to get by with English in the early days when you’re still learning.
- Are there any cultural differences? One of the beauties of moving is it gives you the chance to enjoy different cultures and different lifestyles. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least check if a city’s culture will suit you. The last thing you want is to end up in a sleepy town if what you really want is buzzing nightlife!
The move itself
Finally, you need to find the right moving firm. When moving overseas, this is NOT an area to cut costs. You want to ensure that all those things that make your home feel like a home get there nice and safe!
Here are the key things to remember:
- Check for experience. Many moving firms offer international moves, but when you dig beneath the sales pitch you might find they’ve not actually done too many of them. Make sure your firm has real experience doing international moves.
- Check for reviews and testimonials. It’s becoming trickier online to tell which reviews are real and which aren’t. A good way to find real reviews is to check online forums or social media, where testimonials aren’t policed in the same way as they are on so-called ‘neutral’ review sites.
- Get started well in advance. Moving abroad is very different to moving within the same country. There are a lot of details you’ll need to get sorted with the moving company. From delivery times to the amount being moved, get it all sorted as soon as you can.
- Check the company’s licensing. In some countries, moving companies actually have to be licensed. (To operate in the US, for instance, moving companies need to be licensed by the Federal Maritime Commission.) Take the time to Google whether your new country has any requirements like this, and that your chosen company has the relevant certification.
- Double-check the fine print. You’ll usually be given a comprehensive moving document, and there will almost certainly be T&Cs. Make sure you check everything, and that there are no hidden charges or extra services you’ll be billed for. (Or at least check that you’re OK with them.)
Above all…get started early
Moving house can be chaotic and stressful, to say the least. The more you can do to plan everything out well in advance, the better. And this goes much more for moving abroad. There will be more red tape, more hoops to jump through and more that can potentially go wrong.
Of course, the reward can be a wonderful new life for you and your family, so it’s worth it!