How to Move to a Foreign Country

Three Methods:Practicalities of the moveCulture shockIf you're just considering a move

Moving to a foreign country is one of the biggest life transitions you can ever make. While it can be challenging and fraught with paperwork, it can also be an immensely rewarding and enriching experience. Whether the move is for business purposes or for personal reasons, being well prepared will make your transition much easier, and much more enjoyable. This article will show you the things you will want consider.

Method 1
Practicalities of the move

  1. Image titled 161405 01
    Make sure your passport is up to date and you have a visa that will allow you to move to a country. If there is a potential move, especially on short notice, make sure you are prepared for that eventuality. Everything that you can prepare ahead of time will be that much less that you have to prepare when the time comes. Problems with your visa may cause delays in your ability to go.
    • Make sure your passport is current. If you need a new one, that is the first order of business. It can take several weeks to apply for and receive a new passport.
  2. Image titled 161405 02
    Make a plan. Before all else, draw up a plan that can be checked off as things are done. This plan needs to be thorough and it should include deadlines. Here are some other considerations:
    • Discussing the packing and shipping arrangements. Interview at least three different companies and get their quotes for the move. Find out what each company is prepared to do: specialized packing, dealing with your wine cellar (this can be problematic), helping with pets, timing guarantees, storage at the other end, etc. Also, discuss the possibility of storing possessions in your current country. If this move is short-term and you intend to return, it might be best to leave some—or even most—items behind.
    • Deciding what to do with your current home if you own it. Are you going to sell it or rent it out? If selling, talk to a real estate agent and tell them about your plans. Ask yourself if you have time to wait for the best offer, or you need to sell quickly to get the money. Be careful how you convey this to your agent—you still want the best price, whatever your hurry.
      • If renting it out, interview agents responsible for rental properties and be sure you are one hundred percent happy with their services. Ask for references and if possible, favor an agent used to renting out properties for overseas landlords—it's much harder to be an overseas landlord and much can go wrong in your absence if the agent fails to meet their basic obligations of checking the properly regularly and vetting tenants properly.
    • Dealing with mortgages, leases and loans. You will need to talk to your bank or other lenders about handling these financial obligations most effectively.
    • Talking to your children's schools about the upcoming change. You will need evidence of your children's current level of schooling, as well as a guarantee of willingness to be emailed or phoned by the school in your new country, if relevant. Ask the guidance counselor about any transition issues you might find useful.
    • Vaccinations and visas. Be sure that you are up-to-date with relevant vaccinations and obtain all visas. Sort out any accompanying documentation needed for a permanent or long-term move.
      • If you're planning on renouncing your citizenship of your current country and taking on new citizenship, this will take considerable time, so start working on this from the beginning of your planning.
    • Developing a timeline for packing. Follow this with dedication, as it can give you plenty of time to deal with things that go wrong—and they will!
      Image titled 161405 02b06
  3. Image titled 161405 03
    Give adequate time. Some corporations and government entities that send their staffs overseas are quite happy to give anything from a few months to a few days notice that you are handpicked to move overseas. In this case, ask for as much help as they are willing to pay for—you will need it.
    • If you do have the luxury of your own timeline, give yourself at least six months. You will need every moment of this time to tie up many loose ends, including dealing with your property, car, pets, insurance, packing, and shipping, banking, educational transitions and more. In some cases, you may not have this luxury.
    • It is possible to move quickly, so if this has been thrust on you, try not to despair. However, do immediately spend time creating networks of helpers. You really need as many hands on deck as you can gather.
  4. Image titled 161405 04
    Consider looking for accommodation in the new country as soon as possible. Will you stay in hotel or serviced apartment accommodation while looking for a place to buy or rent?
    • It is not recommended that you buy a place over the internet. Unseen, you could buy something terrible. You need to be on location to get a sense of the neighborhood, to see the dry rot at the base of the house, to realize that it is overpriced!
    • One way around this is for you or one family member to do a forward visit, to check out real estate to see what's on offer and whether anything is a good deal. You may also know somebody in your new country who can be your eyes and ears.
    • Even if you want to buy a house or apartment in the new country, it is recommended that you begin by renting. Renting gives you a quick out if you choose the wrong location or you simply do not like being in the new country. After at least six months, you will have a better idea of wanting to stay or not, plus a much better understanding of the real estate and preferred areas to live. This means less pressure for you and a greater likelihood of making the right decision.
    • Be aware that you will initially be without your shipped goods. This makes living in a hotel or a serviced apartment initially a good choice.
    • Get a good lawyer when dealing with purchase of property in another country. You will need someone on your side who understands all the taxes, fees, liens, caveats, etc that the country you're moving to has in store. Your current attorney may be able to give you a recommendation for an attorney in your new country.
  5. Image titled 161405 05
    Set up banking accounts that work for you. It is becoming easier to transfer money between many countries without giving up too much in processing fees. Talk to your current bank to explore the options for setting up transfers—some banks even allow transfers to overseas accounts via cell phones, so look into all the options.
    • Unless you are planning to never return to your current country, it is advisable to keep at least one bank account open in your current country. The longer you have an account open, the better your credit standing. When you do return, it is easier to start where you left off than to have to open new accounts. Internet banking makes it easier for you to monitor the account in the country you have left.
    • In some countries, accessing money will be a lot harder than in others. Be sure to discuss the challenges and solutions with your bank and a reputable financial adviser with knowledgeable about the country that you are moving to.
  6. Image titled 161405 06
    See if people you know are already living in the country. They can be an invaluable source of help if you need information, support, and connection. Let them know about your plans and it is likely that they will do what they can to ensure that you get the information you need.
  7. Image titled 161405 07
    Do an honest evaluation of your goods and begin to let go. It is a reality that we need very little to live and yet our houses tend to be overstuffed with consumables we have accumulated over the years, much of which we do not use or need. Rather than dragging all this stuff with you, or paying to keep it in storage, do an honest appraisal of the need for keeping much of your belongings. Where possible, donate and give away the items you do not need. It is far better to travel light and not have to worry about items in storage than to burden yourself
  8. Image titled 161405 08
    Receive cash for your items. Use online auction sites ad-listing websites to get rid of your items. Even if you are pressed for time, this can be a great way to sell items in bulk, even whole roomfuls. Tell people that you are moving overseas and that it all has to go. People love to grab a bargain!
    • Be ruthless. Every thing added means greater costs in shipping.
    • Occasionally, shipping containers fall overboard, while damage can occur to goods at any stage of transit due to rough handling and other mishaps. Bear this in mind when lugging your antique collection of whatnots with you––it may be better to place in storage or to sell and have the cash. Become adequately insured for any mishaps during shipping.
  9. Image titled 161405 09
    Consider all options for any pets that you may have. For some people, this means giving them to a friend or family member to care for. For others, it means taking them with you. If you are taking your pets with you, consider the following:
    • Is your pet allowed in the country you are headed to?
    • Will your pet undergo quarantine? For how long and at what cost?
    • How will your pet travel? Find out about safety, costs, and all requirements, such as pet passports.
    • How is your pet's health? Your pet needs to be thoroughly vaccinated and medically fit to travel. There may be other requirements of the country of destination too––check.
      Image titled 161405 09b04
    • Consider your pet's frailty when making the decision. Taking an old or disabled pet with you may be too much trauma for the pet.
  10. Image titled 161405 10
    Find out about your driver's license in the new country. Some countries are happy to accept your existing one from another country or to accept an international driver's license. Others want you to take their local tests after a set time. Avoid waiting to find out––it can be hard to be without your ability to drive in a new place.
  11. Image titled 161405 11
    Provide the appropriate amount of notice to your place of work. If you are not already traveling for the place you work at, you will need to abide with their policies on resignation. Be sure to plan in plenty of time to tell them. However, unless there is something obviously affecting your place of work because of the planning, it is not recommended to inform them until later in your planning. This is in case you change your mind or your place of work thinks about shifting you out earlier than what you might have counted on.

Method 2
Culture shock

  1. Image titled 161405 12
    Get ready for big changes. Moving to a place, nothing like your home might give you a culture shock and make the move more difficult, but this will start to be overcome after a few months of immersion. People do things differently in different countries—which is why we call them "foreign" countries—and we are alien to their ways. Yet, this is the biggest and amazing opportunity you will have and to seek to understand a different culture. Once you let yourself into the thinking of people from another country, you will never go back; it is much harder to see the world as "us and them" once you know this experience.
    • If you are not familiar with the customs of the local people, do some research beforehand and get to know the ways as much as possible. It is better that you have a surface understanding than none at all—at least this gives you the opportunity to be understanding and to get more involved in cultural events and customs when you're in the new country. It will also help to ensure that you do not make mistakes that might cause affront.
      Image titled 161405 12b01
  2. Image titled 161405 13
    Realize that small comforts lost may become bigger issues than you ever imagined. That favorite coffee drink you loved at home and that favorite place you used to visit can become glaringly obvious to you when they are missing from your life. It is important to acknowledge the sense of loss you feel but to remain open to finding favorite new experiences instead. The undiscovered may even herald favorite things you will learn to love more than what you were used to in your original home country.
    • If you move from a country with a lot of choice in consumables to one with a lot less choice, you may find life challenging. No longer do you have the aisle of breakfast cereals (it is now down to a small rack) or the amazing choice in cars (you have either the blue or the gray one now). Initially, this can be extremely frustrating. You have two choices—one, accept it and realize that a lack of choice frees up thinking time and spares planetary resources, or two, travel back to your home country and buy up (or have understanding family and friends send you care packages). While for many people the lack of choice does not really fade with time (you will find yourself reminiscing frequently about the days when you could get X item in X different styles) but you do get used to fewer choices!
  3. Image titled 161405 14
    Be ready for the bloom to fade after a few months. Initially, the first few months will feel like an amazing vacation and you will spend a lot of it discovering things and feeling excited. However, eventually you will realize that you are actually having a life there and it is not half as exciting as you thought. For some, this realization can hit sooner rather than later, as bureaucracy, household maintenance issues and minor crises interrupt the flow of settling in.
    • Early on, ask about decent tradespeople. Eventually, something is going to break. In addition, you are going to need someone reliable who turns up when they say, they will and who charges fairly. If you have not already lined up such people through asking others who do know, you are fair game for being taken advantage of, and overcharged. This can be a nightmare experience, and since you have the freedom to plan rather than wait for the ax to fall, plan.
    • Stay calm when dealing with bureaucratic procedures. Most countries have forms, most have queues, and most have the most insanely ridiculous reasons for filling out things and waiting. Yours is not to question why but to learn via locals and online sites how to manage these issues as best as possible. There is always a way, be sure to learn about the right way. If you do not ask, you will never know.
  4. Image titled 161405 15
    Be ready to accept limits on your usual routines and ways of doing things. Another form of culture shock is learning what you cannot do, even though you could do in your old country. You are not in a position to question it—reach an acceptance that this is how things are. Whether the society you have gone to is more or less permissive than what you are used to, be sure to do the right thing to fit in. If you wanted to create a ruckus or take a stand, then moving overseas is not the right way about it; stay home for that!
  5. Image titled 161405 16
    Get support. Moving countries is right up there at the top of the stress scale. Some days it will be fun. Other days it will be the worst experience ever. Other days, it'll feel just like home, because it has become home.
    • Your rollercoaster of emotions deserves to be taken care of. If you suffer from anxiety, unabated fears, depression, etc., seek help with a mental health therapist. Do not suffer in silence—it will only be compounded by the foreignness of everything and everyone around you and you can end up feeling completely isolated and terrified.
      Image titled 161405 16b01
    • Be sure to build a network of close friends, to talk openly with family and friends about feelings and to listen carefully to the concerns of your children (if relevant).
      Image titled 161405 16b02
    • Mental health therapy can be obtained online if you would rather deal with someone from your old country. The beauty of the internet is that you can remain close if need be.
      Image titled 161405 16b03
    • Use social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and email to keep in touch with friends and family you've left behind. Use Skype to have face-to-face talks: it's almost like being there! This can be reassuring and beneficial way to keep your feelings in check and to get support from people who know you well.
      Image titled 161405 16b04
    • Invite your closest friends over to stay occasionally for a mini-break.
      Image titled 161405 16b05
  6. Image titled 161405 17
    Stay safe. Another issue related to culture shock is moving somewhere that is not as safe as where you came from. Ask locals for advice about where to stay away from and what issues are around the area.
    • Wear appropriate clothing for the place you are living in and try to blend in. Sometimes lack of safety happens because of criminals considering someone to be a tourist or to be inappropriately dressed.
    • Call in to the local police station to ask about safety issues. You might also ask about crime levels in areas you are researching for buying or renting a home in too.

Method 3
If you're just considering a move

  1. Image titled 161405 18
    Determine what country you are interested in moving to. Unless you do not have a choice in the matter, such as with business relocation, the decision is yours to figure out where you see yourself living best. To the beautiful rose city of Toulouse in southwest France? To Berlin in Germany? To Mexico? Venezuela? Spain? Russia? China?
    • Imagine living in that new country. Watch videos online to get a sense of what it like there, during all seasons of the year. Consider weather, pollution levels, ease of access to food, transport, and medical attention. List what things there are to do there by way of work and activities.
    • Look online to find the stories of people who have already made this move. Ex-pats can be the best source of information; reading their experience will help you develop a wider sense of whether or not this is a sensible option or whether it is something that a majority find problems with. Give some credence to what they say, since they are experiencing it; however, also beware that individual experiences will vary considerably depending on the reasons for their move, their income levels, their job experiences, the area of the country they are living in, etc. Ask questions if the forums of the site permit.
    • Will you be able to work in the new country? Is there a demand for your profession? What hoops will you have to jump through for employment? Is there a possibility of getting a job there before moving so that you can be reassured of earning? Few people can afford to take the chance of not having a job in a new country unless they are already wealthy enough to cover the length of stay there. Also, find out about social insurance and what tests you'll need to meet to be eligible—be aware that you may not be eligible for months or years, or maybe never.
  2. Image titled 161405 19
    Take a vacation to the country so you can experience it before calling it home. Guidebooks are a good source of information, but do not rely on them completely. Try avoiding the touristy areas of the country and visit places "off the beaten path," where you can interact with locals on a personal level. However, be warned: If you are enthused to move overseas as a result of having visited a place during a vacation, realize that having a vacation somewhere and living there are two completely different experiences. On vacation, you have no daily grind, no interactions with the daily bureaucracy and routine that locals do and generally not a care in the world. Once you live there, the realities of life in that country may be something quite different from the pampered experience of a tourist. Do not base your decision to move merely on having visited a place!
  3. Image titled 161405 20
    Learn all that you can about the country. This includes local customs (very important), language (even more important), and the areas that make up the cities and regions. It is vital to know whether you think you can handle living under different laws, customs and routines because these will affect your everyday life. For example, stricter regulations about what you can and cannot do in a country like Singapore (down to not chewing gum in public at the risk of being canned) may cause a freedom-loving US citizen to feel constricted.
  4. Image titled 161405 21
    Learn about the country's immigration laws and procedures. Can you even shift to the country you would like to live in? Some countries have very strict requirements for immigrants based on income, age, skill set, training or family connection. You may find that if you are not rich, not skilled, too old, or without family already living there that you do not have a chance to move to the country in question. Read the rules laid out for the particular country on its immigration website. Call the relevant immigration department and ask for more specific information in relation to yourself—no amount of printed information can ever be as clear as laying out your personal situation before someone who can advise on the specifics.
    • Contact the country's embassy as your first port of call. They often keep information packs for those wishing to emigrate.
      Image titled 161405 21b01
  5. Image titled 161405 22
    Be aware of language barriers. Do people speak a different language from your own in the country you are planning to move to? If so, do you speak that language? Be honest about your ability to pick up a new language—it is quite hard for some people to learn a new language, even when immersed in it. During the time that you do not know it, you will find yourself disconnected from a lot of what is happening around you. If you already lack confidence in yourself, this can be an extremely alienating experience.
    • Consider learning the language to a proficient level before leaving your own country.
    • Book lessons for language immersion the moment you arrive. Find a sympathetic tutor who understands both your language as well as the one they are teaching you. Ensure that this person can make the time for you to go to places together to help you learn the language in specific contexts, such as shopping, dealing with a landlord, banking, buying a car, registering for school/college, etc.
  6. Image titled 161405 23
    If you have children, moving overseas becomes more challenging. For starters, think hard about whether you want to pull your children out of their current routine and friendships. This could be a devastating change for them. Is the schooling in the new country as good as or better than where you are now or is it less reliable? What options are there for decent schooling as a foreigner if the local schooling is not good? Find out about these things well in advance because they really matter!
    • Don't forget that depending on where you go, your children will likely have to learn a new language or a new dialect of a language (for example, they may need to become familiar with differences between Australian English and American English). While some parents see this as a good thing because their child has an opportunity to become multilingual, if your child has educational issues of any kind, this might really throw them through hoops.
    • This is especially true if the local language functions on a different alphabet than the child's first language.


  • When learning a language, do not forget to learn slang terms and idioms—learn how people really talk. Use online language forums and sites to help you to be current with words and meanings. These are places to ask anonymous questions about things that are not understandable.
  • Don't burn all of your bridges at home—you might need to come back one day! For example, it is highly recommended that you do not sell your home. Rent it out and have it there should you ever need to move back. Equally, you should not give up your citizenship; you may want to go back to the country of your birth some day.


  • Be aware that some people will tell you terrible things because they hate being overseas; this can be common with a spouse accompanying his or her spouse on an overseas posting. She or he wanted to stay home but went anyway, with a narrow frame of mind, and never stopped hating it. Be wary of such people—usually they're obvious because all they say is how much they hate the new country and how much they wish they were back home.
  • If you find yourself constantly complaining about the new life and wanting the old one back, be aware that you may have glossed your old country with rose-tinted glasses. If you do move back home, the culture shock on return can be as arresting as the one you had arriving in the new country! Give the new country a chance; if you are still complaining five years later, then maybe it is time to pack it in and go back to the country of your birth.
  • You may experience discrimination. Remember, you are the foreigner in the new country.
  • Moving to a new country is exciting initially but often very hard on you (and your family) emotionally and physically. Be prepared for the worst and you will be ready for anything.
  • Don't romanticize the move. No place is perfect, and you will not turn into a completely new person overnight. Learn more about the culture and facts—do not just rely on your friend's exciting vacation story.
  • Be sure that you are clear on work and work rights in your new country. Many developed countries, for example, now offer eased work permits. These visas are similar to work permits, in that they are typically given for a specific position and may not be subject to as onerous restrictions as normal work permits.
  • Avoid moving to another country being pessimistic and depressed. That will not lead you anywhere and might even hurt you when you make decisions.
  • Use a proper, well-known, and trusted real estate agent. There is a risk being ripped off when buying property.
  • Beware of banking complications. If moving from the US to a less developed country, you may find it surprisingly hard to open a simple bank account. Anti-money-laundering regulations and additional hassles these banks experience dealing with the US can result in reams of paperwork and the need for references that may be hard to get once you are overseas. Make sure you have adequate cash to get by for a couple of months since it will be hard to get money until you have a local account.
  • Be realistic and make sure that you have the option of going back home.
  • Your experience may differ from others'. While it's useful to listen to or read about other people's experiences, realize that their experience is always going to be unique, as will yours be, and so don't assume it's all great or all terrible just on their say-so. Do your own research and stay open-minded.
  • When considering applying for a job, make sure to look up the place and see if anything sketchy/shady has ever happened there (as you should always do when applying for a job, foreign country or not!). You do not want to end up working in a place you regret ever considering!

Things You'll Need

  • Embassy/immigration information packs and information
  • Real estate agent and lawyer both ends
  • Financial adviser
  • Shipping company quotes and information
  • Detailed plan to follow and check off
  • Storage arrangements (where relevant)
  • Internet access
  • Guidebooks and the like for learning cultural information
  • Passports, visas, vaccinations
  • Medical health check (be in good health before you leave)
  • Pet arrangements
  • School arrangements

Sources and Citations

Article Info

Featured Article

Categories: Featured Articles | Living Overseas