Everything You Need to Know About How to Move to Another Country

Forget about moving to a new city. Every year, millions of Americans plan out how to move to another country altogether. They’re drawn by love, adventure, work, and everything in-between.

Moving abroad means uprooting your established home and starting a new life in a different part of the world, and for many, it’s worth it. The same could be true for you, too, as long as you know how to take care of the essential tasks.

We’ve broken the tasks of how to move to another country down into 14 steps in this ultimate guide.

Step 1 of How to Move to Another Country: Remove All Doubts About Your Choice to Move to Another Country

The first step is mental. You have to be absolutely sure that you want to take this step. That’s because if you’re not, all those tasks you need to do will quickly become too daunting. Internalize these advantages:

5 Benefits of Planning How to Move to a New Country

  1. An opportunity to explore: Learn about new cultures, new landmarks, and new people in a much more natural sense than you would as a short-term tourist.
  2. An internal journey of growth: Tourism is one thing. When you live in a different country, you immerse yourself in it. That leads to internal growth and discovering more about yourself than you ever would otherwise.
  3. New career opportunities: Your English skills will become invaluable in countries where it’s a second language. Plus, you might have education, training, or a rare skill set that lets you climb the ladder faster in a different country.
  4. Meeting new friends: You’ll almost naturally be attracted to other American expats. Between that group and natives in your country of choice, you’ll drastically expand your social circle.
  5. Improving your resume: Even if you only move abroad for a few years, the language and other global skills you’ll learn will be invaluable in almost any career you want to pursue.

Pro Tip:

Play devil’s advocate, or have a friend question you. Think about all the potential negatives of moving to a new country, especially if it will be the first time you visit the country, and weigh them against these benefits. Still convinced it’s the right choice? Then you’re ready to move abroad and start your new life! By the end of this exercise, the doubts should be completely gone.

Step 2 of How to Move to Another Country: Learn About the Country You’re Moving To

Once you’ve removed all doubt in your mind, it’s time to do some research. That starts with the country into which you’ll move.

You might have chosen a popular country for American expats, like Canada, many countries in Western Europe, Australia, or New Zealand. Alternatively, you might be moving to a more challenging spot. Either way, take some time to learn as much as you can about your destination.

Ask yourself these questions when performing research about moving abroad:

  • What language do most people in this country speak? Is there a local language in your preferred region?
  • If the answer is not English, how fluent do the natives tend to be?
  • How many Americans already live in this country?
  • What’s the price index compared to the U.S.? In other words, how far does your dollar go? Can you easily maintain the same cost of living (or lower)?
  • What are some of the most compelling reasons to live in this country?
  • What are some of the most compelling reasons to not live in this country?
  • How much do you know about the country’s culture? Consider its similarities and differences to the U.S.
  • What are the country’s laws and customs, and how might they differ from the U.S.?
  • How politically stable is the country?
  • What do you know about crime rates, both in the country and the local area you’re looking to move to?
  • What is the country’s climate?

When you can, use official sources like The World Factbook or the U.S. State Department’s Global Country Information database. It also doesn’t hurt to find organizations of American expatriates, like the Association of American Residents Overseas, where you can learn first-hand about the country you’re about to call home.

Pro Tip:

Travel and expat blogs might not be the most comprehensive primary sources for learning about how to move to another country. But they can offer great anecdotal and personal stories that may hit a bit closer to home than a collection of stats. Expat.com has a list of the most popular ones to browse.

Step 3 of How to Move to Another Country: Learn About the Visa and Citizenship Process

Maybe the most complex part of moving abroad is navigating the often complex immigration rules. If you don’t get this step right, you might get stuck at the airport and never get any further.

Remember: you’re not entering the country as a tourist. You’re entering as a full-time resident. That means you’ll likely need official documentation of your residency, which you probably know as your visa. If the move is for good, you’ll also want to start thinking about your citizenship status.

Basic Immigration Classifications to Know When Moving to a Different Country

  • Entry visa: the document required to enter a different country. It might be a tourist visa, student visa, or any other type explaining your stay.
  • Resident visa: the document you need to actually live in a different country. This type of visa allows you to own property, gain employment, and perform other crucial tasks.
  • Permanent residency visa: a visa that allows you to stay in a different country indefinitely. You’ll likely need a clean criminal record, residence on a temporary visa for at least a year, and financial independence through a job or family.
  • Citizenship: This final step gives you full rights in the country you live, including the right to vote and run for public office. You likely need to have lived in the country for a few years and pass a language and knowledge test.

Pro Tip:

Get your consulate’s help. American consulates in foreign countries, as well as the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, are great sources for U.S. citizens. They can help you understand the requirements of emigrating and walk you through the process.

Step 4 of How to Move to Another Country: Learn About Your Steps in Leaving the United States Permanently

Your visa will likely take a few weeks or months to complete. In the meantime, continue your research on Google by educating yourself about what you need to do. What tasks do you need to complete to legally, and without future complications, leave the United States?

How to Manage Your Living Situation

If you own your own home, put it on the market as soon as you know you’ll be moving. That minimizes the risk of having to close on it when you’re already abroad. If it sells too quickly, you can always rent an apartment on a short-term lease. If you’re already renting, try to time your move with the expiration date of your lease.

You’ll also need to reroute your mail. A post office box is an option, but the better choice is to send it to a family member. That way, someone can respond and let you know about any important mail. You’ll also want to change your mailing address with your current employer so you don’t miss any last-minute documents.

How to Take Care Your Finances

Because you’ll be keeping a U.S. mailing address, you’ll be able to keep your current bank account. That helps you maintain your credit score, and continue paying your outstanding bills or loans. At the same time, you’ll want to let your bank know that you’re traveling so that you can safely continue to use your debit and credit card.

While you’re at it, start researching banks in your new country. That paperwork can take a while, and starting early can prepare you for your actual move.

It also makes sense to start thinking about your taxes. You’ll need to continue filing U.S. state and federal taxes at least for the rest of the year, which can get a little complicated when you’re abroad. Services like H&R Block have expat services that are worth looking into to stay on the safe side.

Getting Your Health Information Up to Speed

Some countries will require immunizations before you enter or get your visa. But even if that’s not the case, you’ll want to make sure that all of your health information is up to speed. A few important steps include:

  • Vision and dental checkups
  • An annual physical just to make sure you don’t need any other appointments
  • A check-up from your favorite specialist before you leave
  • Refills on all of your prescription and general medications so they’ll last a while

Pro Tip:

Remember that you’ll likely come back. Take care of the most important information, but don’t stress yourself about every last detail that could be accomplished later.

Step 5 of How to Move to Another Country: Start Saving Enough Money to Move Abroad

At least at the beginning, you’ll need money. Funds for the move itself, the down payment on a house or apartment, a car, furniture, and general living expenses if your job doesn’t start right away… Plan ahead. A little nest egg, prepared in time, can go a long way.

Try to have at least six months’ worth of savings, if not more. A good understanding of the exchange rate can also help you know how far your budget will stretch. If you’re not close to those savings right now, consider:

  • Selling most of your non-essential possessions. Do you really need those old trading cards or that basketball hoop?
  • Canceling out of your subscriptions. You can live without Netflix and Amazon Prime for a few months.
  • Buying in bulk and reducing your household waste.

Stopping payments for convenience, like the delivery of food that you could make yourself (or pick up at the store) for much less.

Pro Tip:

The bare minimum of your savings should be the costs of your move plus the cost of return plane tickets home. You never know what might happen, and you can’t afford to get stuck.

Step 6 of How to Move to Another Country: Secure Your Employment

Do you know exactly how you’ll secure your financial future while you’re abroad? If not, now is the time to start thinking about it. You may need a work permit, a work visa, or a clear plan for finding employment. You’ll most likely fall into one of two categories:

If You’re Self-Employed or Will Continue Working for Your Existing Employer

In this case, you won’t need to find a new job. That’s great, but you’ll still need to consider a few variables:

  • What will the expectations be once you’re abroad? It might be difficult, for instance, to join the traditional morning conference call in an entirely different time zone.
  • What paperwork will you need for your taxes? If your employer is American or you maintain an American residence, you’ll still need to pay American taxes.
  • Will you be able to take off enough time for the move and any adjustments to the new country, both financially and from an employment security standpoint?

If You’re Looking for a New Job

Now is the time to start looking if a hefty portion of your plan of how to move to another country relies on earning income. That search can be frustrating, but you can start by looking at international and English-speaking companies. Professional employment services might also be able to help if you have the funds to contract with one.

Once you’ve found a candidate or two for your new job, start thinking about how you’ll negotiate the job contract. Will the company support your move, when will they require you to start working, and what does your benefits package look like?

Apply for any necessary permits that your new employer asks of you before you leave the United States.

Pro Tip:

Plenty of American companies have headquarters in other countries. They frequently work with expats and may be a great spot to start looking for potential positions in your expertise.

Step 7 of How to Move to Another Country: Collect and Update all Important Documents

When you move abroad, you’ll want to take all possible documentation that might prove who you are. That includes a number of documents like:

  • Your birth certificate
  • An updated passport
  • Your social security card
  • College or high school diploma and transcripts
  • Your driver’s license (good in many foreign countries for a year)
  • Medical and immunization records
  • Anything else that you might consider important. More is always better.

Collect it all in one place, then take a look. Does any of it, like your passport, need an update before you apply for the visa? Is the birth certificate in good shape, or should you apply for a new one?

This is the time to get all of your documentation in one order. Create a single folder where you keep them all, and then make sure you know where that folder is at all times.

Pro Tip:

Make a copy of your important documents, and leave them with a close family member. That way, you’re safe should you lose something. Even a copy of your passport makes looking you up in a database much easier and can save you hassle later.

Step 8 of How to Move to Another Country: Start Purging to Prepare for Your Move Abroad

Every item you take to your new place can be a hassle. You don’t know yet how much space you have or what you’ll actually need. That makes this the perfect time to go through your belongings.

Your biggest qualifier should be three simple criteria:

  1. What items could you not easily replace, for little or no cost, in your new country of choice?
  2. What do you absolutely need in your new home? That snowsuit may not be relevant if you’re moving to Morocco.
  3. What has just too much sentimental value to give up?

Remember, you’ll have an adjustment period in the new country. Items with significant sentimental value can help make it easier.

Everything that doesn’t fit at least one of these criteria needs to go. Sell what you can (see our tips for saving money in step five). Alternatively, ask friends and family to go through your home and take anything you don’t want to or can take. Donate potentially relevant items. Then purge the rest.

Yes, giving up those old baseball cards or Barbie dolls might hurt. But it will hurt much more to try to take it with you.

Pro Tip:

Start this process early. Then, closer to the actual move date, go through another round of decluttering. You might find a few additional items that you can live without.

Step 9 of How to Move to Another Country: Find a House or Apartment

man with a visa looking for permanent housing abroad

Depending on the country you’re moving to, the real estate options you have available may vary drastically. Make sure you have time to research all your options so you can find the right fit before or right when you get there.

Checklist for Finding a New Home Abroad:

  • Finalize the city you want to move to. You may be bound by your employment, or you might be able to more freely pick your exact destination.
  • If applicable, decide what school you want for your children. English-speaking schools, for instance, may make the neighborhood choice easy.
  • Look for safe and convenient neighborhoods. They should match your professional and personal/family needs.
  • Understand your housing options. Do you want to buy or rent? What are the typical contract terms for either in your country of choice?
  • Set your budget. That helps narrow down your options in terms of size, neighborhood, and even the city you move to. This doesn’t just help your savings last. It helps you stay away from low-cost options that offer immediate savings but not the security or convenience you want.
  • Understand what comes with a potential lease, like wi-fi or laundry services. In a country like Germany, for instance, kitchen appliances aren’t typically included in the price. A furnished lease may help by requiring you to move fewer items.
  • Understand the contracting process. You may be able to get close to finalizing your lease, which will minimize the time you’ll need to stay in temporary housing.
  • Book your temporary housing. Even something as simple as reserving a hotel room or an Airbnb can give you peace of mind once your plane lands.

Pro Tip:

Try to avoid finalizing a contract when you haven’t seen the house or apartment. You can prepare most of the documents, but put off that final signature until you’ve had a chance to walk through the place.

Step 10 of How to Move to Another Country: Plan for the Move

It’s getting serious: many of the variables are taken care of, so now you need to think about the logistical puzzle that is the actual move.

Start with the simple stuff. Make sure your cell phone is unlocked so that you can easily purchase a local SIM card from a carrier in the country you’re moving to. Then, it’s on to the move itself.

How to Move to Another Country With Your Belongings

You have two general options for moving your possessions to a different country: air or sea. Sea takes longer, but you can take more. Air is more expensive, but your possessions can arrive with you — or at least close to your arrival date. If you’re staying on the same continent — say, North America — you can drive your belongings over land to Canada or Mexico.

You won’t be able to ship major bulk items through the air. So if you’re planning to move any of the below, sea is probably your better bet:

  • Your car
  • Furniture
  • Other bulk items, like a grill

Scaling down, as described in step eight, is a great first step. It makes sure you only move with essential items and reduces the cost of getting everything to your new country. If you have possessions you don’t necessarily need but don’t want to sell, you can always consider storage options in your home country.

How to Pack Your Belongings for an International Move

You’ll want to be prepared for all the possible bumps and bruises of travel. Even if you just take what fits into a suitcase or two, make sure all valuables and fragile items are well stored and you know exactly where they are.

Of course, you’ll need to pack your electronics. Make sure you bring the right travel adapters, so you can charge those batteries while you’re looking for more permanent connections.

Shipping more bulky items, like a car, may be more complicated. Many shipping companies allow for port-to-port service for the cost of a container rental. But you’ll still want to follow all of their safety guidelines and timelines to make sure you get the process done right.

Pro Tip:

Consider hiring a global moving company, especially if you plan to move your belongings via ship. They’ll help you arrange a container to pack, as well as all the logistics and customs paperwork you need for it to arrive in your new home.

Step 11 of How to Move to Another Country: Prepare for the Culture

making friends and absorbing the culture after moving abroad

Make no mistake. When you move to another country, you’ll need to adjust not just to a new language but to an entirely new way of life. Most expats experience at least some level of culture shock, even if they’ve visited the country before. The best thing you can do is prepare for what’s about to hit you. That means researching the different cultures in general.

Understand how the government operates, how strangers on the street greet each other, and how business meetings are typically conducted. In addition to official sources, reading and watching domestically-created fiction and nonfiction can go a long way to visualize what’s coming.

The language, of course, also matters. Learn as much as you can before you leave. But at least learn the phrases you’ll need to get around the language barrier. Even if English is a common language, you’ll be shocked by how differently natives react when you make an effort.

Before you pack, stock up on the things you just can’t do without. Your favorite junk food, some reading materials, and skincare products are all fair game. A little taste of home can go a long way during a lonely moment abroad.

Pro Tip:

Food is also part of culture shock. So start eating authentic food from the culture you’re moving to a few weeks before the move. Cook it yourself if you can, or taste a wide variety of options if you live in a metropolitan area like New York City. This will get you used to the types of flavors you can expect, which goes a long way towards a smooth transition.

Step 12 of How to Move to Another Country: Say Your Goodbyes

The move wouldn’t feel complete without seeing everybody you know and love for one last time. Throw a big party or quietly say your goodbyes, depending on what you prefer.

Don’t fret during these goodbyes. Enjoy your time with your friends and family to the fullest. Yes, it’s stressful. But it’s also an unforgettable adventure.

Revel in those last few hours with the people that matter most to you. Share your plans, set up Zoom or Facetime calls, and make them promise to visit you.

Also, try to make plans for a return visit to the U.S. before you leave. That will set your and your family’s mind at ease and take a lot of stress off your shoulders. It also makes those goodbyes a whole lot easier.

After the Move: How to Make the Most of Your Move to Another Country

You’ve made it! If you take these steps, you’ll be well-prepared for your big move abroad. And then, you arrive. Suddenly, all that preparation might feel well in the past. And yet, you’ve made things simple for yourself. Just a few simple steps remain:

  • Try to settle in. The sooner you get out of your temporary accommodations, the better.
  • Set up those expat meet-ups. They’ll be great to get you acclimated.
  • Start unpacking your home. Make sure both your essentials and nostalgic items are out of boxes and suitcases as soon as possible.
  • Buy your next essentials. Furniture, apparel, desk supplies…
  • Don’t wait too long or start to live without them.
  • Cook yourself an American meal. What about your favorite meatloaf or a delicious barbeque? A little taste of home can help a lot at the start.
  • Phone or Skype home, but not too much. Walk the line between staying in touch and pretending like you’re still in the U.S.

Just like that, you’re ready to start your life in a new country. Be sure to capture your memories, and you’ll live an adventure that you can tell your future grandchildren about.

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