8 Steps to Take When You’re Making an International Move

published Aug 30, 2020
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Moving internationally can help you discover new passions, learn about new cultures, and expand your professional skill set and network. But before you put on a blindfold and throw a dart at a world map to pick your new home, you’ll need to do some legwork. Here’s what you need to do before you make an international move. 

Understand the visa rules

Before you do anything else, take a deep dive into your country’s immigration and visa website to learn about the paperwork and documentation you’ll need to work or study in the country. Getting a visa can take months, so you want to start this process as soon as possible.

“If you’re new to moving internationally, you might not realize you have to apply for a visa three to six months before you move, depending on your designated country,” says Lindsey Maxwell, co-founder of the home and travel blog Where You Make It. “You don’t want to give your apartment up or quit your job too soon, so ensure there’s enough time for the application process.” 

Start saving

No matter how much you try to DIY, moving abroad will be expensive. Be sure your savings account is healthy enough to cover your move, plus the unexpected expenses that are almost guaranteed to come up along the way.

Check your passport

Check the expiration date on your passport, then compare that with how long you plan to live in your new country. If you hope to come back to the United States to visit family and friends periodically, be sure your passport is current before you make your international move.

Sell (or donate) your stuff

No matter which country you’re moving to, there’s a good chance your living space will be smaller than the one you have in the U.S. Take a good, hard look at all of your belongings and decide what you need to take with you and what you can part with. Consider selling or donating your belongings or, if you plan on returning to the U.S. in the near future, renting a storage unit. 

Figure out transportation

Before you start packing, do some research on transportation options in your new country. Which side of the road do residents drive on? Is there good access to public transit? What about ride-sharing apps? If you have a car in the U.S., this research will help inform what to do with it before you move. Your new transportation options could also help you decide where to live, especially if you’ll be commuting to work or school regularly.

Review your current lease

Before you set a date for your international move, take a peek at your existing lease. If you break the lease early, you could be on the hook for hundreds or even thousands of dollars in fees and rent. You may also need to find a subletter, although some leases don’t allow this.

Find your niche

Sure, your new coworkers and fellow students are great, but it’s also important to build your community outside of school and work. Consider joining an expat or local Facebook group in your new country. Here, you can ask real people for advice on everything from hair salons to finding an apartment. And they may even end up becoming your friend in real life.

“The community is often filled with people who have already gone through those same processes,” says Lauren Pelkey, a travel blogger who hails from Massachusetts but is currently living in Bogota, Colombia. 

Prepare for a lot of feelings

As you settle into your new surroundings, prepare for a rollercoaster of emotions. And don’t be worried about these strong feelings; they’re totally normal, says Priya Jindal, founder of Nextpat, which provides training and coaching for expats and repats.

“There is the initial honeymoon and adjustment, followed by some frustration as little things like finding the right shampoo or asking for a towel and getting a napkin start to add up,” says Jindal. “Be prepared for it and remember that these are stories you will laugh at later and learn from now. This is the adventure part, as much as it feels like effort.”