If you've been itching for an adventure, there's no experience quite like packing up your belongings, saying goodbye to your native country, and moving to a faraway land.
Transitioning to expat status in a foreign country is indeed a massive, life-altering decision. But those with a genuine sense of adventure and an explorer's heart will discover a one-of-a-kind experience moving far afield.
If your trek across either ocean is being made out of necessity, it's no less a fulfilling experience. Living and working well outside of your comfort zone is equal parts enlightening and enriching — a unique journey you will genuinely cherish even if you opt to return home later on.
Whether it's driven by need or want, moving outside of the U.S. does require a bit of planning. Okay, it requires a lot of planning. While covering every aspect of what to expect from a foreign relocation is nearly impossible, there are a few essential and necessary tenets to understand before crossing borders.
Let's get this journey on the road and explore your ultimate guide to moving abroad.
Know Where You're Going
We know this might sound obvious, but long before you actually make your move, research and pinpoint exactly which country you want to move to. If your move is due to family or work, then consider part of your research already completed.
But if your destination remains up in the air, dive deep into why you want to move abroad and then identify a handful of countries that might serve as a viable landing spot.
No two countries are the same. Save for some commonalities with our neighbor to the north, few countries offer the United States' unique combination of freedom, commerce, and basic amenities.
It's natural to pinpoint a specific reason or ideal for choosing one country over the next. The mountainous terrain of Switzerland. The cuisine of Italy. The schooling and job prospects of Singapore. The modern trappings of South Korea. The tropical beauty of Costa Rica.
All are top candidates for American expats.
Each, though, has its own economy, set of tax laws, unique job prospects, and accepted social norms. Determine your particular comfort level with each and weigh the concessions you're willing to make (and those you're not) before choosing your destination.
Regardless of where you choose to live, there will be rules and regulations for getting into the country and setting up shop as a foreign resident.
Prepare any documentation you might need for securing a visa or work permit, such as passport, birth certificate, marriage license, tax records, health records, and insurance.
Upon arrival, you may have to apply for that country's form of ID or residence permit. Similar rules apply. Ensure your documentation is current and that you've earmarked enough funds to cover any fees.
Remember, when you move, you are an immigrant within your new country, so be prepared for anything. Research immigration procedures well before you leave and continue to stay up to date on them should regulations change.
What to Do With Your Stuff
Whether you're a hoarder or choose to travel light, the question inevitably comes up when moving countries: what to do with your stuff.
For big-ticket items like your car, you'll want to consider the cost of transport, owning, and managing its maintenance. In some instances, it can be cheaper to buy a new car upon settling in your new home. Also, many countries have robust public transportation networks, so a car may be unnecessary.
As for everything else, it comes down to what you need to take with you. Transporting your possessions across an ocean is a considerable expense. It can be physically cumbersome as well. If you plan to return to the states, it can be cheaper to store your possessions for multiple years here. If yours is a permanent move, discard what you can do without before moving everything else.
For Pet Lovers
We realize that pets are more than just stuff, so yes, they get their own section. Some destination countries are even more pet-crazy than the U.S., but that doesn't mean they allow every housebroken animal into their country. The same is true for your new residence — some communities will be pet-friendly, others will not.
Verify first if pets are allowed. If so, confirm whether there are restrictions on breed or animal type, what kinds of vaccinations, tests, or documentation is required, and whether your companion has to quarantine for a set period before being allowed into the country.
Where to Live
If you've ever watched House Hunters International on HGTV, then you'll have an idea of what to expect relocating overseas. To call it different from the American way of life would be an understatement.
First, many countries restrict or severely limit foreign ownership of housing. It's just one reason why you should rent your first few years in any new county — you might not have a choice. Renting is also wise for getting accustomed to your new country before deciding which area you might want as a permanent residence.
As real estate agents ourselves, we highly recommend partnering with a relocation expert or real estate attorney well-versed in your destination country's real estate scene. If possible, always seek out other Americans who've relocated to your preferred country to learn about their housing experience. And keep in mind that all the factors that impact U.S. real estate will pop up elsewhere, such as taxes, insurance, and neighborhood fees.
As we've already noted, moving overseas can prove a massive financial commitment. Cost of living varies from country to country, with some on par with the U.S. and others astronomically high or an incredible bargain.
Plan ahead and save enough before moving to cover several months' worth of expenses, including unforeseen emergencies. Don't overextend yourself early and keep your living expenses nominal until you adjust to the costs of goods and services.
In addition, recognize that taxation works very differently in other parts of the world. Tax rates are vastly higher in many countries than in the U.S. While you may receive some portion of it back should you ever return stateside, that doesn't help your immediate living situation.
Account for taxes in relation to your salary and how they impact your cost of living overall. When in doubt, seek out a professional financial planner to help you navigate local nuances.
Health and Safety
Medical care is a critical aspect of life, regardless of where we live. And while we hope we never need it, we're glad it's there when we do. Not all health care systems are created equal. In many countries, health services require out-of-pocket payment well beyond a copay. Others offer service at no immediate costs, though the individual system might prove confusing to navigate.
If you move abroad with an employer, inquire about how your health insurance will be covered. If yours is a "make it up as you go along" relocation, research the country's healthcare system. Know how to access it and pay for services should the need arise. Consider carrying private medical insurance and ensure it covers overseas expenses.
In addition to health, personal safety is another unknown element of moving overseas. Generally speaking, most foreign countries that attract American expatriates are relatively safe.
Of course, crime knows no borders, and it's critical to be mindful of your surroundings at all times, especially if you don't speak the native language. Learn how to access emergency services in the city you choose to live in, as well as any you plan to travel to or spend extended periods in.
Even as the world seems to be getting smaller — thanks to the internet and travel between foreign lands being a half-day's plane ride or less away — the world is filled with highly distinctive cultures. Different languages and different customs can make the acclimation process to a new country difficult. In some cases, it can be downright intimidating.
It's important to research cultural norms for your destination country. Recognize what may be socially acceptable in the U.S. could be considered taboo in another nation. The reverse is just as true.
Thanks to the fact that many nations have adopted English as an unofficial second language, communication is less of a barrier than it once was. However, the further you venture from major urban centers, the less likely you are to encounter English speakers.
You don't necessarily need to immerse yourself in the language of your chosen country (at least before arriving), but it helps to have a few phrases handy to make your way around everyday tasks. The more of the native language you learn — including any common slang or local terminology — the easier you’ll acclimate.
Remember that simply moving within the same community in Houston or Dallas is a stressful experience. Moving abroad can magnify that stress tenfold. Research and plan ahead as much as possible to avoid surprises and limit any confusion or cultural faux pas (which will inevitably occur until you fully acclimate to your new home).
Living abroad is a culturally rich and incredibly fulfilling experience. The better prepared you are for the journey, the more rewarding it will be.
Are you interested in real estate a bit closer to home, such as buying or selling a residence in Houston or Galveston? Perhaps even Austin or Dallas? Or are you simply seeking more information on Houston luxury real estate? Whatever your Texas real estate dream, contact the Amy Chance real estate team today and allow her years of experience and expertise to help you navigate the process.