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Expat checklist: tips for planning your relocation

Updated 15 Mar 2013

Each year thousands of people move overseas to experience expat life in a new country. Whether you choose to relocate for a lucrative job offer, to be closer to family, or simply for an adventure in the sun, there are a whole host of things you will need to consider to ensure that your expat experience is a success.


Obtaining the correct visa or work permit will probably be the first step to making your expat experience a reality. Here are a few questions expats should ask themselves when applying for a visa to live abroad:

  • What type of visa or work permit do I need?  The type of visa you apply for will depend on your nationality and the reason for relocation. For instance, the requirements for those moving abroad to study will differ from those for an expat who is moving abroad to work or start up their own business.

  • How early will I need to start the visa application process? What supporting documents are needed? Remember that some visa applications require a large number of supporting documents which can also take a while to obtain. Examples of the types of documents that might be needed for a visa application include: a police clearance certificate, medical certificates, copies of an employment contract or letters from a sponsor. It is also worth speaking to others who have been in a similar position to find out how long the visa process took them.

  • Do I need to apply for the visa before I arrive at my destination? Research the visa process and find out whether you need to obtain the visa before you arrive in the country or whether it is possible to enter the country on a tourist visa and then apply for a different type of visa to remain in the country long-term.

  • Should I enlist the help of an immigration lawyer or consultant? If the visa process seems too daunting or complex for you to get your head around, consider enlisting some support from an immigration consultant or immigration lawyer who can advise you on the correct documentation and do some of the legwork for you. Those who are moving abroad to take up a job offer may also find that they will receive some support and assistance from their employer.

  • Will my work permit also cover my partner or spouse?

Working abroad

The majority of expats moving abroad will already have a job lined up. Job seekers will need to have an understanding of the local job market in their destination before they start making job applications. Here is a list of things worth bearing in mind when taking up a job offer or seeking employment abroad:

  • What is the job market like? Are there jobs available in your field of work in the country?

  • Are you eligible to take up employment in the country or do you need to get a permit first? Depending on where you are moving to there could be some restrictions on the type of jobs available to foreigners. People of certain nationalities will find it easier to work in certain countries than others.

  • What conditions must be met in order for you to obtain a work permit? In some countries you need to have an employer act as your sponsor before you will be granted a work permit. Nowadays, in many countries the employer has to provide proof that they were unable to find a local person to do the job before hiring a foreigner.

  • Are your qualifications recognised in the country? Education systems vary from country to country so you might need to have your qualifications evaluated by an official body before it is recognised by potential employers.

  • What are your salary expectations? You should not move abroad expecting to earn the same salary as you do in your home country. If you have qualifications or specialist skills that are in short supply abroad you can expect to earn more and be lured abroad with a whole range of incentives.

  • If you’ve already been made a job offer, is the salary enough to maintain a good standard of living in your new country? Before accepting a job offer do some research on the cost of living in that country and speak to others in your field to find out about what you can realistically hope to earn. If you are not completely satisfied with the employment package you have been offered don’t be afraid to negotiate a better package with the employer.

  • Are all the important documents in order? Ensure that you get references from current and past employers and, if necessary, prepare a CV. Copy important documents and keep them in a safe place.


Finding a suitable home in a new country plays a significant role in helping expats settle in. Here are some things to consider when looking for accommodation in your new country:

  • What type of accommodation are you looking for? Are you looking for an apartment or a large family home? Do you want to move into a furnished or unfurnished property?

  • Do you want to rent or buy a property in your new destination? The answer to this question will depend on the reason for your relocation and whether you are moving abroad to complete a short-term contract or if you see yourself living abroad permanently. Research the property market in your new host city or country and find out if it is more beneficial to rent or buy. Also consider whether expats are allowed to buy property in that country.

  • Where do you want your new home to be located? When choosing an area or suburb to live in, expats must consider factors such as proximity to the workplace, proximity to good schools, property prices, facilities available in the area and access to public transport.

  • Have you contacted local estate agents to help you find a home? Estate agents have a good understanding of the local property market and can assist new arrivals in finding a home that meets all their needs. 

  • Have you cancelled all your existing utility payments and commitments at home? Remember to give notice to your landlord in plenty of time and cancel all >utilities, gym membership, etc

  • Having you considered the safety and security aspects in your new home? The situation and requirements are different from one country to the next so expats should be sure to do their research. 


Moving abroad with a family poses a number of additional challenges. Here are some things to consider when moving abroad with a family:

  • Is your new destination safe for expat children and child-friendly?

  • Have you prepared your children for living abroad? Relocation can be particularly difficult for children. Take the time to inform them about the move and answer any questions they have about their new home.

  • Where will the children go to school? Expat parents need to research the schooling options available and decide whether it is possible to send their children to local schools. Many expat parents opt to educate their children at an international school where they can continue studying under the national curriculum from their home country.

  • How far in advance should you start school applications for your children? Expats should remember that some of the more popular international schools tend to be oversubscribed and have waiting lists. Therefore it is best to start your research early and make your applications well before leaving home.

  • Will there be a trailing spouse? Are their job opportunities in your new destination for your spouse?

  • Are you moving abroad with pets? Be sure to find out about any quarantine restrictions for pets being brought into the country and determine which immunisations and health certificates are required to move your pets.


Having an understanding of transport options and how you will get around in your host city will have a massive impact on how easily you settle into expat life and will also probably have some impact on where you choose to live in a city.

Do some research on transport options available to you before you relocate and speak to expats already in the country. Factors to consider:

  • Will you need a car or is it possible to get around using public transport alone?

  • Have you considered transporting you car abroad? In some expat destinations cars are a luxury commodity with price tags to match. Some expats choose to ship their car from home to the new expat destination.

  • What is the procedure for buying a car in your new destination? In some countries there is a long list of documents you need in order to purchase a car.

  • Are foreigners permitted to drive in the country? What type of driving licence do you need? Can you drive on an international driving licence or do you need to convert your licence?

  • What are the driving conditions like? In some developing countries the poor road conditions and the erratic behaviour of other road users results in expats often choosing to hire a driver rather than driving themselves about.


Sorting out your financial affairs will play a key part in ensuring the move to a new destination goes smoothly. Here are a few things to consider when it comes to expat money matters:

  • Have you cancelled all your direct debit and standing orders? Before leaving home make sure you cancel any monthly bill payments to avoid any penalty charges.  Remember that in some cases you may be required to cancel some of these payments a month or two before you leave.

  • Should you close all accounts in your home country? Keeping your existing bank accounts open may be useful for those who still have commitments at home and plan on returning after a period abroad. However, for expats who are looking to get permanent residency status and take full advantage of foreign tax jurisdictions, closing accounts in your home country will play a significant part in showing your lack of ties elsewhere.

  • Will you need to set up a local bank account? Are foreigners allowed to open a bank account in their new country? What type of documentation will you need to open a bank account? Which bank offers the best incentives for expats?

  • Can you use your existing bank cards abroad? Some expats choose to continue banking with a bank from their home country rather than going to the trouble of opening a local bank account.  Most banks charge fees for withdrawing money and making financial transactions abroad so do some research and find out which bank offers the lowest rates.

  • Have you considered offshore banking options? Offshore banking is a solution well suited for expats as it allows for the use of multiple currencies, which is ideal if you still want to use one currency to finance commitments back at home and another for financial matters in your new destination.

  • Do you own property in your home country? Have you considered selling it or renting it out while you are away? Will you need to make improvements to the property before putting it on the market? Expats choosing to rent their properties while they are abroad may want to consider hiring an agent to manage the property while they are out of the country. 

  • Have you considered your tax status? Before you leave home make sure you contact your local tax office and inform them that you plan on living and working abroad.  If you are still generating income within your home country from assets, this will have an impact on your status as a taxpayer in your new destination as well.

  • Do you need to enlist some professional help to organise your finances? You may wish to consider getting advice from an accountant and financial advisor on the tax implications of moving abroad and contact your solicitor/ lawyer to ensure that your legal documents such as a will or power of attorney are up-to-date.


Getting sick while living abroad in a country where you are unfamiliar with the healthcare system, facilities and procedures can be a nightmare for new expats. Here are some points to bear in mind with regards to health issues when moving overseas:

  • What are the health hazards in your new destination? Have you had all the required immunisations?

  • What are the healthcare options available to expats?  Remember, in some countries foreigners are not entitled to use public healthcare facilities and therefore will need to budget for treatment at private hospitals.

  • What is the standard of both private and public healthcare facilities in the country?

  • What type of health insurance policy will you go for? For those only planning to be abroad for a short period of time, a travel insurance policy may provide sufficient cover. However, expats planning on moving abroad for longer periods will need to do some research into international health insurance options.

  • How easily can you obtain prescription medicines? Are you permitted to bring medicines into the country from home? Are pharmacies readily accessible in your new destination?

Culture shock

Whether your new destination is a short flight away from home or on the other side of the world, all new arrivals in a foreign country are bound to experience some degree of culture. Doing some research and learning a little about the local culture will serve you well in integrating with the locals and making new friends. Consider the following:

  • What are the official languages in the country? If you are moving to a place where your home language is not widely spoken then take the time to learn some of the local language before you leave home. If possible invest in a language course or at least learn some basic words and phrases.

  • How much do you know about the local culture? Try to do some reading before moving to learn about cultural differences you might experience in your new home. This will limit culture shock.

  • Do you have any expat contacts or local friends in the country? When moving to a new country it is a great comfort to have a few contacts you can rely on to provide you with information. Use expat websites and forums to make new friends and network – new arrivals will soon find that there are lots of people who have experienced the trials of expat life and are willing to help. A good way to make friends is through expat clubs, whether they are toddler groups, sports clubs or social events.


Maintaining contact with loved ones back home will be important in making the transition to life abroad a little easier. Carrying out some research into the best modes of communication will be worthwhile and it will also helpful in allowing expats to get connected soon after arriving in their new destination.

  • Is your cell phone set up with roaming functions? Most people will start a contract with a local service provider once they arrive at their new destination.

  • What are the main cell phone service providers in the country? Do any offer any special packages which will allow you to make cheaper international phone calls?

  • Is WiFi readily available in the country? How much will ADSL connection cost per month?

  • Would it be worth investing in a VoIP phone?

  • How good is the postal service in the country? Is it easy to send and receive packages from home?

The move

  • Do you need to enlist the services of long-distance moving companies to ship your goods overseas and have you considered employing a relocation company to help manage your move? Relocation companies can provide a host of services from school and home search to hiring furniture and organising visas and work permits. The use of relocation specialists can be especially useful for expats who are planning on a long-term move. 

  • What will you take with you when moving overseas? Decide which items to sell, move or discard well in advance. This is a great opportunity to have a real clear-out.

  • Find out if there will be customs duties to be paid on transporting certain goods? Shipping certain items, such as electronics and motor vehicles, may incur hefty customs fees in some countries. Make sure to research how much you can expect to pay. Expats often find it is cheaper to buy the goods at their destination rather than shipping the items from home.

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