While the idea of moving abroad to a new country sounds idyllic - a dream many of us have at some point in our lives - it can be quite a cultural, financial and emotional shock to your system once you arrive in your new destination.
Putting down permanent roots in another country can be far different than hopping around every few months, or every year, as many bloggers and "digital nomads" do. Others, like myself, become expatriates, due to a personal or spouse’s job opportunity abroad.
If you’re considering putting down roots elsewhere, here are a few helpful tips on readying yourself to become an Expat.
Research Ahead of Time
Especially when it comes to house hunting, the more information and listings you have the better. The way apartments are measured can vary widely, knowing the right neighborhoods, definitions on furnished vs. unfurnished, etc. Some countries count common space into your apartment size, so it’s important to understand how house hunting works before you get there. With that, learn the real estate laws. Buying right away isn’t always better either - you may find you like another neighborhood better after being in town for a year or two.
Even if you’re moving for a spouse’s job and you are working remotely for your own job, you will likely need to pay taxes in your home country - most definitely if that home country is the US. Even if your earnings are non-taxable, you’ll still need to file. Finding an accountant who is well versed in expatriate situations can save you a bundle in the long run. And, if you plan to travel back and forth, watch how many days you are in the US, as it can alter the taxes owed significantly.
Some countries will not allow you to enter under a tourist visa first and then apply for residency. Make sure you understand the rules ahead of time and also what the residency requirements are. If you aren’t being sponsored by a company, you may have to do visa runs, or in the case of the Schengen area of Europe, you’re only allotted a certain number of days every six months, so you will need to figure out residency ahead of time.
Work permits can be a sticky issue, so you need to research what you are legally able to do. If you’re the spouse who’s tagging along, you may not be permitted to work in certain countries. And, don’t think you can just work under the table and not get caught - it may work in some locations, but there are many who have risked it and found themselves getting deported.
Putting Stuff in Storage
Do you think you might return to the US at some point? Are you just on a temporary assignment that is scheduled to last a year? Think about what’s worth holding on to and putting in storage and what you can get rid of. Storage fees can add up, but if you are planning to move back at some point, you may want to store family heirlooms, important documents, etc.
Research what the import duties might be on some of your belongings, and whether they can be imported. Some countries like Belize have an early retirement, or "QRP" program as they call it, which allows you to bring in a specified amount of stuff duty free - one time. And, while not all countries charge duty on personal items, some do. Have a wine collection? That can cost you a pretty penny if you’re importing it - be sure to hold on to your purchase receipts and proof of payment as it may save you some money if you can show you’ve owned the wine for a certain amount of time already.
Banking abroad can be a nightmare. Be sure to bring apostilled copies of important documents you might not have thought about - birth certificates, bank signature cards, marriage and divorce records for all marriages, etc. Some banks, and even some municipalities, may require copies of these documents if your last names are different, etc. And, look into FACTA (Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act) you are required to report your overseas bank accounts to the US.
Join expat Facebook groups or online forums for the destination you’re moving to ahead of time. Ask pertinent questions and make friends - it will help if you are armed with good information and maybe make a friend or two before you arrive. Once you arrive, join some of the active in-person groups and events designed for expats. It will help ease some of the culture shock and the fact you’re missing family/friends back home. Many of the group members are great with helping newcomers - showing them where and how to grocery shop, how to get a driver’s license, open a bank account, how to navigate public transportation, and more.
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