Thinking of Moving Abroad? Here are 5 Things to Consider
It’s never been easier to live a seamless international life. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared.
With technology and online resources at your fingertips, and with similarly minded modern expatriates communicating and collaborating all over the world, it’s never been easier to live in a foreign land. But packing it in entails more than packing your bags. From tax codes to residency restrictions to health care systems, each country offers a slightly different introduction to expatriate life.
Daniela Coleman, 42, an American university administrator whose career has led her back and forth across the pond several times (she’s now a resident in Bologna, Italy), has faced all of these logistical hurdles at one time or another. Her advice: Make sure you’re ready. “A lot of people fantasize about living abroad, particularly after having a junior year abroad experience,” she said. “But one has to figure out: How do I want to do it?”
Here are five things you should consider before you make the move.
Anyone who isn’t marrying a foreigner and moving to that person’s country must check the visa requirements in their destination. When Jennifer Ceaser, 51, a freelance travel writer, moved from the U.S. to Europe in 2016, she assumed she had a visa sponsor through a relative in Germany. When that fell through, she faced “a year of frustrating appointments and a bureaucratic nightmare” — only to be denied. With the help of a lawyer, she made a second round of applications and finally got a two-year visa.
The U.S. State Department recommends contacting the embassy or consulate of your destination country several months before you plan to move.
Understand the requirements for health insurance in your destination country and your status in your country of origin. If you’re planning permanent residency, you may qualify for national coverage in that country. Or you may, as Cynthia Simmons did in Mexico, change insurance as circumstances dictate. In her 15 years in Mexico, the Atlanta native used an international policy and private insurance before becoming Medicare eligible.
“I am questioning it now, and may decide to return to a Mexican policy because I can see doctors for a minimal expense,” said Ms. Simmons, 70, noting it wasn’t worth traveling back to the U.S. just for medical care. For those who are eligible for Medicare in the U.S., coverage may be affected by your plans to live outside the country permanently or in the short term. Medicareinteractive.org is an online resource that explains some of the likely scenarios.
If you are relocating with children, explore options for public local schools and private “international schools” that cater to the needs of dual-culture families. Created by Gerardo Robledillo, an expat father, the International Schools Database is a directory with more than 2,000 schools in 71 countries. Families in Global Transition and the Safe Passage Across Networks (SPAN) are resources for families needing assistance with the emotional transitions across cultures.
Set up as much banking online as possible for domestic fixed costs such as mortgages or other repayment loans. Set up local bank accounts for paying utilities and having cash on hand in your new home. You’ll also have to file taxes in the U.S. for as long as you retain citizenship. If you plan to work in your new country, check the local tax requirements, based on earnings and origin of income. Many working American expatriates, like Ms. Ceaser, choose to work primarily with U.S. companies to simplify their filing obligations. Online services can provide borderless transfer services with current exchange rates.
For staying connected to family, friends and business back home, check with your phone carrier for international plans, particularly for restrictions on usage, or buy SIM cards in your inbound countries for local calling. For the long term, consider a separate foreign phone. Apps such as FaceTime and WhatsApp are cost-effective ways to stay in touch. Cloud services are increasingly being used not only for storing photos and music, but for health records and other important personal data you may need to access but don’t want to haul around.
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