International Relocation: 10 Important Tips When Moving to Another Country

Here are our top 10 international relocation tips.
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Life is full of adventures, big and small. 

If your next big adventure takes you out of the country, it’s natural to be filled with both excitement and trepidation. There’s the allure of new, perhaps exotic locations. And there’s the dread that your existing life will just be dragged along in tow. Or worse, that all the great things about it will be left behind.

It’s no small feat to move your home—whether across town or around the world. But when moving to another country, there are steps you can take to keep little things from becoming big problems. Here are our top 10 international relocation tips.

1. Begin Planning Early

When it comes down to moving day, there are a lot of moving pieces to juggle. Anxiety about managing your move could be even higher when you’re relocating to an unfamiliar country. Begin the planning process early to make sure all the pieces are in line and ready to fall into place. This includes all your normal moving checklist items, as well as those on the list below. 

If possible, visit your destination well before you need to begin packing. Take an organized tour of the city, scout out your neighborhood, and try a local restaurant. Knowing a little about the area will take some of the mystery out of experience, which can be a big source of anxiety. And if you find a charming coffee spot, for example, it will give you something to look forward to visiting again once you’re settled in.

2. Focus on the Essentials

You remember when you moved to the other side of town a couple years ago and took a million car loads of stuff to your new place? This move won’t be like that. There are ways to ship over as much of your belongings as you want (see number 3). But unless you’re moving to Australia, literally every other country is going to have a smaller average home size. Don’t pay to ship every unread book (you’ll get around to it one day, sure) or optimistic pair of jeans (no comment). Instead, focus on the items that are irreplaceable or necessary. Everything else can stay stateside.

Pro tip: Avoid unnecessary customs duties by completing a detailed, itemized inventory of every item you’re bringing with you. Check customs info before you pack to make sure you’re not accidentally bringing in “contraband”. (Did you know that you can’t bring ballpoint pens into Nigeria?)

3. Know What You’re Doing with Your Stuff

When you move abroad, there are two categories of stuff: what you’re taking with you, and what you’re not. You need to decide what to do with both categories.

First, how are you getting the essentials you’re taking to your destination? Whatever you don’t carry on the plane with you travels either by air freight or sea freight. If you’re on a budget, sea freight is the way to go. According to the World Bank, ocean freight is usually between 12-16 times cheaper than air freight. However, it can also take 10 times as long to reach its destination (20–30 days to travel from China to the U.S., versus three days by air). When shipping by sea, be prepared to plan ahead or live sparsely for a couple weeks at your new home.

And what about your car? A properly licensed, bonded, and insured international auto transport company can help you ship your car, most likely by boat.

Next, you should decide what to do with everything you’re not taking. These items can be divided into four sub-categories: store, donate, recycle, and discard. You can always rent a storage unit for all the furniture, art, books, mementos, and heirlooms you’re unable to take.

4. Make Copies of Important Documents

Space is precious in your carry-on bag. But you’ll want to allocate as much as necessary to copies of your most important documents. (Pro tip: You can also scan them and save them in the cloud for digital retrieval.) The best moving experts recommend leaving one copy with a family member, keeping one copy in storage, and taking one with you. 

Examples of important documents include:

  • Passport.
  • Visas.
  • Work permits.
  • Birth certificates.
  • Child custody papers.
  • Marriage licenses and certificates (or divorce papers).
  • Domestic and international driver’s licenses.
  • Social security cards.
  • Medical and dental records, including vaccine records.
  • Prescriptions.
  • Insurance cards and insurance policies.
  • School records (if studying abroad).
  • Financial records.

5. Get a Checkup

Finding a new doctor you like in a new hometown can be challenging in the easiest of circumstances. Hedge your bets, and visit your existing doctor before you move. It’s a great time to get any new immunizations you may need and renew any prescriptions. Plus now once you’re abroad, you won’t feel pressured to find a doctor quickly, before you’re fully settled into your new home. If you’re moving for work, ask HR about what medical, dental, and vision benefits are available while you’re overseas. And don’t forget to pack a small travel kit with all your medical essentials for the plane.

6. Prepare Your Pets

You and your human family members aren’t the only ones who should up your shots before you move. Many countries have strict laws about proper pet vaccinations. And if you don’t have all your pet’s paperwork and vaccinations in line, you could be required to quarantine your pet upon arriving at your destination. In addition to added fees (which could be hundreds of dollars), your pet could be quarantined away from you for up to 30 days! Or worse, you may have to send your pet back, which means several extra flights, the money that comes with that, and the challenge of coordinating their return trip to you. That’s a lot of stress for your pet and your family.

7. Confirm Your Bank

We love supporting small credit unions and independent local banks. But those accounts may be hard to access depending on your destination country. We recommend using a major U.S.-based bank, if possible, so you can access your funds when visiting home or living abroad. You can transfer all your funds to a new account, or open a secondary account with enough funds to keep you going (and keep your primary credit union account for later). Whatever you choose, make sure you research banks and financial regulations in your new home country. And that you have enough funds available that you can avoid frequent international transfer fees. A banker or financial advisor can help answer all your questions.

8. Make New Friends

More than 800 million people around the world speak English. But learning the language of your new home will help you make friends and learn the culture. Be patient with yourself and don’t be afraid to mispronounce a few words along the way. If you’re struggling, or if you want someone to practice with, seek out other English speakers in your new neighborhood. Facebook groups or other social media sources are a great way to meet expats, fellow immigrants, or natives who want to practice their English. 

9. Let Uncle Sam Know What’s Happening

Your mom isn’t the only person you need to inform about your upcoming move abroad. The U.S. government expects a call, too. Or at least for the proper paperwork to be filed. When you move overseas, at minimum you need to reach out to:

You may also want to know how close you’ll be to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Reach out through the U.S. State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to inform them of your upcoming residence. The embassy will add you to their records so they can contact you in case of an emergency or safety concern. 

10. Bring a Piece of Home with You

We know you’re going to love your new city! But that won’t stop you from getting a little homesick once in a while. Bring at least one small object from home and use it as your talisman whenever you’re lonely. It could be a poster or map of your hometown, the pennant for your favorite sports team, or something deeply personal to you and your friends or family. Having photos around is another great idea, and a great way to keep kids connected to the family they can’t see as often.

Happy travels!

Relocating to Another Country? We’ve Got You Covered.

Moving can be an exciting and stress-free process when working with the trained professionals at Allen Tate/Beverly-Hanks, REALTORS®. As members of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World®, we can connect you to valuable resources that ensure a flawless relocation. We’re ready to manage your move from start to finish—no matter where you call home.

Benefit from our experience. Contact the Beverly-Hanks Relocation Department today.

Do you have additional international relocation tips? Share them with us in the comments!

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