What do you need to do before moving abroad? This moving abroad checklist breaks down how to prepare for moving to another country.
Moving is complicated enough, but moving to another country?! This moving abroad checklist simplifies what you need to do in the months BEFORE your big move, so you don’t lose your mind in the process.
Trust me, I know firsthand just how overwhelming moving to another country can feel.
It’s exciting, sure, but there’s also so much to remember.
Visas, insurance, downsizing: Are you pulling your hair out yet?
Since 2014, I have relocated to another country three different times. I’ve done things well, and I’ve made mistakes.
After this post, you will have a step-by-step moving abroad checklist you can use while preparing to move abroad.
Armed with the useful information and actionable tips in this post, you will feel confident that no detail has been overlooked.
Learn from my mistakes and make your move abroad as stress-free as possible.
Still not sure if being an expat is right for you? Ask yourself these questions BEFORE moving abroad.
Moving Abroad Checklist for First-Time Expats
As a first-time expat, you might be wondering where to even begin preparing for your move abroad.
While you shouldn’t underestimate the complexity of the task at hand, you don’t need to feel like it’s impossible.
This moving abroad checklist details what you need to do, and while there is some flexibility, it’s also in the order you should approach the tasks.
Just starting to think about living abroad? Don’t miss this post comparing the expat and digital nomad lifestyles.
Research Your New Country’s Visa Requirements
It is never too soon to start researching visa requirements.
In fact, if you’re deciding between several countries, knowing the rules could help you make your decision.
For example, one of the reasons I decided to move to Mexico is the relaxed six-month tourist visa. I can live here and work online without needing official paperwork as long as I exit the country every 180 days.
As you’re doing your research, you might even come across countries you hadn’t considered. The New York Times notes that Bahrain, Taiwan and Ecuador are all top destinations for expats despite people frequently overlooking them
Whatever you do, you don’t want to leave your visa research until the last minute.
In 2014, when I was preparing to move to Spain to be an au pair, I didn’t give myself enough time to apply for the appropriate visa. Thinking I could sort it out in Spain, I went ahead with my plans.
Nope! Since most countries require you to apply for a visa while still in your home country, this is should be the very first item on your moving abroad checklist.
Thinking about moving to Mexico? Find out exactly what you need to apply for temporary residency in Mexico.
Check the Validity of Important Documents
Whether you end up applying for a visa or not, check the expiration dates on these important documents:
- Driver’s license
It takes time to renew them, so get on it right away if you’re nearing the expiration date.
While it’s possible to renew your passport abroad, it’s a bit more complicated so better you take care of it while still in your home country.
Of course, your passport and driver’s license aren’t the only important documents to bring with you.
What to Bring When Moving to Another Country:
- Birth Certificate
- Marriage Certificate
- Work Permit
- Medical Records
- School Records
- Social Security Card
You should make plenty of copies of these important documents, and if possible, leave a copy with a trusted person in your home country.
Plan for How You’ll Earn Money
Hopefully, you’ve already given some thought to how you’ll earn money when you’re living abroad.
If not, check out these posts:
When deciding what kind of work you will do, it’s smart to look into the cost of living for your new city.
Moving to Mexico? Check out this post about the cost of living in Querétaro.
For other countries, Expatistan is a great tool for comparing cost of living between cities.
Knowing the cost of living will give you an idea of how much you should aim to earn per month and how much you should save for start-up costs.
Save for Start-Up Costs
That’s right, you don’t want to move abroad and try to begin a new life with no money in your bank account.
At a minimum, you should have enough money to get you through the first month.
When my boyfriend and I moved to Madrid in 2015, I made sure to have enough savings to cover my half of the security deposit and first month’s rent for our apartment. I knew it would be at least a month until I got my first paycheck for teaching English as an auxiliar de conversación.
If at all possible, leave yourself some wiggle room as unexpected expenses always seem to crop up.
For example, when I moved to Querétaro, I planned on renting a furnished apartment like I had in Madrid.
Turns out that renting furnished apartments isn’t really a thing in Querétaro, so I ended up signing a lease on an unfurnished place and had to sleep on an air mattress for the first few weeks.
Organize Your Finances
You know you need to have money, but equally important is a way to access that money.
It will take time to set up a bank account in your new country (if you’re able to set one up at all), so you need to have a way to access your funds in the meantime.
When I first moved to Mexico, I wasted a lot of money on ATM fees. All those little charges add up!
Instead, while you’re still in your home country, set up an account with a bank that refunds ATM fees. For Americans, expats frequently recommend the following:
- Charles Schwab High Yield Checking Account
- United Services Automobile Association
As you’re getting your finances in order, you should also notify your bank and credit card company that you’re moving abroad so they can make a note on your account.
Few things will ruin your day faster than a frozen debit card.
Investigate Insurance Options
Before moving abroad, set aside time to research insurance options.
This is something younger expats and digital nomads have a tendency to overlook, but it’s very important.
You want to ensure you’re covered throughout the moving process. When I relocated to Mexico, I purchased travel insurance from World Nomads.
World Nomads also offers coverage for digital nomads and expats.
I used World Nomads until signing up with Groupo Nacional Provincial (GNP), the largest private health insurance provider in Mexico.
Start Learning the Language
If you’re moving to a country where something other than English is the first language, you might think you’ll start learning once you get there.
Don’t put it off.
Even minimal language skills will help you while you’re settling in.
Some basics could mean the difference between finding an apartment on your own and having to pay a realtor to help you.
Apps like Duolingo are okay for getting started, but to really prepare, I recommend taking classes with a professional tutor. italki offers affordable one-to-one classes in every language you can imagine.
Check out this post for everything you need to know about learning a language online with italki.
When you finally move abroad, you will be so grateful you started learning the language now.
Connect with People in Your New City
You know who could give you some great advice on how to make a successful move to your new country?
Someone who has already made a successful move there.
Do a Google search for expat groups and blogs in your new city.
Make sure you’re not spamming the comments with questions you could easily Google, and if someone does help you, offer to buy them a beer or coffee once you’re settled.
You might even make a new friend.
Declutter (Make Marie Kondo Proud)
A lot of people see moving to another country as an opportunity for a fresh start.
If you want to make it that, then this item on your moving abroad checklist is especially important.
Before I left to au pair in Spain, I went through all of my belongings. Yes, ALL OF THEM.
Years before all the Marie Kondo buzz, I picked up every single thing I owned, held it and asked myself if I it had a place in my new life abroad.
Then, I asked myself if it was something I could see myself wanting if/when I returned to the U.S.
If I didn’t answer yes to one or or both of those questions, I sold it, donated it, gave it to a friend or just plain threw it away.
I’ve repeated this process every time I’ve moved abroad, and it’s always so incredibly liberating.
Pro Tip: Instead of stuffing suitcases with all the clothes you own, set aside money in your budget to buy new stuff once you’re abroad. Not a whole wardrobe but a few items that will help you blend in with the locals.
Moving to Mexico? Check out this detailed packing list for Mexico with a special section dedicated to what to bring if you’re moving to Mexico.
Stockpile Stuff You Can’t Live Without
The times I’ve moved abroad, my luggage has consisted of two suitcases and a backpack.
Space is obviously at a premium, so I reserve it for things I can’t live without and/or know I won’t be able to buy abroad.
Stockpile enough prescription medication and contact lenses to get by until you’re established.
Similarly, do some Googling to see if your favorite products are available in your new country. When I couldn’t find my go-to mascara in Mexico, I purchased enough to last me until I could get back to the U.S.
But remember, part of the fun of living abroad is finding new products you love. Just because you don’t know what you’ll replace a beloved product with yet doesn’t mean you won’t find something.
It might even be better.
Find Temporary Housing
Many first-time expats want to sort out their living situation so it’s move-in ready when they arrive.
But, in my experience, it’s almost impossible to rent an apartment online. If you happen to find a willing landlord who ~*only*~ asks that you wire him the money, it’s
probably definitely a scam.
No matter where in the world you’re moving, your best bet is to rent an Airbnb in a central location for your first two weeks (maybe month).
With that as your base, you can scope out the area and see apartments in person.
In some cities, like Madrid, the rental market moves insanely fast. We would set up an appointment to see a place, and before we could even get there, the landlord would call us to say someone else had already taken it.
As for Querétaro, there were hardly any listings online. We found our apartment in Mexico through word of mouth.
Say Goodbye to Friends & Family
A going-away party sounds like a good idea, but in that setting, it can be difficult to talk to everyone.
Instead, list out the people you want to say a special goodbye to and make plans to see them.
I also like to write notes for my loved ones because, during an emotional goodbye, it’s hard to say everything you want to say.
Look, I know you’re not getting on the Mayflower to go to the New World or whatever, but before moving abroad, you need to tell the people you love how much they mean to you.
Hopefully, you will see each other again, but if something happens and you don’t, you won’t have any regrets.
That last line probably sounds a little grim, but saying goodbye and telling people how you feel applies to more than just death.
When you move abroad, your relationships will change. It’s inevitable.
Telling a friend how special they are to you could help to fortify your relationship against the distance, but if it doesn’t, at least you honored that friendship with a heartfelt goodbye.
Pack a Carry-On Bag with Essentials
From setting up a bank account to apartment hunting, you’re going to want to hit the ground running when you get to your new city.
Lost luggage could really slow you down.
Just in case, pack your carry-on bag with enough essentials to get you through a few days.
In addition to your passport and other important documents, have at least one change of clothes, toiletries and chargers.
The suitcases you check should have the address of your Airbnb on the luggage tags.
Even More Moving Abroad Advice
For even more moving abroad advice, check out these expat tips from women living all over the world.
They’ll be the first to tell you that moving to another country and starting over isn’t without its challenges, but it’s worth it.
Moving Abroad Checklist: Additional Items
You’re not ready to move abroad quite yet. There are a few additional tasks you need to take care of before you move to another country.
- Print photos of friends and family
- Easy to pack, these sentimental items will help make your new house feel like a home.
- Purchase converter plugs
- Check to see if your electronics are compatible with the outlets in your new country. If not, buy convertors.
- Register to vote absentee
- Just because you’re living in a different country doesn’t excuse you from the responsibility of casting a ballot.
- Unlock your phone
- The majority of phones are unlocked these days, but just double check so it’s easy for you to put in a SIM card when you get to your new country.
- Get an International Driving Permit
- Some countries are more strict about requiring these than others. If you think you might need one, apply for it while you’re still at home because it’s a pain to try to get one while abroad.
- Cancel subscriptions
- Some subscription-based services (Netflix, Audible, etc.) you can still use abroad, but others (Amazon Prime) may require you to set up another account.
Put Reading These Posts on Your Moving Abroad Checklist
- 6 Important Questions to Ask Yourself Before Moving Abroad
- How to Finally Learn a Language
- 5 Things No One Tells You About Moving Abroad
- Expat’s Guide to Living in Querétaro, Mexico
Final Thoughts on Moving Abroad Checklist
I won’t lie to you: Even with this checklist, preparing to move abroad is stressful at times.
Before and after you move to another country, there will be days when you wonder what TF you got yourself into.
I created this moving abroad checklist to make the process as manageable as possible, but the fact is moving to another country is hard.
That’s why it’s important to give yourself adequate time, ask questions and seek expert advice.
On tough days, take a deep breath and remind yourself that, if moving abroad was easy, everyone would do it.
Whatever your “why” for wanting to move abroad is, hold onto that.
Remember that this is an adventure, and while adventures aren’t always easy, they are always worth it.
Do you have questions about moving abroad? Leave a comment below or shoot me a direct message on Instagram (@alexnotemily).