Starting a new life in another country is exciting!
At the same time, moving abroad can be daunting and involve a lot of planning. The specifics of what you need to do will often depend on your reasons for moving.
Are you relocating to settle down in retirement, to be closer to family who already lives overseas, or are you following your career? Sometimes it will be a combination of reasons.
The truth is that whether you’re emigrating for business or pleasure, shifting your life from one country to another is a major task. However, if you plan in advance and create a checklist of what you need to do, it can help relieve some of the stress.
There are four key areas you need to consider before emigrating:
- Where do you want to move to?
- What are the immigration rules?
- How will the move affect your finances?
- How can you stay healthy and happy?
Let’s take a look at what you need to know about each of these important elements of moving abroad.
Figuring Out Where You Want to Live
Of course, you need to know your destination before you can move!
The world is full of wonderful places to live, but it’s sometimes easy to forget that living in a country is very different from going there on vacation. Researching the country is key to a successful new start.
When You’re Looking to Retire
According to InterNations data, around one-fifth of US American expats are retirees. Many Americans look to move abroad to retire to take advantage of lower living costs, with popular destinations including Mexico and Costa Rica.
When you’re choosing a country for your retirement, focus on finding a place that suits your lifestyle needs.
Compare countries by focusing on questions like:
- Do I need to learn another language to live there?
- What is the climate?
- Would I fit in culturally and can I make friends quickly?
- How easy would it be for my family to visit me or for me to travel back to the US?
Imagine yourself living in that environment and think about the things that would make you enjoy your new surroundings.
A good place to start is to examine International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index for ideas on where to move. It outlines the best countries for retirees and can be helpful in determining which countries might suit your retirement desires.
You can also read our blog for some ideas on the top ten most popular countries to retire to.
When You’re Moving for Work Reasons
When you’re moving to another country to work you might not have the luxury of choosing where you want to go. You might have found a new job or been asked to relocate by your employer, and have to move where your career takes you.
Others may wish to choose the destination first and then look for a job that fits.
If you’re looking to move abroad but don’t yet have employment, focus your country search to places with great career opportunities. Official government websites often have data on employment and you can browse local job portals and recruitment sites to find out what type of work is on offer. Recruitment portals such as Monster have guides to help with an international job hunt.
Understand Visa and Residency Requirements
You’ll also need to research countries in terms of practicalities, with immigration and visa requirements being your number one priority. You should find out answers to questions like:
- What visa do I need and how do I get it?
- How long is the visa valid for?
- What rights do I have under the visa?
- Can I become a citizen in the country? If so, how? Will it affect my US citizenship?
Visa requirements and conditions are often different depending on whether you’re moving to work or to retire. If you’re moving for work, you might:
- Require sponsorship or other proof from your employer
- Need evidence of language skills or have to take a language test
- Only be provided with a valid visa for the duration of your employment
On the other hand, if you’re moving to retire the focus of your visa application will likely be on your financial situation. You might have to prove you have sufficient savings, assets and necessary insurance to secure your visa.
You can find basic travel visa information on the US State Department website. For longer visas, contact the relevant authorities in the country you’re looking to move to, or ask for advice from the local US embassy in that country.
Be Aware of the Impact on Your Finances
It’s also crucial to consider how you will manage your finances in your new country of residence.
Firstly it is important to understand the local cost of living. This includes:
- The cost of buying and owning a home, as well as restrictions you might face as a foreign-buyer
- Rent and utilities
- Food expenses
- The cost of travel – public transport or car maintenance
- Healthcare and medication
- Other leisure and entertainment costs
There are plenty of sources for this depending on where you want to move to. Numbeo runs a global index detailing the cost of living across the world and is a great starting place for your research.
Don’t Forget About Taxation
Taxation is another crucial area to understand when you’re figuring out how to emigrate, particularly if you are moving abroad to work. You will want to know when and how you will get paid and what income tax applies, although your employer should be able to assist with these questions.
Several countries have bilateral tax treaties that determine how income, pensions, and dividends are taxed for non-residents. However, there may also be exemption periods in your host nation after which your taxation situation will change.
Check with the tax authorities of both the US and your new host nation to find out what taxes will apply. For example, if you're moving to the UK the HMRC has plenty of information for non-residents, while in Australia you can find information from the Australian Taxation Office’s website.
In addition to income taxes, remember to consider any other state or local taxes that might be levied, and include these in your living cost calculations.
Check Pension Payments
Other finances to consider when moving abroad include your pension arrangements overseas, particularly if you are moving abroad to retire. Retirees living abroad may not be able to access certain public services and benefits, so you will need to ensure your pension and savings are sufficient to cover your living expenses.
It’s also important to check with your pension provider whether they have restrictions or other special clauses in terms of paying the pension abroad. The payments might be tied to living expenses, for example. A good starting place is to contact your pension provider for more information.
Sort Out Your Health Insurance
Finally, it is important to research the healthcare system in your chosen country of residence. Most domestic US health insurance plans will not cover you for treatment abroad, so you may need to obtain specialist health insurance. Having adequate insurance cover can often be part of your visa requirements so you should sort this out as soon as possible.
Be aware that healthcare might differ considerably from what you’re used to in the US. Depending on where you move to, you might prefer to continue having regular check-ups back home in the US. An international health insurance plan can help with this, as it is specially tailored for expats living overseas and covers you for treatment both at home and abroad. Make sure you have the right insurance to cater to your unique health needs.
Additional information on specific expat destinations can be found in our Now Health International expat guides on our website.