Nine Must-Dos For Americans Moving Abroad
Whether it’s for money, for love, or for angst concerning our country’s political system, thousands of American citizens choose to move abroad each year. Moving abroad is a huge lifestyle change, as American expatriates must come to grips with various local ways of life, such as respecting new religious and cultural traditions and different holidays, and more mundane issues such as driving on the left side of the road or using a step down voltage converter to safely power their U.S. electronics.
According to the U.S. State Department, 3-8 million Americans live abroad. Our nearest neighbors, Canada and Mexico, are the most popular destinations for American expatriates, but many also flock to Europe. CNBC reports that a recent survey found that 35 percent of American-born residents who responded to the survey would consider leaving the U.S. to live in another country.
Top Destinations for U.S. Expatriates
Estimated Number of Expatriates
738,000 to 1 million
316,350 to 1 million
220,000 to 600,000
139,000 to 197,143
Leaving the U.S. to take up long-term residence in another country isn’t simply a matter of packing your bags, hopping on an airplane, and renting an apartment. There are a number of legal, financial, and lifestyle issues residents will need to handle before moving abroad. Taking care of these issues will make U.S. residents’ transitions to living abroad easier and increase their likelihood of successfully spending several years or the rest of their lives abroad.
- Do Your Homework – Before moving to a foreign country, do considerable research about that country and the region where you’ll be locating. Just like in the U.S., there can be vast differences in the economy, politics, infrastructure, and culture of various regions within a nation.
Take the time to research the specific area you are considering moving to so you can be sure that it offers a way of life you can adapt to. Take care to find out about political or environmental problems facing the region, as well as information about the local standard of living and crime rates. Also, be sure to research local religions and customs to ensure you don’t inadvertently do something to offend your new neighbors. By doing a little research ahead of time, you can avoid moving to an area that may be dangerous or too removed from modern creature comforts for your liking.
- Start saving now – Moving abroad takes a lot of money. Some countries even require people seeking residency visas to have a substantial amount of money saved before they’re allowed to immigrate to their countries. Make sure you have enough to cover the cost of moving, and having a year’s living expenses saved up will also be helpful.
- Get your paperwork in order – If you don’t have a passport already, get one ASAP. Also, research what kind of visa or other documentation you’ll need for long-term residency in the country of your choice. Every country has its own laws about foreign residents, and some are much more strict than others. It may be worthwhile to engage an immigration attorney in discussing matters concerning residency and what options best suit your needs. At some point in the future, you may even want to consider dual citizenship with the U.S. and the country where you relocate.
- Get immunizations and medications – Foreign healthcare systems are much different than our own, and you’ll need to ensure all issues related to your health are in order before moving abroad. You’ll likely need to update a few immunizations, as most countries have strict policies regarding immigration and immunization.
You’ll need to determine whether you’ll need private health insurance or if you’ll be eligible to participate in any government health plans in your destination country. Sorting out your supply and expenses for any prescription drugs you need to take is another important consideration for Americans moving abroad.
It’s also a good idea to get a full check-up before you leave to ensure there are no health issues that may arise and cause unanticipated problems after you move. Having a clear picture of your health will allow you to decide whether relocation is the right choice for you and what steps you may need to take to provide for your care.
- Electronic issues – One of the big differences between life in the U.S. and life abroad involves electronic devices. Commercial electricity in the U.S. and many other countries developed differently, with the U.S. choosing to use 120 volt current for most electrical outlets (stoves and clothes dryers in the U.S. often use 240 volt current) and many other countries using 240 volt current.
If you move abroad, you’ll see that foreign electrical outlets are shaped differently than U.S. outlets. To use your American devices with foreign electrical outlets, you’ll need an adapter that fits the physical configuration of the outlet in your new home, and you’ll also need a step down voltage converter to safely use these outlets. Plugging an American device into a foreign outlet without a step down voltage converter will fry your device and may even cause an explosion or fire.
- Sell off everything you don’t intend to take with you – In most cases, it’s going to be much cheaper and a lot less trouble to buy new furniture, automobiles, and appliances when you arrive in your new country than to try to ship it. Before you move, you’ll need to sell off your property. The sooner you do this, the better, as it will make you less rushed to get your car, furniture, and other gear sold before your departure date arrives, making it less likely that you sell these items for less than they are worth.
- Brush up on your language skills – If you’re moving to a non-English speaking country, your adjustment will go much easier if you have some basic conversation skills in the local language. By learning the local language, you’ll be better able to request services and make friends with your new neighbors. There are a variety of online tools you can use to master some basic language skills in just about any language and, over time, you’ll find that you can become quite proficient in another language. It’s worth it, especially the first time you need to inquire about where the bathroom is or ask for directions.
services and make friends with your new neighbors. There are a variety of online tools you can use to master some basic language skills in just about any language and, over time, you’ll find that you can become quite proficient in another language. It’s worth it, especially the first time you need to inquire about where the bathroom is or ask for directions.
- Tax and financial planning – In most cases, U.S. workers laboring abroad will not have to pay U.S. taxes on their earnings. However, if you still have income from real estate or investments in the U.S., you may have to pay U.S. taxes on these revenues. You’ll also need to learn to navigate the tax system of your new country. Working with tax professionals in the U.S. and abroad experienced in handling expatriate tax issues can help you avoid running afoul of the law and ensure you don’t pay more taxes than necessary.
- Make living accommodations – Don’t expect to just show up in your new country and find a house or an apartment right away. Housing can be very scarce in some areas, and some countries may have laws regarding foreign ownership or renting of property. Before departing to your destination, make sure you have living arrangements settled.
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