How to Plan an International Move

WARNING: Service Post

Now that the last of our stuff has arrived almost entirely intact, I feel good about moving this topic perpetually off of the “upcoming” list and talking about the what, how, and a few of the horrors and blind spots of moving internationally.

Please bear in mind that this cannot possibly be a “soup to nuts” (complete) list of things to do to prepare for an international move.  My hope is that this post will get you thinking along the right lines as you put your own lists together (oh will there be lists) of things to do, call, cancel, sell, give away, donate, adopt out, and otherwise purge, pack, and place the things that currently make up your life in preparation for starting a new life in another country.

For anyone over the age of, let’s say, 28, who has bills, medical conditions that require a prescription, or favorite objects acquired from a life well (or at least interestingly) lived, the fantasy of chucking everything, packing two suitcases, and moving to a new country sounds great, sells thousands of hastily assembled eBooks every year, and is ultimately impractical.  For the young, without much stuff or acquired accountability/responsibility, I say, “do it”.   Just go.  But if you’ve liked your life so far, and want to take some of who you are along, and make sure that you can continue on your current course of healthcare, etc., I’m here to tell you that you can do it, but it will take some planning.

Everything can be handled for you if you throw enough money at it, but people with lots of money are generally happy where they are and are not looking to leave. For the rest of us, decisions must be made.

Broadly speaking, the tasks involved in moving overseas fall into two categories: closing down at home, and setting up in the new place.  Within those two categories the infinite number of tasks can (again, broadly speaking) be broken down into three areas of concern: moving stuff, moving people, and moving information and non-physical resources (money, data, personal records, and health/financial records, etc.).

In planning for your international move you’ll find that as you close out, cancel, and otherwise dispose of something on the “closing down at home” list, you’ll often add a parallel item to the “setting up in the new place” list.

It helps to deconstruct things into lists by working backwards.  Think about how you live now. Ask yourself a few questions. What things do you use every day, every week, every month, etc.?  How and where do you use them?  Who supplies that service or product to you?  Will you need it (or something like it) in the place where you’ll be living?  Is it a product or service that you are automatically billed for?  Is it automatically delivered to you on a regular basis?  Is it an off the shelf item, or is it customized for your use in some fashion?

Answers to these questions will help you build lists of products and services that will need to be canceled (automatically billed utilities, subscriptions, products, etc.), an interim supply stockpiled to get you through until you get set up in the new place, and research done to source and arrange billing and delivery (if possible) in the new place.  Yes, it is a lot of work.  But the alternative is, or can be, a bit gloomy.

Remember that as you shut one thing down at home, you have to put it on the list to start up in the new place.  You also need to bear in mind that it will probably take you some time to establish credit, get in to see a doctor, and work all of the paperwork kinks out for payroll, insurance, prescriptions, public transportation, etc.  So, you should make some advanced calls to banks and utilities in the place where you’ll be living and find out what they require in terms of documentation/credit references to set up an account. It may come as a surprise to learn that many countries don’t care about your credit score, or your credit rating back at home.  You may be able to use copies of past utility bills and bank statements to get a starter account, but you’ll have to put money in the account, and do so regularly (usually by cash or more likely by electronic transfer initially) to establish local credit.

Moving People
Getting people to a new country is relatively easy.  Passports, visas, plane tickets, and inoculations are fairly straightforward, and information on those subjects can be found on the Internet.

Be aware that moving pets is often much more difficult than moving people, and special attention should be paid to this part of your move if you plan to take pets with you. And I strongly recommend, and plea for you to do this and not simply abandon them.  Please take time to do this research early so you are not forced into an untenable situation that leaves your pets behind and uncared for, or worse.

Moving Stuff
Moving your stuff will require some hard choices about what you really “need”, and what objects in your life are “wants”.

Also bear in mind that many of your appliances and electronics (particularly the older ones) won’t work in your new home.  Check out the electrical standards where you are moving, and then look at the back and plug on EVERY device and see if they are designed for a range (volts, AND cycles/MHz) that includes the electrical standards in the place where you’ll be living.  If it is a device that doesn’t convert or handle that range of electricity, think seriously about giving it away now.

I write from experience, having just thrown my favorite reading lamp in the trash because I watched to my horror as the plug (even with a local plug adapter) melted in front of my eyes.  Now we are also faced with the prospect of throwing out a number of quality small appliances because they don’t work here, and a step up/down converter (if it can be sourced at all) costs more than the items are worth and would take up too much space.  We’d have been better off letting good friends/family have these items for free.  In the process we could have saved ourselves the moving costs (remember shipping costs are generally figured by a volume formula known as linear weight and NOT by the weight on a scale.).  That’s a vote for getting rid of stuff, but don’t start tossing everything in the bin.  There is also something to be said for taking things with you.

Bear in mind that you’ll likely wind up re-buying a lot of the things you think you won’t need when you get to your new home. So, rather than encouraging China to make and sell us all more stuff, think seriously about taking what you already have with you.

Also, if your work is paying for you to move, remember that they are paying to move your stuff, but more often than not, they won’t give you anywhere near as big an allowance (if any at all) to set up in your new home.  Essentially, they’ll pay to move it from where you are, but they won’t pay you to buy it again in the new place.  That may have a huge impact on your out of pocket costs.

Moving Information and Non-Physical Resources
Increasingly our lives have become more and more information/data oriented. And, while much of that information is already in (or can be converted to) a digital format, the ease of transporting that information on a flash drive, or other storage media may be outweighed by security and infrastructure concerns.

Bear in mind that if you carry your vital records electronically someone can swipe your medical records, tax records, and financial information all at once, drop it in their pocket, and stroll casually into the next shop for a pack of smokes with nary a bulk in their pocket.  Add to that the fact that the place where you’ll be living may not accept or have the facilities/equipment to deal with electronic copies of things.  So you’ll want to call/email/write ahead and be prepared to take along some paper copies of documents.

Important documents to carry with you on the plane (and not ship with your stuff) include social security cards, insurance cards, prescriptions, birth certificates, and marriage certificates (particularly important for residence/benefit qualification if only one spouse is employed at the outset).

Having electronic copies of many/most things is not bad as long as you have a safe place to store them. For that reason purchasing a fire safe is a great way to insure that paper copies and electronic copies are kept secure and safe both in transit (in your moving boxes) and once you’ve arrived.  Even if you prefer to use a safe deposit box, a fire safe is a good short term storage solution until you get your box set up, or for times when you need to store things but can’t get to your safe deposit institution.

As for transferring your money to a new country, going electronic is easiest.  You’ll want to take enough cash along to see you through until you can arrange a bank account and transfer most of your funds from home. Don’t use traveler’s checks as they are being phased out in most places. Credit cards, and bank transfers are now the preferred means of safely traveling with money.

Once you have your bank account set up in your new home, you’ll want to transfer whatever funds you need from home electronically.  When doing your research on banks, ask the banks in your new home what information (IBAN#, Swift codes, etc.) they’ll need from your “home” bank to execute a transfer.  Make sure you get that information from your bank at home before you leave. You can get it later by phone/email, but it’s just easier to do it ahead of time.

Also, if you plan to send money home, plan on doing electronic transfers as well.  It’s far safer and easier than relying on the mail.  If your bank insists on your mailing in deposits, ask for pre-printed deposit envelopes.  But remember that these will likely be printed for domestic use and you’ll need to write the country on them in order to mail them from your new home (I know this from experience).

In general, think about how you live now, and be realistic about your choices for living in the new place. It’s a pain now, but a few months down the road when you are settling in and things have gone smoothly, you’ll be glad you took the time now. Ask questions, do research, work your lists, and you’ll be fine. It is an adventure.

Things to look forward to in upcoming posts:

  • Irish Doctors

About Glenn Kaufmann

I'm an American freelance writer, photographer, and web publisher. I specialize in writing about travel, food, arts, and culture. I also write dramatic scripts for stage and screen. I'm based in Ireland.
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One Response to How to Plan an International Move

  1. C in DC says:

    As I learned the hard way, make a list or copies of all your important documents, credit card numbers, bank accounts, etc., for yourself and to leave with a close relative or friend. I had my wallet stolen with all my American credit cards in it. (I still had my British wallet on me.) It was far cheaper to have my mother call on my behalf (with my permisson) to cancel and replace them than it would have been from overseas. Also, you want someone to be able to fax you a copy of your passport, visas, etc., if you ever lose your passport while travelling.

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