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Moving abroad is a time of mixed emotions. The excitement of starting a brand new life in a different country is coupled with sadness at leaving your old life, family and friends. Add into the mix the organisation involved in packing up and moving house and you can see how this can become a stressful time. The key to a smooth move is organisation. Try to do as much as you can well in advance of your move rather than leaving everything to the last minute – so think ahead. Follow our 12 point list of tips to make the start to your expat life as stress-free as possible.
1. Inform the tax man and other official parties
Make a list of the official parties who need to know about your move and send letters to all of them. To get ahead, these can be drafted well in advance ready to be sent out at a later date. The list should include the tax authorities, child benefit agencies, bank, schools and so on. It may be wise to send these letters by registered post so you have proof that they were sent if there are any issues down the line.
You may choose to keep a bank account in the country you are leaving, especially if you will be renting out a property and receiving rent. However, if you decide to close your bank account, your bank will need to be informed in writing and you need to ensure that your employer is informed of where any final salary payments are to be paid.
2. Check documentation required in your new country of residence
You may need visas, work permits or other official documentation for you and your family in the country you have chosen as your home. Check with authorities well in advance what the requirements are and get everything in order as early as you possibly can.
3. Inform family and friends
As soon as you know that your move is definite, you will need to let your family and friends know. If you have children who are moving with you, you will need to carefully choose your moment to tell them and be prepared for a whole host of questions about your move.
Those being left behind, especially parents, may get emotional or even be opposed to your move. This will be due to a mix of concern for your safety and welfare, and fear that you will be far away and difficult to contact. Reassure them that in the modern age with tools such as Facebook, blogs and Skype, keeping in touch has never been easier. Setting up a weekly time for a Skype call is a great way to maintain regular contact.
4. Decide what to do with your property
If you are renting, you simply need to give notice that you are moving out. Check the terms of your contract to see how this needs to be done and how long your notice period is. Property laws in some countries may allow you to break a contract early if you are relocating for work reasons. Always notify your landlord in writing and by registered post.
If you own your own home, you need to decide whether to sell up or find tenants during your absence. Whichever you choose, find a professional and trustworthy agent to assist you. It is vital that whoever you choose is reliable and honest as you will not be there to keep an eye on things yourself.
If you are renting your property out, you will need to inform your mortgage provider of this. You should also chat to your insurance company about changing your existing policy to suit your new requirements.
5. Sort out your possessions
A move is the perfect opportunity to de-clutter your life. Sort out the things that you want to take with you and those items which you wish to put in storage and then be brutal in getting rid of everything else! For a lot of furniture items and kitchenware it is probably not worth shipping these unless they have sentimental value. Shipping is expensive so it is often cheaper to sell your old stuff and buy new when you arrive in your new home country. The same is true for electrical items – especially as those bought in your home country may not be compatible wherever you are moving to.
Items of value can be sold on eBay or similar local websites. Smaller items which you wish to get rid of can be sold at or car boot sales or donated to your local charity shop.
6. Sort out your bills and utilities
Make a list of all your regular bills and work through them to ensure that your accounts are closed down or transferred. These will include utilities such as gas, electricity and water, mobile and landline phone contracts and internet and television subscriptions.
Utility accounts (gas, electricity, water) can only be closed on the day you leave your property but be organised and make sure you have copies of your bills and contact numbers to hand. Take the meter readings and inform providers of these as well as your forwarding address for the final bills. It is also wise to contact your bank and ask them to stop any direct debit payments from your account, just in case.
If you have any outstanding debts such as credit cards or a car loan, make sure that these are paid off or if they are to continue, ensure that the loan providers are aware of your move and new address.
7. Arrange shipping
As I said, shipping your worldly chattels can be an expensive process, so ensure that you get a few different quotes and compare prices. Horror stories of bad shippers abound and therefore use a personal recommendation if you can. If not, find a company who is experienced in moves to the country you are going to.
Some companies offer free storage for a time which you may need while you search for accommodation once you move. Bear in mind that shipping times can be fairly lengthy so make sure you check timings and factor this in to your moving schedule.
For some destinations, customs duty may apply so make sure that you are well informed on this issue in advance, it may affect what you decide to take with you.
8. Decide what to do with pets
The decision of whether to take pets with you or leave them behind is a tricky one. Older pets may find it hard to adjust to a different country, especially if the temperature is very different to what they are used to. If you decide to take pets with you, use a professional company to ship them and be aware of any quarantine arrangements.
If you make the difficult decision to leave pets behind, it goes without saying that you should ensure that they are going to a good home.
9. Register with a currency exchange specialist
If you are going to be transferring money internationally, there are many companies around who specialise in currency exchange. They will offer much better rates than the banks and don’t charge any fees. In addition, once you have registered with them, the process is extremely quick and easy. Currency exchange companies can be used for one-off transfers as well as regular monthly transfers and you can even purchase forward contracts at a fixed exchange rate if you have large sums to transfer. This is well worth considering if you are buying a property abroad and need to transfer funds.
Packing always takes longer than you think so start as early as possible with items that are not essential for your day-to-day living such as books, pictures and out of season clothes. Label boxes clearly with the room that the box is destined for as well as its contents and write “Open first” on the boxes containing the essential items you will need to unpack as soon as your shipment arrives at your new home.
Clearly mark as fragile any boxes which contain breakables and ensure that items in them are protected with paper or bubble wrap and plenty of cushioning. You can buy special boxes for some items such as wardrobe boxes which can transport your clothes on their hangers, flat boxes for pictures and mirrors and bike boxes. If possible, pack all electronic items in their original packaging.
11. Research your destination
The more you can find out about your destination, the easier your move will be. The internet is full of resources for expats with general sites on moving abroad as well as more specific ones dedicated to any destination you care to mention.
Your research should cover practicalities such as housing, banking arrangements, social life, local culture and customs. The more you know, the better prepared you will be for your move and the potential culture shock which awaits. Many forums exist where you can ask any particular questions you have to those “on the ground” wherever you are moving to. You might even make a few friends before you arrive! Expats who have already made the move are often extremely good sources of information who are happy to share their experiences.
12. Have a party
Your friends and family will want to give you a good send off and wish you luck on your new adventure. Having a farewell party to say goodbye is an absolute must.
Moving to Hong Kong? Our guide has everything a new expat needs to know! (This is a Pdf file and may take a short while to download but once it has you can save it for easy reference anytime).