Whether you’re moving for a specific job or simply have your heart set on living in a new location, there are plenty of things to think about before you dive into working abroad. As you prepare to emigrate in search of new opportunities, you need to make sure you have all your affairs in order, from foreign bank accounts to knowledge of cultural norms.
Here are some of the key things to consider before you start your new life in another nation:
1. Picking the Right Place
This might seem to be the easiest task on an expat’s to-do list, but don’t be deceived. What makes a place “right” for you depends on a whole range of factors, and it’s worth doing thorough research before you make any decisions.
If you’re moving with children, things like quality multilingual schooling and neighborhood safety will be paramount. If you’re moving alone, you might focus more on the availability of activities you enjoy, preferable climates, and the opportunities in your industry or field.
If you aren’t sure where to start, dig into comprehensive research reports like HSBC’s “Expat Explorer Global Report” and InterNations’ “Expat Insider.” These reports rate countries around the world according to a host of criteria, from health and childcare to culture, cost of living, and overall experience. This information can be invaluable in figuring out which destinations suit you best.
2. Visa Requirements
Visa regulations can vary substantially from place to place, depending on where you’re coming from and where you’re going. Some countries have agreements with one another that make it easy for people to move and work abroad, while others require lengthy application processes. Some countries even require that you have a job and/or sponsor already lined up before you move.
Find out whether you need to secure a job before you move, and if not, how long you have to secure a job after arrival. You should also determine exactly what kind of visa you’ll need. Note that different kinds of visas allow you to do different things. For example, a visitor visa will not allow you to get a job or establish permanent residence.
3. Salary and Cost of Living
It almost goes without saying, but you need to be sure your move will be financially sound. Factors like your expected salary, the typical cost of living in your new home, and the tax schema will all play a role here. Some very important questions to consider include:
- Do expats have to pay taxes in your chosen destination, and if so, what are the current rates?
- How much are you likely to spend on rent or a mortgage?
- What are the average monthly bills in the country you’d like to relocate to?
- Do you need to consider pension deductions?
Understand exactly what your take-home pay will be and how far you should expect this money to go before you forge ahead with any international moves.
4. Organizing Your Finances
Once you have a handle on salary and cost of living considerations, you should get your finances squared away. This will include things like building an emergency fund and setting up bank accounts in your new home.
An employer abroad will likely need bank details for an account based in your new home in order to pay you, so you’ll want to make sure you have an account ready to go before you move. Likewise, think about whether you’ll need to obtain any loans or credit cards while working internationally, and then research any steps you may need to take to get such things in your new country.
5. Employment Rights
This topic is potentially easy to overlook, particularly if you’re used to generous employment rights. Your country of origin might guarantee lots of paid vacation, sick pay, parental leave, and other benefits, but plenty of countries offer much less than that.
Before you commit to a new position, check the state of employment rights in the new country. Even countries you might expect to have good provisions can surprise you. For example, employees in the United States are not entitled to paid leave, and 25 percent of working people in the country’s private sector receive no paid vacation time at all.
Health and safety legislation and discrimination laws are also worth researching. You need to know where you stand should you ever be injured at work or face unfair treatment because of a disability, your race, your sexuality, or your gender.
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6. Vaccinations and Healthcare
Just as you would when setting off for a vacation in an exotic locale, it’s important to check which vaccinations are recommended or required for your target country of employment. Some countries will only let you in if you can show a certificate of vaccination for certain illnesses, while others may have no requirements but a higher risk that you could contract certain ailments if you don’t take pre-travel precautions.
The cost of healthcare may also take you by surprise, particularly if you’re moving from a country with free-to-access healthcare to one without, or vice versa. Simple things like the cost of a doctor’s appointment, the quality of service, or wait times to access care can all vary widely by country.
Some countries will also insist that expats purchase international health insurance before moving abroad. Even if your target country does not, you may want to research the options available to you. International health insurance may be necessary to ensure you’ll be able to access and afford high-quality care after moving.
7. The Language
Is your relocation going to require a little language learning? Your native language may be commonly spoken in your new country, but if it’s not the main language, you should try to learn whatever that main language is. Aside from being polite, learning how to communicate in the language of your new location will help you truly feel at home. You’ll be able to navigate everything from grocery shopping to making new friends with relative ease.
8. Local Culture and Customs
Part of the joy of working abroad is experiencing new cultures. Of course, to really enjoy your new environment, you’ll need to understand and respect the differences between this new way of life and the one you’re used to. For example, knowing how to do the Thai wai or being aware that restaurants in Dubai will close for Ramadan will help you avoid faux pas.
In particular, be sure to research customs around respect in your chosen destination. There may be certain deeply held beliefs about proper etiquette, and you don’t want to transgress those. You certainly don’t want to ruin your first business meeting by failing to great your clients properly!
9. Meeting Other Expats
It’s important to think like a local and plan to make your new home really feel like home, but you may also find it easier to settle in if you’re able to connect with other expats who can share their experiences.
Some towns and cities have thriving expat communities where you can easily mingle with people who have been through an international move before. In other areas, you might have to look harder to find yourself a circle of expat friends. Check for events hosted by organizations like InterNations and user-run social media groups. These can be great ways to find a supportive network for yourself while you’re adjusting to life in a new land.
10. The Adjustment Period
Last but by no means least, try to build some time into your move to allow yourself to get settled. If you have a firm start date for a new role, aim to arrive in the country a couple of weeks beforehand armed with the funds to spend time exploring your new home.
Culture shock and homesickness aren’t the most pleasant parts of a move abroad, but they’re common and worth planning for. Go easy on yourself at the start of the move. Allow yourself plenty of time to absorb your new surroundings and be a tourist in your new home.
Moving to another country is not without its stresses, but working abroad is also a powerful experience like no other. Relocation can open your eyes to new ways of life and give you new opportunities for personal and professional development. With the right amount of planning, you can set yourself up to fully embrace your big move, knowing all the big things are already taken care of.
Sabrina Bucknole is a professional copywriter from the United Kingdom. She penned this article in collaboration with Aetna International.