Expat 101: How To Move To A Different Country

by on Feb 11 2013 - 18 Comments

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When my husband and I decided to move to the island of Grenada in the Caribbean, it literally felt like a dream. We were so excited, and we knew that it was going to be absolutely beautiful there. However, moving abroad is not for the faint of heart, and there were so many things that we needed to consider both financially and personally before we were confidently able to step on that plane and change our lives forever.

If you’re thinking of doing the same thing, below is a collection of steps that we’d recommend to anyone who is contemplating jumping across a pond and starting a new life.

1) Storage

Many of our friends here in Grenada pay for storage units back in the States. I’m not a big fan of paying for storage units, so we sold almost everything we owned including beds, sofas, chairs, and tables. You name it, we probably sold it. We’re keeping a few unopened wedding gifts, other special mementos, and a stack of framed artwork at my in-laws’ house, and that’s all we own. Many places abroad will come furnished, and I would recommend looking for a place that is furnished initially so you can get your bearings.

2) U.S. Mail

It’s really important to have someone you trust receive your mail for you in the States. Through my freelance writing business, I still receive monthly checks for my work, which go to my in-laws’ house. They have graciously checked our mail, opened important items for us, scanned documents for us, etc. Even if you plan on living abroad indefinitely, it’s important to have mail sent to a family or friend’s house for the first few months to a year, just to make sure you have all your bases covered.

3) Finances

We resisted getting an overseas bank account for a while, but eventually it became a necessity. Overseas banks typically have a whole list of requirements for non-nationals, so it would be wise to bring a bank letter from your bank in the U.S. saying you are in good standing. We also researched banks and credit cards that waive foreign transaction fees. As it stands now, I withdraw cash for monthly expenses and use those Eastern Caribbean Dollars to pay for groceries, gas, and rent.

4) Visas

Unless you are going to attempt to become a permanent citizen of your new country, you’re going to need a visa. Some countries are quite strict about these, and others, like Grenada, are quite lax. At first, I just had to pay to extend my visitor visa every three months. Then, I got a job, and they took care of it because they purchased a work visa for me.

5) Pets

There are so many things to consider when you have pets. Many countries will hold your pets in quarantine for a specified period of time, and there’s really no guarantee that you will get your pet back. Once again, we researched this very heavily for Grenada, which does not quarantine. We fly directly here every time, regardless of how cheap other flights are, just to avoid a possible quarantine for our dog. There are often requirements for rabies vaccines as well. We carry documentation with us everywhere for our dog. Certain places will not recommend flying your pet under the plane due to high temperatures. There are also companies that will ship your dogs and guarantee that they will be well cared for. So, if you are set on bringing an animal with you abroad, you must do your research and plan it very carefully.

6) Culture

Regardless of the place you move to, no matter how well traveled you are, you will have culture shock. It might not hit you at once, but it will come in slow bursts over time. Even when you are numb and immune to certain things, you’ll be surprised at what you find out even years after moving to a place. I think a lot of people believe that life will be like it is on a vacation when they move abroad. They visit Costa Rica or the Caribbean or Italy and want to get a house there, believing that it will be as relaxing as a vacation all year round. However, I think it’s important to note that life is life regardless of where you are. You are going to replace your frustrations from home with new and different ones.

That being said, there are tremendous perks to living abroad. While moving to Grenada took serious time, planning, and getting used to, it’s also one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done. It’s opened my eyes to the world. It’s made me a more well-rounded person. It’s given me great peace, and it’s allowed me the solitude to really think about what I want to do with my life. I am forever changed by this little island, even with its unique quirks, and I hope that one day everyone gets the opportunity to live, really live, in a place so different from their own.

Catherine Alford is a freelance writer who currently lives in the Caribbean with her husband and spoiled pup, Julep. She received a B.A. from The College of William and Mary and an M.A. from Virginia Tech. When she is not freelance writing for other websites on all topics frugal and fabulous, she enjoys sharing her adventures on her blog, BudgetBlonde. Follow her on twitter @BudgetBlonde.

Photo by Allison Gray

17 comments
JustinatTheFrugalPath
JustinatTheFrugalPath

Getting used to a culture is very important when moving to another country. My wife's parents moved to the U.S. when they were 12 and 17. Although they've lived here longer than I've been alive they're still learning things about our culture.

Eyesonthedollar
Eyesonthedollar

I love that you made that move. So many talk about it, but very few actually do. I think I might be too set in my ways at this point to move abroad, but who knows?

Tony@WeOnlyDoThisOnce
Tony@WeOnlyDoThisOnce

As an orchestral musician, I have been asked to move away a ton of times.  Many of my friends perform in Asia especially and love being ex-pats.  Not sure I could do it.  Thanks for the post!

TacklingOurDebt
TacklingOurDebt

When we watch house hunters International and see people moving to different places around the world to work and start a new life we get envious and wonder if we should do it. Right now our biggest reason not to is because we have 2 cats and we wouldn't want to travel on a plane with them as we don't believe that they would handle the stress well and we wouldn't want them to end up with illnesses.

RFIndependence
RFIndependence

I have an automatic service that will keep my mail and then send it once a month to my mum's. It is pretty convenient. Also, adaptation is key, if you live like true expats, life will be horribly expensive and you won't get the feel of the country. 

DebtRoundUp
DebtRoundUp

There are many things that I wouldn't consider.  I have only traveled abroad and I think I would stress out a little too much if I wanted to move out of the country.

Beachbudget
Beachbudget

I think I would have the hardest time with the animal thing. I know Hawaii does that. I think you're right in that people visit these places and think, "oh I could live here," but you know what they say, "wherever you go, there you are." I mean you have to work and have errands....you can't always go surfing and scuba diving. And eventually you do get pretty used to your surroundings. Good advice! 

FrugalRules
FrugalRules

"They visit Costa Rica or the Caribbean or Italy and want to get a house there, believing that it will be as relaxing as a vacation all year round." I think you hit the nail on the head Cat. We'd love to move somewhere overseas, but there is a lot to consider (like you said) an for us really is not really practical with having little kids at the moment.

MonsterPiggyBank
MonsterPiggyBank

I couldn't handle it if we lost Ricky (our dog) to quarantine. We would have to make sure we went to a country that we were sure he would make it all the way with us.

BudgetBlonde
BudgetBlonde

It's definitely something that people romanticize. However, it has great perks too like I said. :)

BudgetBlonde
BudgetBlonde

 @TacklingOurDebt I know. I have some further suggestions about pets and how we did it that I didn't mention in the post if you ever want to know. :)

BudgetBlonde
BudgetBlonde

 @RFIndependence That's a good idea about the mail. I agree, you've got to blend in with the culture as much as possible in order to make it the best experience.

BudgetBlonde
BudgetBlonde

 @DebtRoundUp Yeah, once we get back to the States we are staying put. :) Traveling is fun though.

BudgetBlonde
BudgetBlonde

 @Beachbudget Hawaii is notoriously difficult in terms of animals we've heard! And you're right. People always get a little frustrated with us when they learn we don't go to the beach everyday. I have to tell them that I have a job, groceries to pick up, etc. I try to go when I can of course, but I'm not on a permanent vacation!

BudgetBlonde
BudgetBlonde

 @FrugalRules It's true. I would have never known that had I not gone through the experience itself. Before I moved to Grenada, I dreamed of getting a little apartment here or there. Now I know that the best thing for us is to travel not move to other places. Still, I'm glad we did it, but I'm also glad we did it while we were young without kids, etc.

BudgetBlonde
BudgetBlonde

 @MonsterPiggyBank For sure. I'm obsessed with my dog, and I feel the same way. I have some good suggestions and experience with moving the dog. I'd be happy to share with you if you are interested. :)

MonsterPiggyBank
MonsterPiggyBank

 @BudgetBlonde I don't think we will be moving any time soon, but if we ever do get sick of Australia I will give you a yell. Thanks :)