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Getting There


Once the decision to go has been reached, decide whether it makes sense to book your travel tickets as soon as possible in order to get the best deal or if you should wait to give yourself more flexibility and take advantage of any last minute offers. Expats already living in the destination country often travel back and forth to their country of origin and are familiar with the best deals. Ask for recommendations.

Whether or not you decide to own a car abroad may depend on the availability, reliability and cost of public transport. If considering taking your own car, weigh up the cost of transporting the vehicle and paying import duties, compared with the cost of buying or hiring a new car. Also take into account the availability of parts for your car, and the likely cost of servicing and repairs, particularly if the make or model is not widely available there.

Some countries allow foreign nationals to drive for a limited period on their own licence or on an international licence, and EU nationals can sometimes use their own licences indefinitely to drive in other EU countries. There may be an international agreement in place allowing you to exchange your own licence for a new one without the need for a test. If not covered by this type of agreement, you may need to take both a written and practical test.

Find out what taxes are payable on car ownership and what types of insurance are required. Third Party Liability insurance is a minimum requirement in many countries, but comprehensive insurance is usually preferable.

Driving behaviour differs widely between countries and many expats comment on what they see as poor driving skills which make driving in their host country particularly hazardous. If you do decide to drive, be extra careful, especially while you are familiarising yourself with the road system and style of driving. If you feel extra tuition makes sense, book some lessons.

Ensure that you are aware of and observe the laws regarding speed limits, the use of seatbelts, drink driving, etc., and find out what you are required to do if involved in an accident, as it may be against the law, for example, to move your car before the police arrive.

How Much To Take?

Whether you decide to take all your belongings with you will depend partly on your long-term plans and whether or not you sell your house. If you are moving to the new country on a temporary basis, be aware that time will probably pass more quickly than you think – you may find yourself returning home with unopened packing cases of things that you didn’t really need. Consider what you are going to need in the short term and the longer term separately. This may be a good time to sort through your belongings and donate to charity anything in good condition that you no longer need.

The Cost Of Shipping

Many expats posted abroad by their employers will have the cost of shipping their possessions paid for them. Others will have to shoulder the cost themselves, and it doesn’t come cheap. The cost of shipping a 40-foot container from the USA to Europe, for example, will run into thousands of dollars. If you are not taking a whole container-load of possessions with you, it may be cheaper to ship a part-container load, but it will probably take considerably longer for your items to arrive since shipping will be delayed until a full load is ready to be sent to your destination.

Furnished Or Unfurnished?

When deciding what to take with you, take into account whether you will be buying or renting accommodation in the new country. If planning to rent, find out whether rented accommodation is normally fully or partly furnished or unfurnished, and whether you are likely to have any choice in the matter. Definitions of furnished and unfurnished vary considerably between countries so check with your contacts or with lettings agents in the country in advance. Some expatriates have arrived in their fully furnished rented home in the middle of the night only to find that the landlord has not provided bedding, or kitchen utensils, while others have found that an unfurnished property may not even have any units or a sink in the kitchen! Details like these are important when deciding whether to take appliances with you from home, or whether you need to arrange for someone to provide bedding, cups and plates in the property in advance of your arrival.

Also take into account the likely size and style of your accommodation – you might find that your favourite cosy armchairs and sofa are out of place in your new tropical home, or that you can’t even get that large dining table through the front door of your new apartment. If you are making a long-term move and considering taking your own furniture, it may be advisable to make do with whatever is provided first, or buy second-hand furniture, until you settle in and get a better feel for the type of furniture that is suitable for your new home.

Will It Work?

When deciding whether or not to take your own electrical appliances, you will need to find out if they will work in your new country and whether adapters or transformers will be needed.

The North American and European electrical systems in particular are very different, with 220-240 volt outlets being in common use in most of Europe, compared with 110 volt outlets in America and Canada. For any appliances that are not multi-voltage models, you will need a voltage transformer as well as a plug adapter. To complicate matters further, there are at least six different varieties of electrical plug in use in Europe, all of them different from the typical North American-style plug. You might also find that your television set or video player will not work in your new country as there are a variety of different transmission systems in use around the world. The three main television standards, which are incompatible with one another, are NTSC, used in North America and Japan; PAL, used in the UK, Australia and most of Western Europe, and SECAM, used in France and Eastern Europe. This situation is slowly improving but take advice from a suitably qualified technician before shipping your existing TV.

In many cases it may make more sense to buy new appliances on arrival. However, it is worth bearing in mind that some items, especially computers, are cheaper in certain countries, so it may be wiser to bring your own or buy before leaving, even if this will entail the use of adapters.

Removal Companies

Consider if you want (or are able) to transport your belongings yourself or whether you will need the services of a removals company that deals with international moves. Unless you are travelling very light, or making a fairly short move by road, you will probably need professional help to ship your possessions. Ask for quotes from several companies first, ensuring that they visit your home to carry out a survey of your requirements. It may be worth paying extra for the removals firm to pack your possessions for you, particularly if they are going to be transported to a distant country and need special protection for the long journey. Make sure you bring to their attention anything fragile or precious that needs particularly careful wrapping and packing.

Before agreeing to a quotation, ensure that you are fully aware of exactly what is covered in the price, and that the service to be provided meets all of your requirements. For example, does the service include both packing and unpacking of your household effects? What about disassembling and reassembling of furniture? If you are planning to put anything into storage in your destination country while you find accommodation, does the price include final delivery and unpacking at your home, or will you need to arrange collection of the items? Obtain a firm estimate of the likely arrival date of your items and obtain contact details for any agents that will be dealing with the removal in your destination country. Ensure that the removals company is aware in advance of any practical considerations such as the lack of an elevator to your apartment, or likely parking problems.

If using a removals company, you may be required to take out their insurance cover for your possessions. Whether or not this is the case, ensure that you have adequate insurance for anything of actual or sentimental value that could get lost or damaged during the move. Take the time to accurately complete or check an inventory of your possessions to be moved, as this will form the basis for any insurance claim for losses or damages. Find out if insurance is included in the price quoted by the removals company, or whether you are required to pay extra for this.

The removals company should arrange any customs and importation documents on your behalf, but if you are arranging the move independently you will need to find out what documents are required and what import duties and taxes are payable (and whether you are eligible for exemption from these).

Make sure that you set aside the important documents you will need for the journey, such as passports and air tickets, and keep these easily accessible in your hand luggage. Don’t forget to book your own travel arrangements, and consider whether you need to take out travel, personal or medical insurance for yourself and your family. If booking travel insurance ensure that the policy covers you as an expatriate rather than a short-term traveller. If you are going to be travelling a lot, as many expatriates do, consider taking out a more cost effective annual travel insurance policy for you and your family but again ensure that you will be eligible for coverage if your main residence is overseas.


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