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Research And Planning


Why Move Abroad?

People these days leave their home countries to live and work abroad for a wider variety of reasons than ever before. Ease of travel and communications, increased knowledge of foreign destinations and the development of a truly global economy have encouraged people of all ages and backgrounds to become expatriates.

The largest single category of expatriates from western countries is almost certainly those who are posted overseas by their existing employer on a temporary basis - the staff of large international organizations or the diplomatic staff of overseas embassies, for example. However, more and more people are now choosing to move independently to another country, for employment or retirement purposes or just to experience a different environment and way of life. The decision to move to a different country might be based on:

· Better quality of life
· Warmer climate
· Lower cost of living
· Availability of more rewarding
· Interest in a different culture
· A relationship

There are now many different types of expatriates: young single people or married couples, people who work overseas for short periods while their families remain at home, retired couples and families who relocate either on a temporary or permanent basis taking their children with them. There are also many expatriate families who, due to the nature of their work, move from one foreign posting to the next over a period of many years.

Despite the vast variation in the circumstances and backgrounds of today’s expats, there are also many things that most expatriates have in common, not least the factors that they will need to consider and deal with when making a move to a different country - both before and after arrival in their destination. This guide outlines these factors and discusses many of the most important issues facing expatriates and their families. It is intended to aid those who are considering an overseas move for the first time, and also provides a comprehensive checklist of ‘things to do’ for the seasoned expatriate who is approaching their next posting. Research, Evaluation & Planning Whether you are considering a temporary or permanent move to a different country it is important not to rush the decision making process, especially if you are taking your family with you. Not everyone is suited to expatriate life, although for many it will be a thoroughly enjoyable and life-enriching experience. Find out as much as you can in advance about life in the country you plan to move to, and consider carefully whether it will suit you and your family. Use the Internet to get as much information as you can about your chosen destination. Most countries have expatriate community websites with personal articles, blogs and lots of practical advice and information to help new expatriates settle in. You may also be able to find travel books, videos or CD-ROMs about the country you are thinking of moving to in your local library. Take the time to watch the videos or browse travel literature together as a family, and discuss the likely benefits of the new destination as well as any concerns that family members may have. If you are thinking of moving to a distant location, find out how easy and affordable it will be to make trips home, or for family and friends to visit you. You’ll need to consider whether there are direct flights or not, and what the overall travelling time is likely to be, as well as the cost. Remember how stressful long-distance travel can be, particularly if you are travelling with young children.

If at all possible, visit the country you are planning to live in before making up your mind, but remember that daily life there will be very different from your experiences as a short-term visitor. Talk to other expatriates about their experiences, and ask them about the best and worst aspects of life there. Even if you don’t have any existing expat contacts in the country, you will often find that expats tend to congregate in particular areas of town, or in favourite coffee bars or restaurants, where it may be easy to strike up a conversation with them. Lessons learned at this stage, before you commit significant time and money, may be extremely valuable.

If your chosen country has few other foreign expatriates, consider whether you might feel isolated, or whether you will enjoy the experience of being the only foreigner(s) in the local community. Life can be very challenging if hardly anyone else speaks your language and the culture is radically different. Remember that if you go to a country with a large expatriate population you will have an almost ready-made social network, there will probably be international schools that your children can attend and you will be able to find familiar imported products. However, those living almost exclusively in large expatriate communities miss out on getting to know the locals and experiencing the native culture, often one of the most rewarding aspects of living in a different country.

Consider whether you are likely to fit into the culture of the country you are thinking of moving to, particularly if is very different from your own. However, don’t forget that when dealing with the intricacies of daily life, there can be major differences even between countries such as Britain and America – to the frustration of many trans-Atlantic settlers! If considering a move to a very different society, such as from a liberal western democracy to a Middle Eastern Islamic society, you will likely face huge cultural differences. For example, women may have less freedom of movement in such societies, and the consumption of alcohol may be prohibited or allowed only in private homes. Similarly, in some eastern countries such as China, the concepts of personal privacy and freedom do not exist as they do in the west. In becoming an expatriate, you will become much more conscious of the need to observe cultural norms and traditions, something that you probably would never thought about when living in your home country.

You and your family may be involved in various organisations or activities at home that might not be available in your new country, including particular churches or other religious institutions. You should investigate what options are available in the new destination, and whether it would present any difficulties if you have to adapt your leisure, social or spiritual practices to the new environment.

It is important to research the year-round climate of your chosen destination, particularly if you have only ever visited during the summer holiday season. Life may be very different in the middle of winter, particular if the weather conditions are extreme. Take into account any environmental risks such as earthquakes or cyclones, and whether the level of risk would be a concern to you and your family. Try to find out whether there are other health hazards such as high pollution levels or high levels of pesticides in local produce. These may be a particular concern if you’re travelling with children, or if family members suffer from respiratory conditions such as asthma.

If you are thinking of moving to a northern European country, consider whether the lack of sunshine, and the relatively short daylight hours in winter, would be a problem for you and your family – remembering that it is often dark by around 4.30 p.m. On the other hand, summer offers the benefit of long light evenings in these countries, although it may be too cool to want to stay outside for long. If considering a move to a country with a hot climate, find out how high the temperatures and levels of humidity actually are and consider what it will be like to live and work in such conditions, bearing in mind of course that you will probably have air-conditioning to help cool you down when inside.

What about the general environment of your chosen destination? If you are used to wide open spaces, will you be able to adapt to life in a densely populated city such as Singapore or Hong Kong? On the other hand, if you are moving from a city or town to a remote rural area, keep in mind that you will no longer have all the conveniences of supermarkets, corner shops and food delivery services readily available.

Consider your family circumstances and how these are likely to change within the next few years. If recently married, for example, do you plan to start a family, and if so, is there likely to be an acceptable standard of medical, educational and social support facilities available in your chosen destination? Will your family (still) be eligible for social security benefits and paid maternity/ paternity leave?

Try to find out about the crime rate and personal security situation - in some countries petty crimes such as pick-pocketing and burglaries may be common, while in others there may even be a high risk of violent robbery or terrorist attacks. Consider whether the likely benefits of living in such a country outweigh the risks.

At a minimum, wherever you move you will find differences in the food, weather, social and business customs, and when the initial novelty wears off you might miss the familiarity of your own country and culture. Try to plan ahead for just such an eventuality and decide how you will react to feelings of homesickness and isolation.

If you are planning to retire abroad, find out as much as you can about what retired life is like in your chosen country, it is often very different from the life experienced by other expats. How will you occupy your time - are there facilities for you to pursue your chosen interests and leisure pursuits? Are there many other retired expatriates living there who you can make friends with? What are the medical facilities like? Will you be eligible for social security benefits? How will your pension be paid to you, and will you be taxed on any income from overseas?

Most importantly, start preparing for the move as early as possible. Make a checklist of everything you need to do and the documents you’ll need. If you are being posted overseas by your employer, you might be lucky enough to enjoy the services of a relocation agency to assist you with the practicalities of moving, while others will have to deal with everything by themselves. Whether or not you have professional assistance with your move there is no substitute for good planning and organisation on your own part and you will almost certainly benefit from the experience of learning about your new country in the process.

Contingency Planning

Moving house within the same country is a stressful experience, a move overseas even more so. Complicating factors are a lack of familiarity with everyday customs and procedures, language barriers and mixed emotions about the move. Understand that things may not always go smoothly and that there will likely be unanticipated problems to deal with. Accept that people do things differently in other countries, and that the infuriating delay in processing your work permit, for example, is one aspect of the slow pace of life that might have attracted you to the country in the first place. Patience and a sense of humour will definitely help!

In the ancient world, commanders of Greek and Roman armies would often ‘burn their boats’ or ‘burn their bridges behind them’ as they advanced on to foreign soil to ensure their troops did not think about home and retreat but instead were forced to concentrate on going forward and being successful.

Fortunately, the modern expat is not in the business of fighting battles (except, perhaps, in the boardroom) and although the general wisdom of looking forward rather than backwards still holds true, the new expat may wish to be a little less cavalier about ‘all or nothing’ approaches at the outset.

Primarily this is because nobody can know what the future holds. In spite of large amounts of research and effort, it is always possible for an expat to find that it is necessary to head back home.

This can happen for any number of reasons. Some expats find it difficult to settle into their new country. Others may be driven to go back for financial or family reasons. Whatever the reason, some statistics indicate that around 30% of new expats look to return home after less than 2 years in their new country.

In such circumstances, finding that your bridges have been burned behind you will not help make this a smooth process. It may, therefore, be sensible to think about having a contingency plan, an ‘escape route’, just in case you need it.

What such a plan is will vary from one person to another but here are a few issues to consider:

House/Property Retention

If you have to leave your new country fairly quickly and all your capital is tied up in your expat home, then delays in selling it could hurt you. It could make it difficult for you to rent or buy a property when you get home.

Some expats keep their original houses ‘back home’ and either mothball them or rent them out until they are sure they are happy in their new country. There are pros and cons to this but it is worth thinking about, at least for an initial period.

Do remember though that renting your house out while overseas can mean a fairly constant ‘engagement’ in sorting things out back home at a time when you would perhaps prefer to be concentrating exclusively on your new life.

Contingency Funds

When you have just moved to a new country one thing you can be sure of is that your finances will be under pressure. If humanly possible, it is worth putting a little to one side in an ‘emergency exit fund’ because if you need to move quickly then it’ll be difficult to do so if the coffers are empty.

Home Country Bank Accounts

In today’s technological world, keeping a bank account open in your home country whilst living overseas is not usually a problem. In most European countries most banks (though sadly not all) can handle overseas addresses.

If you can keep an account open with a little money in it you may find this advantageous if you have to go back. Many people have built a relationship with their bank over many years and as a result they will have a ‘good reputation’ and credit score recorded against their account that can help to secure loans and other bank facilities. If you close all your accounts when moving overseas you may risk losing this unofficial ‘rating’ and you would need to rebuild it again from scratch if you go back in the future.

Maintaining a bank account also means that you retain an ATM card valid for your home country - useful if you go back at short notice. This also applies to some credit cards.

Building Local Relationships

If you do have to return home quickly and permanently, there is a good chance you will leave loose ends behind to be tidied up. This can include things such as estate agent liaison, garden maintenance, dealing with post and local bills etc.

You can pay property management companies to do all this for you but that can be expensive. If you have built relationships in the local community you are more likely to be able to rely on your neighbours for at least some assistance.


When living overseas, particularly in the continental EU, it is easy to forget about passports as one can drive for several thousands kilometres through numerous countries without needing one. It is therefore very easy for them to expire without you having realised it.

It can be quite a shock if you cannot then get back into your own country if it has tight passport controls such as the UK, USA or Australia. Although passports originally were a permission to leave a country, today they are more often used as a method of checking someone’s right to enter a country. If yours has expired and you need to return home quickly, you may find yourself in for a nasty shock when you reach passport control. Avoid this problem by checking your passport’s expiry date NOW and setting a reminder for renewal in plenty of time.


If you need someone to act legally on your behalf in the event that you need to return home quickly, then trying to find a good local solicitor in a hurry is probably both a risk and a hassle you could do without.

Protect your interests by getting local recommendations as to a Notaire or solicitor from the time you first arrive. You don’t have to do anything but keep their name and address handy ‘just-in- case’.

House Selection

If you are returning home permanently, unless you plan to rent out your overseas house, you will probably be looking for a fairly quick sale. Although many people understandably do not like thinking about such things when they are buying, it may be worth trying to stand back, look critically at the property and ask yourself, “Could I sell this quickly if I had to?”

Remember those houses that would appeal both to expat and local buyers will be easier to sell than those targeted exclusively at the expat marketplace.

Emergency Escape Routes

Sadly, some countries (or areas within them) are politically unstable. Even in Europe there are several countries which now count as major expat destinations that less than 10 years ago were involved in major internal armed conflicts and civil war.

If you are planning to move to such a country then taking expert security advice from your own government is essential prior to leaving home. DO NOT just take at face value what the estate agent or locals are telling you regarding the security situation.

In any such country, however peaceful things may seem now, it is always prudent to think about how far you are from major centres and how easily/ quickly you could get to a port, airport, or railway terminus if the situation deteriorated in the future. You may also want to consider how quickly you could reach an international border by road if need be.

Although such circumstances are very rare, civil unrest and dangerous international situations can arise suddenly and the consequences for expats can be severe. Thinking about such things in advance and planning your response is the best way of reducing the risk to yourself and your family.

A last word...

To make a success of your new life abroad you must be positive and determined. Constantly thinking about grim circumstances which may mean you have to go back is no way to start your expat life! Keep everything in context and try not to become preoccupied with things which might go wrong - problems are rare and the majority of expats never need to consider returning home ahead of plan. However, a few basic steps by way of contingency planning may not only come in useful in the rare event that you do need to go back, but should also give you extra confidence and peace of mind even if you don’t.

Always remember that, although it is important to research your chosen destination carefully, you won’t know what it is really like to live there until you’ve actually made the move. You’ll need to give yourself at least a year or more in the destination to decide whether it is right for you and your family. Even if you plan to move there for good, always keep your options whenever possible.


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