6 Steps to Start Your Expat Life

9 November 2016

Thinking of starting a life abroad? The idea seems simple and intimidating at the same time. Yes, you have got the air tickets. Passport, wallet and mobile phone – checked. Yourself – checked. Ready to go..? Not quite. As much as most of us like to think we are that spontaneous to uproot and run, without a care or a plan, reality does not work like that.



That said, be careful not to get too fixated over the to-do list or you will end up putting it off and dreams will just stay as dreams. Here, we strip it down to the most important bits, so by the time you have fulfilled the last item of our checklist, you can truly say you are ready to fly tomorrow.


1. Documentation to get past the gate


This is a no-brainer – to travel to anywhere, you will need a visa, unless exempted. Depending on your nationality and where you are going, the lead time to obtain one varies. Do not underestimate it – factor in the time needed to file an application, for an interview at the embassy, administrative work, approval, as well as processing and delivery.


Generally speaking, if you are staying for less than 60 days, getting a temporary visa will take up to a month. For long-term or permanent stays, a resident visa can take anywhere from three to six months, depending on the category you are in. Additionally, most countries will require a work permit.


Also, check the expiry of your passport – renew it if it does not have at least a six-month validity, just to be safe. Ensure that you meet the health and vaccination requirements as well.


2. Porting over your prized possessions


Think about what you are going to do with your current house because if you plan to rent it out and come back to it later, that means you probably will not have to bring along everything with you. Otherwise, decide if you would like to sell away the bulky items such as furniture or transfer them to your new place.


There are four ways you can move your belongings:


If you are moving to a nearby city, engaging a moving truck is worth considering. They will do all the heavy lifting up and down the truck for you. Of course, if you are on a budget, you can do it yourself but is it worth all the effort? You will have to borrow a vehicle, buy the tools, and if the move is not executed right, you may get a sprained back or a broken dining table.

Sea freight

Shipping is a cost-effective way to move your belongings across the borders. It charges by the number and volume of containers. As an estimate, a studio apartment can be comfortably packed into a 20-foot container. A three-bedroom household or a one-bedroom and a car will require a 40-foot container. You may opt for less-than-a-container load, where you share the container with somebody else if you do not have that much to bring.

Air freight

If you have less than a container, you may want to go for this option. At similar or slightly higher cost, you can receive your goods faster than shipping. It is also usually on a fixed schedule and more timely.

Excess baggage

If your belongings can fit into a few suitcases, just top up USD $50-200 for excess baggage on international airlines. It will be much cheaper.


3. A roof over your head


You will need to browse real estate websites in advance to look for property ads or even better, a professional real estate agent who can do all the research and paperwork for you.


You may want to book a serviced apartment to stay for the first week, while you go for apartment viewings. If you have the money to spare or are planning a second move soon after, you may even choose to stay there for the next six months.


Without a hotel’s typical service staff, facilities and amenities, a serviced apartment is considerably cheaper while still fully-furnished. Find out more about the price and amenity comparisons here. It is especially a convenient option for pet-owners since hotels usually come with restrictions. 



Decide on a budget for monthly rental. For long-term stays in cities where housing is affordable and regulations allow, you may consider buying a house. It may also be a sound investment. Some factors to consider:


  • Districts/neighbourhoods – do you want to be in the heart of the city or by the city fringe? Do you want it to be near a school, your office, or the subway? Most importantly, is it safe?
  • Type of housing – would you like to stay alone or share the rental with some roommates? An apartment, condominium with added facilities, or terrace house by the riverfront?


4. A job to sustain


The best case scenario is to get a job in a multinational based in your home country that is willing to send you on an overseas assignment. Expat packages are generally more attractive.


However, for more freedom, you may want to look for a job locally. Knowing the language and business culture will be a big plus, so be sure to read up. Search the job sites in advance and set up some virtual job interviews over Skype, if possible.


5. Cover for your medical needs


Healthcare costs can be very high in some countries, and the public healthcare system can be very limited for foreigners. An international health insurance plan can help to alleviate the costs while you enjoy shorter waiting times and better facilities in private hospitals.


They also provide the following advantages that a local insurance does not:

  • Receive treatment back in home country or any hospital around the world
  • Choice of your home language on their assistance hotlines
  • Offer direct settlement between the insurer and provider, avoiding out-of-pocket expenses
  • Second opinion services for serious illnesses
  • Continuous cover with no geographical or duration limitations
  • Covering repatriation costs or costs of transporting a family member or friend during hospitalisation


You can browse a list of trusted providers here and get free quotations.


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6. Lots of Expat Guides



There is no faster way to acquire an avalanche of local knowledge than to hear from the experts on expatriate lifestyle themselves. Prepare for possible culture shock, know the hotspots, pick up day-to-day tips and more all in a single read. ExpatFinder, covering 94 countries and 44 cities, has got all the information you need. Everything from healthcare and finance guides to lifestyle articles and expat interviews!


That’s it – off you go! Know of anyone like you, who is at a loss of how to plan and begin their expat life? Share this article with them!