Your guide to moving abroad: 10 things to do before you leave
Moving abroad, whether for a gap year, or a study abroad program, is one of the most interesting and exciting things a person can do – but that’s not to say it can be done quickly or without thought. Whether you’re going overseas to learn a new language, work, or study – taking the time to prepare yourself and predict a few of the struggles you may face while away, is time extremely well spent!
1. Research your destination
Not sure where you want to go? Dive into delicious black holes of online study regarding your future destination. Research its culture, people, food, interesting cities, natural wonders, and of course, language. If you don’t speak it, plan to take at least an introductory course before arriving. Later, once immersed in the local culture, your fluency and communication skills will improve hugely – but your confidence during those first few days will be far greater having planned beforehand.
2. Know your visa options
If you’re moving to a country that requires a visa, study and apply for the most advantageous long-term visa for your situation. For example, travelers who will not be working may be satisfied with a tourist visa, whereas those who wish to study or work will need a visa that allows them to carry out those activities.
You should also be clear on the process for visa renewal: can you do it from within the country itself? Do you need to go back to your home country? Or can you exit and temporarily renew your visa upon return? Knowing this in advance will help you avoid unexpected changes of plans.
3. Save as much money as you can
Moving abroad has a list of associated costs, which are best to plan ahead and start saving for. There are:
Visas and costs (including potential travel) for their renewal
Passport renewal (some countries require up to 12 months validity)
Flight tickets (possibly return)
Overseas travel insurance
Vaccinations and health checks
Prescription medications (it’s great to have them on hand)
Rent and upfront deposit for you new home
Possible furniture or other items you may need
Compulsory repayments or car insurance you may have in your home country
Living costs to cover (if you will not be working) or support you (while you look for work)
4. Leave a paper trail
Make sure you have paper and digital copies of all your important personal and health documents (such as your birth certificate, passport, degrees, travel insurance, medical history, and vaccination card). Keep them with you at all times on the cloud, and give copies to a trusted friend or family member. That way you’ll save time and stress if you need to provide these documents in a hurry.
5. Get health checks
While there will of course be doctors where you’re going, it’s an excellent idea to leave knowing you are in tip-top shape. So schedule an appointment at the dentist’s, general practitioner, as well as any other health professional you usually see (chiropractor, eye doctor, dermatologist, etc).
6. Tie up loose ends
Call your phone company, gym, and other service providers well ahead of time to cancel your subscriptions. Notify your bank of your plans, cancel any direct deposits you may have and educate yourself on fees and charges to your debit and credit cards. Redirect your mail to a friend or family member’s home and decide if you will sell or store your car (and what insurance plan to take if you keep it).
Later, decide what belongings you will take with you and what else you will sell or store. You’ll also need to give up or sublet your house or apartment (which is particularly important so as not to receive a surprise utilities bill when you return!).
7. Cultivate your emotional health
As the big departure date gets closer, you’ll likely experience ebbs and flows of excitement, stress, confidence, and worry. Know that this is normal. Be sure to reach out to your friends, see them often, revisit your favorite spots in your city, write, read, contemplate, and prepare yourself emotionally for the change ahead of you.
If you feel it would help you, throw yourself a going away party. If you believe that smaller gatherings with select groups of friends is more your vibe, that’s fine too. Do what you need to do to feel ready.
8. Make new connections
Remember: others have paved the way before you! To learn from their experiences, reach out to friends of friends and join groups on social media for expats in your chosen country. They’ll be an invaluable source of information regarding great neighborhoods to live in, experiences with employers, health, culture shock, and any others that come up.
9. Scout out your neighborhood
When you’ve found a place to live, take a moment to really get to know your neighborhood. There are the obvious things to consider (supermarket, late night pharmacists, health clinic, park, hairdressers, gym) but also other, more local aspects. We’re talking about the bakery, cheesemaker’s, clothes-mender, sweet shop, second-hand store, café, and artisanal anything. Interesting characters are sure to run these places and you’ll spend time people-watching and practicing your new language. All in all, these will be some of your favorite memories.
10. Have a goal in mind
It’s surprisingly easy to fritter time away while abroad and later be faced with the date of your return flight before you’re entirely ready to leave. Before departing – and again every so often while away – ask yourself what you’d really like to get out of your experience overseas.
Is it a chance to travel as much as possible? To feel confident and fluent in your chosen language? Work at an overseas company? Volunteer? Get to know the culture of your ancestors? Study at university? Get life experience before returning to study?
Reminding yourself why you chose to move abroad will help you make great decisions for you about how to spend your time overseas. And that will make you feel more satisfied and proud of yourself when the day comes to return.
There are many things to do before you leave– and others to consider while away. But the preparation is well worth it. With a little planning, your overseas experience will go smoothly and be positively remembered for a lifetime.