Moving abroad is a big decision. Changing your mind is an expensive business, with all the costs and stresses involved in relocating a second time. I have been talking to our expat community, who have helped me pin down the most important research to carry out before you make a decision about becoming an expat.
Make sure your package meets your expectations
If you are moving for economic reasons, make sure there is a genuine long-term financial gain. Will you be on an expat or local contract? This is very important as expat contracts sometimes pay for relocation fees, accommodation and school fees with extended holiday allowances, whereas local contracts invariably do none of these. What additional benefits will be included in your contract? You might expect international health insurance, income protection insurance, critical illness insurance and life insurance to be part of your benefits package, but it is extremely important to check if they are included and if they are not, how much will they cost if you want to buy them yourself. Can you achieve a reasonable work/life balance? If you end up working 16 hour days, is it worth the extra money?
Think about the cultural differences
Look at the culture of the country or countries you are considering. Does it suit your temperament and, if you are taking your family, how well will they fit in? Think about the food, the social side of life and so on.
How good are you at managing change?
Do you love it or hate it? If you don’t enjoy change, it’s best to prioritise countries with a similar culture to your home country.
Think about your emotions
How will you feel about saying goodbye to your native history, identity and values? Will you miss it terribly and if so, how can you plan ahead bearing the risk of homesickness in mind?
Your children’s needs
When you move abroad, your children will probably pick up the new language and culture faster than you. How do you feel about them being brought up in another country? What are the education and further education options? Checking availability for school places in advance should be a top priority.
Are you prepared to learn a new language or would you be happier living somewhere you can speak your own language and still get by?
The financial side of life
Research financial services in the countries you are considering so you know how that side of life works in your new home country, everything from basic bank accounts and savings to tax matters, pensions, international health insurance, pet insurance and home contents/buildings cover.
Your health and well-being
Are you fit and healthy or prone to illnesses? Does the country you’re researching have a good healthcare system or would you have to travel long distances if something goes wrong?
How long are you going to stay?
Some people move away for a specified time; a year, three years, five years. Others move for life. The two are very different, with differing strategies for surviving and thriving.
Familiarity, safety and convenience
Are all the key services you are used to freely available? If not, how will you cope? And what about safety and security – do you want to live somewhere less safe and secure than your home country? Where is it safe to go and where is it best to avoid?
The rental and property market
Can you afford to buy a home in your new country or is renting your best option? It’s a good idea to find a trusted agent in your new country – the expat community should be able to recommend someone. You might want to let your home and rent in your new country; how will that work, and how much rental income can you earn?
Distance from your home country
How easy or difficult/cheap or expensive is it to travel home quickly if you need to? Are there good transport links?
What about your pets? Check how easy or difficult it is to include your pet in the move to the new location. Are good veterinary services available, how much do they cost and what will you do with your pets when you travel back to your home country to visit family and friends?
Your free time
How many holiday days will you get? Many expats think they will be able to travel a lot then get a nasty shock when they discover how few holiday days they get a year. What about your hobbies and interests? Can you indulge in them or will you need to find new interests and hobbies?
Can you stand the weather?
You might think you’ll adore constant hot sunny days but you might miss your native climate – is it wiser, in your case, to move somewhere with similar weather to home?
Your escape strategy
If things go horribly wrong for whatever reason, it’s good to have a ‘just in case’ plan to get you safely home with the least hassle and expense. Research it carefully, make a plan and you will be able to relax properly.
Know the law
It helps to know the basics of the law in the country you’re moving to, so you don’t accidentally fall foul of it and end up in trouble. What are the speed limits on the roads? Are there any peculiar local laws to be aware of?
Explore our expat country guides
Would you like to know more about the fine details of expat living? Why not download our free eBook, The New Expat? It goes into detail about the medical side of expat life, family matters, accommodation, financial arrangements and more.
Join the conversation
What is the most valuable thing you learned in advance about your new home country? Do you have any tips people thinking about moving abroad? You can leave a comment below or connect with us on Twitter: @now_health or on the Now Health Facebook page so we can share them with our readers.