2020 has everyone around the world feeling restless. Between COVID, heated U.S. elections, Brexit, and far too much racism (and people denying racism), people around the world are looking for a change. And I think it’s safe to say you’re one of them as well.
Personally, even before 2020, I moved countries nearly every year. This year though, I’ve stayed put longer in Vietnam than I have anywhere else in the past 8 years. Although we’re in a nice bubble here, I understand those feelings of just wanting out. Wanting a change, something different, something new, and something exciting.
So whether you want to move to another country because you’re bored or because you’re fed up, these 10 steps will get you off on the right foot.
To be fair, this is a crash course for someone looking to move as quickly as possible. If it feels like I’m skipping steps, it’s because I am. I’m focused on covering the most important aspects to make a quick yet smooth move, without just telling you to buy the cheapest plane ticket to anywhere and hope for the best.
These next 10 steps are in the order that I like to do things every time I move to a new country but unless otherwise noted, feel free to complete the steps in an order that feels more comfortable to you.
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1. Pick 3 countries that excite you
Personally, most of my moves are motivated by the “where.” I love daydreaming about different countries I could live in and the lifestyle I’d like to have in each one.
If you don’t know where to even begin, start by writing down all the reasons you want to move abroad. By being clear on what you’re hoping to accomplish by moving, you’ll be able to narrow down which countries can meet your needs.
Even after you’ve picked your 3 potential spots, hold on to this list. It’ll be nice to consult if you start to lose momentum or get stressed in the later steps.
Given COVID, your options might be more limited than you’d like. Here’s the thing about picking where to move though, it doesn’t have to be permanent unless you want it to be. I’ve never left a country because I didn’t like it, always because I wanted to experience other places.
Right now, and especially if you’re looking for a quick move, make sure to choose 3 countries with their borders open. If you’re not sure which countries have their them open, WeGo and World Nomads have updated information about border restrictions to help you narrow down your options.
2. Decide how you’ll make income
Unless you have enough money to retire or not work for an extended period of time, I wouldn’t suggest moving without knowing where your income will come from.
If there is any positive side effect of COVID though, it’s how many people now work remotely. If that’s you, talk with your employer about you working remotely from another country or if you’d rather really make a quick escape, choose a country that you’ll be in the same or similar time zone and no one might notice your distance.
If you don’t already work remotely, you’ll need to decide if you want to make the switch and start applying for remote jobs or if you have better-suited skills to work in-person.
Keep in mind, this decision will greatly affect the visa you apply for so it’s better you have this decided before hopping to the next step.
For a huge list of jobs you can do remotely and in-person around the world, browse Girls Gone Working’s “Gone Working” section for loads of ideas and resources.
3. Grab a beer & research visa options
If this is your first international move, you’ll quickly grow to loathe visas just like the rest of us expats do but you’ll also quickly learn that they are a necessary evil. Some countries aren’t strict on them, while others are extremely so. Some countries you’ll be able to land a visa no problem, while others might be a headache or even impossible.
Some people prefer to first see where in the world they can get visas and narrow down countries that way. Now that I have a job I love (this website), I’ve been planning my next move based on where I can get a remote worker visa. Before I had this though, I planned based on where I wanted to go and then decided what job I could do from there and let my employer sort out my visa.
This order of things is totally up to you and will be based on your priorities.
If you also work remotely and want to keep working remotely, I’d search for places you can live either long-term on a tourist visa (Latin America and SE Asia are great for this) or places that offer freelance visas (Europe and the Caribbean have the most options here).
If you plan to get your own visa, I highly suggest you reach out to an immigration lawyer based in the country you have your eye on or reach out to the local embassy to get up to date information about the steps you need to take. Some countries require that you process your visa in your home country, while others just need you to bring some paperwork and will do it all once you land.
Each country and each visa is different, so be clear on what you need before you book your flight.
If you instead need or want to work in-person, first decide on what kind of job you qualify for and start applying in countries that interest you. Your employer will help you deal with your visa.
4. Reach out to anyone you know who already lives abroad
Having connections around the world will make this process easier. It’s nice to have a familiar face to ask any questions to or help ease your doubts. It’s also a great way to learn any tips on finding a job or landing a visa. Since they already did it, they can guide you with what worked and what didn’t.
This isn’t a requirement but it is helpful and will save you a lot of time on Google.
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5. Book a flight
Now that you have your income, visa, and future home abroad chosen, you’re ready to go ahead and book your flight!
The next 5 steps are mostly logistical stuff so you can knock them out quickly if you’re motivated. Just be sure to give yourself a week or so to make sure you have everything in order.
6. Make sure your bank is international
If you’re not sure if your move will be something for just a year a two, I recommend keeping your bank account in your home country. This is especially true if you already have a remote income and are getting paid to that account.
Before you go though, check out how your bank handles international transfers and how much they charge you to use your card abroad or at ATMs. Some banks have much higher fees than others. You might need to open a new bank account in your home country that’s better suited to international travel.
If you’re hired to work in-person, your employer will set you up with a bank account from that country. Even while I’ve had accounts in Ecuador, South Korea and Vietnam, I’ve still kept my US account. I use the account in-country to cover all my expenses and keep my US account for savings. I’ve even transferred money out of those accounts abroad to my US account to better help me save or to clean it out before a move.
If you instead opted for a freelance visa or something similar, it might be a requirement to open a bank account in country and deposit a certain amount. If that’s the case, your lawyer or the embassy will walk you through how to best do that.
7. Keep a local mailing address on file
Again, unless you’re trying to cut off all ties from your home country, I recommend keeping a local mailing address on file. Personally, I use my parents. Although I haven’t lived in the US for almost 8 years, that’s the address I have on my driver’s license and it’s the one connected with my bank account.
If you don’t have a family member to use, you can also choose to open a PO Box.
While you’re changing your address, this is a good time to cancel all subscriptions you have. Except for things like Netflix that are online and you can use abroad.
8. Get reliable travel insurance
If you’re hired to work abroad, insurance should be included in your package. Every job I’ve had abroad has included local insurance in the package so make sure you get it, too.
For remote workers or those of you that don’t need to work, there’s a variety of travel insurance to choose from. In the past, I’ve used Cigna but now I use SafetyWing. I made the switch simply because SafetyWing was much cheaper and since healthcare in Vietnam is already so affordable it made sense. Although, Cigna’s coverage was much more inclusive so you do get what you pay for.
9. Pack, store, and/or sell your things
I know what you might be thinking, you’ll get a storage unit and move all your belongings there so you have them when and if you come back. I’ll be honest, I don’t think that’s a good idea. Unless you are 100% certain that this move will only take you abroad for a year tops, cut out that extra expense and sell your belongings.
Ask a friend or family member to hold on to any super special keepsake items but out of courtesy, keep it limited to a box or two.
For everything else, sell what you can and donate the rest.
Remember, when it comes to packing, it’s a lot easier to move with limited bags. Unless you scored a great job abroad that is paying for all your moving expenses and hired international movers, it’ll be you carting your things around the airport and up the flight of stairs to your new apartment.
If you are a homeowner, I’d suggest renting out your house while you’re away. That way you can have some extra income. There are the obvious websites like Airbnb but there are also companies that help you find long-term rentals and will help you manage your property while you’re away.
10. Say good-bye to your friends and family
This one can be a doozy, depending on how much support you’re getting from your loved ones. Maybe you don’t want to wait until the day before your flight to say bye but there is a reason I put it at the end of the list.
Moving internationally is stressful. It’s exciting, yes, but there are a lot of moving parts, paperwork, and things to double and triple check. If you tell your family you’re moving at the height of your stress, that stress will undoubtedly rub off on them.
Choose a time to talk with them once you have answers to their millions of questions and once you’re confident with your decision. At the end of the day, your family wants to see you happy (at least I really hope so), so if you talk with them with excitement in your eyes, instead of fear and uncertainty, they’ll see that.
It can also feel tempting to pull a Houdini and tell them once you’re already overseas but good-byes are an important part of the process so take the time to have a party, even if it has to be virtual, and let them in on your plans before you go.
Bonus! 11. Get a COVID test before your flight
Based on country restrictions, some places require you have a negative COVID test in hand before you’re allowed to fly so don’t forget to take one! These countries will also have specific requirements on how far in advance you're allowed to take the test before your flight. Your airline should provide you with that information.
With these steps, you’re ready to make a quick yet successful move abroad.
Cheers and safe flight!