expats need to know
So … you want to be an expat? Making the decision to leave your home country and experience another country is one which should not be an impulsive decision. After being an expat for nearly three years, there are a lot of things to consider before packing up your home life, quitting the job and booking that one-way ticket to the world of expats. In early 2014, I compiled a list of  questions to ask before becoming an expat. Consider this Version Two, packed with more information you need to mull over before booking that plane ticket.

I know most of my readers are passionate and excited, but becoming an expat isn’t a decision which should be taken lightly. It needs to be well thought out and planned (at least a little, for all you lovely non-planners like me).

Here are even more questions to consider before becoming an expat (and if there is anything else you think I missed, be sure to leave the questions in the comments):

Visas

Not every country welcomes expats with open arms. Some make living in a particular country very frustrating. While many places offer visas for expats to stay longer than simply a tourist visa, be sure of the situation where you want to relocate before booking. For example, Thailand offers a few different visas (double entry and triple entry are quite popular) but visas are becoming more and more difficult to obtain. Don’t move to a country with the hopes of getting employment once there. If you want to work legitimately in a foreign country, for a foreign company, arrange employment before making the move. Often times, work permits and the visas require applying in your home country. A good option for those looking to relocate without a job there is an education visa. Be sure to check the length of stay and requirements, though.

Wifi speed

Is wifi important to you? Not every country offers super fast wifi, which can be an issue of you work online or need to use the internet beyond exchanging emails. Check to see what the wifi speed is like ahead of time. Countries that are less developed may not have stellar wifi, which can make working online and communication with friends and family a serious challenge.

Income

How will you be earning money as an expat? Online? What is the tax situation where you are relocating to? And, if earning an income from your home country, remember taxes still exist and even though you may be living abroad, you will have to pay those taxes. It always throws me when I have to pay my taxes sitting in the jungle … especially when those payments are more than what I spend in a month in Thailand.

Health insurance

Is health insurance readily available for you, as an expat, where you are going? Or, do you plan on keeping your coverage with your current provider in your home country? In Thailand, I use travel insurance in case of catastrophic events, but I do not have general health insurance. However, medical care in Thailand is inexpensive and therefore, the money I would spend to extend my coverage to SE Asia is not worth what I pay for medical care in the country.

Online banking and credit cards

Are you able to get a bank account in a foreign country? In Thailand, expats can’t always get an account. For me, I had to show my work permit in order to get an account. What are the bank fees for transactions outside of your home country? Does your bank offer convenient online banking? A good recommendation for online banking is Charles Schwab, which doesn’t charge for transactions abroad (they charge, but reimburse). Start the application process ahead of time for verification purposes. Also, does the country where you are going accept credit cards at most places? If so, be sure to apply for travel credit cards which can reward you via miles (to fly home, you know!). I’m a big fan of Chase Sapphire.

General well being

Are you currently being treated for anything in your home country? Is that treatment/service available where you are going? What about medications needed? Are those available where you are planning to live? While some countries have pretty easily accessible medications, not all do. Plan ahead for any treatment/services/medicine you need. In addition, are there services available abroad you envision needing? Are there gyms? Places to exercise?

Weather/climate

The first winter I was in Thailand, I could not understand why people were bundled up when it was a warm temperature (and by warm, we’re talking like, maybe, 12 celsius or something). I’d be out in a T-shirt and others were wearing winter parkas. Eventually, my blood turned jungle and that cold rendered me shivering, too. What kind of environment do you prefer? Do you like the cold? The warm? Dry and arid or sultry tropical? I still come close to losing my mind during Thailand’s hot season because there isn’t air con in most places and that heat just makes sweat pour out of every pore in the body.

Western needs

Particularly in Asia, be mindful of what items you may need to bring with you. If you are larger, it will be difficult to find clothing. Same goes for shoes and socks. Shipping items in can also be cost prohibitive, thanks to things like import taxes. I once received a box from my parents with some clothing and magazines and was charged a whopping 80 USD to get it from the post office. So, plan ahead for items you may want.

Housing situation

What kind of place will suit your needs? Can you be a roommate, or do you need a private space? What are housing options like where you plan on living? And, do you need a lease? And, if you need a lease, do you need a particular visa in order to get that lease? In Thailand, it is pretty easy to get new digs, but not every place is like that.

Importing pets

It is hard to leave pets behind. I had to when I left Vegas and it rendered me a sobbing mess when I left. But, with money comes options to bring pets to your new country. Be sure to check the country’s import requirements. I am currently in the process of importing my cats to the UK and because Thailand has rabies, the blood work and process takes a long time and is quite costly. Also, be sure to look and see each airline’s policy on bringing pets. Some allow pets in the cabin, some let them be put as checked baggage, others (like the UK) require they arrive as cargo. In addition, for places like the UK, an import agent needs to be hired, so it is best to work directly with a pet relocation company. Be sure to plan ahead for these costs.

Are there other questions you have about making the leap to the world of expats? Leave your questions below!

20 comments

  1. Good tips I think another one will be cost of living in comparison to the average income, availability of food, and although you’re probably looking to hang out with locals what is the expat population.

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    1. I’m glad it is helpful! I get asked so often about becoming an expat, figured it would be good to put up some posts about things people need to *really* think about!

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  2. Although it never materialized, we were very close to moving abroad a few years ago. It’s a daunting process to think about. I wish I’d had a great list like this to help organize my thoughts (and freak outs)!

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    1. It is incredibly daunting. Sometimes, I feel like the more you know, the less likely it is you will go. But, for those who really want to do it, they will make it happen. Plus, it is a challenge, and that can be a good thing!

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  3. Great information Diana. A lot of people we met while travelling said they would love to live here or there and how easy it would be. Not many people do the research and think it’s as easy as packing and moving.

    We are planning of moving somewhere overseas as well and this is a great guideline on what you need to do and look for.

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    1. Thanks! I think a lot of people just book a ticket and go without giving the actual realities much thought. I get it though – sometimes you just need to leap and know you have no choice but to land on your feet.

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  4. I’m new to your site so you may have answered this already but what were you paying monthly in Chiang Mai and in what neighborhood were you in? I’m thinking of relocating to Chiang Mai but I need to look into the visa situation more.

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    1. Hi Nathan, I was living in a Thai house about a five-minute walk south of Chiang Mai Gate. The cost for rent was 8000 THB. However, that was very cheap. Realistically, you can rent a Western-style apartment without bells and whistles for about 5,000 baht a month, and Thai apartments for less. In terms of the visa, it depends what nationality you are as to how long you stay in the country and what extensions you can apply for.

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    1. Visas are stressful everywhere in the world, I think!! I know my visas, even though they were taken care of largely, was still very stressful. Many, many hours/days spent at immigration.

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  5. The longest country I’ve ever stayed was Malaysia – total of more than one year over the two years. I was in Borneo most of the times, and it was quite challenging in many levels! It made me appreciate my home country more in some sense.

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