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):
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.