Updated: Feb 13
Moving abroad is equal parts exhilarating and terrifying. You're leaving behind family and friends to start a new adventure. With that in mind, it's best to start things off on the right foot.
I've lived in three countries (Italy, the Dominican Republic and Lebanon) besides the US and no matter if I'm moving to Europe or the Middle East, I always follow this set of rules to make my transition easier.
Being an expat isn't always easy. Make sure you sort these items out before moving away from America.
Although most of this advice is applicable to any nationality, I've tailored my tips to an American audience.
Establish an American mailing address.
Even though you are living abroad, you need an official American address. Depending what country you move to, getting mail can be difficult. Personally, I seem to have a predilection for living in countries where letters only have a 50% chance of reaching their destination.
Ask a trusted friend or family member to be your official mailbox while you are away. Even if you are living abroad in a country where mail delivery is dependable, it is important to have an American address. Many companies, not to mention government services, require one, even if it is not your official residence.
Although you could just use a Post Office box, having an actual person who can check envelopes can be helpful if you need an immediate response.
Unlock your cell phone.
Unlock your cell phone and purchase a local SIM card to save money on roaming fees as an expat.
If you are traveling long term or moving abroad, it is always cheaper to buy a local SIM and buy credit for your phone rather than paying the hefty fees for roaming.
Double check visa requirements.
Make sure you know the visa requirements of your new home inside out and backwards, as sometimes airlines or immigration officials do not have the most up-to-date information. Jessica Nabongo, an American-Ugandan who is on a quest to become the first black woman to visit every country in the world, is no stranger to visas.
If you’re staying long term in a country she recommends to check, and double check, visa requirements for your new residence.
If you’re moving abroad for work, your company is likely sorting out your residency, but it still helps to know exact regulations. I’ve been hassled at airports en route to Lebanon and even the Dominican Republic because the attendant wasn’t sure of the requirements.
Never rent an apartment overseas without seeing it first. Wait until you arrive to secure an apartment in a foreign country. Saying that there are “so many bad stories” around renting apartments before arrival, Liz Carlson, travel blogger behind Young Adventuress, recommends staying at a hotel or even a short-term airbnb while scouring the local real estate market. You'll have a better idea of what neighborhood you're interested in and will avoid possibly being overcharged.
Set your two-factor authentications to your new phone number or, if possible, your email.
Two-factor authentication for social media accounts like Instagram is great for your digital security, but could lock you out when you move abroad.
Don’t accidentally lock yourself out of your social media accounts upon arrival. If you log into your Facebook FB +0% or Gmail account from a new country, it can off an internal security alert. Most platforms now have two-factor authentication (which is great for travelers), so they will send an email or text to the number listed to confirm your identity. Make sure your authentication is linked to an email address, or if available, your new local number.
Get a multi-country adapter.
Universal adapters are lifesavers for globetrotters and expats.
This is non-negotiable. Although if you are living in a country for a long timeit is better to have a convertor specifically for that place, it helps to have at least one adapter that can do it all.
Nabongo recommends Flight 001 saying that she can’t live without their “amazing” compact design. Other good options are here.
Stock up on products you love + know you won’t be able to get anywhere else.
Pack your favorite American products so that when you're feeling like a homesick expat, you can get a quick pick-me-up.
Although living abroad is all about new experiences, sometimes there are things that you absolutely cannot live without. That’s ok.
“When I go home during my summer breaks, I tend to stock up on certain hair care products for African American women that I may not find abroad,” says Nicole Brewer, co-founder of I Luv To Globe Trot, an online community for expats. A teacher who has lived in Oman and South Korea, she also sees the value in stocking up on non-perishable food items that she loves… specifically, grits.
“I bring US electronics, activewear and gear overseas when I move. For some reason those things are always a lot more expensive in other countries," says Carlson. Currently based in New Zealand, Carlson also finds that running shoes and winter jackets are cheaper stateside.
Personally, I’m obsessed with chunky, salted peanut butter and have been known to pack a jar or three in my luggage.
Tell your bank you are leaving. Then, tell them again.
Speak with your bank directly before moving abroad.
Make sure to tell all your various credit cards and debit cards that you are moving abroad. I’ve found that sometimes my bank will put an alert on one card and not the other, so it really helps to call the bank directly and speak with someone. There’s nothing worse than getting locked out of your account just after moving to a foreign country.
Keep a stash of dollar bills in case you get locked out of your bank account as an expat.
Things happen. And when things happen when you’re living abroad, you can quickly realize you don't have a safety net.
Make sure to always have a small stash of American cash so that no matter what, you have some money. I've dipped into mine when an ATM ate my debit card and I had to wait a month for a new one to arrive.
Since dollars are still a preferable currency globally, you’ll always be able to exchange your wad of cash. The most important thing about this fund is to not touch it unless there is an absolute emergency.
Make sure you have a card with no foreign transaction fees.
If you're moving abroad, you need at least one card without any foreign transaction fees.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll probably say it again, but spending 2% - 5% more per charge while you're living abroad is crazy. Here’s a link to NerdWallet’s list of best cards with no foreign transaction fees.