So you’ve decided to move overseas for the long term. You’ve got your visa sorted, you’ve booked your plane tickets, and now you need to get ready for a new life in a new country. It’s easy to lose yourself in the excitement, but you’ll need to tie up loose ends and prepare yourself for one what will be one of the most stressful experiences you’ll ever have in life.
If you didn’t catch last week’s post in this series, here’s some context: In late February, my partner accepted a job in Canada and was required to fly from Sydney to Vancouver to start work within two weeks. The tight deadline meant that he would have to go ahead of me while I stayed behind to organise my working holiday visa and pack up the apartment. I had a month to get everything done, but I underestimated how much there was to do and learnt everything the hard way. If I could go back and do it again, this is the advice I would give to myself.
Make a list
Make yourself a checklist of things that you need to do that you can access from anywhere. It could be a to-do app on your smartphone, a notepad that you always have on you, or a plain text file that you keep in Dropbox. I used Evernote because I’m already familiar with it and everything I write down syncs across all my devices. You’ll think of things while you’re on the go, and it’s important to write them down right away before other distractions make you forget. You can use the points in this article as a broad starting point, but what you really want to do is catch specific details, like “return Doctor Who DVDs to Angus” or “see doctor for one last checkup”.
Get all the necessary paperwork out of the way
You’ll need to get in touch with everyone who sends you important mail to let them know you’re moving overseas, such as banks, superannuation funds, insurance providers, accountants and the Australian Tax Office. Australia Post’s Notify Organisations service is free, easy to use and completely online, but its list of providers is pretty limited — you’ll need to do some calling on your own.
Australia Post can also redirect your mail overseas for up to 12 months, but it can get pricey depending on where in the world you want the mail redirected to. For Canada, it costs anywhere between $57 and $560. We chose to redirect our mail to my parents’ place in north-west Sydney for six months at a much more reasonable $40.
If you are enrolled to vote, you’ll need to register yourself as an overseas elector with the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC). There are separate forms you’ll need to fill out depending on which state you live in, and you can even elect to be removed from the electoral roll altogether while you’re overseas. If you want to be a postal voter, wait until you have a fixed address in your new country as you’ll need to provide those postal details. Don’t forget to update your details either way — there are financial penalties for failing to vote.
Get travel insurance
As the saying goes, if you can’t afford travel insurance you can’t afford to travel. In some cases, it will be a requirement of the visa that you have travel insurance that covers you for your entire stay — if you can only show them six months’ worth of insurance, you could be issued a six-month work permit at the border, even if your application is good for two years. This can be problematic if you’re travelling for long periods of time, as most insurance companies don’t have policies that extend to more than 12 months. Photo by MNicoleM (Flickr).
In my case, I purchased two back-to-back 12-month policies, and then cancelled the second one after I arrived in Canada. You can use a website like comparetravelinsurance.com.au. previously mentioned Artog. or ask your family and friends for recommendations. Be prepared to dig around to find the right policy for you — there are many exclusions in the fine print that you don’t want to be surprised with later on.
Get a checkup
Unfortunately, travel insurance usually doesn’t cover non-emergency medical appointments. Seeing a doctor at your destination country could be a costly exercise until you become eligible under the public health care system — if there is one. Australia has a reciprocal health care agreement with the UK and other European countries, but there will be waiting periods and exclusions. Considering all that, it’s a good idea to see your family doctor for one last checkup before you leave. Explain where you’re going, get any necessary vaccines and stock up on medications where appropriate. If you think your meds will raise eyebrows at border security, get a letter of authorisation from your doctor. And don’t forget to see the dentist too. Photo by Anoto AB (Flickr).
Sell, store or ship your things
If you’re going overseas for good, the easiest and most logical thing to do is sell your furniture and any valuables you can’t take with you using Gumtree or eBay. If you list your items with the right information. they will fly out the door quicker than you think. I had to pull one of my ads off Gumtree because people wanted to take my bed before I was ready to let it go. Photo by leff (Flickr).
Another option is to rent or sublet your place fully furnished to someone else, which could be ideal if you’re reluctant to let go of your furniture or want to keep your property. The one major downside to this is that you need to have a tenant in there continuously or you’ll be paying for living costs in two countries.
You can also put your things into storage if you know you’ll be back within a year or two, but justifying the expense will be difficult if you’ll be gone for longer than that. If you do decide to put your items into storage, you can save money by choosing a fixed-term storage solution that you can’t access instead of a self-storage solution that lets you come and go whenever you like.
Shipping your furniture overseas is arguably the most expensive option, and it can be a logistical nightmare. We were
quoted between $3000 and $6000 to put a sparsely furnished one-bedroom apartment into a container that would take anywhere between three and five months to arrive in Canada. We were warned that quarantine officials were routinely tossing out mattresses due to the threat of bed bugs, and our things would pass through the hands of various third parties along the way. Unless the collective value of all your items is much greater than the cost of shipping it, buying new furniture that you know will fit into your new home will make more sense.
Even if you think you won’t need a car where you’re going, it may be worthwhile getting an international drivers permit from the NRMA or RACV. It only costs $39 and the benefits you get include:
• An international drivers licence allows you to drive overseas without further tests or applications. provided your Australian driver’s licence is still valid
• It is also a requirement for renting a car in most countries
• It can be used as an additional form of identification if your passport is locked away in a safe place
• In most cases, your current Australian driving licence is not enough alone when driving in a foreign country. It must be complemented with an International Driving Permit
Once your Australian driver’s licence expires, your IDP also expires. You may then want to get a driver’s licence in the country that you are living in, especially if you plan to be there for a while. You may need to prove that you’ve been driving for X number of years to get the equivalent of an unrestricted licence and skip any driving tests, so it’s a good idea to get an official copy of your driving record before you leave from your state or territory’s driving authority. In some countries, particular in the US and Canada, there are an abundance of affordable and convenient car-sharing options, and you’ll need to show them your driving record too in order to get membership.
Sort out your finances
Don’t underestimate the importance of seeing an accountant before you leave. Ideally, you’ll already have one that is up to date with your financial situation, but if not it doesn’t matter. There are many fiddly tax implications associated with a permanent or long-term move overseas and having an expert explain them to you will save you headaches later on. Here are some questions you’ll want to ask your accountant:
• Will I become a non-resident for tax purposes?
• In which country will I be required to pay tax in?
• What can I do to reduce my tax?
• How can I make sure that I don’t get double-taxed?
• Can I file an early tax return?
• Am I eligible for income averaging?
Asking these questions and seeing if you’re eligible could put thousands of dollars back into your pocket. I filed for an early tax return on nine months’ worth of earnings through my accountant and ended up in a lower tax bracket with a much higher estimated return for that year than I would have expected otherwise. Photo by joshua aaron (Flickr).
Find a job or keep your job
If you’re planning to find a job once you arrive at your destination, be prepared for a lot of hard work. Finding a job is a full-time job, especially in a foreign country where the norms and expectations can be markedly different to what you’re used to. Clean up your online presence, update your LinkedIn profile, hit up friends for leads and advice on where to look for jobs, and research the hell out of what sort of pay and conditions you can expect for your skills and experience. There’s a good chance that you’ll have to take a pay cut for the same type of work, but your cost of living will probably also be lower. You can use a website like Expatisan or Eardex to compare cities.
If you want to keep your job, find out if getting a transfer or working remotely is an option. Naturally, an arrangement like this would be more likely in a multinational corporation that has offices all over the world. If you think the possibility is there, sit down with your boss as soon as you can and be prepared to demonstrate exactly how and why you working from overseas would be mutually beneficial.
If staying with your employer is not part of the plan, give the required notice and don’t step on anyone’s toes, especially if you’re leaving without a job lined up at your destination. It’s likely that you’ll need to rely on your boss as a reference at some point, and he or she may be wiling to help you find a job that matches your skills and experience.
It might be tempting to sneak away with the intention of not causing any fuss, not saying but it’s rude, makes you look arrogant and could leave your nearest and dearest feeling like they weren’t important enough to you. You don’t want their lasting memory of you to be a negative one. You’ll want to cherish these moments, especially if you’re relocating to a country where you don’t know anyone.
So go ahead and post a farewell note on Facebook, but make the effort to see your closest friends one last time by organising a dinner, a BBQ or after-work drinks. You’ll probably walk away with plenty of first-hand tips and information from friends who’ve done it before or had similar experiences. My friends were able to hook me up with someone who was already in Vancouver, which meant a lot to me as I didn’t know anyone there and would have to start from scratch to make new friends.
Your friends will also be useful to you in other ways, which is why it pays to keep them in the loop and maintain those relationships. You’ll have furniture and personal belongings that you’ll need to sell, and someone you know may be interested in buying them. Someone with a ute could offer to help you move and save you hundreds of dollars on removalists. And if your friends don’t know you’re leaving, they won’t know to tell you about potential job opportunities.
Got any advice to add? Share your tips and experiences in the comments below.