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The Basics of International Relocation
Get assistance & resources on international relocation
Relocating internationally takes a countless amount of effort and time to coordinate. This information is intended to help you research, plan, and prepare for all that will be involved:
International relocation requires many changes. These range from the simple everyday basic necessities, such as your household electrical appliances, to the professional and cultural aspects.
International moves require two to three months to plan and prepare for an overseas move. By reading our international relocation articles and following the suggestions, you will be able to make informed decisions.
Overview of an International Move
Learn More about Your International Move

Family Issues
Culture Shock
Moving with Children and Teens

Personal Paperwork
Documents and Paperwork
Personal Banking
Legal Affairs
Mail Forwarding – Who Needs it?
Choosing a Mail Forwarding Service

Health Matters and Insurance
General Health Concerns
Medical Care and Facilities
Health Insurance
Insurance for Your Move

Finding a Home
How to Find a Home
To Rent or To Buy Your Home

Learning a Language
Find Language Training

Choosing a School
How to Start Choosing a School

Getting Ready to Pack
Deciding What to Take

Computers and Electronics
Electronics and Appliances
International Appliances Checklist
Getting Your Computer Connected
Internet Issues

Taking a Motor Vehicle
International Driving Permits
Overview of an International Move
Considering taking a new job abroad? Perhaps you're taking your career in a new direction? Or maybe you're ready to explore new countries and cultures, with or without kids in tow? Perhaps your spouse or "significant other" is being relocated and you're ready to explore employment opportunities for yourself in the same country?
Whatever the circumstances, you are about to embark on a new way of life. What will it take to get there from here? More than a road map and a full tank of gas! Are you ready to uproot and try out new cultures and styles of doing business? Do you know enough about the country you're headed for? What will your everyday life be like? How long will your assignment last and where will you go next?
In addition, you will face long lists of things to do as you prepare for your move: the key to success will be to be well prepared and organized. The practical considerations should be tools to success not obstacles in the way of this exciting new path you have chosen to follow.
Here are just a few of the issues you will want to consider:
  • Family issues: how will everyone adjust to the new country and its culture? What special considerations should be made for the children? What about the family pet?
  • Personal paperwork: time to start getting all your personal, financial, legal and tax affairs in order.
  • Finding a place to live: how to go about home-searching and how to decide whether to rent or buy.
  • Schools: some tips on how to go about choosing a school suitable for your children's needs.
  • What to take: how to decide what to take with you and what to leave behind. How well do computers and electronics travel, and will what you have now be suitable for the destination? Should you take your car and will you need an International Driving Permit?
  • Health and insurance: what to expect of the health services where you're headed and what insurance arrangements need to be made for medical and other coverage.
Culture Shock
Once everything has been unpacked and you begin to think of your family as "at home" in their new home, you may look back upon the hectic weeks or months of the actual move as the good old days. At least you were never at a loss for something to do. Now, in the "quiet after the storm" of activity, you may become intensely aware of how different everything is. Unless you are already a veteran of international relocation, this can be a particularly unsettling time. You may worry about adjusting to a foreign culture with unfamiliar customs, making new friends, or communicating with people who do not speak your language. It is only natural to feel somewhat lonely and isolated. What you may be experiencing is known as "culture shock."
If your assignment is to a country where the language and the culture are similar to your own, the adjustment may be fairly easy. However, this is not always the case. Just as expectations of an easier transition to a similar culture may alleviate concern over subtle cultural, social, or practical differences, the opposite maybe true. Moving to a country with an unfamiliar culture and a different language may pose more obvious everyday challenges including simple communication. The key is to be armed with good information ahead of time and the tools to overcome these hurdles. Keep in mind that it is acceptable to seek help.
Suddenly, children and the at-home spouse become aware of all the things missing – the companionship of family and old friends, the familiar house and neighborhood, favorite foods and TV programs, or even something as simple as the comforting sound of their native language.
After the initial excitement of moving into a new home and becoming acquainted with the neighborhood, it may be difficult to summon the energy to get out and meet people. Starting over and creating a new social infrastructure is not easy.
The challenges
Management surveys emphasize that the importance of a positive experience for the family and spouse is essential to having a positive overall experience and a successful overseas assignment. It is important for companies and families to be aware and address these potential issues of loneliness and alienation both before and during the overseas assignment.
The adjustments a family must make for an overseas assignment can be significant. Successfully coping with these adjustments has a lot to do with anticipating them in advance, but also with recognition that any challenges or difficulties they are facing are common to many people in similar situations. In many overseas locations there are other expatriates who often organize themselves formally into clubs or less formally in social settings to assist and support each other.
For the spouse who leaves regularly for an office, the adjustment may be fairly simple. He or she is usually working in an environment with peers and has a sense that the foreign assignment represents a career opportunity. There is also the daily companionship of associates and the pressure of a task to accomplish.
For the "at home" spouse, life can be more difficult, often because it may seem that the challenges have to be faced alone. Everyday things may seem more difficult: communication with household help can be challenging and misunderstandings may be frequent; shopping for food and household goods can be confusing with different packaging and unfamiliar currency. Self-esteem and confidence can be undermined. Like many "at home" spouses, he or she formerly may have had a job; now there may be few available jobs for expatriate spouses. Relinquishing a former position might have meant a significant loss in self-esteem, not to mention a possible decline in family income.
Children may feel out of place in their new school and may suffer the anxiety of starting all over as the "new kid". They may seem more reliant on their parents and less able to cope with their own discomforts.
Some coping strategies
However, all is far from lost. Even before you leave, consulting with others who have been on similar overseas assignments may be helpful in preparing for the initial stress of relocating. Ask your friends and colleagues for their experiences and ways of resolving difficulties.
In many locations, there is already an established expatriate community offering numerous opportunities for socializing and becoming involved in activities. Most families are in similar circumstances and have similar interests. Usually there are almost always clubs, especially well-organized women's groups, which often have orientation programs or welcome networks to assist new arrivals. Where there are children, schools are a natural focus of social and scholastic activities. International schools often have active parent associations. Even if you are not interested in participating in school activities these groups can offer an instant network of people, who share many of your experiences.
For spouses who are prevented from seeking employment, volunteer work is a positive alternative, and most established expatriate communities have developed opportunities for meaningful involvement in local causes. Schools and local organizations often need additional help; or there may be opportunities in hospitals, museums, and charitable organizations. The expatriate spouse with professional experience often finds a rewarding outlet in volunteering.
Religious and sporting activities are other possibilities for easing the stress of transition. Embassies and consulates usually have information on expatriate clubs, and may occasionally host social get-togethers for resident nationals. Volunteer organizations offer the opportunity of making new friends while helping others. Health and fitness clubs are a good way to meet other expatriates. If they aren't readily available in your new community, major hotels usually have fitness facilities and may allow membership to residents.
Whatever the outlet chosen, making the effort to reach out and to become involved is often all it takes to develop friendships and to make the most of your new experience.
Moving with Children and Teens
The youngest members of the family are often the ones who experience the greatest stress, and who find adjustment most difficult during a move abroad. They do not want to leave their friends, schools, and familiar world for a strange new country. The dislocation can be especially traumatic for teenagers, when involvement with peer relationships and activities is most intense. Great care must be taken in preparing them for the adventure ahead. Talk with them, in a family setting and individually, about the reasons for your move. Mention your new home frequently and always in positive terms. Encourage them to inform themselves about the country and the part of the world where they will be living. Check out the selections your library and bookstore have available for younger readers. Involve them, as early and as much as possible, in preparations that are relevant to their particular interests.
Even before departure, children might be encouraged to begin scrapbooks and journals of their experiences. They can collect pictures of their home, town, school, and friends to show to the children they will be meeting in their new country. They can do the same once they are settled in their new home, taking photos to bring back with them in order to share their adventure abroad with the old friends they will be rejoining.
Children of all ages should be urged to keep an address book, including E-mail addresses if you are planning on getting an Internet connection in your new home. Children will enjoy keeping in touch with their friends at home by E-mail. Familiar addresses and telephone numbers soon fade from memory with lack of use.
Younger children might enjoy packing some of their favorite belongings themselves, provided that they will not be easily broken. For example, you could offer each child a packing carton and suggest they put stuffed animals in together. Also encourage them to help with the unpacking, since it can be a great deal of fun rediscovering old favorites.
Most pet owners regard their animals as members of the family. Including them in a move to another country or leaving them at home can be a very difficult decision. The primary consideration should be what is best for the animal. The animal's age and the climate of your destination country are factors to be considered. In some cultures, attitudes can be very different. Animals that you look upon as beloved pets may be regarded differently in your new home country and conditions and attitudes may not be pet-friendly. Owners of rental housing may not permit them. Animal-threatening diseases such as rabies or leukemia may be common, or admission procedures may be extremely rigorous. There could be very strict documentation, immunization, and quarantine requirements. Most countries require some form of health certification and other documentation to accompany incoming pets.
Therefore, the first step in deciding whether to take your pet with you is to thoroughly investigate the situation in your country of assignment. Contact the consulate of your destination country and your transportation carrier for the most recent and complete pet- entry requirements and details of transportation conditions, including information about translating any required certificates. Companies that specialize in transporting pets worldwide can also provide country-specific information. In addition to data on necessary health certification and other entry requirements, pet movers provide travel kennels that meet government and airline standards, air-cargo routing and reservations, pickup and delivery at the destination, and pre-flight boarding and port of entry services.
If you are not using a pet-moving company, contact the airline or carrier that will be transporting your pet. They should be able to provide you with country-specific, pet-entry requirements, as well as their own regulations that may vary from the general rule. The airline regulations often are not as strict if you are traveling on the same plane with your pet, whether your pet is in the cabin with you or being transported in the baggage compartment.
Some employers include pet-moving expenses in corporate relocation programs. Out-of-pocket expenses may, in some countries, be tax deductible for employees of companies that do not cover these costs.
Traveling with your pet
If you are traveling to your destination by air, it may be required, or you may simply prefer it, that you and your pet actually board the same aircraft. In any event, you should give your pet some light exercise before you depart, and avoid feeding or offering water too close to travel time, unless dehydration is a risk. You should make sure that there is a water dish available for long journeys. Traveling crates and boxes should be clearly marked and should have copies of all travel documents attached. Make sure that your pet has a collar and tags to identify it, but don't use anything that might get entangled during the journey.
Personal Documents and Records
In addition to passports and visas, other types of documentation may be required during your stay abroad in establishing identity, applying for permits and licenses, verifying legal arrangements, paying taxes, and fulfilling other obligations required by your own government or that of your host country. It is advisable to have multiple copies of important documents made to take with you. Do not pack them away with belongings being shipped. Keep them with you in the event that they may be needed while traveling or during the settling-in period. Some documents that you should have available include the following:
  • Descriptive data page of each family member's passport
  • Certificates of each family member
  • Marriage certificate
  • National driver's license
  • Passport-size photographs of each family member
  • Certificates of citizenship for naturalized individuals
  • Adoption papers
  • Divorce and child custody papers
  • Medical insurance coverage
  • Medical records, where appropriate
  • Dental records
  • Property and motor vehicle insurance records
  • Income tax records for several previous years
  • Wills
  • Power of attorney
  • Lease or rental agreement for housing in your new country
In addition, it can be useful to have several copies of employment contracts or at least a letter from the relocating businessperson's employer outlining terms of the overseas assignment such as length of stay, salary, housing arrangements, and other pertinent considerations. Even though the employer already may have secured the necessary permits and approvals, having such documentation at hand may answer any questions that may arise in dealing with local host country authorities.
Personal Banking
Banking regulations and procedures vary considerably throughout the world. Expatriates, who have lived in a country where opening a checking or savings account is a simple matter, may find that arranging personal banking abroad can be less convenient and somewhat time-consuming.
Before you leave your home country, you should find out whether banks in your destination country will require any special documentation to accompany your application to open an account, especially any documents that are provided by your home country bank or employer.
It is also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the kinds of personal services local banks will provide, in case you need to make any supplemental arrangements with your home bank.
Arrangements to make before departure
It is advisable to make banking arrangements well ahead of your departure to ensure a smooth transition to your new location. As a relocated employee, basic to determining the appropriate type of arrangements is how you will be paid while you are living away from your home country. Options might include being paid in the local currency of your country of assignment; being paid in your home country currency - but paid to you in your country of assignment, or being paid in your home country currency directly to your home country account. The last method is usually done by direct deposit to the assignee's bank at home. You should remember also to ask your home bank about any tax requirements for money you might maintain in an account abroad, while you are not residing in your home country.
Check with your home bank to see if it offers special services for depositors who reside abroad, or whether it has a correspondent bank in your new location that could provide the necessary services. In the event that you wish to establish an overseas account, your bank can assist you by providing a letter of introduction and a general reference, or any other documentation. If you maintain a home bank account while you are abroad, your bank also may help by guaranteeing your signature and checks written against that account. However, there may be a charge for this service. During the time you are away, you may wish to arrange for automatic payment of bills that may come due, such as utilities, and real estate taxes for property that you continue to own in your home country. You might also consider giving a lawyer limited power of attorney for this purpose.
Assistance with banking abroad
If your relocation is a corporate assignment, check with your employer's human resources or finance department. The company may offer personal-banking service as part of a relocation package, or it may provide personal-banking access to commercial banks where corporate accounts are maintained.
Some major international banks offer specialized services for expatriates and frequent travelers. These may include automatic-bill payments, international ATM access, credit cards, favorable wire-transfer fees, foreign-currency exchange, deposit and payroll services, and investment and savings plans.
Online banking
Many banks offer access to their services over the Internet. Customers can perform many routine banking tasks from their personal computers. This could be a useful avenue to explore, if you wish to maintain your home bank account while you are living abroad. It may be necessary to set up these arrangements before you leave your home country.
In addition, there are some online banks that provide only online services, without a physical branch network. These may offer you the opportunity to open a home country bank account from your location abroad and operate it over the Internet as though you were located in your home country.
These online options may be helpful, if you expect to continue to have expenses such as mortgage or insurance payments from investment or income from investments in your home country, while you are away.
Legal Affairs
You may want to go over your affairs with an attorney before you relocate. At the very least, you will want to be sure that everything relating to ownership of property, loan liability, and legal obligations - such as alimony and child support payments - is in order.
Other anticipated legal needs, as well as relocation arrangements in general, should be discussed with a lawyer, either yours or your employer's. Your employer already may have legal representation in your destination country, or they may have a working arrangement with an international firm with local offices. If possible, it is best to be represented by a firm that is familiar with the laws of the home country as well as those of your destination country.
Changes in wills also may be advisable relative to the circumstances while living abroad. You also will want to check on the advisability of drawing up a second will in your new country, according to its laws on inheritance, to avoid any complications. This is essential should you buy property in your host country. In some countries, an individual's entire estate, including property in your home country, may be subject to local taxes and regulation, if death occurs while you are abroad.
Power of attorney
You may consider giving a lawyer a limited power of attorney to handle your personal and financial affairs while you are abroad. You should also inquire as to property laws in the assignment country. Even if you don't purchase housing, local regulations may affect which belongings you may take with you. Your employer or moving company may be able to provide this information.
Naturalized citizens should clarify their status before departure. They may not have the same standing in their new country as a native-born national of their home country. Different countries can claim a person's allegiance based on their birthplace, parent's citizenship, marriage, or other grounds, which sometimes can be conflicting. An individual may even hold dual citizenship in both countries. Therefore, it should be determined before relocating to the destination country, which country's military, tax, or legal systems, as well as any other obligations, will apply to the individual. Some may be required to use the destination country's passport upon entering and leaving the country.
Some countries do not permit cross-border travel of children, if unaccompanied by one or both of the parents or guardians, unless necessary documentation showing that the child is traveling with permission of the parents or guardians, is provided. In some cases when a family is relocating abroad, the working spouse may travel and take up residence in the destination country ahead of the rest of the family. The family members who follow need to be sure that they have all the required documentation to permit their subsequent entry, especially if their official status is as dependents of the working spouse.
Participating in elections
As a rule, expatriates are encouraged by their home governments to participate in elections by absentee ballot. Registration and establishment of a voting address in your home country is required. This is best taken care of before your departure. Absentee ballots must be requested from appropriate election authorities in your home country in advance of elections.
The following information on taxes is introductory and general in nature. It is not intended to be inclusive and definitive. Tax laws and regulations are frequently amended, and therefore you are encouraged to contact a tax specialist to discuss your specific tax situation.
Leaving your home country usually does not mean that you are beyond the reach of its tax authorities. Any income from investments or other sources that is realized in your home country usually remains subject to tax. Your earnings abroad may be taxed directly by your host country. In most cases as an expatriate, you will pay taxes to your country of residence, however that may be defined. In some cases, your country of residence may have an agreement of exemption, or double-tax treaty, with your home country. This means that your home country credits your payment to your host country, so that the same income is not taxed twice.
Tax advice
Many employers provide tax counseling and assistance to their expatriate employees, either in-house or through outside consulting firms. If your employer does not provide this service, you should establish your own contacts with an international accounting or consulting firm specializing in international tax matters.
Additional tax assistance for expatriates
Contact your respective government agency for information on what your tax responsibilities will be while living away from your home country. In addition to contacting your appropriate government department, the consulate of your destination country may be able to provide useful information.
Forwarding Your Mail
Managing mail
Suppose you’re traveling overseas, or relocating for a short- or long-term business assignment. How will you get your mail while you’re away?
Mail forwarding services are the answer for many. Solving the problem of how to receive mail on a regular basis, these services have proliferated in the U.S., and offer a variety of service levels. Most do more than just send you a package periodically; they actually let you manage your mail from abroad.
You may choose services that let you:
  • Arrange for all your mail to be sent to you monthly, bimonthly, as received, or when you request it
  • Access an Internet account that allows you to view the status of mail received and specify when you want it shipped to you
  • Specify which pieces you do not want sent – catalogs for example
  • Consolidate shipments to save on postal and customs fees
  • Receive mail-order merchandise from vendors who do not ship overseas
  • Have shipping and customs paperwork handled by the shipping service
Setting up a mail service account
Once you’ve decided to use a service, what now? The U.S. Postal Service regulates “commercial mail receiving agencies” (CMRAs) and requires anyone using one to fill out a form (#1583 – downloadable from the USPS Website). Spouses may use a single form, but non-married partners must file separate forms authorizing mail forwarding. You must present identification documents when filing the form.
While common in the U.S., the mail-forwarding industry is less developed in many other countries. Even those who are not moving from the U.S., however, can make use of U.S.-based services. If you’re moving from the Czech Republic, for example, to Costa Rica, you could still retain a mail-forwarding service for mail you anticipate coming from the United States – merchandise orders from catalogs, for example.
One less worry
Mail-forwarding services take care of a major concern for travelers and transferees. Along with online banking, automatic bill-paying, and Internet shopping, it is one more valuable service making life easier for those abroad.
Choosing a Mail Forwarding Service
How do you choose from the many mail-forwarding services? First, ask yourself a few questions:
What do you need?
  • Arrange for all your mail to be sent to you monthly, bimonthly, as received, or when you request it
  • Do I want to have constant access to my mailing account?
  • Will I need help having packages shipped to me?
  • How important is cost as opposed to maximum options?
At the very least, you can retain a service that simply packages up all your mail once a month and sends it to you. For a higher monthly fee, the service will dump any catalogs or direct mail, or keep only specified items – your favorite catalogs for example.
The simplest option is to have your mail forwarded at prearranged intervals: bimonthly, monthly, or some other set time. Maybe you’d rather have items sent immediately as they arrive at the service – this is also possible but much more costly.
A mail forwarding service typically emails you when a package arrives. Then you decide if you want it sent immediately or held to consolidate it with other packages or mail, which saves on shipping charges. The shipper handles customs paperwork for you, and offers you different shipping options – overnight or ground via various carriers.
One of the handiest features of many services is an Internet account, which allows you to view the status of your accumulated mail at any time, and select delivery options on a case-by-case basis. You’re charged an extra fee for this service, but it affords a great deal of control and convenience.
Other services
Additional services offered by some companies include telephone call-forwarding services, international call-back plans, and Internet shopping sites or personal shoppers.
Expect to pay a set-up fee, a monthly or annual fee, shipping charges, and any customs payments required by the inbound country. While researching different mail services, keep in mind that shipping costs and other charges vary, depending on which country you’re traveling to.
Check closely into applicable shipping charges before signing on with a company. For example, some apply extra fees – incurred per kilogram of your package - if you live outside a major city.
With the many options available, there is sure to be a mail-forwarding company that suits your particular needs.
Health Concerns
Health alerts
It is helpful to be informed in advance as to any endemic or short-term health problems in areas to which you may be traveling. Agencies of the expatriate's own government regularly issue country-specific advisories available to citizens traveling or relocating abroad.
Before you leave
"An ounce of prevention…" is often one of the best antidotes to overseas medical emergencies. Before leaving home, every member of your family should have a thorough checkup to detect any incipient health problems. This should be far enough in advance to permit any necessary treatment before departure. If a doctor in your destination country cannot provide follow-ups, these should be scheduled during home leaves. Also, be sure to include a dental check-up, so that any work that appears advisable can be taken care of before your departure, since standards of dental care can vary widely in different countries. Even if there are excellent dentists in your destination country, there will be plenty of things to keep you busy after your arrival, and it is likely that you might postpone arranging a visit to a new dentist, unless there is an emergency.
Other self-help steps also can pay dividends. Take a small first aid kit with you as well as a medical reference book, so that you can recognize and treat common ailments. Secure multiple copies of the medical records of each family member. The records almost certainly will be required by schools and will ease the transition to a new physician. Make sure that these records are kept up-to-date at all times, as you will need them again when you make your return home.
Special needs
If any family member has a chronic or special health condition, well before departure it should be determined whether it can be adequately treated in your new country. If a family member is under the care of a specialist at home, this individual may be able to provide information or references. Another source of information could be your country's consulate in your destination country. You may wish to contact the consulate in advance of your arrival.
Resident accommodations and tolerance of special conditions, especially physical or mental disabilities, may vary greatly from country to country. Schools, for example, may not accept students with special needs, physical limitations, or learning problems, and may offer only limited or inadequate programs. If you or a member of your family are traveling with a physical disability you may want to check ahead, whether your journey will take you to any places that you or your family member may have difficulty accessing.
If the special condition is medical, obtain from your physician a statement listing the specific problems such as allergies and recommended treatments. Request from your pharmacist the generic names of required prescription drugs, so that pharmacies abroad will be able to match them with local equivalents. Where such problems are a consideration in a move, it is essential to take complete medical records with you. If a family member has had major surgery, obtain a report from the doctor describing the operation and findings relevant to the patient's condition and continuing care.
If you or a family member has serious allergies or reactions to certain drugs, you should have a medical bracelet or other wearable means of identifying the specific problems. This will be helpful in the event of an accident or other situation requiring attention, where you might be unable to communicate with medical personnel. Although English is informally the accepted international medical language, it may be useful to have this engraved information translated into the language of the destination country, if English is not widely spoken.
Other family members
Other issues to address, before you leave your home country, are the arrangements for any elderly relatives, who might previously have depended on you for assistance or care. Many countries offer visiting nurse or home-help services, which may be available as a public health service or through private providers. This may present a better alternative to residential care for the elderly in some circumstances. Good sources of information include physicians specializing in geriatric care, hospitals, local social security officers, and community centers.
Medical Care and Facilities
It is important to be informed well in advance as to the health conditions and quality of medical care in the country to which you are moving. If a family member has special needs, you need to find out if appropriate specialists will be available in an emergency situation. There should be a contingency plan in place, perhaps evacuation home, if treatment cannot be obtained in the country. Some premium credit cards include evacuation services. Check to see whether you are covered.
What if I get sick?
The possibility of becoming ill and requiring medical attention is one of the most common concerns of those preparing for a move abroad. Many of these concerns are founded on uncertainty about what to expect and can be addressed with the right information and suitable strategies for emergencies. Depending on your destination country and city, you may be able to rely on the local medical services for even the most specialized requirements, or, at the other extreme, you may need to find alternatives to local facilities for even routine matters. Your embassy or consulate can provide lists of doctors who speak your language. Other already-established expatriates can help ease your concerns about the quality of health care you can expect to receive and advise you on any idiosyncrasies you should be aware of.
Language differences can be a problem in some places, but in medicine, English has become something of an international common language. In many countries doctors speak some English even if their administrative staff does not. If you are uncomfortable with the local medical system, it may be helpful or reassuring to find out where medical professionals received their training. Many major international centers, where standards are excellent, provide training opportunities to general physicians and medical specialists from other countries.
In areas where medical resources may be limited or substandard, there are often arrangements already in place for transporting expatriates who become seriously ill to facilities in other countries, where appropriate care can be obtained. It is a good idea to check out emergency facilities before any need arises. Your employer may already have information about such situations and may be able to provide guidance.
Should a medical emergency arise, you need not be left to deal with it on your own. Embassies and consulates can assist you in contacting medical professionals. There are also private organizations that specialize in assisting people residing or traveling abroad with telephone advice, referrals, and full-scale international evacuations through a worldwide network of medical personnel.
Dental care
If your destination country does not offer acceptable standards of dental care, you should identify the nearest neighboring country where you can find good dental practitioners. This will provide a time and cost-saving alternative to arranging a special trip to your home country, or waiting until your next scheduled return home for treatment.
Health Insurance
Using your existing coverage
Adequate health care insurance is a necessity when relocating or traveling abroad. It is important to determine well in advance of relocating or traveling, whether your existing health care insurance will provide adequate coverage while you are abroad.
Waiting until you reach your destination country to secure your health insurance may be complicated by three factors: the documentation may be in the local language; the insurance coverage may not suit your needs or comfort level; and it may only be valid in the country or city that you will be residing in.
An unexpected medical emergency may occur at anytime. It is important from a practical, emotional, and financial perspective that you have a complete understanding of what your insurance coverage is before you find yourself in an emergency situation.
Insurance provisions
Insurance policy provisions can vary widely. Private plans may only be valid in your home country or may restrict benefits available to policyholders in foreign countries. Some plans have regional coverage based on geographic exclusions or limitations by the provider. Check to see which countries may be included or excluded.
You may wish to increase certain provisions, such as accident, injury, or death, if you think that certain health risks may be higher while you are abroad.
If you are a citizen of the United States, Medicare coverage, through the social security program, does not provide for hospital or medical coverage outside of the U.S.
Local eligibility
As a resident of a new country, if you are to be paid in local currency, or have to pay social security or other taxes on the same basis as a national of that country, you may be eligible for local health care. Check to see if the coverage under a local plan will limit your choice of doctors or hospitals. An option to consider is supplementing the local plan with additional insurance, which would allow you to choose your own doctor or hospital; or provide for a return to your home country for treatment.
If payments for services are to be deposited by the employer directly into a bank account in your home country, or you do not meet certain residency requirements, you may not qualify for local health care benefits. Regulations vary from country to country.
If your employer does not already have full information on provisions for coverage, inquire at a consulate of your destination country. Some countries have reciprocal arrangements with neighboring countries allowing citizens or residents to transfer their national health coverage between countries. One example of this is the European Union (EU), although the same transferability of benefits does not extend to foreign residents as it does to nationals.
Medical coverage abroad
Employers may provide medical coverage while you are abroad. If there is no plan available through your employment, other expatriates, business colleagues, and international schools are all good resources for guidance in this area. In addition, international firms specializing in supplemental or comprehensive overseas medical coverage may offer helpful information.
Most businesspeople moving or traveling abroad find it advisable to take out supplemental policies, such as airlift coverage, in the event that emergencies cannot be adequately handled in the country that they are visiting. Some countries require that insurance be provided by a local insurance company and will not accept a foreign policy.
Be prepared to pay for services yourself – sometimes the payment may be required up front, before treatment – as medical providers generally will not take on the paperwork involved in billing the insurer. Carry the policy identity card with you and keep a supply of claim forms readily available. You will be reimbursed after submitting a claim with receipts. Expect delays. To avoid this, another option is to use an insurance company that can make a direct payment to a hospital anywhere in the world.
Insurance for Your Move
If you are relocating abroad with your home-country employer, check the insurance provisions your employer may have on a corporate basis to cover employees who relocate internationally. Sometimes companies with large numbers of internationally located employees have negotiated group policies. Some of the provisions may be applicable and useful to your circumstances. In other situations, you will need to make your own arrangements.
Be sure that you understand who is to arrange for insurance in each instance. Your employer may assume some responsibility for household belongings being shipped to the new country, but there may be exclusions for unusual or costly items. Find out if shipping insurance, for example, is being arranged through the home office or through an agent abroad, and whom you should contact in the event of a problem. You will also want to know exactly what each policy covers; when coverage begins and ends; and what the claims procedure and the deadlines are. For example, if your shipping insurance covers your goods against loss or damage until they are delivered to your new home, you will need to know whether that means to the door or inside the home. You may need to arrange for extended coverage for your new home, if necessary.
Some insurance companies specialize in all aspects of insurance for families relocating abroad and for international business travelers.
Finding a Home
The process of locating suitable housing in your destination country can be anything from a relatively simple matter to a nightmare. There are many variables: the housing market in your destination country; the size of your family; the expected length of your assignment; costs and allowances. In most, but not all circumstances, you will probably be looking to rent your new home. The number of rentals in keeping with international standards may be limited, and language and cultural differences may complicate the negotiation of leases. By contrast, you may be entering a well-supplied housing market, where property owners are accustomed to accommodating the requirements of expatriate families.
You can make your experience easier, if you maximize the contacts and resources available to you. This is not a time to refuse help or advice. Get as much advance information as possible. Ask your employer for contacts, and if possible retain the services of a relocation consultant or destination services provider. The Internet provides an ever-increasing supply of information and resources. Get to know expatriate colleagues who already may be living in your destination country; find out whether there is an established community of foreign residents, who can provide advice and assistance.
Buying or Renting Your Home
In a few countries, tax regulations can work to the advantage of relocating families who buy property. However, in many other countries very high prices; restrictions on ownership of real estate by non-immigrant foreigners; high inflation rates demanding that buyers pay cash; resale restrictions; and exchange controls that might prevent a foreign seller from taking the proceeds out of the country at the end of an international assignment, are just a few of the obstacles to buying housing. However, when a purchase is a possibility, the foreign buyer needs a very good and trustworthy local attorney as a guide through the jungle of contract negotiation and registration. Therefore, it is no surprise that the majority of expatriates choose to rent their housing.
Even the renter needs to make sure that things are done correctly. Seek advice about whether it is helpful or necessary to have legal assistance in negotiating the lease, or whether this will add complications and delays to the negotiation process. The lease should indicate the rent and the duration of the lease. In addition, it should outline the details of the security deposit including the conditions of the security deposit refund at the termination of the lease; the maintenance of the property; which utilities are included in the rent; and the conditions under which the lease can be terminated.
Practical considerations
Even in countries where there are no obstacles to prevent the expatriate from buying a home, many choose to rent. There is the convenience of being able to "walk away" at the end of the assignment or lease, without having the pressure of selling the property before leaving the country, or the difficulty of trying to conclude a sale later after you have left the country. Also, if you own the property, you are directly responsible for arranging maintenance and upkeep, which can be a daunting prospect for newcomers who do not have the necessary network of service people.
Start Choosing a School
For most families, no aspect of a move abroad is more important than the education of school-age children. A major concern of most parents is that instruction abroad will be inferior to that at home. The best approach is to research the options available in your destination country, and then make the best decision for your family. Use your pre-assignment trip to visit schools and gather information.
Many countries with expatriate communities offer international schools that teach curricula based on familiar models, such as North American or European. In many countries there also may be foreign national schools representing a few nationalities, notably American, British, French, German, and Japanese that follow their countries' curricula and teach in their native languages. Where such options do not exist, you have other alternatives. The local school system may be able to accommodate foreign students, perhaps with a bilingual teaching environment. Extra lessons may also be available. Another option would be to arrange for your children to remain at home in their present schools, perhaps living with relatives or friends. Still another option would be to send your children to boarding schools, either in your home country or at another location abroad. If you choose the boarding school option you will want to make sure that there are good communication and transportation connections with the country in which the rest of the family will live.
Several important considerations are involved in making the choice between local and international schools. The former may offer the advantages of acquiring a new language, broader acquaintanceships with host-country children, and a richer appreciation of a different culture. It has been the experience of many expatriate parents that adaptation to the local school environment, particularly for younger children, is much less difficult than anticipated. Most often, however, the key consideration is the effect a year or more in a foreign system may have on the child's reintegration into schools at home or qualifications for college entrance. If there are serious questions on these points, an international school may be the safer choice for your children. You should also keep in mind that as private institutions, international schools are in a position to reject students who do not perform satisfactorily.
Planning ahead
It is important to begin the process early of investigating the possibilities and selecting a school. International schools often have limited enrollments. There can be long waiting lists, possibly a year or more. If at all possible, make a preliminary visit to your new location to visit the schools under consideration, preferably accompanied by the child or children who will be attending. Involve them in all phases of the selection. The visit is best combined with a trip to look for housing. It may be that your choice of a school will be a decisive factor in deciding where you will live, or vice versa. Check on school transportation arrangements, which, if available, can be very expensive.
What to Take
Preparing to pick up and move an entire household to another country is a daunting prospect. It requires some careful planning and as much time as you can give it, but it is not without its bright side. This may be the best opportunity you've ever had to clean house from top to bottom; take a critical look at what you have, and decide whether you really want to take it all with you.
You may be influenced by the cost of shipping large quantities. Some employers place restrictions on the size of household shipments, either by weight or volume, or by excluding certain larger items. Before deciding what to include in your household shipment, it is advisable to check with your employer whether any such restrictions will apply in your circumstances.
On the other hand, you do not want to strip away everything that you associate with home, or your new dwelling will not seem familiar and welcoming.
As with any decision-making, the more information you have the easier it becomes. If you are making a pre-assignment trip, this is a good opportunity to do some research:
  • What is the climate like? It may not be a good idea to take anything especially valuable or irreplaceable which could be sensitive to changes in climate. Humidity and temperature may not be friendly to fine furniture, books, and art. Antiques could disintegrate in arid locations.
  • How big is your new home likely to be? Will your large furniture items and appliances fit?
  • What is the electrical standard? Will your existing appliances work?
  • Will you be able to purchase household and other items in your destination country? If not, is there anything you should purchase before you leave home and include in your shipment?
  • If you know the length of your assignment and have some expectation of whether you will return home or move on to a new country, this will also help you decide whether you can manage without some things for a while, or whether you should take them with you.
Find out whether there may be import restrictions or high duties applied to expensive furniture and appliances.
There are some further general questions you can keep in mind as you sort out the essential items to take with you from those that can safely left behind or disposed of:
  • Do you really need this to live comfortably abroad?
  • Would it be better not to take this? If you don't take it, will it be safe in storage?
  • Do you know where our next move will be? Will you need this in the future or when you return home?
Remember, you want to make both the move and your life abroad as uncomplicated as possible. Try not to be overburdened by nonessential possessions, but keep in mind that you are creating a home away from home.
Appliances and Electronics
Special care is called for in deciding which, if any, household appliances and electronic equipment to take with you. If you are purchasing new appliances, be sure that they carry international warranties, so that they can be serviced anywhere in the world. If you plan to take your existing appliances and electronic equipment, check their warranties for limitations. Find out if the manufacturers of your existing equipment have an international division, and whether servicing and parts are available in your destination country. Take schematic drawings with you, which will facilitate any necessary repair work.
Shipping and customs considerations
Some employers place restrictions on the size of household shipments, either by weight or volume, which may exclude certain larger items. Before deciding whether or not to include appliances and electronic equipment in your household shipment, it is advisable to check with your employer concerning any such restrictions, and whether they will apply in your circumstances.
Understanding electrical terms
It is helpful to be aware of a number of electrical terms in determining whether commonplace devices powered by electricity will function properly in a country other than the one in which they were manufactured and purchased. Voltage, a measurement of the strength of electric current, is the most important factor in the operation of an appliance. A device meant to run at 110-120 would be severely damaged if connected to a 220-240 outlet. Cycle, also referred to as hertz, indicates frequency of a process called oscillation that produces alternating current. It affects the accuracy of appliances such as clocks, record players, and others that have an internal timing mechanism. If wired for 60 cycles, they will run more slowly at 50 cycles. Electric current can be either alternating or direct. Alternating current, which is more efficient and reliable than direct current, is the norm in developed countries. However, in some countries, both types may be in use.
Some appliances can be adapted to work on different currents than they were designed for by using a transformer. The appliance is connected to a transformer that adjusts the voltage and is plugged into an outlet. Transformers work only on alternating current and do not affect the cycle. They are rated according to the amount of watts or wattage, another measure of current strength that they can accommodate. A transformer should never be connected to an appliance requiring a greater wattage than it is rated for and, except for the smallest appliances, should always be grounded. Some examples of adaptable appliances are coffee makers, toasters, blenders, mixers, most stereos and computers, and cordless telephones. Appliances that do not adapt successfully include refrigerators, clothes washers and dryers, air conditioners, microwave ovens, vacuum cleaners, and electric clocks. Sometimes wattage is expressed in amps or amperes, which is a larger unit of electrical measurement. The mathematical relationship between watts and amps is simple. Multiply the number of amps by the voltage to get the wattage. Thus, an appliance marked 2 amps that is intended to operate at 110 volts has a wattage of 220.
Light bulbs designed for one voltage system generally do not work well in another. In addition, some countries use bulbs that screw into the socket, while others may use a "push-and-twist" locking mechanism referred to as "bayonets".
Multi-system appliances and electronics
Electric current varies from country to country. For example, the European standard is 220-240 volt, 50-cycle, while North America uses a 110-120 volt, 60-cycle system.
Some appliances are made to operate on either 110-120 volts or 220-240 volts and are referred to as "multi-system". Smaller devices such as hair dryers, VCRs, and clock radios can be constructed with a switch that enables them to be operated on either current. There are also multi-system television sets, but they also must be adaptable to different scanning standards in order to avoid distorted reception. Other more powerful appliances, such as microwave ovens and vacuum cleaners, cannot be made multi-system.
Plug configuration
Another complication of taking your appliances with you is that the configuration of plugs used for appliances may be different in your destination country. You may encounter any of the following: two-flat prongs or pins, with or without an additional round one, two- or three-round prongs, or three-square prongs. In some countries it is common practice to find appliances with plugs already attached, in others you must buy a plug separately and learn how to do the wiring yourself. A discrepancy usually can be overcome with adapter plugs, but if you are unsure whether this will be successful, it may be helpful to have an electrician do the installation to be certain it is done correctly.
Appliance sizes
Appliance size is another important consideration. For example, North American-style refrigerators and stoves often do not fit easily into the smaller kitchens that are common in Europe and other parts of the world. In addition, the transformers required for such heavy-duty equipment can be unusually large. Should repair be required, parts may be difficult to obtain overseas.
What should I do?
For additional information on the various options that are available to you and your family please contact us by clicking the logo at the top of the page, by email, or phone.
Phone: 1-866-220-VOLT (within the U.S. & Canada)
Phone: 212-685-4065 (outside the U.S.)
International Appliances Check List
Seek expert advice when considering shipping your appliances abroad. Here are some key issues to keep in mind:
  • Should I include my major appliances in my shipment?
    • If your company is paying for your move, check that policy allows for major appliances to be included.
    • If you are paying for your move, check before deciding to include major appliances that may incur an additional freight charge whether they will be suitable for use at your final destination.
  • Will my appliances be suitable?
    What works at home may not work at your new destination:
    • Are electrical voltage/cycles compatible? If not, find out whether existing appliances successfully by using a transformer? Or does the appliance already have a dual voltage or multi-system option?
    • In the case of TVs and VCRs, different countries have different broadcast signal standards: check that your TV will be able to receive local broadcasts.
    • Are plugs/sockets compatible? If not, what is the correct configuration? Find out how to acquire the right plugs or converters.
    • Will the space available be sufficient to accommodate what you have? Take a measuring tape with you on your pre-assignment trip, and note down the dimensions of the relevant rooms and spaces, including any stairwells and elevators that will be used to access your new accommodation.
  • Will I need something different than I have now?
    Local circumstances may dictate the need for different types of appliance. For example:
    • In tropical climates, a larger refrigerator may be needed since more food items will need refrigeration than in cooler climates where pantry-type storage is adequate.
    • In some countries, built-in vacuum systems are the norm in newer houses so a vacuum cleaner may not be needed.
    • Does your washing machine have a built-in water heater so that it can run on a cold water supply if required?
  • Shall I buy now or later?
    If I have to acquire new appliances, should I purchase these before I leave and ship them, or purchase them after arrival?
    • Are suitable appliances easy to find locally?
    • Are suppliers well-stocked or will you have to wait for delivery?
    • How do prices compare?
  • What about servicing?
    • Check what warranties exist on your appliances. If you are purchasing new, make sure that the warranty offers international coverage.
    • Find out whether there are maintenance and parts services available locally for the brand of appliance that you are considering.
Connecting Your Computer
If you are traveling or relocating internationally and taking a computer with you – whether a home computer or a laptop – there are many issues related to getting it connected that you need to address before you leave your home country. There will be some questions relating to power supply and others, which need answering if you use a modem to connect to the Internet or E-mail services. You will need to resolve these issues and the following questions in order to connect your computer and make it compatible with the local system before you leave home:
  • What are the electrical voltage, current, and plug configuration in your destination country? Does your computer have a built-in voltage adapter? Can you obtain the necessary plug adapters? Should these be grounded?
  • What is the design of the telephone plugs locally? Are telephones hard-wired directly into the wall? If so, traveling with an old-fashioned acoustic coupler may be the best solution. Can you obtain a telephone plug adapter? Should you take an extra telephone cord?
  • Do the local telephones use digital technology? You can use a "line-tester" to find this out when you arrive. Modems do not work through digital exchanges, although an adapter can be obtained to overcome this.
Other questions to consider include:
  • Is the power supply reliable? Is a surge protector or back-up power supply recommended?
  • What is the quality of telephone service? Are telephone lines delivering clear and uninterrupted information?
  • Are there "tax impulses", high frequency "beeps" that interrupt data transmission? If so, you should obtain a filter, or some modems can be reset to ignore momentary signal interruptions.
  • Is the dial tone different from your home country and, if so, will your modem recognize it? Is dialing performed using "pulse" or "tone" dialing? You can set up your modem before you leave home so that it will ignore the dial tone: consult your technical manual or vendor.
  • Not all modems are approved for use in all countries. Check with your modem manufacturer or supplier for which countries your modem is approved.
There are several strategies you can adopt to cope with connectivity problems, including:
  • Learn the workings of your modem and its related software ahead of your departure.
  • Learn dialing strategies to bypass local dial tones and avoid having to teach your modem the full range of international access codes.
  • Practice connecting manually through your modem, bypassing the modem's automatic dialing and using modem software to complete the connection.
  • Use a phone card to overcome inflated hotel telephone charges.
  • Find a local Internet Service Provider (ISP).
Your relocation consultant, local office, or building management may be able to answer some of your questions. Other issues will need to be addressed to your computer, modem, and software technical help services, or to your Internet Service Provider – ISP.
Internet Issues
E-mail and Internet services are becoming increasingly popular as methods of keeping in touch with family, friends, and business contacts around the world. They offer instant access to remote sources and receivers of information, and allow correspondents to send messages without worrying about whether the counterpart is in the same time zone.
Before you leave your home county you should find out whether your Internet Service Provider (ISP) operates in your destination country, and whether you will be able to use the same accounting in your new location. It may be preferable from a cost perspective to use a local ISP in your destination country, as long as services are comparable.
In some countries additional telephone lines for modem connection can take time to be installed, so prepare yourself and your family members for the possibility of being offline for awhile. In addition, depending on the quality of local telephone service, and the availability of "high speed" or ISDN lines, you may experience slower connection and data transmission time.
A cyber-café, which offers the use of computers to access the Internet and E-mail in a "café setting", can be found in cities all over the world. Travelers, businesspeople, students and tourists, who may not have their own computers with them, or have experienced difficulty getting connected in the foreign environment, can buy Internet access or computer-connectivity time by the hour, while sipping coffee. Cyber-cafes provide a convenient way to check your E-mail. You may need to set up your access codes before you leave home: some E-mail software requires a password for remote access. Always remember to delete your E-mail from the café's computer otherwise anyone can read it. You can surf the Web, print out letters and memos, save data on a floppy disk to take with you, or maybe even play a game.
Using the Web
If you are traveling without your own computer, it is possible to setup E-mail boxes on web browsers, protected by a username and password. You can transmit and receive mail, as well as save and store information. This will eliminate the need to reconfigure the software on someone else's computer, which is often necessary in order to get access to private or corporate E-mail systems.
Taking a Motor Vehicle
The decision whether to take a motor vehicle to your country assignment will depend on many factors, including specifically, your destination country. Here are some general questions to keep in mind, while you are making your decision:
  • Is a motor vehicle necessary in your destination country?
  • Is it easy to transport it there?
  • What are the customs or import restrictions and costs?
  • Does your employer cover the cost of shipping your vehicle or will you have to bear the expense yourself?
  • Will you be able to maintain it at a good standard?
  • Will you be able to re-export it or sell it?
  • Can you purchase a motor vehicle after you arrive? Would this be more or less expensive than shipping your vehicle from home?
  • If you decide not to take you vehicle, should you sell it or store it?
International Driving Permits
If you plan to drive while living abroad, you should consider obtaining an International Driving Permit (IDP). In some countries, you are only required to have a valid national license from your home country, but in others you must also have an IDP. In yet others, an IDP allow you to drive while in the process of acquiring a local license. An IDP is not itself a license, but a certification of a national license in nine languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish). When driving, should you be stopped for any reason by a police officer, the IDP indicates that you have a valid national license and that your credentials should be honored. An IDP can save you hours of delay should you be involved in a traffic violation. You must obtain the IDP in your home country, prior to departure.
For further information on driving abroad, including a listing of countries that accept or require the International Driving Permit, and for IDP application information, contact the appropriate automobile association.
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