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Documentation Required to Live and Work Abroad
Click on the links below to learn more about passports, visas, work permits, and other international relocation documentation. We recommend you start completing your paperwork as soon as you decide to move abroad.
Passports and Visas: Who Needs Them?
Description of passports and visas, and the circumstances in which you will need them.
Permits: Who Needs Them?
Description of different types of permits, and the circumstances in which you will need them.
Tips on Tackling International Paperwork
Other kinds of paperwork that you should pay attention to in relation to your move.
Embassies and Consulates: How They Can Help You
How to tap into the resources offered by your destination country's embassy or consulate before you go. Get to know what your home country's embassy or consulate in the destination country can do for you.
How to Contact Your Nearest Embassy or Consulate
A selection of Web sites that will help you contact the appropriate embassy, consulate, or other useful government agencies.
Passports and Visas: Who Needs Them?
One of the first things you'll need to do in preparing for your move abroad is to secure the necessary travel documents and complete other paperwork that may be required for a prolonged stay. This is a process that should be begun well ahead of departure.
Documentation requirements and procedures are detailed, complicated, and often subject to change. Each country has its own set of requirements so you cannot assume that your familiarity with one country necessarily prepares you for another. The consular office of your host country's embassy is the best place to start when determining what types of documents, including passports, visas, permits, and registration requirements, you will need. It is also essential to determine from the consulate exactly what papers, documents, forms, and other information you will be expected to complete or provide.
It is advisable to check back with the consulate periodically to be sure that your information is up to date. Documentation regulations may change on short notice.
A passport is essentially an identity document issued by governments to their citizens for travel outside their home country. A passport is an official verification of the nationality of the holder and, with a few exceptions, is required to enter another country. In many cases, a visa will not be issued unless the applicant has a passport.
Every member of your family should obtain his or her own passport. Passports should be valid for a period of time well into the intended stay in your destination country or longer. Some countries will refuse entry to visitors whose passports are due to expire during the period of their stay. Check with your destination country's nearest consulate for this information before you depart.
A visa is an authorization by the government of another country permitting a foreigner to enter that country for a specified purpose and period of time. It is usually stamped in the passport of the visitor, although in some instances it may be on a separate paper. It may authorize only one visit or multiple entries to the country. Most countries in North America and Europe no longer require visas for a tourist visit, or even some business visits of limited duration, which may typically be up to 90 days. In some cases where a work permit is required, the permit may take the form of or be incorporated into a visa.
Visas are issued by consulates located in your home country for the country to be visited. Your home country may have several or only one consulate representing your destination country, or perhaps only a consular section attached to the embassy. In most cases, you will need to obtain your visa prior to traveling to the country, although in some instances visas can be obtained at the port of entry.
An expatriate and spouse, sometimes accompanied by one or more children, usually will make at least one preliminary trip to the country of assignment to look for housing and to arrange for schools. A tourist visa, or often no visa at all, usually suffices for such a "scouting" visit. Most countries will require, however, that any foreigner taking up residence or doing business within their borders for an extended period must obtain appropriate visas. When inquiring about visas, make sure you specify that you are relocating to the country. Misunderstandings and real problems can result in obtaining the wrong type of visa.
Permits: Who Needs Them?
In addition to passports and visas, a foreigner intending to live and work in a new country will usually be required to obtain a work permit. Notable exceptions are for citizens of European Union countries who may transfer freely between EU countries to work. Authorizations to import household belongings and motor vehicles sometimes require that personal visas and permits be in place first. An employer may be able to provide assistance, or in some circumstances may take full responsibility for obtaining work or other permits.
To add to the confusion, in some countries the work permit takes the form of a visa stamped into your passport, so the two terms "work permit" and "work visa" are sometimes interchangeable.
The local government may require that the employer supply full documentation in support of an employee’s application. An employed spouse who wishes to continue working while abroad should make sure that his or her own employer is informed, in the event that their employer maybe aware of opportunities in your destination country. If the accompanying spouse wishes to look for employment after arrival, it is important that they not be designated as a dependent on the primary work permit, or any other documentation of the person being relocated. In some countries it may be difficult to change the dependent status in the event of employment after arrival. This could also make it difficult or impossible to work in the new country, even if a job had been offered and accepted before departure. The spouse intending to work usually requires individual working papers. Check with a host country consulate to determine if spousal employment is permitted.
Usually after arriving and settling in, but sometimes beforehand, the expatriate and his or her family may be required to register their presence with local authorities, and in some cases to obtain a residence permit. Regulations of this kind vary form country to country.
Tips on Tackling International Paperwork
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
  • Birth 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.
Embassies and Consulates: How They Can Help You
The diplomatic services in your home and host countries are key resources of information and assistance for business people and their families who are on international assignments. In most cases, contact will be with a consulate rather than an embassy. There are important differences between the two. An embassy is the official diplomatic representation, or mission, of one government to another. The person in charge, usually an ambassador, is the personal representative of the head of state of the country sending the mission to the host country. Embassies are responsible for government-to-government relations. They do not perform any functions directly for nationals from their home country who may be traveling or residing in their host country, other than perhaps occasionally inviting them to a national day party or other social event. A country has only one embassy in each of the other countries with which it has diplomatic relations; typically it is located in the capital city.
A country may, however, have a number of consulates in the host country. In addition to the capital city, consulates may be established in other large or commercially important cities. A consulate's primary function is to provide services for resident or traveling nationals from its home country. These services include renewing passports; replacing lost or stolen passports; providing aid in obtaining medical and legal assistance; notarizing documents; assisting with tax returns and absentee voting; making arrangements in the event of death; registering births to nationals abroad; certifying – but not performing or granting – marriages and divorces abroad; providing information on dealing with host country authorities; and arranging for evacuation or other assistance in emergency situations. Some consulates have on staff a community liaison officer, usually referred to as "CLO," who maintains contact with nationals residing in the area. It may be a part-time position filled by the spouse of a consulate official, but the CLO can be a very useful person to get to know.
Consulates do not provide travel, legal, employment, or interpreting services. They cannot get a national who has violated host country laws out of jail, but they will press local authorities to ensure fair treatment and access to legal representation. International agreements in effect in most countries require that foreigners who are arrested be allowed to contact their consular officer. Consulates also provide some services to nationals of their host country, such as issuing visas.
How to Contact Your Nearest Embassy or Consulate
Embassy World
Directory of the World’s Embassies and Consulates A comprehensive searchable database of most embassies and consulates around the world. Search option allows you to choose the embassy and the location.
Other Sites
Embassies, consulates, ministries of foreign affairs, and other governmental agencies that maintain a presence on the Internet:
Governments on the WWW
Comprehensive database of governmental institutions of the World Wide Web
Find up to date visa and embassy information for all countries.
The Electronic Embassy
Foreign Embassies of Washington D.C.
Tagish Ltd.
The Essential Directory: Embassies Worldwide Listing by host country; Listing by country of origin
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