The complete guide to international overseas moving

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Overseas moving guide

International moves require many changes. These range from the simple everyday basic necessities, such as your household electrical appliances, to the professional and cultural aspects. With this in mind, you will realize that the costs incurred for this type of visit will be repaid many times over after you move.

You need two to three months (more if you do not have a passport) to prepare for and plan an overseas move. If you follow the suggestions in this chapter, you will be able to make tremendous strides toward understanding the situation and make informed deci- sions.

The Groundwork

Before you set off on a pre-move visit to survey the new country, you must have the appropriate travel documents. Begin the document process early on (preferably three or four months in advance of your departure date during peak passport times, March to August). In addition, have a very clear understanding of the additional documentation necessary for the country to which you are relocating.

A work permit is often required to work in another country. Responsibility for obtaining this permit rests with the employer. Working without authorization may lead to eventual deportation. Be sure you check with the appropriate department in your company to assure that proceedings have been implemented to obtain this permit.


A valid passport is necessary when leaving and entering the majority of countries. Pass- ports can take about three to four months to obtain and are available from the Depart- ment of State, (202) 647-0518. The American Automobile Association (AAA) has passport applications and will do passport photos, but the applications must be pro- cessed through the post office or local county courthouse. The county courthouse lists the government offices that prepare passports, and your local post office knows the desig- nated post offices that accept applications. Finally, there are some travel agencies that
also have passport applications available.

You will need these documents to obtain a passport:

  • A properly completed passport application.
  • Proof of United States citizenship or a passport issued in the United States.
  • Two identical passport-sized photographs.
  • The correct fee.
  • Proof of identity such as a driver's license.

You need to apply for a passport in person for the following situations: if you are applying for a passport for the first time, your most recent passport was issued more than 12 years ago or before your 18th birthday or your passport was lost or stolen.

You may apply for a passport by mail if the following apply: you have a passport issued in your name within the past 12 years, you can submit a passport with an application or your previous passport was issued after your 18th birthday.

Report the loss or theft of a passport immediately at the nearest United States Embassy. To report the loss in writing send to Passport Services, 1425 K Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20524.

Other Documentation

You might need documents other than a passport to enter the host country. The consulate for the country to which you are moving can tell you the documents that are required. Contact this person the minute you know you will be moving abroad to get a list of the documents (i.e. medical certificates and/or immunizations records) you'll need as the pro- cessing may take some time. You may be required to have copies of birth certificates, marriage certificates or divorce decrees. Additional documents may be required after your arrival; therefore, the sooner you research the requirements and timing for the process the better. Keep in mind that documents can take months to acquire.

A Visa

You will need an up-to-date passport to obtain a visa. A visa is an endorsement made on a passport by the proper authorities stating that your passport has been examined and you have formal approval to enter a country for a specified period of time. To obtain a visa, contact the embassy of the country to which you are relocating. Most embassies are located in Washington, D.C., so you can dial (202) 555-1212 and ask for the telephone number of the embassy of choice. You can also contact the consulate of the country; these names and numbers are listed in Foreign Consuls of the United States at the public library. If a letter of recommendation is required to obtain a visa, suggested sources to request one are the manager at your bank, your employer or other sources the Department of State might recommend. You also need to know the specifics that should be included in the letter, such
as indications of a good credit history and to whom it should be addressed.

International Driving Permit

Before you move to another country, inquire about the laws regarding driving permits. Some countries recognize a license from the United States, some accept an international license and some require that you take a test and obtain a license in their country. To learn the guidelines for the country to which you are relocating, ask your employer or the country's consulate.

You can apply for an international driving permit from your local American Automobile Association, or contact the AAA Distribution Center, 13144 South Pulaski Road, Alsip, Illinois 60658, (800) 972-2472. The cost is $10, and the requirements are that you must be 18 years old, have a valid United States driving license and two passport-size photos. You do not need to be an AAA member to obtain a permit. International driving permits are also useful as a primary source of identification in other countries.

The Pre-move Trip

Having attended to all the necessary documentation, you must now embark on a pre-move trip to find a place to live. You should also research medical care providers and facilities, schools, pet care, areas to do your shopping and safety levels of the new country. When planning this trip, consider everything that your family requires on a daily basis.

First, A Place To Live

Some companies provide housing for their expatriates, but this service is happening less and less. Chances are you will have to locate a place to live on your own, so allow at least two to three days in your schedule to tour available accommodations. A colleague at your new foreign office may be willing to give you a tour of areas that would be good places for you
to live.

Some issues to consider when thinking about your location are:

  • Is the house close to work, school, public transportation and hospitals?
  • Are there any other American families nearby?
  • How close is the American Embassy?

In fact, if you have time, visit the embassy and let the officials know you are moving to the country. These people can enlighten you about laws, safety issues and travel precautions that you should be aware of.

When surveying housing, think about what you have previously enjoyed in the way of living arrangements. For instance, do you like being able to walk from your home into the nearest city, or do you prefer the peace and quiet of country life? Many cities abroad are relatively small, and you may be able to locate a home or apartment that allows easy access to town.

Another consideration when house hunting is whether or not driving will be vital to your daily routine. If driving will be a problem, i.e. difficult driving conditions, limited access to an automobile or a pending driving permit, you should check on available pubic transportation.

Realize that homes in countries other than America often have smaller rooms and smaller accommodations for washers and dryers. Be sure to take a tape measure with you on this trip so you can measure room sizes and evaluate the living space. Before you transport your appliances, you need to know not only whether they will fit in the space, but also if the appliances will match the country's electrical or mechanical requirements. See also Chapter Twenty with international appliance information.

Renting or Buying

Renting is usually preferable to buying a place to live in a foreign country. The home markets and procedures plus the high taxes on home resale transactions make buying a home abroad very difficult. Some countries don't even allow Americans to purchase homes. An article in The New York Times titled "Hidden Costs in Buying a Home Abroad" stated, ". . . second home financing from foreign banks ranges from minimal to nonexistent. A necessity [for purchasing a home] is reliable legal assistance from someone who speaks English and the local language."

Assuming you decide to rent, you should look into a relocation service or find a knowledge- able Estate Agent to assist you in evaluating a lease. They will help you negotiate and explain exactly what is involved in leasing in the country as well as the currency that is used for payments and the amount of down-payment required. See also the "International Housing" sidebar in this chapter for housing sources in other countries.

Get to Know the Area

Save a few days of your trip to learn about the area because this may be your only chance to become familiar with it before you move. Drive or walk around the city or village looking for services that you will need (hospitals, banks, newsstands, a post office, gas stations, restaurants and supermarkets). I suggest that you visit these facilities whenever possible. It is important to locate stores and shops with personnel who speak English if you are not proficient in the country's language.

Ask expatriates who have lived in the country for awhile for help. They can tell you particu- lars of the country and places to shop for household goods that will be familiar to you. Most people who have lived in a country will also be more than happy to caution you about the neighborhoods you should stay away from and steer you around pitfalls that they or their friends have experienced. Purchase a good local map and study it so you learn the streets and the immediate area.

Ask colleagues or other expats if there is an American Women's or Men's Club in the area because these groups have a lot of helpful information. They can also offer a bit of solace if you are feeling homesick. Many of these organization publish materials with practical advice to assist expatriates in a host country. Read whatever literature they offer because it will ease your transition into the new country.

Medical Care

Do not overlook medical care on this pre-move visit. Remember, when you are living in a foreign country you will be a long way from 911! Find out how to obtain medical care in the country to which you are moving before your family's arrival.

On our pre-move visit to England in 1985, my husband contracted food poisoning and became violently ill. Due to the illness, he fainted not once, but three times, and sustained a head wound in the process. We were in temporary living quarters at the time and did not have the benefit of calling the hotel's front desk for assistance. At 2 AM, I had my first foreign driving lesson on streets I did not know and had to locate a hospital that I hadn't a clue how to find. After a day's stay in the hospital we were at the point where we could (almost) laugh about the incident and the craziness of the situation. However, if your loved one suffers a heart attack versus a relatively minor injury, situations such as this could be
very tragic. Therefore, heed my advice and pave the way for your family's arrival by locating and visiting medical care providers and facilities on this pre-move trip.

Moving, especially international moving, places added stress on people, and accidents and illness often occur at the most inconvenient time. Global Emergency Medical Services states that of the 93.5 million Americans who travel internationally each year, an estimated 25 percent experience a medical problem or emergency. You need to locate physicians who speak your language and a facility where you can obtain the care you desire. Be sure you know the routes, telephone numbers and procedures to follow. See also "Medical Re- sources" and "Medical Precautions" in this chapter.

Educational Guidelines

Schools most definitely need a personal survey during your pre-move trip so you can evaluate a school and its faculty in person. There are many school guidelines to consider, which I will give you later in this chapter. During this visit, meet with teachers to discuss special programs or requirements that your children have and share school transcripts with them. Janet McCracken, Director of Educational Resources International, states that a favorable accreditation rating is extremely important for international schools. More details to select a school, as well as international school resources, are in the "International Educa- tion" sidebar in this chapter.

Safety Tips Abroad

Ed Lee, head of the Virginia-based Lee Group, which consults on international security, explains that, "Americans are notoriously naïve travelers . . . [They] are mentally still in the country from which they've come. They'll get in trouble because they miss the cultural nuances."

So, protect yourself. One of the best ways to do that in any foreign country is to learn the necessary safety precautions before you travel or move there. Know what you should and should not do, such as the country's rules and regulations regarding curfews, noise and general behavior/conduct. Also be aware of the areas in which you should not travel. It is very important that your children know and follow all these rules and regulations too. Foreign country laws can vary considerably from those in America. The Michael Fay incident in Singapore is a clear example of how abuse of local laws or regulations can jeopardize expatriates or travelers in another country. If your company does not have information about security in the country to which you are relocating, you can check with The Travelers Advisory System, (202) 647-5225, a division of the Department of State that issues consular information sheets providing the location and telephone number of the United States Embassy and consulate in a particular country. They also have details about health, immigration regulations, absentee voting, currency exchange, the political stability of countries and known terrorist activities. You can also find publications with listings of embassies at your public library. See also the Safety Checklist in Chapter Twenty-five.

Pet Consideration

Before you make the decision to move your pet to your new country, several factors have
to be considered. First, will your pet be allowed in the destination country? If so, a health or rabies certificate from your veterinarian will most likely be required. Know how long the certificate will be considered valid and if your pet will need an entry permit for the country.

Another factor that will impact whether or not you take your pet abroad is its age and breed. When we moved to England I wanted to take our dog with us, but I was worried about how he would adjust to six months in quarantine. I discussed it with our veterinarian, and he assured me that considering his age, temperament and breeding he should do very well. Although the quarantine time was challenging for all of us, he survived very well, and we were happy to have him for our four-year tour.

Cost is another consideration. In most cases you will be required to pay duty and quarantine costs for your pet. Depending on your destination country, your pet could be quarantined anywhere from a few weeks to one year. You can learn about these details from the consu- late or airline personnel. During your pre-move visit, speak to a local veterinarian, and if quarantine facilities are required survey them at this time because such facilities vary in care, cleanliness and staff. It is desirable to have a veterinarian on staff in case your pet develops problems. It is also important that the facility be a reasonable distance from your new residence so your family can make routine visits to your pet.

Checklist Child Care Considerations
  Licensing and accreditation
  A small pupil-to-teacher ratio (suggestions are one adult for every: three to four infants or toddlers; six 2-year-olds; eight 3-year-olds; nine 4-year-olds; 10 5-yearolds; and 10 to 12 school-age children)
  Teachers with training in early-childhood education
  A bright and cheery environment that provides creative daily activities, a wellplanned schedule and outdoor play time
  Compliance with fire and building safety codes
Checklist Medical
  Take extra prescription medications (noting shelf life of medicines) to last until you get acclimated to your new area.
  Keep all drugs in their own labeled containers. The name of the drug, the strength, the dosage, the physician and the pharmacy should all be noted.
  Store medications according to directions.
  Be aware of the side effects of medications.
  Know whether food or beverages need to be avoided with a medication.
  Know whether you should be driving while taking a particular drug.
  Inquire about specialists necessary for your family before you move.
  Pack an anti-diarrhea medicine when traveling abroad.
  Take antibiotics prescribed by your doctor with you if you are prone to severe infections.
  Pack a bilingual dictionary in case you need translation in an emergency situation.
  Know the appropriate procedures for emergency and medical care as well as the routes to hospitals for any country you are visiting or living in.
  Keep a list of contacts for physicians who speak your language.
  Take the necessary insurance forms and identification card with you when you move.
  Know how, or if, medical insurance will be applied in the country to which you are moving.
Checklist School Expectations
  A favorable accreditation rating.
  A well-stocked library with up-to-date books.
  Classroom computers and a strong focus on modern technology.
  Services for students with special needs.
  Availability of space for your child at the appropriate grade level.
  A broad spectrum of courses from remedial to advanced placement
  Adequate instruction for the language of the country.
  An acceptable profile on standardized test scores, university placements and national enrollments.
  Theater and creative groups, school newspapers.
  Sports and activities that your students enjoy.
  A faculty that provides for academic and nonacademic needs.


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