There are certain to-dos that I always seem to forget or leave until the last minute when I’m heading overseas, so I compiled a personal list of the top ten things that I often overlook but which should really be done before moving to a new country.
1. Health and Travel insurance
If you’re moving abroad to get a job, then chances are your new employer will help you get health insurance. However, normally that health insurance doesn’t start up right away and won’t cover the journey from your home country to your new country. For peace of mind it might be a good idea to buy travel/medical insurance.
Here is a good article over at Brain Gain about what type of medical insurance you can buy before transitioning abroad.
You can also check your credit cards which might offer some travel coverage if you book your flights and travel using them.
2. Stock up on extra medicine, contacts, and birth control
This might seem like a no-brainer, but it can be the worst feeling in the world to run out of contacts two months into a year-long stay in China and realize you have to figure out Chinese eye doctors when you still don’t even know how to order a coffee in Chinese.
Medicine and birth control pills can also be a giant pain, especially when you find out that your particular brand isn’t available in your new country.
Do yourself a favor and stock up on medicine and pharmacy/health supplies before getting on a plane.
3. Google “what I wish I’d known before I moved to _________”
Bloggers love this topic and for good reason. You can save yourself a lot of embarrassment and irritation by seeing what mistakes other travelers have made before you. For example, when I moved to Taiwan I Googled “what I wish I’d known before moving to Taiwan” and found this article on Reach to Teach. Through this blog I learned that it’d be totally fine to pack some short-shorts even though I’d assumed most Asian countries dressed super conservatively after my time in Hanoi. I stocked up on short-shorts and t-shirts.
If you’re curious about what I wish I’d known before moving to Hanoi, you can check it out here in this article about my many, many mistakes.
4. Google what items you might need for your new country
The answers might surprise you. Did you know that it’s hard to buy make-up in Vietnam? Or that Ibuprofen isn’t available world-wide? Or that ranch sauce just isn’t a thing outside of America? There are definitely some items that are easier to buy at home and bring over than trying hunt down after arriving.
It’s also good to Google the type of clothing you might need. What’s the weather like? Do they carry Western sizes where you’re going? Is there a rainy season? Do you need a winter coat?
Figure all this out while your still packing, not after you’ve arrived with a bagful of inappropriate clothing and no tampons in a pads-only country. :p
5. Make sure you have money (e.g. appropriate credit cards or cash)
Ah, money, the age old struggle of a newly arrived expat. I’ve never moved to a place where it was easy to get the money I needed, and having enough cash has always been a concern in the first few months of moving to a new place.
A.) Always assume you’ll need more money than what you’ve been told to bring. Housing costs money. Rental vehicles cost money. Work permits cost money. And if you aren’t getting paid until a month or two after you’ve arrived, you can find yourself in some seriously hot water.
B.) Credit cards are great, but don’t rely on them. Some countries, like the Czech Republic, expect you to pay cash at a lot of places, so don’t get stuck without bills and coins. Also, some credit cards will tack on extra charges for using abroad, so check your policy before taking your cards overseas.
C.) Be careful bringing cash over too. Sometimes you will get ripped off royally with exchange rates in places like the airport. And if you’re bringing a currency that’s not super common, it might be hard to exchange your money on arrival. Euros and USD are all right, but something like Pesos might be a problem. I know a girl who brought a giant stack of money from her home country in Africa, but couldn’t exchange it upon arrival in Taiwan, so was left penniless despite a wad of money worth several thousand U.S. dollars.
D.) Debit cards are great and I think they are the easiest way to bring money overseas. However, they tend to have limits. I was in trouble this year when I hit my limit trying to pull out cash to cover the down payment on an apartment. After several harassed calls to my bank back home I was able to get the cash, but it was a stressful situation, so try to plan ahead, like maybe start withdrawing money several days in advance of a big purchase.
E.) Finally, alert your debit and credit cards to your travel. Getting your card shut down for suspicious activity when your new to country and maybe don’t have access to a phone or internet can be a giant pain in the neck, so sort this out before you leave.
6. Get your vaccinations
Some countries require that you have certain medical tests or get certain shots before you arrive. Even if the country doesn’t require it, check with your doctor before you leave because catching a strange disease while abroad is a real possibility, but one which can usually be avoided by taking the proper precautions.
7. Buy a language learning book or phrase book at home
I bought a cute, easy-to-use, little Mandarin phrase book in the States before moving to Taiwan, but stupidly left it on my bookshelf at home instead of putting it in my suitcase. No biggie, right? I’ll just by a new one in Taiwan, right? Wrong. All the Chinese learning books I’ve found so far are either A.) Very dense, difficult textbooks or B.) Written exclusively in Chinese. Buy your language learning books before moving abroad because the ones in your home country will be explicitly geared towards learners that speak your language, while in-country language books might not be so easy to use.
8. Get an international driving license
I didn’t get one of these before moving to Taiwan and I regret it. Apparently in the States, getting an international driving license is as easy as stopping at an AAA and filling out some paperwork. If I’d done it, I could already be driving a sweet scooter or rental car legally around town. But I didn’t and now have to make a trip to Taipei to get a Taiwanese license. It’s not that big of a deal, but I could have saved myself the trip if I’d have sorted it out beforehand.
9. Check whether you need a visa and what kind you’ll need
A lot of countries have special 30-day or 90-day automatic tourist visas, so if you’re lucky you will just be allowed into a country without much paperwork, but not all countries are the same. You DO NOT want to wind up at an airport and not have the visa that you needed to get into the country. So take two seconds and Google this before leaving home.
And if you plan on working abroad, figure out beforehand whether you need to get a work visa before leaving or if it can be done after you arrive.
10. Unlock your phone so you can get a sim card
If you’re from a place where phones are connected to plans or companies like AT&T, then you’ll have to unlock your phone before moving abroad (or shortly after arriving). To do this you often have to call the company. You will need to do this if you plan on getting a local sim card.
Sim cards are often quite easy to get in most countries (other than the U.S.). Often you can get a new sim card before even leaving the airport. Just be sure to unlock your phone first and you’ll be calling/texting new buddies in no time.
Honorable Mention: Prepare your entertainment
Internet might not be as common where your moving as it is back home. When I’m back in the States, I can always watch Netflix or Youtube or mess around on social media if I’m bored. Overseas, that’s not always the case.
My advice? Download some movies, exercise videos, some new books or comics, and in general just some stuff to do. It might not be feasible to load your suitcase up with real books, but bringing a bunch of digital books over is quite the life saver when you find yourself in airplanes, buses, public transport, and wifi-less hotels for the first few weeks.
And even when you finally get a place to stay, chances are it’ll take you a while to navigate the local phone companies in order to set up some internet, so you might be in a cozy new place, but unless you want to walk twenty minutes everyday to the local café where you’ll be hanging with a hoard of local teens playing Pokemon Go, find some stuff to entertain you before you hit the road.
Anything I missed? What things have you forgotten or almost forgotten to do before moving abroad? Or what things did you remember to do beforehand, but which were a lifesaver?
Comment below and help a fellow traveler out so I can prepared for me next trip!