Overseas Relocation: How to Prepare
by Courtney Ronan
At first glance, today's twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings seem far less apprehensive about living overseas than their older counterparts. International travel is, of course, much more common today. No longer is it considered the exclusive domain of the wealthy classes; it's quite possible to travel overseas without going broke. Many college students are experiencing life overseas as part of their academic programs.
And with the increase in international travel comes an increased interest in living overseas. Single professionals are doing just that in order to "round out" their careers. The experience of living on another continent is without question a growth opportunity both professionally and personally. Many families, too, pack up their belongings and their lives and move overseas, a scenario which often can present a host of challenges, particularly when children are involved. Regardless of whether you're single or married, parents or not parents, moving overseas is stressful. How do you prepare yourself and/or your family members and keep the process flowing as smoothly as possible?
First of all, an overseas move requires additional planning and preparation, which means that you've got to give yourself much more time to prepare for your move than you would if you were moving within the United States. According to most relocation companies, the average international moving company will require a minimum four weeks' notice to adequately prepare for your move. If you can help it, you should give yourself more than four weeks' time to prepare for your move. From paperwork to packing to simple research about your new country, you're going to need as much time as you can possibly get before you embark on this adventure. A last-minute move within the continental United States is stressful enough; a hasty international move is virtually inconceivable.
One of the first things you should do is to contact the embassy of your new country to find out your obligations as a new resident -- from vaccinations to visa requirements. The embassy also may be able to provide you with helpful cultural facts (for example, what aspects about your host country could cause you cultural shock?) about your new country and, most important, contact information for expatriate groups in the area. Contact those groups long before you leave the United States; they'll be able to give you a general insider's view of your host country, help you prepare for what lies ahead, and provide you with recommendations for schools, neighborhoods, etc. Expatriate groups can help put you in touch with other American families. The importance of networking with these families cannot be understated, particularly if you're a parent trying to prepare your child for what lies ahead.
Before you pack those boxes, do you have a firm understanding of the cost of living in your host country? If you're accepting a job transfer, will your salary overseas provide you with a lateral or upward transition in your standard of living? Your goal is to maintain a comparable standard of living. You can expect to make a few minor adjustments, but if it's clear that your salary overseas will force you to live hand to mouth, it's time to re-evaluate your decision or negotiate with your employer.
If you're moving overseas for a job transfer, the vast majority of employers will arrange for your move (including finding and often paying for an appropriate moving company), assist you in finding a new home and even help you locate local schools for your children in your new hometown. But if you're on your own and you have to locate and hire your own international moving company, you'll want to comparison shop. With any luck, you'll have friends or family who can recommend moving companies. But if you don't, log on to the Internet; it may be your best resource right now. Once you've done a search of international moving services and have located a few options, call each of them for a quote. You're not aiming to hire the cheapest service; after all, this is a big job, and the last thing you need upon arrival in a foreign country is a problem with your movers. Pay close attention to the services offered by each moving company and their guarantee policies. Ask for references, as well.
Even though you're busy right now, don't rely on telephone conversations with your moving company to plan out the details of your relocation. You must meet with your moving company in person not once but probably a few times prior to moving day. Arrange to have the representatives visit your home, assess your belongings and establish a comfort level with you and your family. You're trusting your movers with an enormous responsibility, and you're about to hand them a considerable sum of money for their time.
There's no time like the present to throw out any unnecessary items you've collected over the years (sorry, all of you pack rats). If there's time, have a garage sale. If not, select your favorite charity, and make a donation. As moving day approaches, consider which items you're going to need immediately upon your arrival in your new country. You should pack a separate bag containing such items -- for example, personal items/toiletries, clothing or important paperwork -- and take it with you on your trip overseas. If you have any larger items that you'll need immediately, have them shipped to arrive at your home when you do.
Because moving overseas often means a journey into the unknown, it tends to overwhelm relocating individuals and families. Not knowing what questions to ask only compounds the stress they feel. When it comes to moving overseas, knowledge is power -- in every sense of the word. Preparing yourself and your family to the best of your ability will free all of you to enjoy the wonderful adventure that may very well be one of the most invaluable experiences of your life together.
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