Moving Overseas Tips

You need tips for moving overseas. Right now.

You’re new expats and you’re looking for help and real life advice.

You’ve found it.

So keep reading

I’m no expert and I’m sure there are many things that can be added to this list of tips for moving overseas.

But I feel like we have some great information to share from our move to France and then to Africa.

Then, back for furlough. Then, back to West Africa. With tons of travel in between.

Here are some of the great resources, tips and ideas that helped us through our continental moves.

I remember starting to process our first move and finding random information spread out all over the web.

I needed a to do list and I couldn’t find one that was simple and clear.

I didn’t need a TON of information. I needed a simple list with quick tips and easy information.

So, I’m hoping to provide that to you as you make your move overseas for the first time, fifth time or tenth time.

Tips for Moving Overseas

Praying this list of tips for moving overseas is a help to you!

1. Timeline – Friends, there is NOTHING quick about moving overseas. Whether you are raising a budget like we did or being sent overseas by the military or your company, it is not a quick process. You need to assess how much time you have before you move, research everything you need for that country {think passports, VISAs, moving companies, shipping prices…} and make a timeline. Some things take 6 weeks, some things take 6 months. You need to know what needs done first and how soon you can check it off your list. Make a timeline for packing, shopping, shipping, paperwork… all the little details should go on that timeline! When the person on the phone for your VISA appointment says, “You will need this paper in by this date.” MARK YOUR TIMELINE! You do not want to be that expat family who is scrambling for a last minute, notarized paper. Do your research about YOUR move and make a timeline. First thing. Then move to item 2.

2. Paperwork – There will be SO MUCH of it. Paperwork for your family at home. Paperwork for your new country. Paperwork for your company. Tons of it. Print it. Request it. Start it. Do not leave it in piles for another day. Attack it. There is no way around it. Dig in now. Follow your timeline and get it done.

A few tips for paperwork:

  • Get a lawyer. Yep. Find a good one who understands expats. Have him create your will, your power of attorney, your health advocate papers… Our lawyer had a great package deal that included a bunch of stuff we didn’t even think about. Plan ahead for you, for your family at home, for your kids. Make sure everyone is clear on your wishes before you leave the country. If you can, get a digital copy of everything to give to your boss and a family member. Your sending agency needs this info should the worst happen. They need to know who to call, what to tell the hospital in your new country and so on. Get a lawyer and make sure you have this stuff done ahead of time. Ask good questions and talk about the hard stuff. Now.
  • Leave someone you trust with your details. Passwords, bank information, online accounts… make a master list and give it to someone who has it under lock and key. If you have trouble with a bank or with taxes or with your rental property… most things can be taken care of from overseas. But sometimes, having someone with access to your accounts or bank or property manager can be a really smart thing.
  • Speaking of taxes… find one who can do overseas taxes. Make sure you can connect with them via email. Make sure they know you live overseas. Call and ask them questions about the best ways for keeping records now that you live outside the USA.
  • Another important person to visit is your doctor. Get up to date physicals right before you leave {add it to the timeline and make the appointments now!}. Make sure your doctor’s office knows you are moving and make sure they are able to get you medical info by email or fax. We have used our doctor back home a few times since moving here just 4 months ago! Before you leave, get CLEAR and OFFICIAL looking shot records for EVERYONE in the family. Also, if possible, ask your doctor to draw up a good health statement for each person in the family on his/her office letterhead. Have him stamp it and sign it and initial it and date it… you can not have enough “officialness” to your documents overseas. Doing this before leaving has helped us immensely!
  • Call ALL credit cards and banks. Know their policies for using their accounts overseas. Find out which one works the best and has the best fee prices. We LOVE our Chase Sapphire Preferred. It has a chip in it which nearly all European countries now require. Tell each bank/credit card that you will be moving overseas and give them exact dates if you have them.
  • Get a really strong file folder with multiple folders. Keep everything in one place and keep it on your person at all times while traveling. Then keep it in a safe spot in your new home. You will be amazed how often you need that file folder while setting up your new life.
  • Have an easy way to organize paperwork when you get to the field. You won’t always have a desk! Something like this works perfectly.

Also read: Working Abroad: How to prepare your finances

3. Translation – Once you have all this paperwork accumulated… birth records, marriage certificate, shot records, doctor’s letter and so on… have them translated into your new language. You can do this once you land in country but it is expensive, possibly a fraud risk and just plain time consuming. Do it before you leave. We used Languages International. They are AWESOME. They not only translate all your documents, they also give you copies and notarize everything. Their translation work is very well-done and with it we were able to get our girls registered for school without having to see a doctor here in France and have their records verified. The city accepted our documents. Huge win for this expat family! Whether you think you will need it or not, have it translated. And make 10 copies of each thing. You will use them. You can easily email them your documents, they will give you a price and within a few days, they will mail them back to you signed and notarized.

*speaking of languages – you want this set of Rory’s Story Cubes… huge language learning help! Get it before you go.

4. Passport Photos – This is HUGE. You do not just need these for your passport. You will need a passport sized photo for a ton of other things once you are in country. You need it for your kids paperwork at school, your VISA process, your city paperwork… bring lots and lots of 2×2 head shots. Yes… that can get expensive. Unless you are like us and use a passport photo app. We literally stood in Target because they have good lighting and held up a white poster board behind our kids and took the pictures ourselves. I sent them from my phone to Walgreens and had 3 4x6s printed of each of us. So for about $5 we had 18 head shots each. Cheap, easy and a fun family activity. Kind of. You’ll get a good laugh anyway.

5. Start packing – We used these Sterilite Footlockers… worth EVERY penny. We ended up with about 20 of them which can get expensive. So start ordering 2 here and 2 there as you need them. The bins held up GREAT through the whole flight and now they are storage bins, end tables, foot stools and clothes storage in our apartment. We zip-tied them closed and had no problems at all. They are also very light-weight which allows you to take FULL advantage of your 50lb weight limit. The other light-weight suitcase we LOVE, are It Suitcases. They have traveled and flown with us for years and are still going strong. Definitely invest in a few of them!

**We are STILL using many of the original Sterilite footlockers we flew with in 2014. We have used them on various airlines and have never had an issue checking them in. An extra flying tip for these bins – use duck tape over each clasp and over the handle.

***We have heard of some people having trouble with plastic bins to the Caribbean. So check with a travel agent or the airline!

Moving Overseas

Packing tips:

  • Buy a luggage scale. A MUST for your final days of packing and prep for the airport.
  • Make a full list of everything in every single bin. We lost 2 bins and we knew exactly what was in them from our notes. If you have to report lost items to insurance, you will need this info. It also helps you check and make sure you’ve packed the important stuff.
  • Number your bins. Helps with your packing notes, your airport check in and your baggage pick up. You can quickly know how many bins you have and what bins are missing. It also helps when you are weighing bins. “How much does bin 7 weigh?” “No, bin 9 is at 50lbs… add it to bin 12… it has a few pounds left.” I promise.
  • Don’t go crazy with vacuum bags. They might make your stuff smaller but it weighs just as much. We used them for winter clothes, stuffed animals, pillows and a few other big things. Other than that, it all got packed regularly because otherwise the bins just got too heavy.
  • Once you have them packed, labeled, numbered and weighed you are good to go! We did not have to repack even 1 bin at the airline check in. The lady was absolutely amazed.
  • Use grocery bags to pack your stuff. I collected Walmart, Target, Kohls, Aldi, and any other grocery type bag I could get my hands on for months. Then, I used them as packaging around our coffee mugs or other breakables. Then, once we moved, I had them for shopping {most overseas stores do not provide bags of any kind} and it was wonderful!
  • Pack the normal “I’m moving overseas foods” like peanut butter and cinnamon candy {I do have a whole other list for this too}. But also pack enough food for a few quick meals. It takes time to get groceries at your new home so having dry cereal, oatmeal packets, mac and cheese, beef jerky and some Starbucks Vias will keep your family happy until groceries are purchased!
  • Pack enough toiletries for about 3 months. You do not want to run out of toothpaste or shampoo right away. I pretty much had little bottles of this and that, band aids, lotion, antibiotic cream, children’s Tylenol, cough drops… spread out through ALL 22 bins and suitcases. Once we got here, I was able to outfit our whole hall closet with toiletries, medicine and other items. Very helpful when you don’t know where to get stuff, what it is called or how expensive it will be in your new country.
  • Look for organizer type things that will lay flat in your footlockers. Things like these boxes. When you arrive, you’ll be so glad you did.
  • Then, if you have children under 11, make SURE to have one of these collapsible wagons as one of your FREE carryon “strollers”. We did this to help haul our kids, carryons, snacks… all through the airports. It was a huge help during travel, very easy to collapse and check on the flight with no questions asked (in fact, I think the airport personnel were quite impressed) and we’ve even gotten great use out of it on the field!

You really will be super packer by the time it is over. You just might look like this on your way to the airport thinking, “What on earth am I doing??”

Moving Overseas - 12 Things You Need to Know

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6. Check out – There really is some great information there. Check lists and other helpful stuff you need to know. Look around their website and read as much as you can about leaving the USA and what they think you need to know. Their “Before You Go” tab is especially helpful!

7. Register your travel – The government really does need to know who you are and where you are and what you are doing when you leave the US. Should something happen, they need to know how to find you. You also need them. You need their updates and notifications and emails about your specific country of residence. Enroll in the STEP program so that the state department has your info and you get their info. Very crucial in so many ways.

8. Go for a pedicure. Eat at your favorite restaurant. Fill cups and cups with ice cubes {you will not have access to them for a long, long time} and drink a whole pack of root beer… also with ice cubes. Oh, and daily eat a spoonful of peanut butter. And use ranch dressing on everything. Then move on to #9.

9. Read about your new country. I wish we had done this more. I wish we knew more about West Africa and the history here. We are living and seeing things that I really wish I’d taken the time to learn more about before moving here! Take a trip to the library and read as much as you can. Learn a few phrases in your new language and get ready for plenty of new adventures! Study a map, make a must-see travel list, check out geocaches… it will all help you adjust in your new home.

10. Airlines – If you are a humanitarian worker as we are, there are airlines that give extra free bags!! That is HUGE. We were able to get 3 free checked bags per person on British Airways. That is 15 bins FREE. For a move overseas, you must take advantage of free bags. Be sure to call a travel agent who is experienced with overseas travel. {Fly For Good is a great one!} You might need their help in assuring you are marked to receive the free bags. Some airlines require an official letter from your sending agency prior to check in. Get the details!! And don’t forget your collapsible wagon!

Edited: I’m not sure which airlines still do humanitarian luggage allowance. Check with your travel agent!!

“Our wagon has pulled 50 liters of water across town to our apartment multiple times now, and the little ones ride in it as we walk to and from church. I can’t imagine how much more challenging it would be without it.” – new overseas family

11. Plan for Electronics – power cords, chargers, adapters… all VERY important right away. Make sure you have what you need to charge in the airport and in your new home. Also, carry as much of your electronics with you in your carry-ons as possible. Everything from laptops to our Wii flew with us on the plane, not in a checked bag. Our 10 carry on bags were mainly electronics. Back up hard drives, important thumb drives, our DVDs… it was all with us. Pack things in clear Ziplock bags so security can easily see what you have in your bags when you empty them. Also, when thinking of electronics, what kind of DVD player does your new country need? Do you need something that plays both US and your new country’s DVDs? Are your phones unlocked so they can easily accept a new SIM card? Are they capable of being used in your new country? What about cellphone plans in your new country? What do you need to get cell service and what is a good company being used there? Wait and buy a printer in country. The legal paper size may be different! Research it all!

12. New Things – What new things might you encounter? Have you emailed a handful of people who have lived where you are going? What new games, customs, processes, events could you prepare for ahead of time? In France, we walked everywhere. I wish we would have packed our girls’ scooters and more jump ropes. The scooters to ride around on during big walks and the jump ropes for school recess! Then, there were things I prepared for and didn’t need to. Like school supplies for a French school system. I wasted precious weight on school supplies that we can’t use. The girls needed French specific items. School supplies are totally different here. The paper is different, the pens are different, they use a ton of whiteout… who knew?

A few other things…

Plan for your trip to and from the airport. Do you want family there? Should you say goodbye at check in or at a restaurant before hand? Who is dropping you off? How are you transporting all your luggage and bins? Who is meeting you at the airport in your new country? Do you need to rent a van? All big things to think about when you are moving overseas.

Moving overseas is a huge, huge job full of details. The to-do list is massive.

But, it can be done.

Oh, you’ll make mistakes. And someone will say you are doing it wrong.

The packing will end and the move will happen. You will be as prepared as you can be and then deal with the rest as you can when you arrive.

God is faithful and He will help you. I promise.

Cry many tears, laugh often and trust God to handle it all and carry you through.

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Moving Overseas - 10Things You Need to Ask

I’d love for those of you who have made a move overseas to share your tips in the comments. If you know someone who you think this post would help, be sure to share with them by email or facebook.

If you have any additional resources, please write them in the comments of this post!

“I stumbled upon your blog and I’m so grateful for it because we are moving in a couple months. We have three kids and it’s overwhelming to think of all the things I need to get in order to make this go smoothly. Thank you for sharing your story!” – overseas worker

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