An Expatriation Checklist
A starter list of steps you need to take to prepare for the move
What follows is hardly a complete checklist, but it covers the basics. Your circumstances may vary, but review this list carefully and see what applies to you. You may also, during your preparations, note something that is not on this list; if so please let me know and I will include it.
- The absolute first thing you must do is to apply for a passport, or renewal if your passport will expire in less than a year. Even if you are not planning to expatriate immedately, having a passport will greatly facilitate your getting out if things suddenly go sour - if necessary, you can leave on a moment's notice, but without one, you are stuck. You are going to need a passport no matter where you go in permanent exile - it is helpful even in Canada. The application will ask you for your destination - simply put down a common tourist destination such as Jamaica or Costa Rica. There is no need (or requirement) to be absolutely accurate and specific, so make it general and low-profile to keep the process simple and quick as possible. One of the most time-consuming parts of the process will be your visa application, which can't even be started without a passport, so get going on your passport immediately if you will need to.
- Research the country of your destination, and learn what will be required to get in legally. Start the residency application process if necessary. Most, but by no means all countries require you to apply for and receive the residence visa before you leave the U.S., so you need to know where you are going very early on in the expatriation process. If it is not particularly simple, you are better off hiring an immigration attorney, and you will need to do a lot of internet research to find one that is honest and reliable. Look in the forums, chat rooms and newsgroups for names of lawyers, and check up on the one you are considering before you hire him. I can't emphasize that enough - it is really easy to get ripped off in a country you are not familiar with, and that can start before you ever get there.
- If there is a book in the "Culture Shock" series that covers your first choice, get that book and read it. It will help you prepare for what you are going to face when moving to that country, and it will take a lot of the nasty surprises out of the experience of immersing yourself permanently in a strange and foreign land. You will find a search box at the bottom of this page.
- If at all possible, make an exploratory trip to your destination country on a tourist visa. Check the place out, travel around and get a feel for what travel is like in the country, and contact a real estate agent, and have a look at some potential properties (but don't commit to buying anything). If, by the end of the trip, you have decided it is a go, use the last two or three days to look for possible temporary furnished housing to land in when you arrive permanently. If you see something you like, get the contact information from the landlord or property manager and establish a relationship - let them know you will be contacting them before you arrive in-country. While on your exploratory trip, don't forget to check into what it will take to set up a bank account in your destination country - some countries make this difficult for foreigners, and it is one of the first things you will need to do in your new home. In particular, check on what documentation, if any, will be required from your home country.
- Start collecting and authenticating the documents that you will need for immigration into the country of your destination. This is going to take a while, so get started as soon as possible. Virtually all countries will require all the documents listed below. They also must to be certified by their issuing agencies, notarized, and apostilled at minimum. To get a document apostilled, you will need to send it (or preferably carry it) to the office of the Secretary of State in the state where the document was notarized. If you mail it, specify which country the document is for - the document they will attach will vary, depending on the country you will be applying to. The process is fast, easy and cheap, but it is a vitally necessary part of the "chain of authentication" which will usually end with the embassy or consulate or immigration office of the country where you are headed. Some countries may require that you get certified translations of some or all of these documents; normally this is handled (usually for a rather steep fee) by the consulate or embassy that is also authenticating the apostilled documents. Identify all the documents you will need and get this done before leaving the United States. This is a very difficult process to complete by remote control, particularly in dealing with embassies and consulates, which are often notoriously careless in dealing with these vitally important documents. Documents you will need for sure, just about anywhere you go:
- Passports - individual, rather than group passports (individual passports only are required by some countries for immigration purposes) for each person in your party.
- Birth Certificates for every person in your party, including children. Make sure they are certified birth certificates; they will be of no value otherwise.
- Marriage licenses for any and all marriages to which you have been a party.
- Separation agreement or decree of you are currently separated from your spouse.
- Divorce decrees for any and all divorces to which you have been a party.
- If you are widowed or a widower, you will need death certificates for your deceased spouse(s).
- Custodial decrees for any children who are from previous marriages, whether they are traveling with you or not.
- If a custodial decree lists the other parent as the custodian, and you wish to take that child with you, a notorized and authenticated statement of release of custody and permission for international travel from the custodial parent will be required (some countries may require permission of the court which issued the custodial decree - best to get it in any event).
- Police record (not required by all countries - check this out). If your police record shows any civil or criminal actions against you, you will need copies of the final court judgements in those actions. Some countries will recognize this for only three months after it was issued; best to get it last thing before you leave if you will be applying for a residence permit after you arrive.
- If you have ever been imprisoned, a copy of your prison record, with release date and current parole status clearly indicated.
- For any pets you are taking, you will need veterinary health certificates and immunization certificates. Local laws vary - check before you go.
- If you are taking a motor vehicle, you will need the title, registration, insurance certificate and latest emissions certificate. If the vehicle title still shows a lien on it, you will need clearance for export from the lienholder (good luck!). You may need a notorized statement from the police that you are the owner and that the automobile is not currently reported as a stolen vehicle - check before you leave.
- If you need to apply for the visa in advance of the move, do so as soon as you have the above supporting documents ready, and do it in advance of quitting your job and putting your real estate on the market. Otherwise, if your real estate is sold and you have closed before your visa is ready (quite likely), you could find yourself out on the street, with no income, no address and no telephone at a moment in your life when you are desperate for all of the above.
- As soon as you know where you are going, start learning the language if you are going to need to learn a new one. Having at least a survival-grade of language in your new home will help enormously in getting settled. Learn as much as you can manage. Every single word of your new vocabulary will be precious to you, I guarantee.
- When you have the visa in hand (if you are required to have it prior to your move), set a tenative target date for the move, and start working towards it - putting your real estate on the market, getting rid of things you are not going to take. Look for a mover than is experienced in international moving and is competent to handle things on both ends of the move.
- Forget taking cars or pets with you anywhere except Canada. Cars are difficult and expensive to register in the new country, and the duties can be horrific - for example, Costa Rica charges 89% duty on cars older than five years - and they determine the base price on which duty is calculated. Pets require a lot of shots, health certificates, etc., that can complicate the move, and dealing with pets logistically during the move can be quite difficult in foreign countries where you don't know of any reliable kennels or veterinarians. Hotels and landlords can be quite petty and arbitrary about them as well. Best to not try. I guarantee you will have no difficulty finding new animal companions once you are settled in your new home.
- When your real estate is sold and you know when you will be closing, set a moving date for a day or two later. Call the moving company and confirm that they can come and pack you up on that date. Contact the landlord or property manager for the apartment at your destination (if you have arranged this) and ask for a move-in date if an apartment is available. Make your plane reservations.
- When you arrive in your new home, always be humble as well as pleasant, smiling and cheerful when dealing with businesspeople and the bureaucracy, no matter how severely they provoke your annoyance or anger. This will minimize the "spite factor" in getting things done. The very last thing you want to have happen to you is to be branded an "ugly American" (yes, they know that phrase as well as you do) - the bureaucrat may hate or resent Americans in general, and you don't want to give him reason to make it personal. Remember, the concept of bureaucrats as public servants has little meaning in many other cultures, so being perceived as demanding and/or arrogant to even the slightest degree will be very counterproductive.
- If, through some misfortune, you find yourself in a legal dispute with someone else in a foreign country that may at some point involve the police, make sure you get to the police first, and explain your side of the story before the other party gets to them. If there is any doubt at all, the police will usually side with the person who makes the case to them first. This is psychological - it happens for two reasons: 1) because you have already demonstrated your good faith and cooperation by showing up voluntarily to explain to them what's coming down - and 2) it puts the other party on the defensive automatically.
- Never forget that you have made yourself a guest in someone else's home. Conduct yourself as you would in someone else's home, because you have a responsibility, not only to those in whose home you now live, but also to those who will follow you as much as you have followed others into exile.
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"Culture Shock" Books And Tourist Guide Books
To get the "Culture Shock" guide for the country you need, type the phrase, "Culture Shock +CountryX" in the search window to the left, without the quotes, and the name of the country you want to search for replacing CountryX, of course.
To find a tourist guide book for your exploratory trip, simply type the name of the country in the search box. I prefer the Moon and Lonely Planet series as tourist guides; others may be more germane to your needs. Looking at the various book pages doesn't cost, and it will help you get the best value for your money.
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