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Moving abroad can sometimes mean a minefield of decisions and preparations. This section deals with practicalities of relocating to another country, from decision-making to help with all the necessary relocation arrangements.
If your dream of moving abroad is fast becoming a reality, it's vitally important to carefully consider the real implications and motivations of your move.
Maybe it's simply a relaxed life in the sun you are after or perhaps a new working lifestyle for yourself and your family. Bear in mind that living abroad is never the holiday that you expect; if you move with unrealistic expectations, without having properly researched all the facts of living in your chosen country, you could find yourself disappointed when you get there.
Questions to ask before making that final decision:
- How will you sustain yourself economically? Do you intend to rely on a state pension as the foundation of your income strategy? If so, what are the provisions available for expatriates in your chosen country to claim the pension? For a pension forecast from the UK, contact HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).
If you are to seek employment, what is the job situation for expatriates? Will you need to speak the native language? Do you need a visa or work permit to work legally in your chosen country? What are the wages like and will they be enough to sustain you/your family? If the country has a social security system, what are your rights as a foreign worker?
Would the job be one you really want, or are you dangerously compromising your career satisfaction in order to be able to live abroad? How would this affect you and your family?
- Is the weather conducive to year-round living? The sun is a great addition to your quality of life, but when you have to work in it to survive, it can seem far less attractive. Aside from holidays, what realistically is your ideal climate? Do you prefer year-round warm sunshine or do you need a variation of temperatures and seasons to keep you happy?
- What recreational activities do you and your children enjoy? Make sure there are suitable activities for all the family in the area in which you plan to move.
- Bear in mind, your arrival could be a lonely time, so be prepared to miss friends and family back home and be ready to make the effort to establish new friendships. Many countries have expatriate groups, local clubs or fellow expatriate neighbours, but just as many can be remote and lonely for many non-natives.
- Will you fit in with the local culture? Cultural differences sometimes lie at the root of prejudice and this can come either from expatriates or from the local community into which they wish to integrate. What is the locals' attitude towards expatriates and what is your attitude towards them?
A certain degree of integration will need to take place – are you happy with the level of integration you personally can realistically hope to achieve? What about your tolerance level towards a slower pace of life and superfluous bureaucracy?
You may also need to research matters such as religious practices and standards of behaviour expected by the local and non–native population, particularly in Arab states. Examine their social attitudes and practices. Remember that in many countries, expatriates are regarded as the rich elite
Are these features you are comfortable with?
- Will the children enjoy the move? This is often a key factor in the decision-making process is your children's wellbeing. What kind of schooling will they move to? Who will be their friends and will you all be happy with what they do in their free time? Remember that a move from the city to the countryside may not be the paradise you think for your party-going teenager.
- Have you arranged a forwarding address? Ensure that you have notified the authorities back home of your new address, eg. banks, building societies, insurance and pensions companies, etc. You will also need to cancel certain services and policies that you no longer need.
- What about driving regulations? Check these out for the country you wish to relocate to. How much do cars cost to buy and run in your chosen country? Will you need to take a new driving test and/or obtain a local drivers license in due course?
If you intend to take your British car with you, you'll need to notify the DVLA at least 2 weeks prior to departure, and complete section C of a V5 registration document, showing your intended date of export. A Certificate of Export (V561) will then be issued to enable you to register your vehicle abroad. If you don't have a V5C registration certificate, apply using a form V62, available at the Post Office or downloaded it here. For more information contact: Export Section, Vehicle Customer Services, DVLA, Swansea, SA99 1AG
- What school will your children go to? Make sure that you have registered them at the correct time and that they will be able to join your chosen school without undue delay. Will they go to a local school or a private international school? This decision will often depend on the number of years you expect to stay in the country and on the quality of the local education in the area you wish to move to.
- Are you on target to receive your state pension abroad? If you are retiring abroad, make sure you complete a form BR19 from the Retirement Pension Forecasting and Advice Unit (RPFA), tel. 0044(0) 191 218 7585, and ask for a state pension forecast. This is available up to four months before you reach the UK pension age. Personal and company pension schemes can usually be paid anywhere in the world, provided you have paid the requisite National Insurance contributions.
- What about inflation? If you receive your state pension in an EU country, payments will be index-linked, but if your pension is paid outside the EU, you may not receive these increases.
- What is your tax situation? Depending upon the amount of time you are resident in the UK, you may be charged tax on your UK income, as well as tax if you are renting out a UK property while away. However, if you cut all ties with the UK and become resident abroad, you may no longer be liable for UK tax. You can obtain more information on your tax status using the Inland Revenue's IR20 document.
If you are moving to a country that has a double taxation treaty with your home country, you will no longer pay tax there. However, if there is no such treaty, you must pay tax in your home country as well.
- Will you receive UK benefits abroad? If you are receiving long-term benefits in the UK, eg. widow's pension, industrial injuries benefits or war pensions, these may be claimable in another EU member country.
- What are the residency rules? Most foreign countries consider you to be resident if you are physically in the country for a minimum of 183 days per year. How easy is it to obtain residency in your chosen destination and what are the tax implications of such a status? Find out from your nearest embassy.
- Is there a minimum bank balance requirement? Some countries require you to bank a minimum amount of money before they will permit you to live there.
- What happens if you die intestate in the country? You may well need to arrange for a will in the country you are going to live in, in addition to one for any assets “back home”, thus avoiding time-consuming and costly problems for your heirs.
- What if you need medical treatment? Most foreigners are not entitled to another country's health service treatment; however, the EU has reciprocal arrangements throughout Europe.
You'll need to establish just what treatment you are currently undergoing or are likely to need in the foreseeable future, along with the drugs that you may need to obtain while abroad. What type and level of services is available locally and how far are they from your home?
As a foreigner, it is generally advisable to take out insurance for private medical and dental treatment, as well as for medical repatriation in case you become critically ill.
- What about your pets? A move abroad should not necessarily mean parting with your beloved. Check the quarantine regulations of the country you wish to move to.
There are a number of specialised pet relocation agents and carriers who will be able to advise you on the vaccinations and certificates required to allow your pet to be imported. Many have offices and kennels at major airports, offering all the necessary travel facilities for your pet.
With so much to think about, it's a good idea to leave your packing to the professionals. Most companies will expertly pack up your things using appropriate packing boxes and special packing materials. For overseas moves, each item has to be individually wrapped with paper, bubble or foam wrap.
Should you wish to go to the time and trouble of packing items yourself, bear in mind that they will have to be labeled and identified on the inventory as PBO (packed by owner). Packing items yourself may cause problems with insurance and can make customs procedures slower and more costly, as they may wish to examine your belongings.
Methods of shipment:
Your possessions will most often be transported by sea freight and this is the cheapest option available. Containers, normally sized 20 x 40 foot and 7 foot 6 inches in height, are made of steel and are water resistant. You will be charged on volume rather than weight. Your shipment may go in one full container load (FCL) or by groupage with other clients' boxes. Groupage can take longer as you may have to wait for a container to fill up before it leaves port, but it can prove more cost effective than using an entire container. Shipment should take roughly four to six weeks for Europe and America, and six to eight weeks to Asia, Australia or New Zealand.
Air freight is a faster though often more expensive option for urgent shipping and you can expect to receive your goods within 14 days door to door. Remember that if you are moving somewhere that is not near a sea port, then this method of transport could prove to be as cost effective as sea freight.
- Remember that packing and moving always takes longer than you imagine and it is highly recommended to start packing around 12 weeks before you move.
- It is not worth shipping items half way around the world that you will not be using when you arrive. Shipping costs are expensive so think carefully about what you really need and give away or throw away items that you will simply not be using.
- Will your electrical goods work abroad? Specifically DVDs, TVs and videos may not be compatible, so there may be no point in shipping them.
- Most countries do not permit the importation of drugs; toxic or poisonous substances; plants; some alcohol; meat; bulbs and seeds; firearms; explosives; swords; flick knives or pornographic material.
- Get at least 3 quotations from removal companies and make sure your requirements to each are identical, thus ensuring you obtain a clear price comparison.
- What insurance is offered and demand to see their policy documents
- How long have they been trading?
- Can they supply references/client testimonials
- If your things are not shipped immediately, how secure will they be in storage?
- Will they be taking care of customs forms and regulations?
- Is their quotation fully inclusive of all charges, including customs clearances?
Useful links to worldwide Customs websites: