Becoming an expat: where to start

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Making the decision to move abroad isn’t something to be taken lightly. There’s plenty of boxes to be ticked, forms to be filled out, and general planning to be done. But where do you actually start?

Unfortunately there’s a little more to it than just packing your bags and jumping on a plane. Here are some of the things you’ll need to factor in before you head for greener pastures abroad.


First up, visas. Assuming you have a job waiting for you on arrival, then be sure to speak to your employer as soon as humanly possible about visa support. Some businesses will take care of everything for you, including the costs; but others will leave it up to you. Find out what and how much you need to pay, then budget for it.

Depending on where you’re headed for, visas and work permits can be a complicated affair. The whole process could take months. There could be a lot of paperwork, and some countries require you to have a full medical examination (at a cost to you). This can be arranged through your local doctor.

It’s always worth making copies of your original documents too, as embassies have been known to be less than forthcoming when it comes to returning your documents.


Again, this really comes down to where you are going. Some countries provide free state healthcare, but not all. So look into it – before you need it.

Some companies provide private medical insurance as part of their employee benefit package options. If you are in any doubt, contact your employer, and find out the exact details of any cover they are providing. It is vitally important that you have comprehensive health insurance for you and your family.

International health insurance companies like Cigna offer a wide range of levels of expat medical insurance cover, in your new homeland and anywhere else you may be travelling. It’s better to be safe than sorry - find out more about Cigna International health insurance here.

But each place is different. Be sure to check the health advice recommendations (including potential vaccinations) for your new country of residence. A handy guide to some of the more popular destinations can be found here.


It goes without saying that air travel can be expensive, but it is of course a necessary expense if you are to become an expat.

That said, there are some ways to reduce the cost of air travel. Booking in advance generally results in discounts for long haul flights. Be sure to check out baggage allowances for the airlines you’re considering flying with, as some heavily restrict your weight limit, while others allow you to carry sports equipment for free.

Travel insurance is also a must. Don’t just think about the cost - make sure you’re happy with the whole package, including your travel insurance, and things like cancellation cover and baggage cover.

Shipping or Storage?

It’s unavoidable: The shock at just how much stuff you’ve accumulated. You’ve probably got a lot more possessions than you thought. So what do you take with you?

If you’re planning on renting at first in your new homeland, you could consider renting a fully furnished property and put your furniture into storage until you’re settled. You could then arrange to have your belongings shipped over at a more convenient time. Or sell it all and buy new furnishings abroad – it could end up being cheaper. But don’t get stuck, think about it in advance and decide on a course of action.


Given the logistical complexities of moving to another country, it can be easy to lose track of your finances, so adhering to a strict budget is crucial.

Try to plan ahead as much as possible, including the little things as much as the big expenses. Be sure to factor in things like hotels (if your new abode isn’t ready yet), local transport prices or the cost of a vehicle, local utility costs, legal documentation costs on arrival, and import tax on anything you may be taking with you.

Find out more about Cigna healthcare here

Yes, moving abroad takes planning and research, but by following the handy steps above, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a fully-fledged expat. But wait, there’s more…

Things you won’t have thought of…

Yes folks, there’s yet more to consider.

Becoming an expat isn’t just about ticking all the boxes laid out above. It also involves a mental, emotional, and behavioural shift in your lifestyle. Living in a new country means adjusting to a new culture and new attitudes.

Remember, culture is not a case of right and wrong. The conventional ‘have-a-nice day’ attitude popular in places like the USA, may not be replicated in your new home country, so be prepared for something a little different – and be open to it.

One of the biggest struggles for new expats is the adjustment to more alone time. Whether you’re just leaving a large group of friends behind, or moving to accompany a partner’s new employment venture, you may find yourself with more free-time, and more alone time.

There’s no quick fix for this. It’s part of the package and it takes some getting used to. Be sure to look up expat communities and support groups. Over time, through  daily life, you’ll settle in just fine.

Much like any other big life event, moving abroad can be downright stressful, so a sense of humour is of paramount importance. Be willing to laugh at the situation - and yourself when you get things wrong.

Becoming an expat is very much a marathon, not a sprint. The struggles that you face initially will diminish over time. It’ll be an exciting time, so take it all as it comes, don’t expect miracles overnight, and enjoy starting a fantastic new chapter in your life in a new country.

This article was sponsored by Cigna Global.

Read more about expat healthcare:

Becoming an expat: where to start
Education abroad: How to find an international school
Why expats choose international health insurance
Retiring abroad: what you should know

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