Published on December 20th, 201710
10 Essential “MUST-DO” Tips Before Moving Abroad
This may well be the most important TL post I’ve ever written.
It’s been more than 6 years since I sold everything and skipped out of Dodge (a.k.a. my native land) permanently. And I’ve not stepped foot on U.S. soil since (save for a brief layover with a chum in D.C. 4 years ago to break up my marathon flight from Vietnam here to Ecuador).
As outlined in my Pre-Leap Checklist among one of my several “Great Leap” posts, there were a LOT of chores that needed to be done before I broke ties with the Motherland. And now – looking behind me more than a half-decade – there are quite a few “Whew! Sure glad I did THAT!”s.
Indeed, case in point: Recently a TL reader contacted me with a few questions as she’s presently likewise poised to take “The Great Leap” and will be somewhat following in my footsteps (i.e. selling most everything, and setting off on an open-ended odyssey to parts unknown). First a month volunteering in Italy with a chum, then striking out on her own to volunteer in Nepal, followed by similarly finding an EFL teaching gig somewhere in Vietnam. Shoot, I even nudged her into starting a blog to record all her many adventures to come.
But beyond fiddling with the technos of blog themes and Skyping about optimizing pics and setting up menu items, our chatter was interspersed with stray advice on the key “must do’s” when setting off on “The Great Leap”. Tips on supremely important practical matters like financials, snail mail, etc.
Which (obviously) led me to review my own Great Leap experience, and suppose that there may well be others out there that would benefit from a checklist of essential chores to complete before presuming to take “The Great Leap” (or, for that matter, prudent considerations prior to doing most any foreign travel).
Thus in that spirit, I now offer to one and all, the 10 absolute GOTTA DO’S before embarking on any long-term travel and/or moving abroad:
1. Do not, repeat: DO.NOT. leave your native land (this goes for even a week’s vacation in Cabo, much less a permanent leap to live perpetually in foreign lands) with fewer than two credit/debit cards. Seriously – no less than two, and ideally THREE – issued for different accounts, from different banks. Trust that once you’re on the foreign travel/expat trail – your entire LIFE will be utterly dependent on the ability to get cash out of an ATM.
Thus the very LAST thing you want is to suddenly find yourself with no access to your funds because your only ATM card just got: A. lost, B. stolen, C. eaten by an ATM machine, or D. your bank 10,000 miles away decided to freeze your account (occasionally on a whim, but more often due to your neglect to remind them that you physically moved from country A to country B. – see Essential Tip #3).
2. Of course, it goes without saying… you will NEVER carry all these cards together in the same place (be they in your wallet, your backpack, or even all in your money belt hidden under your armpit). Separate them at all times, so that if your backpack suddenly goes missing, your wallet gets lifted on a crowded subway, or (yes, it can happen) you’re held up and frisked at gunpoint by bandits on a bus to Guadalajara (for example) – you’ll not be standing on a street corner in some distant land where you know not a word of the language, with… no means of getting your hands on even 50 bucks to pay for your hotel that night – much less fare to the airport to catch a plane that um, you have no money to buy a ticket for.
3. Speaking of ensuring that you can get an ATM machine to cough up a wad of your sole means of income: Always, always, AL-WAYS notify your bank (free, via Skype – see Essential Tip #10, though some banks allow you to do it online) each and EVERY TIME you move from country A to country B, C, etc.
4. Get thyself a virtual mailbox with a U.S. street address to handle any and all stray snail mail.
Don’t give me this “My bro or bestie friend has promised to shuffle through it, and let me know what’s important” nonsense. Sorry, but that scenario is so far-fetched it’s laughable. Just get yourself set up BEFORE you leave the States (‘cuz it will be nearly impossible to process the required USPS change of address forms later). Yup, later. Um, you know – later when your bro gets sent to prison, or simply gets lazy/distracted with his new girlfriend – leaving your precious bundle of snail mail to pile up in some dark, forgotten corner.
Besides, do you really want to burden your family/friends with the unappealing chore of perpetually sorting through your (I dare add, p.r.i.v.a.t.e.) snail mail, and diligently giving you a full report of that bank notice that arrived 3 months ago? Repeat: Just set up the dang virtual mailbox already – it’ll cost you all of 10 bucks per month (and will be worth 10 times that in peace-of-mind).
5. An adjunct to the #4 tip above – set all your important legal/financial, etc dealings to online notification. This includes, all banks, monthly/annual bills, social security missives, etc.
6. While you’re at it – remove your address from all junk mail (e.g. Bed, Bath and Beyond sales, etc. – yeah like, you’re going to need to know that vanilla candles are on sale in Seattle, as you slurp your pho in Vietnam for example). And notify any and all of your remaining important business/legal, etc. entities of your new address. That’s why it’s good to set up your virtual mailbox early (ideally a month or two before you leave), so as to track what snail mail you’re still receiving, and ensure that you’re vital snail mail is getting sent to your new virtual mailbox.
I doggedly researched the many online virtual mailbox options, and settled on Virtual Post Mail (which I’m still happily using 6 years later). I started the address change process a few months before I left Seattle. Not only was I able to confirm that all was working smoothly before I jumped ship for Asia, but I was able to pare my snail mail down to but a handful of stray notices (social security, etc.) and thus was able to downgrade my VPM account to the lowest option (just $9.99 for up to 25 pieces of mail and 10 free scans per month).
7. Renew your passport if it’s EVEN REMOTELY CLOSE to expiring. Many countries won’t let you in with less than 6 months validity (calculated from the date at the END of your visa stay period – e.g. 3 month Vietnamese visa? uh, that would take at least 9 months validity left) on your passport. And even if you have a year left on it – better to renew it for another 10 years before you fly the U.S. of A. coop.
8. And while you’re at it, opt to have them put extra pages in the new one (i.e. 52 pages vs. the usual 28) – just ask when you renew, it’s FREE! You’d be surprised how swiftly those repeated foreign visas (often a full page for each one) every 3 months or so – will gobble up the 17 pages (that are available for visa stamps out of 28) in an ordinary U.S. passport.
Point is – you don’t want to run short of blank pages as some countries require up to 4 or more blank pages to allow you in the country.
9. Set up a PayPal account. I can’t tell you how many times mine has come in handy for many purposes. Indeed, I’ve even used it to rescue desperate fellow nomads who’ve suddenly found themselves destitute (usually because they neglected to heed #1, #2 and/or #3 Essential Tips above). It’s just another layer of security for accessing funds while traveling/expatting. It’s easy to set up a PayPal account, and sending/receiving funds from family/friends doesn’t cost a dime.
10. Install Skype, and keep the 800#s for you bank(s), etc. handy (i.e. all 800# calls are free on Skype). Indeed, just yesterday I needed to deduct my annual “dodderin’ distribution” from my 401k Schwab account (yes, I’m THAT old) 😉 and I forgot how I did it (online) last year. So I simply sat at my computer and dialed up the ever helpful folks at Schwab to walk me through moving $$$ out of my 401k and into my Schwab checking account.
In short – not only is Skype (or its various ‘n sundry cousins) absolutely VITAL to keeping in touch with family and friends for months/years on end as you bounce around the globe, but it can be very handy for contacting businesses, tech service folks, etc.
There’s probably a few more “MUST DO’S” that I’ve forgotten to include here, but suffice if you’ve got these 10 covered – trust me, you’ll be ever so glad you did once you land in some strange new land on the other side of the globe.
P.S. My apologies if I’ve waxed a tad dogmatic on the above (seriously, you GOTTA do ’em!) Essential Tips. But after 6 years of perpetually living and traveling day-after-day in foreign lands – I dare say I’ve learned a thing or two. YMMV of course, but I must say – I THANK HEAVEN that I took care of all this before I left my native land.