Expat Guide—A Comprehensive Checklist for Moving to China
Living abroad is an enriching, life affirming experience filled with adventures and storytelling fodder. But, let’s call it like it is, moving abroad is an ordeal. Aside from the emotional hurdles, you must add the logistics of relocating your life. Combined, the process can be daunting for even the most easy-going individual. If you are a planner, a list maker, a worrier, or just want a smooth transition abroad, this comprehensive guide (complete with checklist) should ensure you have your bases covered.
Download A VPN
If you are moving to a country with censored Internet, download a VPN (Virtual Private Network) beforehand. Countries like China censor most news sources and will completely cripple your social media habit (no YouTube, or Facebook, or Google—oh, my!). A VPN allows your computer to bypass the firewalls and access servers around the world. While this is technically considered “illegal”, it is widely practiced among expats. For the best VPN in China, use ExpressVPN. They regularly update their software specifically for expats living in China. Avoid free VPN services since they can be unreliable, and you can obtain most services for about $100/year. Note that it is far more difficult to install your VPN once you have arrived in your censored host country. Bonus: Even if you are moving to a country without Internet restrictions, a VPN allows you to stream Netflix movies from your home country!
Check In With Your Phone Service Provider
If you would like to keep your current phone, make sure it is internationally and carrier unlocked. Most phones are internationally unlocked. However, many phones are locked to a service provider like AT&T, Verizon, or T-Mobile. If your carrier doesn’t provide service in your host country, you will not be able to connect your phone with a new service provider. Follow these steps to ensure your phone is carrier unlocked before you leave home. Another option is to suspend your current service and buy a new phone to use in your host country.
Update Your Passport
This may seem obvious, but make sure your passport is up to date with at least six months validity remaining. If your passport is set to expire within the year, it may be prudent to renew. This will save you the hassle of going through the consulate in your host country while you are adjusting to your life abroad. Additionally, if you must apply for a work visa after arriving in your host country, bring plenty of extra passport photos. While they are easy to obtain upon arrival, save yourself the hassle—you would be surprised how many you might be asked to provide while going through the work visa application process (specifically in China).
If you are moving to a country with poor air quality (most of Asia and some countries in Africa, with China and Saudi Arabia having some of the most toxic air in the world), install the Air Matters app on your phone. To protect yourself while living abroad, invest in a quality pollution-mask before arriving. Sorry, surgical masks won’t cut it. Most masks do not protect against PM (particulate matter) 2.5 pollutants—the smallest size particles that can lodge themselves in your throat or lungs. Masks should be airtight and have at least an N95-N99 rating. Check out Respro or City Masks by Respro.
Nothing is Certain Except Death And…
Taxes. If you are an American citizen, you may think you are off the hook while you are living and earning income abroad. But you are not. The US is one of a few countries that require its citizens to file taxes, even if you live abroad for years. Make sure to check out the requirements for filing and paying taxes in the US while living abroad. Additionally, consider finding a CPA who specializes in the foreign earned income tax exclusion.
Mail Forwarding and Collection Services
Chances are, you will continue to receive mail after you leave the country. The US Postal Service will only hold your mail for a limited amount of time. Fully managed mail services will scan and email you every article of mail you receive. This can be pricey; since some companies charge per item. If you receive catalogues or junk mail, call the numbers on each item you receive and request to be removed from any future mailings. Another option is to ask a friend or family member to accept mail on your behalf. Fill out a change of address form to forward all mail to the new monitored address. Be aware that you must complete the mail forwarding form every six months.
Contact Your Financial Institutions
Before leaving your home country, contact your bank institutions and credit card providers to alert them of your overseas activities. Allow plenty of time since some institutions (especially any investment banks) may have to file special paperwork in order to move money on your behalf while you are abroad.
Exchange Money for Local Currency
Before leaving, exchange some money at the bank for local currency. This will ensure you have currency on hand for your initial arrival into the airport for ground transportation, particularly if your host country is not credit-card friendly. Allow some time for this step if your new currency is anything other than Euro—some foreign currency, such as CNY, require a special order and may take a few days for the bank to obtain.
Pack Up Your Life
Packing up your home may be one of the most daunting aspects of moving abroad. Do some research in your local area for reputable local storage companies. If you are interested in DIY packing, some companies such as PODS or Units drop off a storage container at your home and pick it up after you have loaded your items. Or you might consider full packing and moving services, so you don’t have to lift a finger! Before moving, comb through your stuff and donate anything you won’t want to unpack when you return. The Salvation Army and Veterans of Foreign Wars will pick up donations right from your home! Don’t forget to save your tax receipt!
Interview Property Managers
If you own a home that you want to keep during your time abroad, a reputable property management company provides peace of mind. Or consider renting your home for extra income. Most management companies require first month’s rent as payment for finding renters and 10% of the rent thereafter. They can make repairs to your home on your behalf (up to a predetermined amount) and ensure your home is taken care of in your absence.
Car Storage and Insurance
First, determine whether you should keep your car. Consider how long you plan to live abroad and whether you have any outstanding payments on your vehicle. If you decide to keep your car, find a reputable garage where it can be stored. In addition, contact your insurance provider to determine whether you qualify for a reduction in costs since your car will be off the road.
Time For Your Checkups!
Get your regular appointments out of the way. While there, obtain your medical and dental records. Finding a new care provider will be one less thing to worry about when you arrive in your host country. You can spend the first few months adjusting to expat life before searching for a new provider.
Gather Important Documents
Bring copies of previous years’ tax returns, copies of your medical records, and a copy of your visa documents. Bring your original passport, college degree (if you are teaching abroad), marriage certificate, and birth certificate. Can’t find your original documents? You can order additional certificates quickly at VitalChek.
Assign Power of Attorney
If you have any ongoing business or personal matters in your home country, it may be smart to appoint a close friend or family member as your Power Of Attorney while you are gone. This will ensure important documents can be signed on your behalf if they cannot be signed electronically.
Get Updated Prescriptions and Immunizations
Many countries, particularly in Asia or Africa, have a list of suggested vaccinations. Check with the World Health Organization to determine which immunizations they suggest for your region. In addition, stock up on traveler’s medication and ask your insurance provider if you can order a year’s supply of any prescription not readily available in your host country. China provides limited options for certain medications, so bringing your own may be necessary.
Know What to Pack
An entire article can be dedicated to packing guidelines, but let’s boil it down to this—do some research. If you have specific brands you love, or prescriptions you have to take, see if they are available in your host country. In China, BaoPals carries almost everything you can think of, but you may have a difficult time finding large size shoes or solid deodorant.
Download Helpful Apps
While this can be done in your host country, why not hit the ground running with the best apps already installed? If you are moving to a country with air pollution, add the Air Matters app. Will you be in a different time zone from your loved ones? Stay connected with my favorite (free!) communication app, Marco Polo. If you love to read, but don’t have luggage space to lug books abroad, try Overdrive to check out digital library books from your local library. And, of course, don’t forget Google Translate for voice and text translation.
While moving anywhere can be stressful, with a little preparation and planning, you will find the process manageable. Enjoy the first step of your journey and enjoy the ride!
MOVING ABROAD CHECKLIST
____Contact phone provider about carrier unlocked phones
____Update your passport
____Get extra passport photos
____Download Air Matters (Asia and Africa) and other relevant apps
____Order a pollution mask (Asia and Africa)
____Find a CPA who specializes in international tax exemption (American citizens)
____Mail forwarding services
____Cancel junk mail and junk subscriptions
____Alert banks and credit institutions of your move
____Order host country’s currency through your financial institution
____Donate items to a local charity
____Find a moving and relocation company for your home items
____Interview property managers
____Find a car storage company
____Contact car and homeowner’s insurance for possible rate reduction
____Schedule regular checkups and obtain medical records
____Bring copies of important information and original documents in a binder
____Get travel immunizations and vaccinations as necessary
____Obtain Power of Attorney as necessary
____Know what to pack