10 things you must do when moving abroad

As I write this, everything I own is in some shipping container somewhere that probably looks a lot like one of the ones pictured here.

As I write this, everything I own is in some shipping container somewhere that probably looks a lot like one of the ones pictured here.

As you may or may not know, my husband and I are relocating from Washington, DC to Tbilisi, Georgia. This has been quite a process and there are some things that we did well, and some that I really wish we had done a little bit better. So, while it’s still fresh in my mind and I’m trying to think of anything that I might still need to do before we fly next week, I thought I’d compile a list complete with some basic resources. I hope that this is helpful for any of you planning on moving overseas, and honestly, it’s also for future-me for when we relocate again in 2-5 years. 

1. Start WAY before you think you need to.

Seriously. Two weeks might seem like enough, but sometimes life happens and you need to fly to another country for a family emergency and then you only have one week to go through everything, cancel everything, box everything, and say goodbye to everyone. I mean, s#!t happens, and it will, so just take my advice and start early. Honestly, 90 days out is when I’ll probably start next time.

Lesson learned: Two weeks is definitely not enough.

2. Make a very detailed list.

Whether it’s just you, or you’re working with a family in tow, the more detailed the list the better. I’m already guessing that you’re a list-type, since you’re reading this, but make a super-detailed one if you can! Include dates of when things need to be done, and who is responsible for that task, if applicable. I found this template that starts at 90 days from the move, and you can just copy what is relevant for you.

Lesson learned: I did not follow this recommendation myself and had a little “note” going in my phone. It was disorganized and I haven’t checked it in a week. Trust me here. More is more. I am definitely forgetting things I need to do.

3. Cancel all your accounts.

This goes along a bit with #2 because all of those accounts need to be on that detailed list. Do you go to the gym, have a cell phone, have multiple bank accounts, use the local bikeshare? You’ll have to cancel them all or at least notify some companies. List them out and go through one by one.

Lesson learned: Some gyms require a months notice because they want ALL YOUR MONEY. Luckily, I’m lazy, so this is the first thing I cancelled and my membership is basically running through until the day I leave.

4. De-clutter!

I am proud of myself because I did manage to do this pretty successfully. If you haven’t worn that dress in the past year, you probably don’t need to take it with you overseas. Go through all of your clothing, jewelry, decorations, etc. and either donate it, give it away, or trash it. We ended up donating around 12 industrial size garbage bags of stuff.

I can be a tiny bit of a pack rat, and I hate to throw things away, but there are some things that you just can’t donate. One of the things I did to get rid of little decorations, unopened makeup, and knick knacks was to create little “mystery bags” and give them away at our going away party. The rule was that nobody had to take one, but if they did, they had to either give away or keep the stuff inside- as long as it didn’t stay in our apartment!

Lesson learned: One Rebecca’s junk is another person’s junk that they might use.

5. Make a video and list of everything you own.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get around to this, but I really wish I had. You’ll most likely have to make a list of everything that you own for insurance purposes anyway (we did). I wish I’d made the video to help me make that list, and it always helps to have a backup in case anything happens to your stuff. That way, if the worst happens and claims need to be made, you’ve got extra proof.

Lesson learned: Making a list of everything you own after it is already packed away in boxes is much more difficult than doing it beforehand.

6. Go to all the doctors.

General practitioner, gyno, eye doctor, dermatologist, whoever! If you annually go to see them, try and cross them off your list again if you can before your move and get at least an extra month’s worth of any prescription medicine you take. You also may need to get some immunizations ahead of time.

Yes, a lot of places might have the same/ better healthcare than you have right now, but you’ll have plenty of adjusting to do. My idea of fun is not trying to figure out how the local healthcare system works and trying to find a local doctor because my prescription runs out in a few days.

Lesson learned: If you tell a doctor that you’re moving away for a few years, they might write you a prescription for a year’s worth of birth control.

7. Figure out your tax situation.

Where will your new residence be, how long are you going to live abroad and will that affect your taxes, are you going to find an international tax expert to help you? Believe me, it definitely helps to consider these things beforehand so you’re not scrambling when tax season rolls around, and so that you can try to get everything settled before you move.

Lesson learned: Apparently, if you’re filing taxes in the US, you may not have to pay if you earn under a certain amount and are out of the US for a specific number of years! (I’m not a tax professional, so don’t want to give any specifics that will get either me or you in trouble!)

Bonus lesson learned: You don’t pay state income tax in Florida!

8. Find a place to stay, at least temporarily.

Are your movers coming before your official fly date? It’s not super comfy to stay in a completely empty apartment. Or, are you arriving at your destination without a contract in place because you don’t want to commit to a location or apartment that you’ve never seen before? In these cases, you may want to either ask friends if you can stay with them for a while, or get a rental for a few days.

I definitely recommend doing this sooner rather than later, since rental prices can change dramatically, and you don’t want to be stuck in a rundown-but-super-expensive hotel with the tiniest little room because you waited until the last minute (definitely based on experience)!

Lesson learned: This is a good time to visit any family or friends that you might not have the opportunity to see for a while!

9. Join expat groups online.

This one is key and can help with all of the aforementioned points and probably anything that I’m leaving out. The folks who are in these groups, whether on social media, an email listserv, or expat website have all gone through this. They will have tips for you and most will be more than happy to answer any questions that you may have.

Lesson learned: There are very specific small groups on social media for EVERY city and they have tons of helpful information.

10. Know that you are going to be stressed and take care of yourself!

For me, we got married in June 2017, had a unexpected death in the family, and are moving our whole lives to a country we’ve never visited before. Every single one of the factors is usually mentioned in lists titled, “Life’s Biggest Stressors!” 

All this to say, moving is stressful and stress causes illness. There’s nothing that can make a stressful situation even worse than being sick and feeling miserable. Even while all this change is going on, try to maintain a routine, eat healthy, exercise, and take some time to relax.

Lesson learned: I found that the time before moving was a great time to use all of those e-commerce vouchers I’d purchased in the past year. This led to one very relaxing day with a massage and facial.


I’m obviously not able to cover everything, but I hope that this quick list is helpful for those of you relocating. If you’ve moved abroad before, what did I miss? Please share your experiences in the comments!