The number of expatriates around the world has grown by leaps and bounds. Data from Finaccord shows around 66.2 million people lived and worked outside of their native land in 2017. And that figure may reach around 87.5 million expatriates worldwide in 2021.
Life as an expat can be very rewarding — both personally and professionally — but it comes with its unique challenges and setbacks. Many people call another country home for a wide array of reasons — to study, work and maximize growth opportunities, gain access to affordable, quality healthcare, enjoy a cheaper cost of living, and many more.
No matter the reason for taking the big leap, there are a lot of things to consider and many important choices to make for the long haul. First off, you’ll be starting from scratch and navigate all the intricacies — from figuring out how to thrive in new cultures and landscapes to learning an entirely new language, being a remote worker, getting separated from loved ones, and handling your finances and savings.
We take a look at the factors that you need to ponder to help you decide if pursuing an expat life is right for you.
1. Visas and Residency
Expats must be prepared and do as much research as possible on the new home country. Find useful information about regular life in your country of choice: cost of living, language, customs, climate, crime rate, proximity to your native land, etc.
You’ll also have to determine whether you want to become a resident of the new nation or just stay there on an extended tourist visa. Don’t be afraid to seek the opinion of other expats because the process to establish residency may be lengthy and expensive.
Every country has its visa requirements, so it’s best to iron out your visa early on so you don’t get caught up in a bureaucratic nightmare and tons of stress. Do your homework and reach out to the consulate or embassy of your country of choice several months before your planned move.
2. Taxes and Finances
No matter where American citizens live or work, they are still expected to pay U.S. taxes as long as they make an income and remain citizens. Taxes for expats from the United States may be affected by several factors. That’s why you’ll have to know the ins and outs of the U.S. tax system so you can fulfill your obligations and enjoy breaks that are applicable based on specific tax treaties or agreements.
Find out more about the expat tax for different countries so you can be more guided when deciding which destination country to choose. You’ll also need to check the local tax requirements if you opt to work in your new country.
Moving abroad will make a huge impact on your finances and you may be surprised to find out that life in your destination of choice is not quite as cheap as you expected. Seek advice from a financial consultant and delve deep into the nitty-gritty of the cost of living in your new home — break down possible expenses for rent, real estate, transportation, medicines, groceries, restaurants, etc.
Research the best banking options in your new home that fit your finances and lifestyle, whether that’s stateside mail, depositing checks in a domestic bank, or using ATMs. Set up as much banking online as possible for fixed costs. Many expats also choose to set up local bank accounts in their new home while maintaining a bank account in their home country.
3. Communications and Culture
Be prepared for culture shock and the emotional toll that an international move may bring. Adapting to a new and different culture is no easy feat but you can always start with the basics. Language is everything when it comes to blending into the local community. Try to study and practice the foreign language as much as possible before your big move.
Whether you prefer to study the new language on your own or take formal classes, the important thing is to figure out what works best for easing the linguistic transition. Try out different ways of learning the language — from focusing on the basic phrases to get you through the day to listening to the local radio and watching TV and movies, reading online papers, and full immersion.
Embracing the local culture will take more than just studying the language. Take it as a long-term challenge but don’t forget to enjoy the experience and have an open heart and mind. Don’t be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone and explore. Try the local cuisine, visit historical locations, learn local beliefs, customs, and traditions, make friends with locals, and celebrate the holidays.
Lessen your nights going solo by staying connected with the expat community. Having such a support network will make the journey easier and so much fun. Meet and make friends with locals and expats by joining language classes, networking events, or social meet-ups.
Being able to save money on gadgets goes a long way towards ensuring that you get things done efficiently in your new country while staying connected to family and friends back home. Nowadays, it seems that nothing is more valuable than your go-to applications like FaceTime, WhatsApp, and Skype as cost-effective ways to keep in touch.
Getting a local cellphone will be good for the long term. You can also purchase SIM cards in your new country or check the international plans available from your phone carrier. Wi-Fi is almost always everywhere so make sure that you have your laptops, iPads, GPS, cameras, and other important devices and cloud services to make communication a breeze.
5. Exit Plan
Every expat must prepare an exit plan because you’ll never know when things may take a turn for the worst. When the going gets tough and you have a compelling reason to return home, a contingency plan will ensure protection for yourself, your family, and your assets. Consider getting expert advice on how you can organize all your finances, assets, and important matters when making your exit strategy.
You’re up for a one-of-a-kind adventure ahead if you push through with the expat lifestyle. But with the right planning, a positive mindset, and a powerful driving force, you’ll be empowered to be the best global mover you can be.
Randall is the Founder of Tax Samaritan, a boutique firm specializing in the preparation of taxes and the resolution of tax problems for Americans living abroad, as well as the other unique tax issues that apply to taxpayers. Here, they help taxpayers save money on their tax return.
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