11 Things I Wish I Knew Before Moving Abroad

Your life is about to get way more adventurous, but your taxes are about to get way more complicated.

moving abroad
Michelle Malia

When the reality of college graduation kicked in, so did my fight-or-flight instincts. I chose flight. Not only was I itching for travel and a life abroad, but I figured post-grad was the best time to make a big move: I wasn't rooted in place by responsibilities and I was young enough to still be figuring out my life. After six months of saving up for the move, my boyfriend and I escaped to Melbourne, Australia. Here are some things I learned during the process that will help you if and when you decide to take the leap.

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1. Consider what will make you happy when picking a country. Think of what factors will matter most to you abroad (Do you want to perfect a different language, travel surrounding countries, or further your career?) and make your list from there. Besides the obvious criteria of safety and a stable economy, I wanted to live in an English-speaking country with a lax work culture and plenty of wildlife and nature to explore. Australians are laid-back and happy (the country's quality of life ranks second in the world, according to the ), and it's nearly the same size as the U.S. Plus, kangaroos.

2. The time it takes to get your visa approved can vary wildly from what you're told. You can find the general visa processing times on the country's immigration site. The Australian site claims it takes six days to get your visa approved or denied, and my partner's and mine were both approved within 12 hours. On the flip, I've met people whose visas weren't approved for several weeks. Don't be discouraged if you don't hear back for a bit longer than suggested, and don't hesitate to call the country's embassy in the United States to follow up. But this also means you should wait until after your visa is approved before booking your flight, looking for a job, and searching for an apartment.

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3. You still need to file taxes on any money you make both in the U.S. and abroad if you meet the income requirement. If you're single, you have to file . If you're leaving early in the year and don't have your W-2 or other tax forms yet, make sure you change your address to someone you trust to collect them for you, like your parents or best friend. If he/she is super sweet, he/she can even file your taxes for you, either online or with a tax accountant. (Shout-out to my mom and dad, you rock.) And all U.S. citizens are required to file annual taxes in the United States even if you're living and working abroad (in addition to your new country), so keep track of your earnings so you're ready to file. The has helpful resources. 

4. Depending on your length of stay, you may still be required by law to have U.S. health insurance coverage. Under the Affordable Healthcare Act, you're of not having insurance if you live in a country other than the United States for at least 330 days out of a year. So if you're moving semi-permanently, you're not sure how many months you'll last abroad, or you don't plan to stay a full 12 months, keep your coverage in the States. If you're planning to rely on it while abroad, make sure your coverage extends to that country. If it doesn't, look into health insurance plans wherever you're based. Some insurance companies — like InsureandGo in Australia — are geared toward backpackers and travelers and offer coverage for as low as $54/month. 

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5. Your banking decisions abroad can affect your credit score at home. Your length of stay abroad can help you figure out how to move forward with banking. If you're moving semi-permanently — say, for a year — it's worth it to , since using and paying off a credit card helps build and maintain good credit. Just make sure you buy at least one small item each month and pay off that balance. (Ask your bank about foreign transaction fees, or make small iTunes purchases to avoid them altogether.) Open up a checking and savings account at a bank in your new home and use that account for daily purchases and direct deposit from your job. If you're moving permanently, you'll likely close your U.S. bank account and get new debit and credit cards in your new home, where you'll have to from scratch.

6. It can take a while to get a functioning phone number if you don't plan ahead. When you sign up with a phone company in the U.S., your device is often locked to that carrier. If you want to keep that phone and use it with your new country's carriers, it's easiest to get it unlocked — a free service from your provider — before you leave. Then you can just get a local number and SIM card rather than shelling out for a whole new phone. If you end up leaving before you get your phone unlocked, you can still use your old SIM card to access apps like WhatsApp and get online if you're connected to Wi-Fi.

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7. Be prepared to do a major purge of all your stuff. Unless you're planning to spend a fortune shipping everything you own abroad, it's time to clean. If you're planning to come back within a few years, store what you can't part with. Otherwise, drop your furniture off at a secondhand store or sell it. And don't forget about the most convenient gifting space of all: your sidewalk. When I left my dresser, coffee table, barstools, and lamps on the curb outside my building, everything disappeared and had a new home by the end of the day. 

8. Your family members will likely drive you crazy, asking you constantly what your "plan" is. OK, some semblance of a plan — like, some savings or a general date of departure — is a sign of proper preparation. And if you have a solid plan, bravo. But if you don't, if your plan is to have no plan, try to take your family's prodding as a caring gesture and nothing more. They're doing it out of love, or whatever. Putting feelers out for jobs and looking online for apartments prior to your move can help you in the near future, but enjoy the exhilarating feeling of not knowing what you're going to do or where you're going to go next.

9. You may need to meet certain requirements before you can get work. In Australia, you need a tax file number — similar to the States' tax identification number — before you can be employed. You're also required by Oz laws to have a Responsible Service of Alcohol certification to work in any establishment that sells or serves alcohol and a Working With Children Check to work around kids. You may be able to secure these requirements beforehand, so look into what you need for your line of work where you're moving.

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10. You can actually make IRL friends on social media. Wherever you are, you can probably find a Facebook group along the lines of "Americans in (insert country/city here)" and "Au Pairs in (insert country/city here)." Join these groups! Introduce yourself on the page and ask if anyone wants to meet for drinks or coffee. I've met many wonderful expats this way. Not only can you find babysitting and au pair jobs through these pages, but they're also a great place to post questions about visas and jobs, the best hiking and day trips, and where you can score that American peanut butter you've been craving since your stash ran out.

11. Expect to depend on your travel partner (if you have one) more than you thought you'd need to. Unless you're flying solo, the person you choose to fly away with will help, support, comfort, and hug you (that's an important one) more than you can imagine, especially in the first few weeks of your adventure. This may be the first time you're half a world away from everything you've ever known, and that can be seriously scary at first. Choose your moving buddy wisely. You may depend on that person for financial support when you're between jobs, or still looking. You may need that hug when you feel homesick and burst into tears while folding laundry, like I did last week. You will need that person to remind you that you're not alone in this new, foreign place.

Follow Michelle's Australian adventures on Instagram

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