Once I knew I was moving to France to study wine marketing, I started making a giant list. The list was all the things I needed to do between now and the move, plus things I would need to do once I arrived. I organized it by calendar month.
Now, just a month before my move, most items on my ultimate to-do list are complete. I still add to the list regularly and check it several times a week. It has been helpful for keeping me focused on what needs to be done.
This article shares the big things on my list and can be helpful if you plan a move to a new country. While this list may not fit your situation exactly – I am single, coming from the U.S., and will be a student in France in an independent degree program (not part of a study abroad curriculum) – it is a good starting place. (I also plan to post a list of things to do after you move, once I am settled in France.)
One Year Before the Move
If you have the luxury of knowing a year in advance that you are relocating to a new country (typically for school), take this opportunity to check a few items off your list early:
- Apply for scholarships – I did not take advantage of this early and, when I started researching scholarships for school, I discovered I missed the deadlines. The earlier you start, the better.
- Figure out your financing – In addition to having a detailed to-do list, I recommend also creating a list of all potential costs, as well as current and potential funds between now and then. Always overestimate costs. Be sure to estimate costs and funds for the period you are abroad as well. Part of the visa process requires proof you have the funds needed to support yourself.
- Start learning the language – The more practice under your belt, the better off you will be. And do not limit yourself to one way of learning. For example:
- Take classes to learn grammar and interaction under the guidance of a knowledgeable teacher (for French, I highly recommend the Alliance Française, and they are all over the place).
- Use apps like Rosetta Stone or DuoLingo to learn vocabulary.
- Watch movies and listen to music in the language to get your ear used to hearing those new sounds.
- Join a Meetup group or find others that speak the language to practice listening and speaking (it will make you feel more comfortable with the language – I have been a slacker and never utilized this).
- Take care of school paperwork – Registration, setting up tuition payments, etc.
- Get your passport, or make sure it is renewed – You want to ensure it will not expire while you are abroad (they will not issue you a visa otherwise). It is an easy process, but it takes time. There is NO reason to wait on this, and it could be a real issue if you wait too long to do it.
Six Months Before the Move
This is the point where you start doing a lot of research.
- Prepare for getting a visa – Find out what you need to apply for a visa and where you need to go (sometimes it is outside of your state). In my case, I could not apply for a visa until three months before my date of departure, but I made sure I had all the paperwork ready – and there was A LOT required. Because I was going to be a student in France, I first had to complete paperwork with Campus France.
- Realize how much you are actually able to bring – If making a long-term move (for example, your company is moving you to a new country for 3-5 years), it may make sense to invest in transporting your things to your new home. I know that I will live in France for at least 7 months. I do not know what will happen after that, so I decided that the cost to ship a lot of stuff was more than my desire to keep that stuff. Instead, for $200 in baggage fees, I will bring 3 large luggage bags (less than 50 lbs each), a carry-on bag, and a book bag. That is it. If I need more than that, I will buy it in France.
- Figure out what to do with the rest of your stuff – After researching the cost of storage (along with some serious soul searching) I determined that I would prefer to sell my belongings rather than store them. First, identify the items you cannot live without for the next few months, as you do not want to sell your microwave or TV too soon. Then list the big items on Craigslist, or your preferred selling method. For smaller items, host or team up with someone else for a yard sale. Consider donating to a local charity, too – aside from tax breaks you may be eligible for, it tends to be a lower stress option than finding a buyer for every little thing.
- Research bank accounts and credit cards with no foreign transaction fees – Did you know that most banks and credit card companies charge you 3% for each transaction made abroad? That can turn into a lot of money if you are going to live outside the country for a while. I settled on the Capital One Venture card and the Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account for my needs, but you may be able to find better options out there with your current bank or credit card company. Whichever route you choose, get those set up now.
- Research additional costs – Hopefully you have already put together a rough estimate of costs for the period before and after your move. Now it is time to find out more about detailed costs. This can include cancellation charges, such as cancelling your current cell phone contract (you probably will need a different one abroad) or ending your rental lease early. This also includes flights, living expenses, and more.
Three Months Before the Move
It is finally becoming real… and it is time to start taking care of a lot more paperwork.
- Book your flight – Personally, I chose to use Kayak.com because I was able to book a one-way ticket at a reasonable rate. (Most airlines charge an exorbitant amount for one-way tickets, practically the same as round trip.) I recommend using the “incognito window”, because some airfare sites track your activity and increase the cost if they see you searching for the same flight several times.
- Get your visa – Set up your appointment as soon as possible, follow all the instructions on their website, and bring all your paperwork.
- Talk to your boss – If this move is not for work, and you have a good relationship with your boss, it is probably time to let them know what is going on. Three months gives them time to search for, hire, and train your replacement without too much disruption. I happen to have an awesome boss, and will continue to work part-time remotely for my company while in France. If you do not have a good relationship and believe your company will let you go upon hearing the news, it may be better to wait longer… losing your job could mess up your financial planning for the move.
- Talk to your landlord – If you are a renter, you know that most places require at least 60 days’ notice when you move, even if your lease is scheduled to end. Give them official written notice in plenty of time.
- Scan and translate important documents – First, get a scanned copy of all important documents (birth certificate, passport, etc.) and save them somewhere safe. I recommend Dropbox.com, because it is free, secure, and you can access it many ways. Second, some countries require a translated copy of official documents, such as your birth certificate. There are a number of resources that can translate your documents and confirm it with an official translation seal. I used Rev.com for mine.
- Get health insurance coverage – If your school or employer do not offer international insurance, sign up for a health insurance plan that covers you in your new country (and if you plan to do a lot of traveling, in other countries, too). No, seriously, it is a good idea, and some countries will require proof of coverage before entry. There are LOTS of websites that offer this – I chose to use SevenCorners.com. (Cost depends on age, length of time, location, coverage, etc.) Some countries, such as France, will require you to sign up for their national coverage, if applicable, but it takes time to kick-in.
- Start researching where you will live – If you are planning to rent an apartment, now is a good time to start doing some research about where you want to live, etc.
One Month Before the Move
Are you freaking out yet?! No? Good. Here are a few last minute items that you will want to plan for, to ensure the move goes smoothly.
- Update any ongoing payments – If you set up new bank accounts or credit cards earlier, now is the time to ensure any automatic payments have been moved to those new accounts.
- Update your mailing address – Most U.S. companies will not let you list an international address as your mailing address. You may want to establish a permanent address in the U.S. (for example, a family member), or set up a mail box (there are really neat services that receive your mail, email you scans, and can forward mail to you as well). Set up eStatements where possible. Be sure to update your mail address with the U.S. Postal Service if your permanent address is not the same as your current address.
- Cancel memberships – If you belong to a gym or other local membership, this is a good time to cancel those.
- Cancel utilities, renter’s insurance, etc. – Unless there will still be people living at your current address, you should set up cancellation dates for your utilities and renter’s insurance.
- Find a place to live – You have probably already been researching places to live. Now is the time to narrow things down a bit. I plan to have a short list of places to visit in-person once I arrive in France, and then will sign the lease once I’ve seen the unit. I am staying in a hotel for the first week – do not forget to book it ahead of time.
- Make final preparations for the rest of your stuff – If you are selling, this is the time to start listing those final items for sale, including your vehicle(s). If storing, this is the time to box everything up and get it into the right place.
- Hang out with your family and friends – Make time in your last month to spend with friends and family. They are going to miss you. I recommend hosting a going away event that you can invite everyone to, and then spending some one-on-one time with your closest friends and family members as well. Instead of going away presents, suggest that they write you a note and seal it in an envelope or type a note and attach as a separate document to an email (i.e. a funny experience you had together, or something otherwise warm and fuzzy). Take these notes with you, and anytime you feel homesick while in your new country, you should open one of these letters. It will remind you of the wonderful people that love you, and hopefully ease some of that homesickness.
- Do a packing dry-run – If you are only bringing a few bags of stuff, try pre-packing everything a couple weeks before you have to leave and use a hand scale specifically for travel. That way you know if you are way over your limit (size- or weight-wise) and can adjust accordingly.
- Get a map of your new city – If you have not already, get a physical map of the new city where you will be living and start studying it. Use stickers or other methods of identifying important landmarks (such as your school, your embassy, essential metro stops, etc.). Physical maps, while generally less efficient than GPS on your phone, help you get to know the layout of your new city faster. It makes you a little more directionally savvy, which can be a big win in your new, foreign city. (I learned this trick after moving to Atlanta.)
There you have it. The ultimate “moving to a new country” to-do list! I wish you the best of luck in your move.
Look for my post-move article later this year, which explains all the little details about what to do once you’ve moved to a new country.