Shay Waraker, Finance Journalist at Canstar

8 things to consider *before moving overseas

Moving to distant lands, whether for work or to seek adventure, can be one of life’s most exciting experiences. However, there’s no denying it can also be stressful at times. So, how can you ease the discomfort of the move so you can make the most of the experience?

After moving from Brisbane, Australia to Edinburgh, Scotland in 2015, I learnt a number of important things along the way – some the easy way, and others not so much. If you are dreaming of living or working overseas, I have prepared a checklist of eight key considerations before moving overseas.

1. Passports and visas

The first important step of preparing for an overseas move is to ensure you understand the visa requirements of your chosen destination. You will also need a valid passport that won’t expire while you’re away – there must be at least six months validity from your planned return date.

You will need to do your research into the visa requirements to live and work in a foreign country. You can do this by visiting the website of the relevant foreign consulate, embassy or high commission. For example, the youth mobility visa for the UK can only be applied for three months prior to arrival. I learnt this the hard way when I applied for a visa four months in advance to fit in with my travel plans, but then needed to pay extra to get it processed again at a later date. Other visas will require a prospective employer to sponsor you before your work permit will be approved.

2. Foreign taxes and healthcare

Every country has different tax rates and public healthcare systems. It is worth your time to research and understand what you can expect to pay based on your salary and whether you will need to take out your own health insurance while living there. There is a possibility you will be required to pay taxes both in your destination country and Australia unless there are reciprocal agreements between countries. In fact, a friend of mine got caught out when living in the UK when she ended up paying tax on her salary over there and back in Australia. She hadn’t saved for it and worst of all, it impacted her travel savings!

The Australian Government also recently introduced legislation that requires you to repay your Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) or Trade Support Loan (TSL) debt even if you live internationally.

You will need to notify the Government within seven days of leaving Australia and report your worldwide income to the Australian Taxation Office. You can find out more at the Australian Taxation Office’s website.

3. Voting enrolment

If you are out of the country for an extended period of time, make sure you familiarise yourself with your Australian electoral responsibilities. You can register as an overseas elector if you plan to return to Australia within six years, or remove yourself from the electoral roll if your move is indefinite. Find out more information at the Australian Electoral Commission’s website.

4. Preparing your finances

Before you pack your bags, ensure you have enough money saved to comfortably move and resettle. Check typical living expenses in your destination including for accommodation, utilities and food. You could also be required to have a certain amount in your bank account prior to being granted your visa – check with the relevant embassy, high commission or consulate.

It could also be a good idea to research potential debit cards or credit cards with low international transaction fees to help the transition before you set up a new bank account. By comparing cards you could find one that offers features relevant to you, including travel insurance and fraud protection. Make sure your bank is aware of your travel plans to prevent their anti-fraud detection from cancelling your card.

5. Travel insurance

As Smart Traveller says, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel. Some visas require valid travel insurance before you are permitted into the country. Look for a policy that will cover you for loss of valuables and any potential medical expenses. Ensure your policy is suited to your circumstances and your provider is aware you will be away for an extended period of time. It could be worthwhile investigating a local policy in the country you’re moving to as an alternative to long-term travel insurance.

6. Research banks and transfers

Different banks have varying sign-up policies for foreign customers, so do your research to know what documentation you will require. Some banks will accept your passport and plane ticket stub to establish a transaction account within a certain timeframe from your arrival in the country. The first bank I visited in Scotland required a permanent address including a bill addressed to me to set up an account, which I could not provide. After some research, I found another bank that was satisfied with my photo ID and visa.

When it comes to moving your money overseas, it pays to shop around. Canstar Research found consumers sending $15,000 to the UK could spend an extra $652* by not comparing transfer services. Remember – simply transferring money directly through your bank may not be the most cost-effective method and there are plenty of services offering competitive exchange rates.

7. Getting reconnected

In our hyper-connected world, having a functioning mobile and contact number can help reduce stress when you are in a new country. Firstly, if you are on a mobile contract in Australia, you will need to investigate the costs you will incur to cancel. Next, research the phone providers available overseas to judge the best option for you. This may be a prepaid sim or a contract if you plan on staying long term. This is almost always much more cost efficient than paying for roaming fees.

You will also need to check what documentation will be required to sign up to a contract overseas to ensure you are prepared.

Make sure you notify providers, such as your Australian financial institution, of your change of number or change your notification settings to email. This is important for when you move money and are required to complete the security steps, which may include a message being sent to your Australian number.

8. Pause your health insurance

Before you leave, speak with your health insurance provider to notify them of your intention to leave the country. Some providers will let you put your policy on hold for a maximum of two years, which is handy as it means you won’t need to reapply when you return. If you’re nearing 30 it also means you won’t have to pay the Medicare Levy Surcharge if you return home because technically you still had cover.

*Based on rates as at 25 October 2017

About the author

Shay Waraker is a Finance Journalist at Canstar – Australia’s biggest financial comparison site. She regularly writes news as well as content to help consumers understand their personal finances. She has now been resettled in Australia for six months and is already missing easily accessible European holidays.

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