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12 Tips For Moving to a Foreign Country

1. Do your research. The first few weeks of your trip are going to be the hardest. You’re going to experience culture shock. You’re going to feel lost. You’re going to feel alone and vulnerable. Everything is going to be unknown to you, and it’s going to be overwhelming. This is inevitable, but it can be minimized by doing your research prior to moving. What should you research? Everything. Read every single book you can find about the place you’re going. Read travel sites, expat sites, newspapers from the place you’re going to. Anything you can learn to familiarize yourself with the place you’re going to will help make it easier to transition into. Ideally you should visit the place you’re going. If you can’t do that then take a virtual tour on Google Street Maps.

2. Get a working Visa. Don’t move to a new country on a holiday visa and expect to be able to find work. Even if you’ve applied for a residence visa you still need a job before your residency will be approved, and you can’t work on a holiday visa. On the other hand, if you get a working holiday visa then you can work, and if you’re a good enough worker your employer might extend your working holiday visa another year or flat out sponsor you for residency. None of that can happen on a regular holiday visa.

3. Get everything squared away at home before leaving. Any unfinished business at home (especially involving bills) will be ten times harder to deal with from a foreign country, and with all the stress and the unknowns you’re going to be dealing with already, you don’t need that extra monumental headache in your life. Don’t rush off to your grand adventure. Take the extra time to square away any paperwork, bills, contracts or other obligations you may have at home before leaving.

4. Lower your expectations. Have you ever been to see a movie that you thought was sure to be awesome only to find out it was mediocre and you hated it? Have you ever been to a movie you were sure was going to suck only to find out it really wasn’t that bad and you left feeling fairly impressed even though the movie wasn’t really that great? Moving to another country is the same way. If you’re moving to another country you obviously believe it’s a place worth moving to and is for some reason preferable to the place you’re at. However, I guarantee it’s not going to be perfect. There are going to be downsides to it. If you go into your journey expecting to find the land of milk and honey you’re going to be sorely disappointed. If you go into it fully prepared to experience disappointment you’re going to be far less disappointed, and in the end you’re going to have a more positive experience.

5. Bring at least $20,000. (This figure is in US dollars. Convert accordingly.) The number one cause of stress and ultimately failure when moving to a foreign country is money problems. The less money you bring the harder your life is going to be, the less secure you’re going to feel, the less leisure options you’ll have and the less time you’ll have to find a job. Between exchange rate fees, government fees, rental deposits, utility bills, food, transportation, leisure activities and buying toiletries, basic necessities you couldn’t fit in your suitcase and especially unforeseen expenses, you should really bring at least $20,000 with you or else you’re going to be extremely stressed during what will probably already be the most stressful experience you’ve ever had. You might still make it, but the more money you bring the better off you’ll be in every way. We made our move on $15,000, and barely scraped by.

[ Poverty, it’s what’s for dinner. ]

6. Find temporary lodging at your new location and be prepared to move. Make accommodation reservations before you leave your home country so you’ll have a place to check into when your plane lands. However, don’t book it for more than a month. It might turn out to be a horrible environment. It might also turn out to be far away from where you want/need to be. So give yourself some leeway to move around a bit as you get your bearings. Also, don’t stop moving around until you’ve found someplace comfortable. I hate to keep harping on how stressful moving to another country is, but stress is inevitable. The only question is how stressful you’re going to make your life. Living in a place far away from where you want/need to be, living with roommates you don’t like in a cramped apartment that irritates your allergies where you have no furniture is going to seriously hurt your chances of happiness and ultimately success. If the first place you unpack your bags at isn’t working for you, get out of there and find a place that does work for you.

7. Get the Internet. Bring a laptop with you. Other than your passport, nothing else is more important than that, and anything else you had to leave out of your luggage can be bought cheaply on the local market. If you can, try to stay at some place that provides free internet connection. If the place you’re at doesn’t have the internet, get it. You’re going to need the internet to stay in contact with your family and friends, look up bus schedules, buy a car, find a job, meet people, learn about the local area and a hundred other vital things you wouldn’t predict. You’re going to be lost without the internet. So just go ahead and put that at the top of your list of things to do when you arrive in country. Granted, you can still use Internet cafes, but those are a pain in the ass. Avoiding Internet cafes will lower your stress level. And make sure to have Skype on your computer. Being able to make free video calls home to your loved ones will be priceless.

8. Network. Once you get on the Internet, find some meet-up groups in your local area. The best case scenario is to meet other expats. Nobody is going to be more helpful than other people who have already walked in your shoes or are walking in them right now. I know you probably can’t wait to meet the locals, but your fellow countrymen are going to be more eager to help, and they’ll lessen the culture shock. Having said that, you should definitely also join meet-up groups with the locals. It’ll be fun. It’ll help you transition into the new culture and you’ll meet people who can offer you inside information.

9. Similar to #8, ask the locals. Inevitably you’re going to have a lot of questions that need answers when you get to your new country. How do I find a job? How do I use the bus? How do I buy a car? How do I apply for any of the dozens of forms and applications I need to apply for? You can find all these answers after hours of research on the Internet or you can walk down to the gas station and ask a local. Typically they’ll be more than happy to point you in the right direction. If you have a question, save yourself some time and just ask a local.

10. Get out of the house. No matter how prepared you are to move to a new country there will always be unknowns. The unknown will be the scariest part about moving. The only way you’re going to turn the frightening unknown into the comfortable familiar is by getting out of your house and seeing what’s out there. Walk the streets. See the sights. Meet people. Sitting in your house is just going to prolong your discomfort, give you time to brood and make you bored.

11. Get away from your spouse. Your husband/wife or boyfriend/girlfriend (if you bring one) is going to be your greatest source of support as well as misery. I heard somewhere that 50% of marriages end when moving to a new country. I don’t know if that’s true, but I can guarantee you that moving to a new country is one of the greatest challenges your relationship will ever face. In order for your relationship (as well as the trip itself) to work you’re going to need to have patience with one another, communicate with one another, compromise with one another and spend some time away from one another. Even if it’s just a walk in the park, you’re going to need to get away from your significant other on a regular basis to clear the air and not get on each other’s nerves.

12. Start a blog. Writing a blog is a great way to stay in touch with family and friends, express your thoughts and offer advice you wish you would have been given about things you had to learn the hard way. In addition to that, it’s a rewarding experience. It adds another level to your adventure and provides you with a digital scrap book to look back on. Just, make sure to set it up before you leave home so you don’t have to stress about setting it up when you’re in country dealing with a thousand other things.


11 Responses

  1. Hi, I found your blog on Expat Blogs. I’m an Am expat in Wellington, and I’ve been in NZ for 7-8 years. My husband is Kiwi, which smoothed my path to residency. Have you guys been able to get work permits?

    • We got our WHV about a month ago, but jobs have been hard to find. Since we are getting into the Christmas season we have focused our energy on getting some temp. work, since most of the professional jobs won’t be hiring during the holidays. Seven years in NZ, that’s great! I really hope we can get everything going and stay that long, I love everything I’ve seen so far.

  2. Hello, My name is Sarah. I’ll be moving to Auckland in January. I’m currently living in the States. I enjoyed reading your list of suggestions since I’ll be making the move in about 6 weeks. I almost had a heart attack when I read that you suggest $20,000. I have a job though and plan to bring about $5000. Maybe a little more. I start my job in February.

    Speaking of lodgings though. I’d love some suggestions as to what you’ve observed so far about neighborhoods and such. I had planned on finding temporary lodgings at first like you suggested. I’ll be working in South Auckland and everyone has advised against living there. Forgive me if you’ve mentioned where you’re living and talked about this topic already.


    • We live in Mt. Eden/Three Kings area. It’s beautiful and quite, but still close enough to the city for nights out. It’s almost exclusively single family homes. But many are open for rent. Ellerslie is just west of me and a bit closer to the motorway that you’ll be taking to work, but it’s a bit more apartments and congestion. It takes about 20 minutes to get from my Mt. Eden home to the airport, you might use that as a measure to figure out how far out your jobs is.

  3. Hey, I’m a future expat, about to move to Tauranga in a couple of months! Send me an e-mail, we can commiserate and feel homesick together!

    Right now I’m trying to sell off everything I own, and finding it’s not as easy as it sounds…

  4. There are so many changes that you have to make, and things that you have to sort out when going to a new country. My brother just moved out of our house (in Auckland) and into a flat (in Auckland) but even that short move has thrown up a huge number of problems that he never realized that he would face (eg. where is the internet supply? How to connect to the internet supply? how to sort out the mold on the wall? how to move his heavy luggage? how to stop accidentally setting the alarm system off?).

  5. Hi Amber and Travis,

    Keep the posts coming. Your blog is by far the most interesting one I have read. There are alot of us planning for the move right now to NZ and this has been a big help. I will be headed to Auckland on a holiday work visa come February from the states. Thanks for the tip about bringing your diploma.


  6. “don’t move to a foreign country on a holiday Visa if you can just as easily apply for a working Visa.”

    By “holiday visa”, you mean Working Holiday visa and ‘Work and Holiday visa’? You mean everything under “Work temporarily in New Zealand” in the immigration homepage, that is, temporary work, working holiday, seasonal work, Silver Fern?

    By “working visa”, do you mean Skilled Migrant Category and Work to Residence?

    • Don’t move to a foreign country on a holiday visa if you can just as easily apply for a working holiday visa while waiting for your residence visa, which, unless you’re a millionaire, you will be getting via the skilled migrant, work- to-residence path. That way you can get a job picking vegetables or working in your chosen career field while you can earn money while waiting for your resident’s visa and prove to immigration that you deserve a resident’s visa.

  7. Hello,

    I am a little late to the party here. I just recently stumbled upon this site and find it very informational/useful. 25 yr old American looking for some serious change. Have been considering moving to NZ for about 4 months now. I wouldn’t move until next year (2017) due to current job. Question on point #5, $20k is a big figure. My plan would be to secure a job prior to going, would this help reduce this figure?


    • In order to immigrate you need to prove that you have at least $10k in savings. So that’s the minimum. We made it with about $15k, and we didn’t have jobs lined up. If you do have a job ready, $10k should be fine. The more you bring the less stressed you’ll be though.

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