Preparing to Move Abroad
Preparing to move abroad can be an exciting and overwhelming experience. Getting prepared is a fairly simple process, however, you'll want to make sure that you allow yourself enough time to get things in order. In this article, I'll walk you through the things that I found most useful when planning to move from the United States to Asia.
Getting Your Passport
Don't have a passport yet? Then you'll need to get one before you are allowed to leave the country. The process is relatively painless and can be done with the help of your local post office, some libraries, and other government institutions.
For residents of the United States, the process will involve filling out form DS-11: Application for a U.S. Passport, and providing evidence of your U.S. citizenship. A passport or birth certificate will do. You'll also need to present an ID. Accepted forms of ID include drivers licenses, government employee IDs, military IDs, and others. Prepare a passport appropriate photo on a white or off-white background.
The passport fee begins at around $110 USD for 4-6 week processing and standard shipping. There are other fees depending on the institution you apply at, as well as fees for expedited service (e.g., if you need to get your passport in under two weeks). You can find more information about the forms, requirements and passport application fees at the U.S. Department of State website or the United States Postal Service website here. These websites also contain information for renewing your passport from within and outside of the US.
If you are from a country other than the US and are preparing to move abroad, check with your appropriate government institution for the correct procedure to follow.
Keep Up-to-Date and Aware
When you are planning to move abroad, you'll want to make sure you are well aware of the current situation in your desired destination. The U.S. Department of State website offers a wealth of information on travel advisories, crime and other information by country and region.
I find that the warnings are fairly conservative and err on the side of caution. So, if you see that an area you want to travel to is under advisory, you can consider the level of the advisory. Travel advisories range from 1 (exercise normal precautions) to 4 (do not travel). Keep this advisory level in mind as you conduct your own research. Watch or read the latest news stories and search for online forums where people are discussing the location and situation at hand.
While I've never found the need, you could also consider taking courses in self-defense or hand-to-hand combat. These are good skills to know and one can never be too prepared whether at home or abroad. Any type of defense using weapons is not going to be helpful for the general traveler due to restrictions in airports and public transportation facilities.
It's a good idea to have a physical checkup before you travel. Flying and other forms of long-distance travel can put a strain on the body and you want to be sure you are in ship-shape before country hopping. You can check with your doctor about shots you may need and any other health considerations they may be aware of for your destination. However, don't let them upsell you. Depending on the reputation of healthcare at your destination, the doctors may be more aware of local needs and the bill is almost certain to be easier on your wallet.
Packing Your Bags
Deciding what to pack when moving abroad can be perplexing. I really went overboard with this my first time and loaded my luggage with everything but the kitchen sink. I bought expensive power converters that ended up not working along with plenty of things I never used at all. So, my general recommendation in this area is that you'll need less than you think. Pack lightly. It will be OK.
That being said, when moving to Asia, I found certain items to be overly expensive. Electronic devices with well-known brand names will be more expensive. Bed sheets and linen are also more expensive than back home in the States. I've found most everything else to be readily available at shopping malls and convenience stores.
Finding the necessities and desirables may be more of a concern if you are traveling away from major cities. In my experience, I had the hardest time finding western goods that I desired in China. This was especially true when it came to food products. If western food products were available, they included a substantial markup. China is a big country and the next shopping mall with an international selection can be a long way away.
I'd also recommend having an e-reader or a few good books with you. If you are planning on an extended stay, reading in your native language is a great way of keeping your mind sharp. After spending years overseas, there are still times when I find myself grasping for the right word more often than I'd like. I can only imagine how much more of a factor that would be for a non-reader.
Booking Your Flight
If you are booking a simple point A to point B flight, you can easily do this online by yourself. Try to make sure the websites you use aren't tracking you. Clear your cookies and use a private browser to avoid prices mysteriously rising as you search through your options. Check prices on different sites and compare to get the best deal. If you are using a credit card to book, use one that will give you the most rewards. Also be sure to let the credit card company and others you do business or banking with know that you'll be traveling.
If your flight is a bit more complicated, a travel agent may be able to help. They have more flexibility in making changes and can make a multi-city travel experience more pleasant for you. It can be a challenge checking-in and checking-out in between airlines. You may also find yourself moving baggage around airports and terminals in the process.
Sometimes researching an alternate route that involves switching airlines can save you a significant amount of money. Consider your schedule, layover time, amount of baggage and comfort level with the various airlines before making a final decision. Not all airports have comfortable places to rest while you wait.
Once you have your flight and accommodation itineraries ready, be sure to print out multiple copies of each. It's best to not always rely on technology and it's easy to lose a copy if you are depending on a frenzied group of taxi drivers at the arrival gate.
With your passport, medical clearance, carefully planned luggage, and itineraries ready to go, you should be well-prepared to venture beyond the boundaries of your home country. If you are traveling to work abroad or retire, you'll want to add some other items to your prep list. However, those are other articles for other days! Happy adventuring!
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