All posts by Rachel

Visas

Once you have your passport, and therefore a number to quote on all further documentation, you can start applying for any necessary visas.

 

Cheat Sheet

  1. Contact the Embassy /Consulate/go online for detailed requirements for visa application
  2. Identify relevant personal & family circumstances  (dependent children reaching adulthood, criminal records, ability of spouse and/or dependents to be employed)
  3. Identify additional documentation required once in host location
  4. Schedule interview appointments well in advance
  5. Ensure your paperwork is correct and complete, and you have accompanying documentation organized in an envelope. You will be required to show it at various checkpoints. Get professional help if necessary.
  6. Present yourself well. Smart casual dress works well, leave personal belongings, electronic devices and cell phones at home or in your car. Carry only your visa information and a purse or wallet.
  7. Be patient, stay calm and try to relax.

 

 

The Embassy or Consulate of your destination country will be the most accurate (www.transitionsabroad.com/navpages/links/bestembassies.shtml has a great list of links if you haven’t got a clue where to start), but information is also available online on sites likewww.visasintl.comwww.traveldocs.com, which will give you some idea of requirements and timeframes. There are also links to service providers who will either guide you through the process, or do most of it for you, should you need more help.

 

A visa that entitles the primary worker to be employed in your host country does not automatically mean that the partner, spouse or dependents are also allowed to work, so if that may be a problem, clarify exactly what you need to apply for with the appropriate immigration agency before you go any further. And if you are the ‘trailing spouse’ in this scenario, be warned. You may be the last to know that your plans of setting up as a brain surgeo /lawyer/yoga instructor are now mere pipe dreams…

 

While we are on the subject of dependents, there’s a pitfall that I’ve seen more than one unsuspecting family fall into. If you have older children who will become legally adult in your new location, check to see whether they are entitled to remain in the country with you, especially if they are planning on attending college or university there. Discovering that they are no longer legally allowed to stay in the country really takes the fun out of 18th / 21st birthday parties, especially when they have to be up to catch the first flight out in the morning. Most of these issues are discussed in the Family section, and have pretty straightforward solutions if you know about them at the outset, but as with everything relocation, the earlier that you can plan, the easier life will be. Also see Education for further information)

 

Many countries have vaccination requirements for entry, and may also carry out a background check. Questions to ask while you are at the Embassy / Consulate include what other documentation and permissions you will need once in location, including taxation, employment permits, driving licenses, and any others your new location might require. And how do you apply for them, and how much do they cost.

 

For most visa applications, you will be required to provide:

 

  1. Completed visa application form, usually obtained from the Embassy/Consulate or online
  2. Passport with at least one blank page for the visa, but (unless you want to have to go through the whole process again when you run out of space) preferably enough space to last for the duration of the visa. 
  3. Evidence of invitation to the destination country (either travel tickets for vacation, or letter of invitation from a company if on business)
  4. Evidence of ability to both enter and leave the country (i.e. a return ticket)
  5. Evidence of place to stay (hotel reservation or host address)
  6. Evidence of ability to work legally (if traveling for longer term employment)
  7. Additional 2×2 inch passport type photographs – check requirements before having these taken, some countries require all features (including ears) visible, some need them in digital format. etc etc.
  8. A fee (of course), often in the local currency, so be prepared to bring cash in the currency of your destination to your visa interview.

 

Usually, the visa application process includes an interview at the embassy of your destination country. You will have to make an appointment, and there can be a considerable delay (typically up to 3 months), depending on the complexity of the application and the numbers of people applying for visas. It is vital that all your paperwork is complete and correct before you go – any mistakes, and you may not even make it through security on the front gate (the voice of experience, believe me!). If you are unsure, get professional help.

 

Be prepared to have to spend the day there, as appointments rarely run to time, and you will not be the only person waiting. Although the interview is usually fairly informal, it is always a good idea to dress in “smart casual’ attire, and to leave personal items at home. Electronic devices and personal belongings etc. are usually not permitted, so bring a small purse or wallet with the bare minimum required.

Carry your application and supporting documents together in a large envelope – they will be checked at various points as you progress through the system. Make sure that you are familiar with all the details on the forms – you will be asked about your answers, and if you filled them in months ago and haven’t looked at them since, I guarantee you won’t be able to remember so much as your own name. Which never looks good when you are trying to convince somebody you have just met that you would be a valuable addition to their society. Finally, whatever happens, be polite, courteous and try not to get frustrated. It is not a particularly fun process, but unfortunately for you, necessary. Just grin and bear it.

The Fine Print

If you’ve been well-behaved towards your BREF (Best Real Estate Friend), here’s where the relationship really pays off. Whether you found your new home on Craigslist, the local paper, in a newsagent’s window or through a professional listing service, you will need advice and guidance before you sign anything or pay any money. 

 

Cheat Sheet

  1. Do a price comparison for similar properties, and negotiate rent if necessary.
  2. Do a thorough inspection, preferably with a real estate professional, and identify maintenance/safety/wear and tear issues for discussion with landlord. Use the pre-rental inspection form here
  3. If possible, check that the finances on the property are in good standing.
  4. Check the rental agreement thoroughly before signing – get professional advice if possible.

 

 

 

Most rental tenancies run for a minimum of six months, so if you get this bit wrong, you are stuck with shelling out for an entire six months worth of rent before you can do anything – whether you live in the house or not. Prior to signing is also the point where you have the strongest bargaining position, so it’s well worth inspecting the property thoroughly for any failings and negotiating for them to be fixed before your tenancy commences… It’s pretty miserable paying full rent and having to share your space with endless repair people, no matter how clean and quiet they might be. More difficult, but invaluable, is the ability to check whether mortgages, loans etc are up-to-date on the property, but it’s worth asking the property manager or landlord for verification. Should the property be repossessed by the lender during your tenancy, you will be made homeless and you will almost certainly lose both any rent paid in advance and your deposit.

 

The following information should be included in your tenancy agreement. If you can’t find them, make sure you have the agreement checked by a home rental legal advisor.

 

  1. Details of the parties involved.  Includes the contact details of the landlord/tenant and anyone else involved in the let, such as a letting agent and/or guarantor.
  2. Date of the contract.  This is normally the start date of the tenancy.
  3. Data protection.  Ensures a tenant’s details can be shared only with parties relevant to the let, for example an inventory clerk or utility company.
  4. The property.  Refers to the fixtures and fittings within the property (such as kitchen or a fireplace) and the outside space, and should include items recorded in the inventory.
  5. The deposit.  This is an essential clause which should detail how much deposit the landlord/agent will take and which tenancy deposit protection scheme is used to protect your deposit should there be a dispute.
  6. The rent.  This records how much the rent will be, when it’s due and how it is to be paid, for example by direct debit. It should also state what happens if you default on the rent and how the rent can be increased during your stay.
  7. Possession and notices.  These clauses set out the notice you have to give the landlord/agent if you want to leave the property and how the landlord can regain possession of their property.
  8. Tenant’s obligations.  This sets out everything a tenant should – or shouldn’t – do while renting the property. This would include such things as keeping it in good order, notifying the landlord/agent if there is a problem such as a leak. They can be quite extensive so make sure you read them very carefully and understand each one.
  9. Fair wear and tear. This explains that some parts of the property may naturally deteriorate with age, such as carpets fraying, and that the tenant should not be liable for this.
  10. Signatures.  This is where you and the landlord (or letting agent) sign the agreement, which makes it binding.

 

In addition, you should make sure that you and either the landlord or property agent do a thorough ‘walk through’ inspection before moving in, complete and sign (both of you)  a pre-move inventory which details (in detail!!) the condition of the property, and take plenty of photographs. This ensures a fair evaluation of wear and tear/damage to the property in the event the landlord refuses to return your deposit.

The Right Location

 

“Shop for neighborhoods, not homes”
Nell Crawford, Scriptwriter, LA

 

Cheat Sheet

  1. Tour the area with a real estate professional or relocation consultant
  2. Go grocery shopping
  3. Note the type of consumer that local businesses attract, and the effect it may have
  4. Test community services – parks, libraries, sports centers and public transport
  5. Visit neighborhoods at different times – during rush hour, daytime, evenings andweekends
  6. Check with local government, police or embassy/consulate about security

One of the best pieces of advice we can give you is to be patient, and spend time getting to know your new surroundings, before you start picking out kitchens and drapes.. We know, we’ve been there, and the temptation to snap up the first half decent place that looks clean and has a gleaming kitchen is almost too much to bear, but resist it. You need to get a really good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of your different neighborhood choices before you sign your life (and, of course, your deposit) away.  If you are able to live in temporary hotel or apartment accommodation before you take a longer term lease, do it. It is both time-consuming and expensive to move, so do as much as you can to get it right first time.

 

It’s worthwhile getting out and about with a realtor or estate agent who knows the local areas, but let them know that you are intending to look at a number of areas before you sign on the dotted line. As nice as they might be, they are not your friend – their job is to find you a house, not a home. So use their expertise wisely, and remember that it is not in their best interests to show you the less desirable features of the neighborhood.

If you want to get an idea of who your new neighbors would be, go grocery shopping.. Not only do you get a great cross-section of the community, you also get to see how they behave.. And again, try to stop in at different times of the day and week – Saturday mornings, midweek days and evenings, to get a really broad view.

Spend as much time as possible checking out the local amenities and businesses, public transport systems and grocery stores, not only the types of businesses they are, but who they market to. Fast food means potential litter, late opening hours and more traffic, sports bars are noisier, and karaoke? Really, really bad singing. You need to get a clear picture of  your new neighbors, warts and all, not just the ones that occupy the property, but also those who visit. The same advice applies twofold if you are heading to an area without a professional to help you – go exploring. Your Embassy can give you good advice about security issues or hotspots, and as they would be the ones getting you out of trouble, listen to them.  Visit at different times of the day and night – the agents are most likely to show you around in the daytime, when most people are at work or school and all is peaceful. Once 5.30 p.m. rolls around, you may find parking impossible, a neighbor’s dog never stops barking, and the local children use your back wall for a handball court. You need to feel secure enough to be able to go out for the evening without feeling concerned about what happens to your neighborhood after dark, so give the local police station a call, and get their advice if you have any concerns.

Househunting

Finding a real estate professional who you like and trust can pay dividends. From here on in, it starts to get serious, and the search starts to cost you time and money – if you’ve followed our advice, you are in a hotel or short-term apartment, and are paying a higher rate for the convenience. So, before you pull on your walking shoes and prepare to hit the streets, I’ve taken the time to question a particularly fantastic realtor on your behalf, to find out what you can do to make their time and yours better spent.

Here’s what Margot Kaufman, a highly experienced California Real Estate agent who has worked with relocating families from all over the world advises..

 

Cheat Sheet

  1. Contact your agent/relocation consultant before you arrive, with a top ten list of requirements and photographs of your own house, and houses you like.
  2. Get written references and evidence of financial status from your employer, bank and any personal/professional referees.
  3. Go on an escorted ‘Grand Tour’ to see what is actually available in your price range.
  4. Compare with privately listed properties.
  5. Check to see that there is space available at the local schools, country clubs etc, if applicable.
  6. Review HR policy for any restrictions.
  7. Get an advance copy of the rental agreement

Contact the agent when you arrive (or before, if possible) so that they can get some idea of what you are looking for. Photographs of house styles, features that you like about your own home, descriptions of other people in the house and their interests, and budget all help to narrow it down quickly. It also gives them a chance to see if you have realistic expectations. Margot maintains that most people will have a list of ten criteria for choosing a home, and will be happy if they get eight of them. Now you see where that list we made you make in step 1 comes in to play..

Depending on how ‘hot’ the rental market is on your new location, it is a good idea to get written evidence of your employment and financial status and at least one character reference. As you are new to the area (and your workplace), this may take longer than you anticipated; check with your real estate agent or with the letting agency what references they need, as they might not be willing to accept either financial or personal references from out of the area.

 

Work with agents who take you on a “Grand Tour’. Now, I’m sure many agents across the world are horrified with this advice, but I’m going to stand by it. The Grand Tour tells you whether the agent really understands what you are looking for in a home and neighborhood, and lets them show you what you can expect for your money, and what your alternatives are. They are also able to show you local amenities that you might otherwise not find, and give you a more personal view of the advantages and disadvantages of the neighborhoods. Once you have an idea of what is available, check out private listings too. You can do this either on a fee only basis with your realtor, or privately; whichever route you choose to take, make sure that the property meets legal building regulations, has sound finances, and get a copy of the rental agreement and a detailed property condition inspection before you hand over any money.

 

When you have decided on a neighborhood, rent a post office box there. It gives you a secure address to have your mail forwarded to while in interim accommodation, and prevents you having to change your forwarding address so often in the first few months.

 

Good real estate agents are your go-to resource for all things home and local – from utilities, to dry cleaners to sports clubs, so get one that is willing to help you not just find a house, but give you the information you need to get your household running smoothly. Robyn Pascoe (over at www.expatexpert.com) refers to these contacts as “Golden Tickets’ – you’re winning the relocation lottery.

What Will I Need?

The last step helped you to define what you want from your new life – now we take action to meet those goals. This is where you start using online resources, so if you don’t have a good internet connection at home, go somewhere that does, because this stage is spent visiting sites that are image heavy. If you have access to a printer, fantastic; if not, take a pencil and paper, and your trusty map from the previous step.

 

Cheat Sheet

  1. Review neighborhood information.
  2. Do an internet search for real estate sites in listed areas.
  3. Use house for sale links to find school and neighborhood data.
  4. Review type and cost of housing available.
  5. Make notes of school district information, local government websites, and location of amenities.
  6. Compile questions for HR / real estate professional / relocation company / school etc.

 

Type in your new location and housing keywords to Google or Yahoo and you’ll have more options than you will ever need. Start with the online real estate websites, and check for houses for sale in the areas that you liked.  We’re not suggesting you buy one, but most good real estate websites allow you to look at the school data, local amenities, crime rates, demographics etc of the chosen neighborhood. It’s my preferred shortcut to getting the data on different areas, and gives you an idea of what to ask your realtor, property agent or destination service provider. It also tells what type of housing is available, and the price range: – important if you are staying long-term, and are putting your children into the local school system, as you need to be able to afford somewhere to live in the catchment area.

While you are online, check out the rental prices in the areas that you are looking at too – it’s a lot less painful to find out that the loft apartment overlooking Central Park / Buckingham Palace / The Arc de Triumph is out of your price range before you are standing in it, lovingly stroking the Egyptian cotton sheets. And bearing in mind most of the property agents are on commission, believe me, your budget is the last thing on their mind..

Now, here’s where I get bossy. Once you arrive in your new area, the good real estate agents will take you on tours of the local areas, and will show you services, amenities and points of interest that they think will meet your needs. Wonderful. But this stage is about being well prepared. As we have mentioned before, knowledge is power. Be clear about your own needs and what might be available locally to meet them, so that you can ask relevant and pointed questions. For example: “Yes, that sports club does have wonderful facilities, but does it have a membership fee and a two-year waiting list?”; “Yes, that is the school for the local area, but does it have space for my children?”; “Yes, that’s a wonderful view, but could my neighbor put on an addition that would block it?”. The Real Estate websites are an excellent centralized source of neighborhood information, but verify the accuracy by using a variety of resources. Someone else saying that the area is perfect is not a good enough reason to move there, so and  It doesn’t matter how well-intentioned the recommendations are, it has to be perfect for you and your family, not anyone else.

Once you’ve done the legwork sitting comfortably in your own home, set some dates for house hunting, and contact those local agents in advance. This gives them time to scout around for any properties that might be upcoming, or tenancies that are about to end. Make sure the agents that you deal with specialize in the area that you are looking at – you will probably have to spend time with more than one agent. If you find one you like, ask for referrals; it cuts down the time (and energy) spent dealing with tricky ones. And don’t neglect private landlords – you often find that you get a better deal for the money, so it’s worth checking out Craigslist, Gumtree, or the local papers and message boards. It’s also a good time to mention to your new work colleagues that you will be needing accommodation – while it’s never a good idea to mix business and personal life, providing you have a legal contract drawn up that make clear the rights and responsibilities of both parties, it can often be a great way to reach a home that you otherwise might not have found.

And as a final pearl of wisdom, while you are in contact with the local agents, ask them for recommendations for a place to stay for your fact-finding visit and/or the first weeks in your new neighborhood. (You may as well get used to having to ask anyone anything – you’ll be doing a lot of it for the next six months as you get established.) They often can get you a better deal than you would otherwise have found, and let’s face it, if you can’t trust their hotel recommendation, do you really think they are going to find you your dream home?

Where Will I Live?

The goal of this step is to get a mapped outline of potential areas that can fulfill the lifestyle priorities that you identified in the previous step.. The first part of that is  to understand what is possible, and orientate yourself to your new surroundings. the second part is not committing too many of your waking hours to commuting – especially during the early days, the more time you have to spend together as a family, the more support you are able to offer one another.

 

Cheat Sheet

  1. Review country information (see Links page)
  2. Buy or download a large-scale map
  3. Label work location
  4. Use Google maps to estimate commute times to neighboring locations
  5. Identify traffic or security issues that may affect the route
  6. Research other transport options.
  7. Draw perimeter for detailed neighborhood search
  8. Make a list of neighborhoods that fall within the area outlined

 


With a little creativity and an internet connection, you can become well-informed without leaving the house, so once you have the tools that you need, you can get out your colored crayons, relax with a coffee, and begin..

Where Can I Live?

Firstly, let’s cover the essentials. You need to understand the country and culture that you are moving to. The US Department of State has a brilliant website, and for those of you with a smartphone, an even better app, which gives you up-to-date information on every country in the world (excellent for browsing in airport departure lounges) including security issues, while the Lonely Planet guides give a more personal view, and advice on culture and appropriate behavior.

Buy a map. Or two, if your new work or school location is within a couple of miles of the outer edge of the map coverage. Now, mark in your daytime destination(s), and using this as your end reference point, track all possible routes to and from, along with the travel times that the journey will take. It’s a good idea to use a range of travel methods too – you may plan on driving in every day, but being open to alternative means of transportation allows you a greater reliability and flexibility when your car won’t start / fuel prices hit record highs (again) / the bus driver bears a striking resemblance to George Clooney. Or you simply want to go out for drinks after work and not be worried about where to leave the car.

You might also want to check with your new HR department to find if there are any routes to avoid, either for security or traffic reasons, and what the parking situation is like at your destination. Once you have all this information, it shouldn’t take you too long to outline a perimeter for your search area, depending on how long a commute you are willing to commit to, and what your transport budget looks like. Don’t be worried about the finer details at this point; we’re looking for a very simple search area, that will inform not only where you will live, but who are the best people to help you search.

Once you have your perimeter outlined, look at the geographical features of the area. Do you want to live in an urban or rural environment? Do you value easy access to major towns, roads or airports, or do you prefer being away from it all? Simply by studying the features on the map, you can start narrowing down to a list of potential neighborhoods according to your lifestyle preferences. Now it’s a matter of hitting the internet to find out what sort of amenities and accommodation are on offer in the locations within your search area. But that’s step 3..

What Do I Want?

When we mention relocation, the first image people have involves a moving truck and a myriad of boxes. Thankfully for you, we are here to tell you that before you hire a Uhaul and sign a lease for the first house that you see on Craigslist, there are a few other steps to take which can make your transition easier, less stressful, and far more successful. So grab a notepad and pen, and we’ll begin…

 

Cheat Sheet

1.    Grab a pen and paper

2.    Spend 20 minutes thinking about your current life.

3.    Brainstorm

  • what are the essentials (e.g. school, income, medical care)?
  • what gives you greatest fulfillment (family time, friends, work, travel etc)?
  • what you can’t wait to leave behind (traffic, high living costs, grouchy boss)?
  • what you would like to have in your new life (new interests, professional growth)?

4. Rate your list in order of importance.

What Do You Want?

Ah, the million dollar question.. But before you make any decisions about your future lifestyle, you need to identify what you like and don’t like about your current life, and what your future will contain. And yes, I know we sound all New Age touchy feely, but it is vitally important that you forge a new path, rather than getting stuck in the same old rut. Find a place where you can think, and spend at least 30 minutes brainstorming what parts of your days you enjoy, what in your life gives you the most fulfillment, and what elements you would like to see in the future.

The first time you think about this, it is hard to come up with a list, but as you come back to it, your list will get longer, and your mental picture of how you see yourself going forward will get clearer. Start with your immediate environment – what type of house do you like, how many bedrooms do you need, do you like to cook and so a good kitchen is essential? Work through your own needs, and then work through family needs – do you need good schools for your children, specific sports facilities, specialized medical care? Do you prefer a neighborhood with a wide demographic mix, do you need access to freeways so you can spend your leisure time traveling, or do you prefer to be out in the wilds by yourself? Try and be specific about what you would like to do, so rather than saying “I would like to get more exercise”, define what types of exercise you enjoy, whether indoors or out, and how much time you would like to devote to it. If you’re feeling creative, put together a storyboard; a large piece of paper or card with pictures that inspire you, with lists of things that you need, want or would like to have or do.

This all seems very far away from the practicalities of relocating, and right now, you are probably wanting to ignore all this advice and reach for the phone book to start looking for removal companies. Don’t. I promise you, we know what we are talking about, and soon enough you will be swamped by endless questions and demands that will make you want to run back to bed and pull the covers over your head. This is YOUR time, your chance to place a frame around your future, and if you are going to spend the next months giving answers, you need to make sure that you are giving the right ones.

It also gives you a chance to start adapting emotionally to the idea of moving your life. You will be going through more changes than you ever imagined, and you are to reinvent yourself and your identity more than once. At this point, we are doing this exercise to define your physical environment and activities – later on, you’ll use the same strategy for redefining your own life and identity. So take your time before the chaos hits you, and be creative.

Now, back to practicalities. Once you have a good idea of how you would like your life to look, write it out in list form, in order of priority. This list – what you want for the future – will help you to decide on the next step – “What do I need?”

Your New Home

Finding the perfect location for your new life is stressful, time consuming and very, very personal. It requires thought, planning and preferably professional help, and over the next seven steps, we’ll give you the best possible start. Here’s a snapshot of what we’ll be covering.

The Cheat Sheet

  1. Define your needs
  2. Research online before you go – tourist guides, real estate websites, expat forums (see links section for starting points) to define possible areas to live
  3. Arrange a fact-finding visit
  4. Arrange temporary accommodation for the first 4-6 weeks
  5. Find a reliable real estate professional who understands your needs
  6. Visit the neighborhoods at various times of day, test commute, visit local amenities, schools, stores, parks, etc
  7. Get professional advice before you sign legal documents

Don’t (as we did), commit to anything that ties you in for more than a month, before you have seen the area. We got lucky, but I shudder to think what could have gone wrong with buying a property online.. Yes, I know, you don’t need to say it. So, if you really can’t get to your new location for a look around before the big move, just use on of the many chains of corporate short stay accommodation, or look online on sites like Craigslist for a short term, month-to-month rental. And even if you do get a preliminary visit included in your relocation package, it’s still a good idea to give yourself a month or so to find out where you really want to be – moving once is tough enough, twice is just madness..

Buy a map. Get a feel for what your new location looks like in geographical terms – London, for instance covers 610 square miles and has a population of over 8 million people (and those figures don’t include the ‘suburbs’ ) so it’s important to actually see what you are looking at in terms of location, accessibility and topography in a birds eye view. You will be able to see just how many people you are sharing your space with, and just how crowded everything from roads to open spaces are likely to be. Or, at the other end of the scale, how remote. And remember, at this stage, nothing is irreversible, so if you fall in love with an area that’s outside your commute distance, it doesn’t mean you’ve wasted your time. It means that you were aware of the pitfalls before you made a choice.

Use online resources, and look at the areas that seem possible – everything from type, size and price of housing, to the demographics, crime rates and local amenities are all there at the end of a mouse click. Not only do you get a picture of what is available, doing it in the comfort of your own home means you get the time to adapt emotionally to your move. Sobbing inconsolably on a realtors shoulder in a public street is never a good way to introduce yourself to your new neighbors, so get the therapy out of the way now. This goes double if you have children – they will follow your lead in terms of response to the move, so your preview is the time to filter out the nasties and focus on the good.

Once you’ve done the legwork sitting comfortably in your own home, set some dates for home hunting, and contact local agents in advance. This gives them time to scout around for any properties that might be upcoming, or tenancies that are about to end. And don’t neglect private landlords – you often find that you get a better deal for the money, so it’s worth checking out Craigslist, Gumtree, or the local papers and message boards. It’s also a good time to mention to your new work colleagues that you will be needing accommodation – while it’s never a good idea to mix business and personal life, providing you have a legal contract drawn up that make clear the rights and responsibilities of both parties, it can often be a great way to access a home that you might not have found.

Get trustworthy legal advice before you sign anything. In some areas, this can be done by real estate agents, by your relocation counselor or by your HR department, in others, you may need to see a lawyer. Just don’t sign anything until someone in the know has had a look at it first.