There is no doubt in my mind that ‘The Paperwork’ section is the relocation equivalent of the elephant in the room.. We all know it’s there, but would rather eat our own tongue than talk about it. Let alone do anything about it. Sadly, I’m here to tell you it has to be done, so put on your big boy/girl pants, and get started. It’s like passing your driving test – you may not enjoy taking it, but boy, are you glad to get it over and done with and can relax.


The Cheat Sheet

  1. Start the process immediately.
  2. Locate necessary documents (e.g. old passport, birth certificate, marriage certificate, passport application form),
  3. Check that your existing passport (if you have one) has enough time remaining and blank pages available to meet visa requirements.
  4. Check passport photo guidelines; get photos taken and certified.
  5. Complete application form in pencil first; then in black ink. Include photos, documents and fees necessary; photocopy entire application.
  6. Check processing times before sending – expedite or apply in person if necessary.

Before you can leave your home country (legally) you need to apply for a passport. Now, some of you out there may be rolling your eyes at the obviousness of that statement, but stop it right now, because I happen to know that only about 1/3 of Americans and 2/3 of Britons currently own a passport. And while the 6 weeks it can take to process a passport application may not be a problem, what the statistics don’t tell you is how many of us couldn’t lay our hands on our birth certificates if you put a gun to our head. So that’s why I’m risking public derision by putting in this section, safe in the knowledge that problems with the passport application process (i.e. missing documentation, unsuitable picture etc.) are the main reason for delays in residency applications.

So, now is the time to delve through whatever filing system you might (or might not) have, and dig out your passport. Most visa applications require that you have 6 months remaining on your passport, so even if you already have one, you may need to get it renewed. If you don’t have one, you need to go to your home country’s embassy /consulate /check online to see what criteria you need to meet, and then start the process as early as possible. Passports for most countries are issued for either 5 or 10 years, so applying early is rarely a problem; applying late always is. Add in that a last minute application always results in horrific photographs (that you are stuck with for the foreseeable future) and there are steep fees for expedited service, and suddenly I don’t look so dumb. Have I been clear enough??

Passport application forms are available from Post Offices, Embassies / Consulates, and in some cases online. You are usually required to provide:


  1.  A birth certificate or previous passport.
  2. Two ‘passport size’ photographs (sizes vary, so check the instruction section of the application form) with written certification (by a professional person that you know, e.g. doctor, school teacher etc) that it is a ‘true likeness’.
  3.  A completed application form.
  4. A fee.


Either get two copies of the application form or complete it in pencil first – passport offices often refuse to issue a passport when the application form has corrections or does not conform to the requirements. And everyone deserves a second chance..

As a final note, for which you will thank me later, make sure you look and feel good before you go to get your photographs done. Lighting and equipment varies hugely between photographers, so get your passport photographs done at a variety of places until you find one that you like. Wikihow has some good tips on looking more human, and if you want to take it yourself, YouTube has a pretty foolproof video that shows you how.

Now off you go, and get started. We’ll see you on step two – Visas.


⇐ The Paperwork                                                                                  Visas ⇒


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The art of successful relocation