Becoming an Expat

Where to start?

Here are some of the things you’ll need to factor in before you head for pastures new…


First up, visas. Assuming you have a job waiting for you on arrival, then be sure to speak to your employer at your earliest possible convenience about visa support. Some businesses will take care of everything for you, including the costs; but others will leave it up to you. Find out what and how much you need to pay, then budget!
Depending on where you’re headed for, visas and work permits can be a complicated affair. There could be a lot of paperwork, and some countries require you to have a full medical examination (at a cost to you). This can be arranged through your local doctor.

Other factors include a potential Police Clearance Certificate. This can be applicable when travelling to the likes of Australia, Belgium, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, and the USA. The cost can vary, usually it is around $50-100 in the local currency.
It’s always worth making copies of your original documents too, as embassies have been known to be less than forthcoming when it comes to returning your documents.



Again, this really comes down to where you are going. Some countries provide free state healthcare; however, some do not.

Some companies provide private medical insurance as part of their employee benefit package options. If you are in any doubt, contact your employer and find out the exact details of any cover they are providing. It is vitally important that you have comprehensive health insurance for you and your family. Cigna offers a wide range of levels of expat medical insurance cover available to protect you in your new homeland, and anywhere else you may be travelling*. Find out more about Cigna Global Health Options insurance here.

Be sure to check the health advice recommendations (including vaccinations etc) for your new country of residence. A handy guide to some of the more popular destinations can be found here.
*certain geographical exclusions may apply depending on level of cover.



It goes without saying that air travel can be expensive, but it is of course a necessary expense if you are to become an expat. That said, there are some ways to reduce the cost of air travel. Booking a good while in advance generally results in discounts for long haul flights. Be sure to check out baggage allowances for the airlines your considering flying with, as some heavily restrict your weight limit, while others allow you to carry sports equipment for free. Travel insurance is also a must. As well as cost, make sure you’re happy with the whole package of your travel insurance, including things like cancellation cover and baggage cover.


Shipping or Storage?

Just like everyone else, you too will have accumulated much more in the way of possessions than you previously thought. So what do you take with you?

If you’re planning on renting at first in your new homeland, you could consider renting a fully furnished property and put your furniture into storage until you’re settled. You could then arrange to have your belongings shipped over at a more convenient time.



Given the logistical complexities around moving to another country, it can be easy to lose track of your finances, so adhering to a strict budget is crucial. Try to plan ahead as much as possible, including the little things as much as the big expenses. Be sure to factor in things like: hotels if your new abode isn’t ready yet, local transport prices or the cost of a vehicle, local utility costs, legal documentation costs on arrival, and import tax where applicable on any goods you may be taking with you.

Yes, becoming an expat takes planning and research, but by following the handy steps above, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a fully-fledged expat. But wait, there’s more…


Things you might not have thought of…

Yes folks, there’s yet more to consider. Becoming an expat isn’t just about ticking all the boxes we’ve laid out above, there are aspects of it that involve being prepared for a mental, emotional and behavioral shift in your lifestyle, now that you’ll be living in another country, for instance, people’s attitudes. People will behave differently from what you’re used to. Attitudes are cultural, so it’s not a case of right and wrong. The conventional ‘have-a-nice day’ attitude popular in places like the USA, may not be replicated in your new home country, so be prepared for something a little different, if the situation calls for it. One of the biggest struggles for new expats is the adjustment to more alone time. Whether you’re just leaving a large group of friends behind, or moving to accompany a partner’s new employment venture, you may find yourself with more free-time, and more alone time than you’re necessarily used to.

There’s no quick fix for this, it comes as part and parcel of making the big move, and it will take a bit of getting used to. Over time, through various social opportunities like Expat communities/support groups, and through daily life, the level of alone time will decrease.

Much like any other big life event, it can be stressful, so a sense of humor is of paramount importance. Be willing to laugh at the situation, and indeed yourself when you get things wrong. Becoming an expat is very much a marathon, not a sprint. The struggles that you face initially will diminish over time. It’ll be an exciting time, so take it all as it comes, don’t expect miracles overnight, and enjoy starting a fantastic new chapter in your life in a new country.


Expat Culture

Adapting to a different culture and people’s attitudes is part of the challenge of moving abroad. Read through our tips to get an idea of the importance of cultural awareness and to find out about resources that support expat communities.

So you will be living in another country, and you have done some research about the new place. You may already know your Visa requirements; you may have made some property arrangements, or you may even know what steps to take to open a bank account. Are you forgetting something?

Think about when you start meeting people in your new location: Will it be appropriate to give them a handshake? Or will they expect a kiss on the cheek? …Or a kiss on both cheeks?

Culture shock is something that all expatriates experience once they move abroad. Once you start spending time in a new country, you may find many aspects of your culture differ from the new one, and you will probably have to adjust some of your expectations and behaviors in order to blend in.

Many expats experience emotional shifts as they find themselves struggling to assimilate new behavioral patterns. Cultural transition can be a struggle, but here are a few tips to help you adjust easier to your new host culture:

  1. Learn. Culture shock may come from any situation and it is almost impossible to predict, but learning as much as you can about the new culture can help you to be prepared. Find out about your new environment both before your arrival and while you’re there; the more you learn, the better.
  2. Speak. If you are moving to a country where a different language is spoken, try to learn at least the basics. You can start by trying to pick up a few simple phrases, or consider taking up a language course. Learning a different language can be exciting and very useful to help you communicate throughout the new country.
  3. Keep in touch. Staying in contact with your friends and family at home can give you some comfort while away.
  4. Stay healthy. Remember to stay active and eat well. Staying healthy physically as well as mentally will help you to deal better with culture shock.
  5. Keep an open mind. Attitudes that are popular in your country may not be well received in your new location. It’s not a case of right and wrong. A respectful and open-minded approach will help you to understand the cultural differences and embrace the change. Interact with the new culture and make new local friends!


Expat communities and support

Remember – you are not alone. We live in a globalized world, and expats communities are growing worldwide at a very fast pace. Wherever you go, you will most certainly find other expats and international groups that support foreign communities. Keep an eye out for online blogs, social media groups and other events; you will be likely to find something of your interest.
Integrating with expat groups might help you to gain some cultural knowledge of your new place, as well as it might provide an enriching environment to interchange views and ideas with people from other places.
As you get used to another place, the experience may go from exciting to overwhelming, but just bear in mind that the struggles you face initially will diminish over time. Moving abroad is one of the most enriching experiences anyone can have, so, embrace the change and enjoy it!


Expat Finance

An essential part of becoming an expat is keeping control of your finances. This expat finance guide will help you to get an overview of different financial aspects that you should consider for your move abroad. We'll also give you a few tips to help you master your finances abroad!

As many other aspects of moving abroad, financial planning is one more thing that will require some of your time. You may find that managing your money wisely as a globally mobile individual is not such a straightforward process.


Planning is Key

The first step you may want to take is looking into what your life abroad might cost you. Once you know where you will be moving to, it should be fairly simple to investigate and calculate the cost of living in a particular location. Then it all comes down to planning: think about what you’ll need, how much things are, and start to budget.

You probably know how much you will need to afford flight tickets, but that’s only the first thing. Will you require a moving company? How much will it be to rent or buy a property? How expensive is your new location? Have you thought of inflation or local taxes?

Try to define your objectives and the lifestyle you want to sustain. Having a clear direction will help you to set the base for your financial plan. Little things count: don’t consider only big expenses, but everything else. Find out the cost of food, telephone services, and transportation. Envisaging your daily routine might help you to figure out everything you will need to consider in your budget.
Knowing your options

Banking and payment methods can vary from country to country, so find out as soon as possible if you will have easy access to funds from your new location. Maybe you will need to bring cash or traveller’s checks with you, but bear in mind that with large amounts of cash you may have difficulties going through customs.

A common dilemma for expats is whether to open a local bank account or opt for an international option. Some expats choose to open an offshore bank account which grants easy access to financial savings, but these accounts are not accessible for everyone. Furthermore, some banks require a costly initial deposit, or high maintenance fees. Choosing the right bank account will most likely depend on where you are, your individual situation and your specific needs.

Expats have to frequently account for specific international banking fees, money transfer charges or currency exchange rates. Be prepared for this type of expense, and dedicate some time to study the different financial options you have in your new country.

Before making a decision on what best suit your needs, you will need to invest time to gather as much information as possible, compare alternatives, and exercise forecasting. It can be stressful, but you will find this a rewarding learning process that will help you to cut down on expenses in the future.



When starting a life in a different country, you may find yourself having to pay various kinds of tax or account for fiscal charges that you were not familiar with before. Understanding the implications of tax are therefore of huge importance when relocating. Read through this guide to get an overview and find out what you should know about taxes before you move to a new country.

Tax repercussions can be of such relevance that it is not uncommon for it to become a reason for moving abroad, and it happens so for both wealthy and people with a much lower income. In some countries, various taxes can take up much of a person’s salary, or represent a major difficulty for affording property.

A lack of the relevant legal knowledge could get you into trouble with the tax authorities or could lead you to pay more taxes than necessary, so make sure you do some research on the tax systems in your new destination prior to your move. Find out also about local regulations concerning international taxation, as in some cases there may be ways to minimize international tax burdens.


What to consider

Some tax authorities require all taxpayers to be registered, or to acquire a tax ID, so start by finding out who the authority is in your new country and what you’ll need to do to get things in order. In many cases, expats’ employers take care of this, so ask your employer if you are in doubt or whether they need any documentation from you.
In many occasions, expats return to their home countries and are able to apply for tax return. It is therefore worth finding out about applicable tax return claims; which local office can handle your tax return and what would be required to get yourself prepared for this scenario. Tax offices can be a great place to find information and advice. Before your move, find out where your local tax office will be and what services they can provide.

When trying to figure out the tax system, think of the different aspects that might apply to your particular situation. How much will taxes take up your salary? Will you be liable for income tax in your new country? Are there property taxes you are not yet aware of? If you are married, will you have to pay different taxes?


Social security

As with income tax, many countries have a social security system in place to which workers contribute via salary deductions. You may be required to contribute to a social security system if you are employed or self-employed.
With some basic research you can find out if there is a social security system in the country you will be moving to. As employers deduct employees’ social security contributions directly from their salaries, find out what the impact on your income will be.

Your contributions to a social security system may grant you benefits such as medical care. In other cases, however, you may be excluded from the system as a foreign national, in which case it’s highly recommended to get personal insurance.


Getting advice

Fiscal matters and taxes change vastly from one country to another, and a system becomes more difficult to decipher in countries where taxation is particularly complex or where the language is an obstacle.

If you feel overwhelmed in trying to comprehend the repercussions of taxation in your new country, consider the options of getting help from the tax office, or consulting an advisor.

Getting advice from an expert can be expensive, but it can make the understanding much easier, it would keep you in line with the tax authorities and it could even save you money - as it might prevent you from paying more taxes than you need to.


A Guide to Staying Healthy Abroad

As you plan to relocate to a new country, you will be focusing on securing peace of mind in as many aspects of your new life as possible; and healthcare is an essential one. We have put together this guide to take you through the basics of international healthcare, and to help you manage your well-being abroad.

So you’re about to become an expat. You are taking into account many factors to ensure a successful relocation. Have you figured out how the healthcare system works in your chosen destination? Moving another country can be an incredibly rewarding life experience, but it comes with a specific set of challenges for health and well-being.

Ensuring that healthcare will be provided for you and your family is one of the most important things you will need to consider when moving abroad.

When it comes down to health standards, statutory care and emergency treatment; details vary from country to country. There can be major differences in waiting times, cost, and access availability for expats; slotting straight into another country’s national health system may not be as easy as you’d think.

It’s key to research the implications for expatriates in your new country of residence, as all the home comforts you’ve come to expect may not necessarily be available to you.


Staying healthy abroad

As exciting as it is to move to a new country, remember there are always risks. This guide provides you with tips and advice for a healthy stay abroad:

  • Some countries present particular health risks that you may have not faced in the past – it’s important to do some research prior to your move. The World Health Organization is an excellent resource for researching your destination. Make sure you are informed of any health risks associated with your new country, as this could help you to be prepared and prevent an emergency.
  • Before your move, go for a medical check-up and consult with your doctor to find out if there are recommended vaccinations for the country you are moving to, and discuss any medical issues you may encounter abroad. Certain vaccinations may be a requirement to enter some countries. In cases where vaccinations are not required, they can still be highly recommended.
  • If you are moving to a country with considerably different weather conditions, consider the implications and be prepared. Respiratory illnesses are very common among foreign visitors in a new country; in many cases they are a result of the body dealing with new temperatures. Make sure you pack appropriately for the weather conditions you’ll be about to experience.
  • Get a copy of your medical history, and take it with you. It is also a good idea to scan and store it electronically.
  • You may want to visit your dentist before you go, or if you wear glasses, get a spare pair.
  • If you take regular medication, get an extra supply and take a copy of your current prescription (you may need this at customs or airport security). Finding out the generic name for the medicine is also useful, as it may be marketed under a different brand in another country.

Upon arrival to your host country

  • Make sure you know the number to call the emergency services.
  • If you don't speak the local language, try to learn some basic words such as help, emergency, or doctor.
  • Find out where the nearest hospital is, and check that your health cover will provide you access to treatment there.
  • If you are eligible for cover from the local health care system, start the paperwork as soon as possible. In many places, getting through the administrative steps can be complicated; so the sooner you start, the better.


Expat health insurance

Before you jump on a place, think about your well-being and make sure you have appropriate health cover.

In many cases, you will not necessarily have the right to healthcare in the country you are moving to. It is highly recommended that you always have health insurance cover to avoid a situation where you may not be able to access the medical assistance you require.

Even in some countries where you are eligible for treatment in the public system, you may find the quality of care does not meet the standards you are used to; plan accordingly.

Some countries (such as those which are members of the Schengen Area, the UAE and the US for some visa types) require proof of health insurance before a visa will be issued.

For expats moving from one EU country to another, an EHIC card (European Health Insurance Card) can provide cover for emergency treatment for a short period of time; until you can get cover in the local health system.


Visa & Immigration

Very few lucky expats escape from the nightmare of having to sort paperwork and go through bureaucratic delays before they move to a new country. Chances are you are likely to have to deal with visa requirements, so we are bringing you this guide to give you an idea of what to expect, and a few tips to help you through the process.

Figuring out everything you’ll need to do in order to obtain a required visa or work permit can take a considerable amount of your time; so the best you can do is get to it as soon as possible.

If you have secured a job in a new country, find out what you will need to do in order to have your paperwork in order. Your employer should be able to give you some information on visa support, and may even take the worry off your hands.


From forms filling to long waits

Visas and work permits can be a complicated matter. More often than not, these things involve a great deal of bureaucracy, extensive forms to fill and long delays. But stay positive; with advance planning and appropriate research it will all fall into place.

The first step is to find a reliable, up-to-date source of information – each country has its very own regulations when it comes to immigration, so make sure you obtain specific information regarding the country that you are planning to move to.

Look for official websites like the country’s consulate or the immigration department, often part of the Home Affairs Ministry or Ministry of Justice.

Find out at your earliest convenience what type of visa or work permit will be required for you and any family members accompanying you, paying special attention to costs and timescales. Bear in mind that procedures can vary if you and your family members have different nationalities.

Some countries require that your passport has at least six months validity prior to the date of your arrival. Some others may require in addition that you provide a Police clearance Certificate (or official criminal record), or even mandate specific vaccinations for allowing your entry. It’s important to look into detail on what your new country will expect from you.

Citizens of the EU and EEA member countries are usually allowed to enter other member countries and have the right to live and work, but there are some specific restrictions on freedom of movement between nations. Make sure to not overlook restrictions that may apply to your situation. Many expats within the EU may not need permission to live and work in a European country, but will still need to register once they have moved and apply for specific permits.


Requirements upon arrival

That’s right - after all the work you will have gone through prior to your move, organizing all your documents, making dozens of copies and filling lengthy forms, you may still need to file some more paperwork once you arrive in the new country.

Of course, this will depend on where you are going and where you are coming from. But it’s worth noting that many places require you or your family members to apply for different permits (residence permit or identity card) after entry to the country.

Even if your paperwork is all in order once you are in the new location, you may still be required to register with local authorities. Find out what you will need to do as soon as possible and prior to your move, so that you can organize your agenda upon arrival.


All done and dusted …Or is it?

It’s a very gratifying feeling for expats to have gone successfully through the lengthy process of sorting visas or permits, and to start a fully compliant life in the new country! However, it is important not to lose track of your papers’ validity.

As a foreign national, you may be subject to fairly regular renewals of your passport, visa or work permit. Before you forget that document at the back of the bottom drawer, it may be wise to check expiry dates and keep a calendar to know when you’ll be required to process any renewals in order to maintain all your papers in order.

If after a while in the country you are thinking of changing job, take into account the fact that most permits are not transferable to different employers and you may need to obtain a new permit. Or else, if you plan to apply for citizenship, you may have to wait for a number of years. In this case, it may be worth checking whether your new country accepts dual nationality, as you might be required to surrender your original nationality in order to gain the new citizenship.


International Schools

Cigna's INTERNATIONAL SCHOOLS FINDER is one more resource we have developed to help expats in their challenge of moving and settling abroad. First of its kind – our intelligent and responsive map is especially designed for expats to search, locate and find details of thousands of international schools across the world.

  • Search by country – anywhere in the world!
  • Zoom in or out of any geographical area
  • Add schools to your ‘shortlist’ and compare your choices’ features
  • Filter your results by different academic and curricular options
  • Find specific details for each school – website, contact details and quick facts!