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Moving Abroad – The UK Checklist

Source: Flickr | Nathan Parton

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If you want to join the six million British nationals currently living abroad – that's the official figure from the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) – your main preoccupation is likely to be finding the right place to live. Only then will you be thinking of the checklist of essential things to do before you leave, and when you get there.

There is rather more to moving abroad than cancelling the newspapers and the milk order – this isn't like a big summer holiday, but with more leadtime. There are things you really must do, most of them involving UK government services, and several things you'd be well advised to do. But nothing on the checklist need be too onerous, and when they're done, you should be set up for a productive and worthwhile time abroad.

There are some very obvious pre-planning you will probably have already thought of, such as researching the destination, consulting online forums and expat organisations. And you should acquaint yourself with local laws and culture.

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Know before you go

Before you leave the UK, you must notify the Government, HM Revenue & and Customs, and the Department of Work and Pensions that you will be overseas. And don't forget to tell your GP and your dentist. Pick up your medical and dental records from them. If you don't have them, you will surely need them.

Then it's worth checking what cover you are entitled to, both in emergencies and for more routine treatment. See what your company is offering and if necessary take out additional insurance to cover those early days. If you're not moving with a company look into specialist expat PMI.

You will need to obtain an International Driving Permit, if you're moving to outside the EU. And do check what compulsory equipment – breathalyser and so on – you will need, ready in the boot, when you drive in certain countries.

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If only moving abroad could finally free you from the tyranny of tax – unfortunately it doesn't. Even if you are retiring abroad you may still have to pay UK tax on income you receive from the UK. You may also have to pay tax on UK income in the country in which you live.

People who draw income and capital gains from one country and live in another, may be liable to pay tax in both countries under their separate tax laws. So that its citizens and not taxed twice - 'double taxation', the UK has negotiated double taxation agreements with many countries. It's all on the HM Revenue & Customs website, www.hmrc.gov.uk

Older novice expats will want to know about pensions. Usually the UK state pension will be paid anywhere you live. However annual increases only apply to pensions paid to expats living in the European Economic Area (mainly EU countries and Iceland and Norway), Switzerland or a country that has an agreement with the UK. Retirees outside this zone should find out how they can obtain those increases.

Take your time

"Don't be rushed into buying", is wise, if obvious, advice If you are thinking of buying property abroad. It's worth contacting expatriate property organisations in the country where you plan to buy. Be wary of taking the services of the legal contacts suggested by local property developers you may be dealing with.

See if there is a list of English-speaking lawyers who can help you research prospective developers, and estate agents, then help you with the transaction.

People looking to retire abroad will find useful advice on such sites as Age Concern www.ageconcern.org.uk and www.direct.gov.uk. The Saga website www.saga.co.uk has information on what it’s like to live overseas.

It's also worth checking with the embassy or High Commission of the relevant country in London for information on living there, on their tax regime, and healthcare provision for example. This article explains how tax works abroad or use this tool to quickly compare tax in two countries.

Register and benefit

You need to register with the local authorities in your destination country. If this is another EEA country you must apply for a residence permit within three months. It's your pathway to accessing local benefits which you may be entitled to. If you don't do it, that could be an offence locally.

As for handling money abroad, you can open a normal bank account in many countries, and, if you wish, have your pension paid directly into it.

If you don't vote who knows who might get elected

Register as an overseas elector and you will be entitled to cast a postal vote in both Parliamentary and European Parliamentary elections in the UK. You will not be able to vote in local government elections or those for the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Keep in touch

The Internet and social media will be your friends abroad. In the latest NatWest International Banking Quality of Life Report a big percentage of British expats said that social media enabled them to enjoy a better life abroad. Here's a list of over a hundred travel apps that will make your life easier.

I got those expat blues

The move abroad will affect different people in different ways. Those who are used to foreign travel through their jobs should expect to adapt quickly.

Expats who are going abroad to work on a specific fixed-term contract may take comfort in the fact that they will be going home before too long, so the experience should not be too socially disruptive. Others will have to face up to the fact that this is retirement, and perhaps there is no going back.

Non-working spouses have separate issues. Chances are their husband (or possibly wife) is in a well-paying job and they don't need to work, even if they could obtain the relevant permit. (This is recently become easier in the USA, for the partners of highly skilled people with H-1B visas now being allowed to work.)

Expat Child Syndrome

For adults, moving abroad is just another life challenge. For children it can be a much tougher call on their inner resources.

Psychologists have identified something called Expat Child Syndrome (ECS). Whether or not this is a genuine mental condition, it's easy to understand how such emotional stress can make life tough, particularly for the young adolescent, most commonly those aged between 10 and 15.

They are away from their friends, and have to adapt to a new school at the same time as they may be working out their own identity. Researching this issue online, I found ample well-meant advice that concerned parents could probably work out for themselves. It doesn’t seem to me to be a condition that would require the intervention of a child psychologist.

What to do? Attending an international school could help the young person fit in. He or she will be with children from a similar background, sharing a common challenge. That should help. And, in the end, the child may draw strength from the entire expat experience.

Moving countries too often is not a wise move for the family, and certainly not for the child trying to adapt to strange environments. There are compensations, however. Children, with their open, receptive minds, tend to learn languages faster than adults, another aid to integration.

Never mind the weather

So what about the weather? No, seriously. Recent years have thrown up meteorological anomalies around the world, with extreme heat waves in the USA and Australia, followed by the “Arctic vortex” in the USA last winter.

Annual Average Temperatures

In some ways, it's easier to cope with very cold weather. In Montréal, in Canada, where bitter winters are routine, there is a comfortable network of underground walkways in the city centre. And all across the eastern USA seaboard, the authorities are primed for the sort of blizzard that would have London on its knees.

The extreme heat of the United Arab Emirates, where summer temperatures can reach a seriously discomforting 50°C or more, can be testing for expat families. A friend of mine who has lived in Dubai for two years with her (working) husband returns to their home in England in May and doesn't go back until September. Her husband soldiers on. These are the temperatures that melt things in your car, and can burn your hands when you touch external surfaces. But there's an awful lot of air conditioning in Dubai.

In other countries it is easier to cope. Singapore can be very humid, but is bearable. South Africa and New Zealand are closer to the UK climate. It can be intermittently hot in France and Spain, but the lifestyle brings many advantages.

Tune into home

Lastly, how do you keep in touch with those dear old programmes from home?

You should look for a package at your new address that gives you the excellent BBC World on your TV – much more interesting, and internationally focused than our domestic BBC 24.

As far as sport is concerned, many bars in foreign cities will screen the big UK sports events; and a carrier such as Sky gives the British perspective. It is becoming ever easier to watch UK broadcasts overseas. The USA, for example, has a dedicated channel, BBC America.

Earlier this year British expats across much of Spain and other countries in Europe lost their free BBC, ITV and Channel 4 transmission after broadcasts moved to a different satellite. Since then a number of Internet-based, paid-for solutions have emerged.

Check online. How ethical are they? You must form your own opinion. One provider notes that it is legal to offer a VPN link, which supplies the service. Whether or not subscribers buy a UK TV licence is left to their consciences.

Have a look at our best VPNs for expats guide for more information on accessing websites from abroad via VPNs


Gareth Davies

Written by Gareth Huw Davies

In a busy journalistic career Gareth Huw Davies has contributed to UK and overseas publications on a wide range of subjects, from property to travel, and business to the environment, most recently for the Sunday Times and Mail on Sunday. He has also written five e-books, on subjects as diverse as Garfield Sobers, David Attenborough and the River Fleet.