Living outside your home country for any period of time should be a required part of adulting. Experiencing a foreign country like a local builds character, opens up the mind, improves critical thinking and offers once-in-a-lifetime experiences in a way that just isn’t possible within your native borders.
My first international stint did not go as planned. I spent 1 year abroad in the Netherlands, because that was as long as their government would allow me to be there. Then I had to return to America and develop a new plan to get back to Europe.
The second time I was much more successful. I’ve now been in Croatia for 8 years, hold permanent residence and have no desire to ever leave.
Moving abroad is not an easy thing to do, but it is something that everyone should try and do at least once. If you’re ready to make the jump, make sure you’ve got a game plan in place to increase your chances of success and reduce your chances of headache.
Based on my 9 years abroad, I’ve put together 14 tips on how to prepare for an international move BEFORE you leave your home country.
14 things you should do BEFORE you move abroad
These 14 tips are things anyone should do before moving to any country in the world. In case you are interested in moving to Croatia, I’ve added links to specific resources at the end of each tip.
#1 Prepare your identity documents
Make sure all your identify documents are in order BEFORE you leave your home country.
Any country you go to is going to require that you have:
- A passport, expiration date at least 6 months out
- An apostilled original of your birth certificate, not older than 6 months
- An apostilled original of your marriage certificate, not older than 6 months (if married and moving with your spouse)
- It also doesn’t hurt to have a copy of your college or high school transcript, as some countries will require this for residency.
- A driver’s license if you plan to drive, expiration date at least 6 months out
For Croatia, we have a list of the documents you should prepare before leaving home here.
#2 Research customs fees
Some countries charge a customs tax on belongings that are shipped into the country, regardless of whether it arrives by air, boat, truck or on your person. It also may not matter if your stuff is used or not, depending on the country.
Research the customs procedure for importing personal belongings, furniture, vehicles, etc. to your target country.
This can be done in a variety of ways. In more industrialized nations, this information can be found on a government web site in multiple languages.
In smaller nations, you may have to do more grassroots digging by asking questions in “expat” Facebook groups or forums. Using the latter is great because you’ll hear from people who have done the same thing you’re trying to do now.
When preparing your stuff to send overseas, make a list with their approximate value. This will be required for customs processing. It is much easier to do it when packing than under the watchful eyes of the customs agent. I’ve been there and it’s not awesome.
#3 Don’t take everything with you
Ultimately, there is no guarantee that you’ll be able to stay forever in a foreign country of your choosing until after you’ve been granted permanent residency or citizenship. Typically, a person cannot even apply for permanent residency until at least 3 years, but usually the investment in time is more lengthy.
To qualify to apply for permanent residence in Croatia, you must live here for 5 continuous years with temporary residence. Very few people are able to reach this threshold.
Considering this, if your endgame is to live overseas permanently, don’t plan to take everything you currently own with you. Take the bare necessities only and put the rest in storage, sell it or donate it to charity. If it looks like everything is going to work out, then you can always bring that antique armoir over later.
It is common in Europe to rent apartments that are completely furnished anyways, so you won’t need to buy furniture, dishes or appliances from the start.
#4 Make a plan for getting a tourist visa
Find out if you require a visa to enter the country as a tourist. It’s pretty easy to find out this information.
Just type into Google “Do I need a visa to enter [COUNTRY]?” and you’ll most likely find the government web site that will give you the right information. Only trust the government of the country for this information, as it will always be the latest.
Due to COVID-19, there are now added restrictions for people entering foreign countries. Make sure you know whether you can enter based on your nationality and if you’re required to present a negative PCR test or quarantine on arrival.
To find out if you need a visa to enter Croatia, check your nationality here on the government’s web site.
#5 Make a plan for getting a residence permit or long-stay visa
After sorting out a tourist visa, next you need to find out what it will take for you to get a residence permit or extended stay visa. The nomenclature can vary depending on the country.
Skipping this step is the biggest mistake people can make. Unfortunately many people think they can just show up in a country and live there, and that is simply not the case.
Too often I’ve heard from people who have moved abroad without doing any research into their options for living in that country legally. Finding out after arrival that you can’t get residency can have stressful and expensive consequences. I’ve been told it can inspire one to dunk their head in a toilet.
Moving abroad is a very big step, so you want to make that you are well-informed and have a plan in place before you arrive. If you are moving to a non-English speaking country, you may want to consider hiring an immigration lawyer who can best advise you on your options as well as handle the entire application process for you.
Don’t assume that the immigration department will speak English to you. They don’t in Croatia.
Know exactly what your options for residency are BEFORE getting on a plane. Some countries will let foreigners get a short term permit for 6 months, 1 year or 2 years but after that, you must leave. If you’re going to the trouble of moving your entire life, then make sure you take the future into consideration.
You can view all of the options for getting temporary residency in Croatia here.
You can view our residency guides for specific nationalities to live in Croatia here.
If you are interested in gaining residency in Croatia and would like a referral to a vetted immigration lawyer, contact us.
#6 Figure out what you will do for work
If your plan is to get a job in the new country, find out what your chances are first. If you don’t speak the native language of the new country, finding a job will be an uphill battle.
Additionally, some countries require companies to sponsor foreign employers, which can be quite expensive. This serves as a deterrent to hiring foreigners, unless they are highly skilled.
In Croatia, for example, a business must get permission from HZZ (Employment Agency) to hire non-EU citizens. HZZ does a check to see if any Croatians are registered as unemployed and looking for the same role. If there is not, then the business is cleared to hire the foreigner.
It is also important to note that you cannot work in Croatia without a work and residence permit. To get a work and residence permit, you must first be hired by a Croatian company. That work and residence permit will be tied to your work contract. If you quit, you will lose your residence.
Check out our guide on how to find a job in Croatia here.
#7 Make virtual friends
Most countries have Facebook group communities where foreigners living in those countries gather together to share information.
They serve as a valuable forum to ask questions of people with first-hand knowledge. They can be extremely helpful and brutally honest about the realities.
On top of that, they are a great place to meet people once you do land in the country.
However, if you’re seeking information in these groups about anything government-related, take all answers with a grain of salt. Use the feedback as a guide rather than gold. You should always double-check anything government-related with the government or a qualified professional like a lawyer or an accountant.
View the list of all expat Facebook groups in Croatia here.
#8 Inform yourself on the tax system
First, find out if the new country has a double taxation treaty with your home country. If one in is in place, that usually means that you’ll only have to pay income tax in your country of residence.
That being said, make sure you get into the weeds of this to fully understand your reporting requirements in both your native country and your country of residence. If you don’t, you risk piling up tax liabilities without knowing it.
I got into this kind of mess during my first couple years in Croatia. My understanding was that I would be exempt from paying income tax in America for income up to $100K if I lived abroad full time. What I didn’t know is that this exemption doesn’t apply to self-employed people. It took a long time to clean up that mistake.
Croatia is the only EU country that doesn’t have a double taxation treaty with the United States and one isn’t slated until at least 2024.
Second, find out if your new country taxes its residents on worldwide income. This is critical. If there is no double taxation treaty and your new country taxes on worldwide income, you could find yourself giving away most of your income to the governments of both countries.
You can read about Croatia’s tax system here.
#9 Determine the cost of living
Whenever you make any long distance move, there is a good chance the cost of living will change.
Research the cost of living for your new country including the basic necessities like clothes, utilities, food, coffee and beer. The cost of beer and coffee can be vary telling about a culture’s priorities.
Also, get a good understanding on the cost to rent an apartment. Monthly rent can vary wildly depending on the location, amenities, size and whether or not it has been renovated recently.
Just because the cost of living is low in a country, doesn’t mean all places to live will be cheap. Compare your needs, deal breakers and nice-to-haves with what is actually available to rent.
If you do this research before you arrive, you’ll be informed and ready to pounce once you find the right place after arrival.
Keep in mind that it is common for people in smaller countries to take advantage of foreigners from wealthier countries, so make sure you know what to expect so that you don’t get overcharged.
Check out the cost of living in Croatia here.
Read our guide to finding an apartment in Croatia here.
#10 Research public transit
Most cities and countries have some form of public transit. If you’re not a walker or have a disability, make sure that any apartment you consider has reliable public transportation close by.
You may want to be near public transportation anyways if you’re planning to live outside the city center. There will inevitably be days when it’s snowing, raining or you’re just running late.
View our guides to public transit in Croatia here.
#11 Get health insurance
Whenever traveling internationally, make sure you have healthcare coverage in case something happens while abroad.
If you’re planning to move abroad, get a travel insurance policy until you are legally settled in the foreign country. After you get residence, you will likely have the option to sign up for the state health fund.
In Croatia, you must have travel insurance to apply for temporary residence. Once you are approved for residence, you must sign up for the state health care insurance required for all residents.
Make sure you know what signing up for state health care costs, entails and includes. If you have a chronic health condition, it’s vital that you ensure your needs are covered. If they are not, a supplemental policy may be needed.
You can find out what state health insurance costs in Croatia here.
You can learn about Croatia’s healthcare system here.
#12 Review your bank fees
Review all of the bank accounts you have in your home country to see if they charge foreign transaction fees. This is especially important if you’re planning on using these bank accounts predominantly while overseas.
Some credit cards (like American Express) charge both a percentage and a flat fee to every purchase made in a foreign country. Some banks will charge a fee when you withdraw cash at a foreign ATM in addition to the fee the local bank charges for the withdrawal.
If you find that they do, it may be worth exploring new banks.
I still use my American bank accounts, even after living abroad for nearly 10 years. For credit cards, I use Citibank and Capital One, neither of which charge foreign transaction fees. For banking, I use USAA. Not only do they not charge foreign ATM withdrawal or transaction fees, they also reimburse me for the withdrawal fees that local banks charge me.
It might also be worth exploring banking options in your new country as their fees may be lower than what the bank in your home country is charging.
If you are interested in opening a bank account in Croatia, check out our bank comparison including fees and services here.
#13 Find your embassy
Make sure you know where your closest embassy or consulate is in the foreign country and how far it is from where you plan to live.
If you lose your passport, if you want to vote, if you need to register a new born child or if you just need help, having an embassy or consulate nearby will be invaluable.
Many governments offer a way for their citizens abroad to register. This gives you access to international updates from your government and also just let them know where you are in case of an emergency.
Here is a list of foreign embassies and consulates located within Croatia.
#14 Most importantly, prepare for things to go wrong
Anytime you move to a foreign country, things are going to go wrong. You will be confused. You will make mistakes. You will misunderstand things. And that is all OKAY.
There is no amount of research that you can do to prevent this. Research will help your international move go more smoothly and it will help mitigate serious disasters, but it won’t guarantee a seamless overseas transition.
A seamless overseas transition does not exist. Just about everything in your new country will be different from what you are used to in your home country.
Before you uproot and move internationally, make sure that you mentally and emotionally prepare for the inevitable challenges. You need to have patience, understanding and strength to overcome them.
Moving abroad is not for everyone, but everyone should do it anyways. For me, living abroad has been the best experience of my life and has made me a better version of myself.
I’ve lived abroad so long now, I no longer consider myself as “living abroad”. Croatia is now my home and America, where I was born and raised, is now the foreign country.
I’m definitely a big believer in crossing borders and living among those completely different than you. In that vein, I’ll help guide anyone who wants to take the leap and move abroad. With the above tips in your arsenal, I have no doubt that your international move will be a success.
If you are interested in moving to Croatia, we have a plethora of free resources on this web site that cover immigration, healthcare, operating a business, and daily life. We also offer personalized guidance and advice. To get help with your situation, contact us.
Have you moved abroad? Share your trials and tribulations in the comments.
Please note: All information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal advice in any form. For legal advice, you must consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. We can recommend one if you contact us.