Reader Charlee writes in with this question:
I’m having difficulty finding helpful information on moving overseas permanently. Most articles are about temporary moves and what you should store in the US or take with you depending on the length of your stay. The majority of those are for military families.
My husband is from New Zealand. We’re planning to move there within the next 2-3 years. We’ve been hard core uncluttering our home of 15 years, and are planning an enormous sale soon of stuff we don’t want now, then another shortly before the move to get rid of the remainder — the stuff we’ll use until we move. Do you have any advice about moving permanently to the other side of the planet?
This is a great question Charlee — not just for moving from one side of the planet to the other but even across the continent.
The first step is to investigate the country you’re moving to. Your husband is from New Zealand so I would assume that you have visited there a few times over the course of your marriage and are probably very familiar with how people live, what their homes are like, and what the cost of living is. If you don’t know, check out websites written by expats. Social media sites can also be a good resource. You can learn a lot from following journalists, businesses, and social services (health care, police, etc.) on Twitter.
Here are a few things that might not be so evident to our readers.
In New Zealand, they drive right-hand drive vehicles on the left-hand side of the road. A North American vehicle would probably need modifications to meet New Zealand’s auto standards. You would likely need special auto insurance and/or special licencing. Additionally, it would be very difficult to sell your vehicle (even for parts) when the time came. You might not even want a car in your new location if you are living downtown in a large city and auto fuel and parking fees are more expensive than a bus pass.
Recommendation: Sell the car before you leave even if you have to use a rental a car for a month before you move.
The electrical power grid in New Zealand is 230/240V and 50Hz. In North America, it is 110V and 60Hz. You can get a “step-up” transformer however, they are designed for short-term use and will cause your electrical devices to wear out very quickly. However, some lamps and lighting can be re-wired so if you have an antique or very expensive lamp, ask an electrician if it would be possible and feasible to re-wire. Computers, laptops, tablets, and phones can work on both 110V and 240V. Check your systems. You might only need to purchase a new power converter.
Recommendation: Sell or give away anything that plugs in and does not work on 240V/50Hz power.
Cost of the move
I am assuming that you will be paying for your own move (as opposed to an employer paying for it). If this is the case, calculate the cost of the move. Most moving companies use volume to calculate the cost. For example, it might cost $6,000 USD to move 1000 cubic feet (a small 3-bedroom house). This works out to $6 USD per cubic foot. If that old sofa in your basement takes up 65 cubic feet, it costs $390 USD to move. (Check out this household goods volume calculator.) Is that old sofa worth $390 USD? Would it be better to buy a new sofa on arrival? Consider that you will have to pay import duties on the current value of all imported items.
Recommendation: Do not pay more to move goods than the goods are worth — with the exception of sentimental items.
Depending on the country to which you are moving, some items are not allowed to be imported. Usually these consist of hunting trophies, food and agricultural products, unfinished wood, alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and ammunition. Some children’s toys, furniture, and craft items may not be permitted if they do not meet the country’s safety standards. Medications that are over-the-counter in one country, may be restricted because they require a prescription in another country.
Recommendation: Check importation restrictions via Customs Services of the country you are moving to. Consider selling or giving away restricted items before you move. If you are keeping restricted items, start the process for ensuring these can be imported when the time comes.
Managing your “stuff” is pretty straight-forward compared to the amount of documentation you have to keep track of for an international move.
Ensure you have original copies of all your important documents including birth certificates (long form with birth location and parents’ names), marriage licences, divorce decrees, passports, wills, powers of attorney, etc. It will be difficult to get them replaced once you move. Carry these documents with you but make a copy of each and store them in a secure cloud location.
Insurance and licencing
Contact your auto and home insurance companies. Ask them to provide proof of insurance for as far back as you can go. You may need to contact previous insurance companies as well. Try to get at least 10 years of positive history. This will help you get insurance in your new country.
Obtain a driving licence abstract from your State. This will show how long you have been a licenced driver and your past driving infractions. Getting 10 years of history will help with your auto insurance. Depending on your new country, you still might be required to pass a driving test.
Contact all of your medical, dental, and other health providers and obtain a complete health record. Often it will be provided on a password-protected CD. If it is on paper, scan it, and keep a copy in secure cloud storage. Check the vaccination requirements of your new country and get your shots before you go as it might take a while before you can access their health care system. This is especially important for children who may require specific vaccinations before they can attend school.
Pay for legal and financial advice
I cannot stress this enough — pay for professional advice from a lawyer and an international tax accountant (not your Cousin Vinny who “knows a guy”). There are legal and tax ramifications when moving money from one country to another. The laws are complex and depend on your specific situation (citizen, resident, immigrant, visa holder, etc.). The last thing you want is to get arrested at the airport by the IRS for tax evasion when you return to the US for a family reunion! These will be initially expensive appointments but you will sleep better at night knowing that you are operating within the law.
Your wills, living wills, powers of attorney, etc., although valid when created in the US, should be re-done in the new country to adhere to their laws. Should anything unfortunate happen, you will not waste time in courts to be able to access finances or determining a proper care plan.
There is much more we could add about document management and moving in general so check out these other Unclutterer posts that might be helpful.
We hope that we’ve given you some good information here Charlee and our readers often chime in with incredibly useful advice so please keep your eye on the comments section.