In case you missed it, Colin and I (and Ellie) are moving to Prague! We’re packing up to move abroad for one year on Youth Mobility Visas. We’ll be leaving Canada on June 1 (only 2 days from now!) and arriving in our Prague apartment on June 7, after stops in Paris and Munich along the way.
We are so excited for this adventure of living abroad. But the actual process of getting there? It’s a lot! Turns out, there’s a ton you have to do if you want to move abroad; it’s not as simple as buying a plane ticket and heading out. Colin and I have been working through a to-do list that we put together in March that has
60 85 items and counting.
Because the process is so extensive and complicated, I wanted to put together a moving abroad checklist for anyone else who is considering a move abroad. I’m going to break down some of the big items on the to-do list and how Colin and I have gone about taking care of them.
Ready to move abroad?
How are you living/working there?
The first thing to really figure out before tackling this checklist is how you plan to live and work in your country of choice. It’s one thing to want to move abroad; it’s another thing to do it legally and be allowed to live and work in that country.
If you’re going to be living abroad for a significant period of time, you’ll likely need a residency visa that allows you to work. Colin and I are moving to the Czech Republic on Youth Mobility Visas – you can learn more about applying for a Czech Youth Mobility Visa here. This is a great option for anyone who is eligible.
So first things first, look into your visa options. Do some research and figure out what you’ll need to apply for and receive the visa. This might be an extensive process, so start early and make sure you’ve got your facts right.
Sell and purge things
This is actually one of my favourite parts of moving abroad – besides the actual move abroad, of course! I love getting rid of things. Watching Mari Kondo on Netflix was like seeing a glimpse of heaven. One of my favourite “chores” (if I can even call it a chore), is going through our stuff and getting rid of it. Colin, on the other hand, hates parting with stuff. But he’s been a real trooper in preparation for our move!
I suggest getting started on this step as early as possible and beginning with small sections, especially if you’re working with (or you are yourself) a reluctant purger, like Colin. We started doing our purge in January (right after watching Mari Kondo’s show, of course). I would try to make it really manageable. For example, we’d choose to declutter just a bookshelf, instead of an entire room or the entire house. As well, by starting in January, we were able to go through phases of decluttering. In January’s purge, we may have thought keeping all of our board games was a good idea. But by April? We were ready to part with some.
We put some of our stuff online to sell, but most of it we just donated or gave away. If you have more valued items that could be sold, I’d highly suggest getting them online soon so you’re not stressed about selling them at the last minute.
If you’re only moving abroad for a temporary period, you’ll likely want to store some of your things while you’re gone. This works well for reluctant purgers, as they don’t have to throw everything away. But I do recommend selling and purging as much as you can. A move abroad, or even a local move, is a great time to take stock of what you have and see what you really need. Odds are there’s lots you can get rid of that you’re not even using anymore. And no one wants to pay to store things they don’t need.
Luckily, Colin and I have a storage locker in our apartment, as well as one at my mom’s, where we’ve been able to store some of our stuff. We also rented out our place furnished, so were able to leave the big furniture items behind for our tenants.
Pause your phone number
Unless you have an amazing international plan, odds are you won’t be using your same phone number when you move abroad. For short trips, it is usually fine to just buy an international plan, only use your phone for WiFi, or buy a new sim card for your phone but still pay for your plan back home. But if you’re planning a longterm move abroad, you don’t want to still be paying your home phone bill.
The easiest solution to this would be to simply cancel your phone plan. The catch? This also means giving up your number. I have heard that phone companies do keep your number reserved for six months, but I don’t know if that’s guaranteed. And if you’re gone longer than six months, that won’t help you anyway.
Colin and I are with Koodo and so I gave them a call to see what we could do. Online, they offer to hold your phone number for $15/month for six months. Now, this seems kind of ridiculous to me. We have to pay $15 a month just for you to hold our numbers? And then after six months, we’d have to start paying for our full plans again, despite not using them at all. When I called in, they offered to reduce the rate to $10/month, and then candidly let me know we could “cancel” at the end of that six months wherein they would reserve our numbers if we restarted service within six months of cancelling.
Not a bad option. But I thought there might be something better out there. Which is how I found VoIP. Essentially, VoIP is a phone service provider that works through an online software. So we’ll be able to port our phone numbers over to VoIP for $8.75 USD and then pay only $0.85/month to have them as our provider. If all goes well with VoIP, we’ll be able to save our Canadian numbers for less than $20 each for the entire year!
Who even sends letters anymore? Actually, I do. I love sending and receiving mail. I can’t wait to send postcards from Prague! But first we have to deal with our mail in Vancouver.
At first I didn’t think we’d need mail forwarding, since we don’t get much mail. But we do get some important things, like documents relating to our mortgage, taxes, etc. My plan was to have our tenants (more on that later) hold our mail for us, and then to have one of our friends/family members collect it.
But it turns out mail forwarding is actually quite affordable and will save a lot of hassle. Mail forwarding through Canada Post is only $84 for 12 months, if the new address is within the same province. So all of our mail will be headed to Colin’s mom’s place while we’re in Prague.
Straight forward, but obviously you want to make sure you cancel all of your utilities before you move abroad. For us, we currently only pay BC Hydro as an extra utility outside of our mortgage and strata costs.
BC Hydro charges bi-monthly and everything is actually very easy to do online. I have moved in the past and needed to cancel/re-start BC Hydro. I was able to do everything on their website without much advance notice. So we simply logged into our account and set the date we wanted things to be cancelled – and also ensured our new tenants knew they needed to set this up.
We expect we’ll receive a last bill from BC Hydro after we cancel, for whatever amount of time was left unpaid before the cancel date. If you’re in a similar situation, make sure you have a way of getting and paying this last bill. For example, we get our bills emailed to us and will be able to pay them online or automatically through our bank.
Just like utilities, make sure you cancel your internet and cable before you move abroad. To be honest, I was a little bit worried about this one. Our internet provider, while the cheapest we could find, was not the most reliable. We’ve had absolute nightmare experiences with them setting up internet every time we have had to move. So I suspected cancelling would also not be so smooth. To my complete shock, we sent an email the day before we moved out saying we would be cancelling, and they replied a day later confirming the cancellation and thanking us for being customers. It was amazing!
Again, this is an obvious to-do before you move abroad. But many people have their memberships automated, and may totally forget to cancel them before moving. Or may find out they’re actually locked into a longer contract.
Take stock of your memberships – things like gym memberships, magazine subscriptions or even monthly transit passes – and figure out what the cancellation policy is. It may be something you can simply cancel online. Or you may have to go in, sign paperwork and pay any remaining balances. You may also be able to put your membership on hold or transfer it to someone else. Look into these early so you don’t get stuck paying membership fees from another country.
On a similar note, check expiration dates! If anything you have expires, like your licence, healthcard, credit card, insurance, etc. look into your options for updating before you go. See if you can renew or update from abroad or if you should take care of things before you go.
Get the app
Or the online version. Absolutely everything you can do online or on an app, you should. Make the switch. For example, if you’re stuck in 2012 and not online banking like the rest of us, now is the time to join in. It will be way easier to monitor things from abroad if you can do it from the comfort of your phone or laptop. If there’s anything else you’re still doing in person, see if you can do it online.
Another awesome thing to look into is Transferwise. This is a way to send money abroad, just like PayPal, but with way lower fees. Transferwise is a great tool for people moving abroad who need to transfer money from their home account to their abroad account or vice versa. It’s going to be invaluable to me with my freelance clients in Canada and the US. If you’re new to Transferwise, you can sign up with my code and do your first transfer for free!
Health visits before you go
If you have good health coverage at home, and even if you don’t, it’s nice to move abroad with a clean bill of health. Go to the dentist, visit your doctor, refill your prescriptions, etc. We’re very lucky in Canada to have free healthcare and, on top of that, I now get to use Colin’s benefits for things like dental. Which is how I found myself with three dentist appointments in 10 days that resulted in a cleaning, three fillings and four missing wisdom teeth. As painful as it was, it was all free (thanks, benefits!) and I much rather would have dealt with it here than in Prague.
Another thing to consider is healthcare while you’re abroad. Some visas allow you to register for local public healthcare and others require you to obtain your own. Read up on your visa requirements and ensure you have health coverage while you’re abroad.
Let work know
If you’re planning to leave your job when you move abroad, it’s important you give lots of notice. Typically, two weeks notice is the acceptable amount of time if you need to quit a job. But if you can, it’s always great to give as much notice as possible. This is especially important if you’re planning to come back to your job, need letters of recommendation, etc. The only time I would say not to give more than two weeks notice is if you think your employer would fire you right away/withold shifts/etc. if you told them early.
For Colin, he is technically leaving his job as an x-ray tech when we move abroad to Prague. But he is planning to stay with the Vancouver health authority and be able to come back to a job when we return. Because of this, we really wanted to make sure we had his boss’ approval before doing anything. Colin began talking with his work in January/February, and we were able to give them information about our exact departure date in mid-March.
As for me, I work freelance and so will actually be able to continue working with all of my clients from Prague. But I still wanted to give them a heads up as to what was going on, at the very least to explain why I was answering emails at weird times and posting so many Europe photos on social media. At the end of March, I let all of my clients know about our Prague plans. I assured them that I would still be able to work with them, albeit on a weird timezone, and let them know about any potential changes, such as moving check-in calls to a new time.
This is one of the biggest steps because it means things are actually happening. This is the literal part of you moving abroad. And probably one of the rare times when you’re booking a one-way ticket!
As exciting as booking flights is, I would caution you not to make the same mistake we did by booking too early. Ensure you have all of the information you need before you lock in your flights.
As I explained in our moving to Prague post, Colin and I had narrowed down that we wanted to move in July/August. Because summer flights to Europe are always expensive, and we needed to book a direct flight that didn’t go to the UK or Iceland as we were flying with Ellie, we wanted to book as early as possible. Stupidly, we assumed we knew the date of a 2020 wedding when we didn’t. Long story short, we had to change our flights, costing us $300 each for the change!
On the same token, you don’t want to book too late. Flight prices tend to jump up the later you book. And while I usually advocate finding a cheap flight deal, it’s not always possible if you have to move at a certain time or need a direct flight to a specific place.
And don’t forget to book luggage or extra luggage if you need it. It’s often cheaper to add this on at the time of booking, rather than later on or at the airport. These days, most airlines do charge for checked bags, unless you’re sitting up front in a fancy class. Colin and I rarely travel with checked luggage, so it felt very weird to add two bags each. But that’s how we’re moving our lives to Prague!
Plan your first stop
You have so much to do both before you move abroad and as soon as you arrive. You’re likely going to be stressed and arriving at a foreign airport with lots of baggage. The last thing you want to do is panic about where to go.
If you’re moving abroad long-term, odds are you’ll be renting an apartment. But you might not find your apartment until you arrive. And you might not be flying into your final destination. So it’s important to plan your first stop in advance.
For us, our final destination is Prague but we’re actually flying direct to Paris. We’ll be spending a couple of days in Paris, taking the train to Munich to spend a few days there, and then taking the train to Prague. We booked our accommodation in both Paris and Munich, as well as our train tickets.
We had also booked an Airbnb for when we first arrive in Prague, booking for 10 days, assuming we’d use this time to find an apartment. Luckily, we were actually able to find an awesome apartment online ahead of time, and therefore won’t be needing any temporary housing when we first arrive.
My best advice here is to book early, but not too early, and to get refundable options. For example, if we had known we were going to get an apartment ahead of time, we might not have stayed a few nights in Paris and in Munich. But we bought non-refundable train tickets. We did book the tickets early, however, so got the best deal on them. And, we figured we’d want to see Paris and Munich anyway during our time in Prague, so why not on the way? Luckily, our Airbnb in Prague did have a good refund option, meaning we only lose about $40 in service fees for cancelling. (PS: New to Airbnb? Get $45 off here!)
Figure out what you need to do right away when you arrive
So you’ve now figured out your first stop: You’ve booked temporary accommodations and have your travel route all set. But what else do you have to do when you first arrive? For this, you probably need to consult your visa. For example, for the Czech Republic, we need to register with the foreign police within three days of arriving in the country.
You’ll obviously need to do other things, like find an apartment, get a job, buy groceries, etc. But be sure you’re taking care of anything immediate that has to do with your visa and your ability to stay there long-term.
End lease/rent out your house/sell your house
Before you move abroad, you obviously need to finish up living wherever you’re currently living. If you rent, this is usually a simple matter of ending your lease. Depending on the lease length, you may have to pay a penalty for breaking your lease early. Regardless of your lease conditions, let your landlord know as soon as possible about your plans to move. With adequate notice, you’re helping your landlord plan ahead for new tenants, and you may satisfy lease conditions that say you have to give at least 30 days notice. You may also get lucky, like we did in New West when we broke our lease early, and not have to pay as large a penalty.
If you own your house, this is a whole other nightmare. One we had the pleasure of dealing with. It’s not necessarily awful; it’s just way more work than ending a lease and walking away. Colin and I knew we wanted to rent our place out since our move to Prague is only temporary. So this meant taking photos of our place, posting our apartment online, responding to messages, holding viewings, screening candidates, finding tenants, cleaning our apartment, changing our house insurance, and moving to my mom’s apartment in the West End (thank you so much, mom!) for a month as our tenants moved in early.
It’s a lot of work to rent out your house! And a scary experience to sign up to be international landlords. If something goes wrong or our tenants up and leave, we could be in a lot of trouble. But we’re crossing our fingers that we’ve found the right tenants and that nothing serious happens while we’re abroad. We also have local support in place to deal with anything that might come up.
Get a feel for jobs/apartments in your new city
You don’t necessarily have to have a job and apartment lined up before you move abroad, but you should have a good feel for the market so you can hit the ground running when you arrive.
I find it very helpful to join expat groups online, mostly on Facebook, to learn where fellow expats are finding jobs and apartments. You may also be able to find Facebook groups dedicated to apartment rentals, job postings, etc. This is actually how we found our apartment in Prague!
I suggest joining these groups a few months before your move abroad to get an idea of what’s out there. For apartments, take time to learn the lingo. For example, in the Czech Republic, instead of saying “one bedroom apartment” you would say “2+kk” or “2+1.” The “2” distinguishes two rooms, but not two bedrooms – the living/dining room counts as one of the rooms. The “+kk” indicates that the kitchen is open concept and built into one of the rooms, whereas the “+1” indicates the kitchen is a separate room and not open concept.
Joining these apartment groups will also give you an idea of pricing, what typical apartments include (so you’re not one of those people on House Hunters International who is shocked to discover no dryer and a mini-fridge instead of a full-sized one), and what inventory looks like. You’ll also learn what other costs there might be, like utilities, agency fees, security deposits, etc.
A last point for apartments: you’ll also want to get an idea of what neighbourhood you may want to live in. Of course, the best way to do this is when you arrive and can actually walk through the neighbourhoods in person. But you can do a little research before you get there. We were able to find some awesome YouTube videos touring and describing the different neighbourhoods in Prague.
For jobs, it’s a great idea to find some online job boards or groups and start to get an idea of what kind of jobs are available, how many jobs are being posted, salary norms, etc. This is especially important if you’re looking for jobs in a certain field or certain language – like us looking for English-speaking jobs for Colin in Czech-speaking Prague. You may also want to research how resumes/cover letters are formatted in your new country and, if you have them, reach out to any contacts who could help with the job hunt.
Figure out your car
If you do have a car, you’ll need to figure out what you’re doing with it while you move abroad. Obviously, the simplest method would be to sell it. This saves you worrying about it and paying for it while you’re abroad, and it also might mean some extra money for you from the sale.
If you’re not selling your car, you’ll need to make plans for your car while you’re gone. Figure out where you’re going to store your car, what kind of storage insurance you need, who will check on your car, how you’ll make car payments (if applicable), etc. If you’re planning to lease your car to someone while you’re away, ensure you have everything in writing, even if it’s to a friend/family member. If something breaks while you’re gone, who is responsible for paying to fix it?
Figure out how to move your pet
Moving a pet? Welcome to another complication for your move abroad! But our furry friends are worth it. I’ll be putting together another post all about how to bring a pet into the EU, so stay tuned for that.
Generally speaking, you need to do your research and start on the process early. You may need to get certain procedures done or paperwork completed by your vet, sometimes months in advance or within 10 days of your flight out. The way you’re transporting your pet may also impact how you get to your new country. For example, the UK and Iceland don’t allow pets to arrive in cabin, meaning because we wanted to fly with Ellie in cabin, we couldn’t do a connecting flight to either of those places.
Use up gift cards
This can actually be a really fun task to do before you move abroad. Take stock of your gift cards or any other freebies/coupons/passes you have. Before you leave, make it your goal to use up all of that free money. Sure, you could probably still use those things when you come back. But who wants to store a bunch of half-used gift cards? Instead, treat yourself to meals out, coffees and other experiences while you’re still in town.
Buy stuff you can’t get there
Before I dive into this, I will preface it by saying that you can buy almost everything you need almost everywhere in the world. There’s no need to pack 10 bottles of shampoo if you’re moving to France for a year. They have shampoo there.
But there might be things that you’re not able to get in your new country. For example, I’ve joined a few Canadian expat groups and there are always people saying they can’t get certain Canadian foods like Ketchup chips, Tim Hortons donuts, etc. As well, I’ve often heard that certain over the counter medicines are hard to get in other countries.
I would suggest joining an expat group, preferably of expats from your home country, and asking people what they miss most or what they can’t seem to find in the new country. As well, if you’re committed to a certain brand of something or in love with a specific snack, it might be nice to bring some of that along – as long as it’s small and packs well.
But don’t spend tons of money on these products or fill your entire suitcase with them. Odds are you’ll be able to find a similar substitute, or even a better and cheaper substitute, abroad. Being open to experiencing new products is part of the adventure of moving abroad!
Host a going away party
The moving abroad checklist isn’t all tedious errands – you get to have a party! A move abroad is the perfect excuse to host a going away party for all of your friends and family. You can also use this opportunity to gather addresses for postcards, offer up any items you want to sell or get rid of, and maybe even convince some people to go home with a box of yours that they can store for you.
Of course, if you’re not a party person, you can also mark your departure with something more low-key. Have one-on-one dinners with people you’re close to, take the time to write and send personal letters, or host a more intimate dinner party or brunch.
Even if your move abroad is only temporary, you will be leaving your home country for a period of time. Before you go, take the time to appreciate home. Be a tourist in your own city and do some local sightseeing. Visit that museum or do that hike your city is famous for, but you never got around to doing. See your friends who you won’t see for a while and eat at your favourite restaurants.
This is something I want to get better at. I think I’m doing an okay job at seeing people and eating all my favourite foods. But I definitely don’t take advantage of living in Vancouver nearly as much as I should. There are so many Vancouver things I haven’t done yet, despite living here almost full time since 2010!
Luckily, by living at my mom’s place in downtown Vancouver, we’re able to experience more of this city. I now walk the Seawall daily with Ellie – how cool is that? Once again, thanks mom for making this possible!
I also think it’s a really good idea to work on appreciating home once you come back. A common piece of advice for repatriates is to treat their old home like a new destination. So I’m excited to discover more of Vancouver when we come back (perhaps even by living downtown? I hope so!).
I firmly believe that knowledge is power. And if you’re super excited about your move abroad, doing research is not only helpful but can be really fun. If there’s anything you’re unsure about, worried about or curious about, do a little research! Join expat groups and ask questions or read through old posts. Find expat blogs. Watch YouTube videos. Follow accounts for your new city on Instagram or Facebook. Reach out to friends who have lived or travelled to your new city.
Your research won’t be able to answer all of your questions – you’ll still find new things to learn when you get there. But researching ahead of time can help ease your worries and get you even more psyched for your move abroad.
Tips for your move abroad checklist:
- Actually put all of your pre-move tasks (all the ones above and anything else you need to add for your specific situation) into a checklist so you can monitor your progress. There’s a lot to get done and it really helps to have it all written down in one place.
- Add deadlines! Your checklist isn’t all that helpful if you have no clue when you need to do things by. Some things, like visiting your vet or letting your job know you’re leaving, need to be done by a certain date.
- On the other hand, we found it very helpful to go through our to-do list and highlight anything that didn’t have a firm deadline and could be done anytime. We found when adding deadlines that a lot of things weren’t technically “due” until the day we were leaving. But of course, we didn’t want to be stuck doing everything on the day of our move! So we went through and highlighted everything that could be done ahead of time. That way, whenever we had some time, we would just consult the list and try to complete anything that was highlighted.
- Try to make a little progress every day. It can be very overwhelming to look at a to-do list with 80+ items. But if you try to work on something every day, even if it’s not totally crossing it off the list, the workload will look less daunting.
- Include fun items on your checklist! Moving abroad is a ton of work but it doesn’t all have to be stressful or serious. We included some fun items on our checklist, like watching the Avengers and going to a wedding. Technically, these are things we will do before we move abroad, so they deserve to be on the list!
Deciding to move abroad is a huge decision. And making a move abroad happen is a lot of work. But if you’ve done it, you know the adventure is so worth it.
What tips do you have for me in making the big move abroad to Prague?
What did I miss on my moving abroad checklist?
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