Every year, thousands of Brits move abroad to seek a better life, better opportunities or simply to experience new cultures. In fact, it’s estimated that between 1 and 2.2 million currently live in the EU, and many hundreds of thousands live further afield in countries like Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
This year, the situation has become more complicated thanks to the pandemic and subsequent coronavirus lockdowns across the world.
It’s no longer as simple as packing your bags and jumping on a plane, because there are several things that you need to bear in mind before you make that trip. Here’s what you need to know.
1. The borders may not be open
Even if you’re already confident that you will be allowed to travel to your destination, it’s important to stay updated 24-7 in case you need to change your plans.
The restrictions remain ever-changing and your new country may decide to close its borders to all but nationals. Or they may allow residents to enter. Or they may allow everyone to enter but only if they’re in possession of a COVID-19 test that was carried out less than 72 hours before arrival.
These rules can change in the blink of an eye. Some travellers have even learned of changes mid-flight and have had to return home.
Also ensure that you have important contact numbers with you at all times, especially when you’re travelling. Many people have been refused boarding onto a flight because the airline staff believe the rules say one thing, yet a simple phone call could prove otherwise.
2. You must take care of your finances first
Many people move abroad to improve their quality of life, provide better opportunities for their kids or they simply want to enjoy more sunshine. But some forget to take care of basic factors such as tax, pensions and other finances, and end up getting stung. There’s perhaps nothing worse – especially when you’re moving abroad in the middle of a pandemic – so don’t let this happen to you.
Make sure you know if you’ll be liable for tax in your destination country and how much this will be. Will you need to declare your earnings from abroad? What about your UK pension? Will you still be able to draw it while you’re living abroad or should you consider moving to QROPS?
According to international financial advisers The Fry Group, “For an individual who has moved overseas and has acquired UK pension benefits, transferring their UK pension to a QROPS can offer flexibility, alongside other potential tax planning and currency advantages.”
As with any financial decision, make sure you seek expert advice before making changes.
3. Local restrictions may vary – do you know what they are?
Avoid getting into trouble with the local police, facing a fine or even being arrested by finding out about the local restrictions before you travel.
Think about questions such as:
- Do you need to quarantine on arrival in your new country?
- Do you need to undertake a coronavirus test and stay in quarantine until you receive the results?
- Do you need to wear masks indoors?
- Do you need to wear masks outdoors?
- Are there any curfews in place?
- What do social distancing guidelines say? (Is it 2 metres, 1.5 metres, 1 metre?)
- Are you allowed to buy alcohol?
- Are there any restrictions as to when you’re allowed to leave your home?
The rules vary significantly between countries; for example, places like Panama, Spain and Italy were very strict, whereas the US and UK were not.
It’s also worth checking how strict the lockdown measures were in the beginning, as this will give you an idea of what may happen should a second wave strike. Would you be able to cope with this in your new country, or would it be better to postpone the trip?
4. You may feel isolated at the beginning
Almost every country in the world has been affected by the virus. Because of this, things will feel different, and it’s likely it will take a while before it gets back to normal.
This means it’s also going to be much harder to make new friends as an expat. Social distancing regulations have meant that many of the activities we usually take part in to meet new friends are off the cards completely for now. And travel restrictions mean that your friends and family may not be able to visit you.
5. The shipment of your belongings might take longer
You’ll need to be very patient if you’re shipping your belongings from one country to another during the period post-coronavirus, because it might take much longer than expected.
Firstly, shipping companies have faced both a significantly reduced capacity and soaring prices because of airline cancellations and restrictions.
“Most airlines, including American, United, British Airways, and Qantas, have suspended up to 90% of their passenger routes, operating only a barebones flight schedule globally,” say shipping company EasyShip. “As a result, we’ve seen air freight capacity drop to its lowest in three years.”
Secondly, although it’s much less likely now, your belongings could be held in quarantine if they’re travelling between certain countries post-lockdown.
Unless you urgently need certain items, it may be worth travelling with as few possessions as possible (you’d be surprised at what you can fit in a suitcase) and getting the rest shipped at a later date when restrictions have eased further.
6. Your kids might not be able to attend school or nursery immediately
If you have children, you should reconsider how they will receive an education in your destination country.
Here in the UK, the education authority is planning to get kids back into their usual childcare or classrooms by September. However, this may not be the same in the country you’re travelling to; nurseries, schools and universities across the world are reopening at different rates. For example, countries such as Sweden, Nicaragua and Taiwan never closed their schools.
This means that you may not be able to send your kids to the school or nursery you selected and may have to consider home-schooling instead. Alternatively, you might not want to send your children back so soon. Ask yourself how comfortable you feel about each of these options before you travel. Are you happy to continue homeschooling until further notice? Are there any other options in your new country?
There are often local expat groups or homeschooling groups on Facebook that could help you find the information you need. Then you can start putting your plan together. When you do this, you’ll feel more prepared and the relocation will feel much less stressful.
Despite the challenges, you can still move abroad and give your family that better quality of life that you’re dreaming of. Simply bear these factors in mind, stay informed, pack plenty of patience, and you could be in for the experience of a lifetime.
Writer: Imogen Clarke