Uprooting yourself to start life in an unfamiliar place is right up there as one of life's most stressful events. You need to deal with unmotivated government agencies, it's expensive, and you have to decide what to do with your personal belongings. And then you need to do certain things to make sure you don't get screwed after you arrive. Here are the fundamentals on what to do to help you settle in a new country.
Photo by Leandro Perez (Flickr).
Get Your Government-Issued ID
The first thing you should do is get yourself the equivalent of a Tax File Number (TFN) -- a series of numbers issued by the government and is unique to you. It's called different things and its purpose varies depending on where you are. In the US, it's called a Social Security Number. In the UK, it's a National Insurance Number. In New Zealand, it's the National Health Index number. You don't have to get one if you're just passing through as a tourist, but temporary residents and anyone with a work permit will need one to give to employers, open a bank account and get healthcare benefits (more on those below). Be sure to only give your unique code number to those authorised to ask for it -- it's generally not used as a form of ID in the traditional sense, and it's worth a lot to identity thieves.
Open A Bank Account
Once you've got your unique identifying number, you can go ahead and open a bank account. If you're travelling on a work permit, there's no way around not having one -- it's highly unlikely that any employer will agree to pay wages into an overseas account, and you obviously don't want to pay currency conversion fees every time you buy something. Ask coworkers and friends for opinions on which financial institution is worth checking out, and take a close look at each bank's website for information on the different types of accounts on offer.
Before you decide which bank will have the privilege of holding onto your money, there are two things you should know:
1. An existing account with a particular bank doesn't mean it's in your best interest to go with that same bank in another country. International groups such as Citibank and HSBC have branches all over the world, but they usually won't have any jurisdiction over your account in Australia or anywhere else. And since each country has its own set of regulations and economic conditions, the products and services on offer won't be the same. Photo by 401K (Flickr).
For example, my existing relationship with HSBC in Australia counted for nothing when I opened a bank account with HSBC in Canada. I was treated like a brand new customer with no credit history, and the type of account I had in Australia didn't exist. The only product I was eligible for was a savings account that would charge me a fee for every single transaction. I was told to come back in a few months when I had built up a bit of a credit history. So not only were the products and fees different to what I had in Australia, but the brand experience was unpleasantly new too.
2. Check the bank's policy on international wire transfers. This is important if you'll be moving funds between countries on a regular basis for things such as mortgage repayments, term deposits and other financial obligations you're maintaining from overseas. The bigger banks may end up being better for this. Some banks will require you to physically go into a branch and fill out forms every time you want to transfer money to an overseas account, and most banks will charge you a ridiculous fee.
Fortunately, there are cheaper alternatives to wiring money overseas. Third-party services such as OzForex and XE act as a middleman of sorts between the sending and receiving bank accounts, but they usually have better exchange rates and lower fees than the banks. It's a bit of a hassle getting set up -- you'll need to chase your bank for special codes -- and it's only really worth the effort if you're moving money overseas on a regular basis.
Be Prepared For The Worst
The last thing you need when you get sick is to be turned away or ripped off by the healthcare system, so make it a priority to find out how to get medical help for when you need it. You should first find out if the country you're in has a reciprocal healthcare agreement with Australia and if you're eligible under that scheme. You may be forced to sit through waiting periods and pay regular fees. In the US, it can be brutal as free healthcare is reserved for disadvantaged groups, but it's common for employers to offer health insurance as part of the job package. If not, you'll have to pay for your own private insurance or risk being turned away when you're sick or injured.
Travel insurance policies usually don't cover non-emergency medical treatment. Double check the fine print on your insurance policy to see if it covers doctor's visits or prescription medications. Photo by 401K (Flickr).
If you're travelling on your own, making new friends and establishing a social life can be intimidating. You'll be quickly reminded about your friends back home and how much you took those platonic relationships for granted. You'll have to make an effort -- perhaps for the first time in your life -- to meet people and prove yourself as someone good to have around. Even if you can make friends through your job, you'll probably get sick of working with someone all day and then hanging out with that person at night as well. Work friends might be great for advice on life as a local, but it's all too easy to find yourself talking about work and blurring the line between your professional and personal life. Photo by Oncle Tom (Flickr).
If going out to randomly meet people isn't your style, there are plenty of ways to find people with similar interests to you online. Not only are there plenty of dating sites out there, but many cater to specific groups of people and restrict membership to specific cities in order to provide a local service.
Meetup.com has over 11 million members around the world in 45,000 cities, which makes it a great place to meet people nearby. It helps to have a clear idea of your hobbies and what you like to do in your spare time. You'll be surprised at just how niche some of these groups can get -- Hollywood Dungeons and Dragons, anyone? -- but be sure to only subscribe to the groups you're genuinely interested in or you'll find yourself overwhelmed with way too many emails about meetups you couldn't possibly all attend.
Facebook Groups is another great place to find local groups in your area, and all you have to do is search for your city and see what the results bring up. It's also worth searching for subreddits that are specific to your location as they'll often have a corresponding Facebook Group where locals discuss local events, organise meetups and answer questions. I regularly check reddit.com/r/vancouver and reddit.com/r/canada to keep up with what's happening around me.
Finally, be sure to stay on top of the news in your area. Each city and each country has its own unique issues that set the political, economic and social agenda. Showing interest in what's happening around you will help you acclimatise and make the most of the new setting. Set a major local newspaper as your browser's home page and subscribe to local blogs.
Moving permanently to an unfamiliar place is a lot of work -- and we've only scratched the surface here. Got advice for people who are relocating? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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