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Tips for emigrating: why, where and how to do it

Fancy opening a patisserie in the south of France, being a scuba diving instructor in the Philippines or living out your later years in Tuscany? Retirement is the most common reason for emigrating to another country, though you might choose to do so at any age, for any number of reasons. Nor does it have to be a permanent move – if your work takes you around the world, for example, you may have to move with it on a fairly regular basis.

If you’re thinking about putting down new roots overseas, here are the issues to consider first.

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Why emigrate?

Think about your own reasons for wanting to move abroad. On the face of it these might be simple, e.g. retirement to a warm climate, or working somewhere with a lower cost of living. However, you’ll also need to weigh up all the other factors involved. For example, if you’re retiring, will the new location suit you in other respects as you get older, perhaps needing more medical attention and long-term care? And if you’re going abroad to work, will your employment prospects and living standards be as good?

Never let a single attractive factor sway your decision to move abroad. Look at the whole picture, not just the most obvious details.

Preparing for emigration

Emigrating is about finding new opportunities in your new home – but also about leaving things behind in your old one. In quitting the UK you may be leaving behind:

  • Family and friends
  • A well-known culture
  • Your first language
  • A familiar legal system

This is all in addition to the well-known stresses of moving home. The loss of all these at the same time can be disorientating, so do your best to prepare for this and so reduce the initial shock. For example:

  • Build a social network online before you move, so you have some local contacts
  • Get acclimatised to the new culture though online research, reading, TV, music etc.
  • Practise the language (if it’s not English)
  • Read up on any significant differences in the country’s legal, political and healthcare systems

Where do Brits like to emigrate to?

You might go anywhere in the world that you choose (or that is chosen by your employer!). But if the decision is down to you, you might begin by browsing some of the UK’s favourite emigration destinations.

  • Austria – Vienna, the capital, has frequently been voted the best city in the world for its safety, infrastructure, stable economy and government. However, Austria isn’t the easiest place for non-EU citizens to get residency.
  • New Zealand – It’s far away, but the relaxed culture, small and friendly population and stunning scenery make this English-speaking country an international favourite.
  • India – A surprising choice for some, but cheap living costs and the highest number of World Heritage sites give the subcontinent an undeniable appeal.
  • Norway – Ranked the happiest European country and also high-ranking on the safety index, this Scandinavian beauty offers a tremendous way of life – if an expensive one.
  • Costa Rica – An ambitious and radical move, perhaps, but Costa Rica is named the happiest country on the planet, closely followed by Mexico and Colombia.
  • Australia – With largely sunny climes, high wages and a not-too-different culture, this country regularly tops the rankings for UK expats. Finding work there can however be a stumbling block, and the cost of living isn’t as low as it used to be.
  • Canada – Beautiful, peaceful and home to three of the world’s most liveable cities, Canada benefits from laxer immigration laws compared to the US. But it does get cold!
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How much does it cost to emigrate?

Moving home isn’t cheap, and naturally it costs even more to move overseas. Furthermore, if you own a home in the UK you’ll need to weigh up whether it’s better to sell it to release the money, or keep it and rent it out (in case you change your mind and want to move back). You’ll also need to save about six months’ living costs to help you get established when you move, unless you have a job ready to go to.

Here are some of the costs you’ll need to think about before emigrating:

  • Travel – both your initial move, and perhaps ongoing travel costs for trips back to visit the UK
  • Shipping costs – to pack and transport your furniture and belongings, along with removals insurance to cover if anything goes wrong during the move
  • Storage space – you might be flying before your belongings are shipped or you may want to store some of them for when you return
  • Customs duty – there could be taxes to pay on what you’d like to take to the country, e.g. cars
  • Visa – you’ll have to pay for this, which could be anything from a few hundred pounds to over £2,000
  • Pets – you’ll have to pay for their transport, passport, vaccinations, microchipping, quarantine checks and the travel crate – it can cost as much as £4,000 to move some breeds of dog
  • Transferring money – it costs to transfer money into accounts abroad and you’ll have to factor in the exchange rate – be sure to get advice about this, as being smart can sometimes save you thousands of pounds

How do I emigrate?

The practical business of moving abroad is a huge undertaking, but break it down into small steps and it becomes manageable.

There’s a lot to organise, so give yourself a long lead time. Your to-do list includes:

  • Notifying HMRC and the DWP that you’re emigrating
  • Informing other relevant bodies, e.g. banks, insurers and your GP
  • Setting up health insurance (if there’s no free healthcare in your new home)
  • Arrange transfer of your assets, e.g. savings and investments – a financial adviser can help here
  • Ask your financial adviser about your pension arrangements when living abroad
  • Try and contact other UK expats in your chosen country, as they may have useful tips

Then comes preparing for the move itself. You may need to:

  • Find and buy a property abroad (you can find a mortgage broker who specialises in overseas purchases). Do your research first, though – you may want to live in the country for at least six months before buying
  • Declutter – sell what you don’t need so you only have to ship the bare minimum to your new home
  • Arrange school places for any school-age children you may have
  • Be prepared for delays and have back-up plans in place if you have to postpone your plans

With a detailed but flexible emigration plan in place, you should be able to take this exciting step into your new life with the minimum of disruption.

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About the author
Nick Green is a financial journalist writing for Unbiased.co.uk, the site that has helped over 10 million people find financial, business and legal advice. Nick has been writing professionally on money and business topics for over 15 years, and has previously written for leading accountancy firms PKF and BDO.