First there is the dream. A crazy notion that continues to pop into your head. What would it be like to live abroad? After the dream, the plan begins. And like most good plans, it's all in the details. Here are what I consider the Final Four:
Money, and how to get your hands on yours:
Decide if you will open a bank account in your new country. If you decide not to, I recommend having two different debit cards. If something happens to one, you always have a backup plan to get cash.
Many expats keep US bank accounts, and rely on ATMs for cash.
*Check out the fees on each transaction, and find out how to minimize charges.
*Notify your bank that transactions will be overseas, how long you plan to be away.
*Make a personal acquaintance with the bank manager at your local branch. If your debit card is compromised, you want to have a live person to call that knows you and your situation. Trust me on this one. Recorded messages and music are not what you need to hear when someone in Berlin is accessing your checking account!
*Find out if your debit card withdraws from the checking or savings account when using an ATM overseas.
*Keep a minimum amount of money in the account used by your ATM card, so if it is compromised, your entire account is not. Check balances online often. ATM's are popular targets for thieves, so cover the pad when entering your PIN, and be aware of your surroundings.
There are some credit card companies that don't charge a conversion fee, such as Capital One Visa. Open an account with one of those before you leave the States, so as not to pay an additional fee on each purchase. Capital One also has an awesome double points travel rewards program. They don't pay me commission, but they should! I tell everyone about how much I like this card!
Phone Service that won't break the bank:
I would recommend getting a phone when you land in your new country, even if you are only staying three months. Especially in Europe, cell phones are cheap and pay as you go packages are common.
Set up a Skype account, and have friends and family do the same. Then your chats, along with video, are free. Even calls to numbers without Skype accounts are cheaper than by cell phone. Add an app like Kik or Viber to your phone, where texting is free of charge. Nothing sets my mind to ease like a quick message with one of my children. It's a wonderful way to stay in contact.
Shipping (at what cost?):
Let me just say that I am a believer in, "You can have possessions or experiences."
I will take the experience every time! Let go of the stuff and simplify.
Many expats ship belongings, only to find the cost double of just replacing them in their new country.
In Italy, you can be charged when receiving a package as well as the shipping cost, and that is only if you happen to be home when they drop by to deliver. If you are not at home, you may not receive a notification that you even have a package. If you do receive a notice, you will want to get to the post office early, because it closes at 1:35. That's right....
Choosing Your Country:
Have you spent some time in your country of choice? I know it sounds obvious, right? But I have had people tell me they want to move to Tuscany, and then sheepishly admit they have never been here! Yes, the photos are beautiful, but there is still more to it than that. Much like falling in love, there is a certain "something" that your new residence will need to have in order for you to make it home.
Plan a trip to the country you are considering. Plan to spend some time, so as to get a real sense of the area. At http://www.betterwaytoitaly.com, we devote a full eight days just to Tuscany. I welcome women to the city I love by showing them my neighborhood and favorite walks and restaurants. You want to have seen more than just the brochure highlights on a one day port call!
*Consider renting an apartment from VRBO or Flipkey, rather than staying in a hotel, to get a feel for the neighborhoods and local markets.
If you've had the dream to live in a foreign country, learn what you can and plan what you can. Then let it unfold! Few experiences can compare. Open your heart, and your mind, and jump in!