12 Tips You Need NOW in Moving Overseas

You need tips for moving overseas. Right now.

You’re new expats and you’re looking for help and real life advice.

You’ve found it.

So keep reading

We’re new to the expat world, just starting our second term. Yes. We still feel “new” to this amazing, frustrating and awesome life.

I’m no expert and I’m sure there are many things that can be added to this list of tips for moving overseas.

But I feel like we have some great information to share from our move to France and then to Africa.

Then, back for furlough. Then, back to West Africa. With tons of travel in between.

Here are some of the great resources, tips and ideas that helped us through our continental moves.

Moving Overseas - 12 Things You Need to Know

I remember starting to process our first move and finding random information spread out all over the web.

I needed a to do list and I couldn’t find one that was simple and clear.

I didn’t need a TON of information. I needed a simple list with quick tips and easy information.

So, I’m hoping to provide that to you as you make your move overseas for the first time, fifth time or tenth time.

Tips for Moving Overseas

Praying this list of tips for moving overseas is a help to you!

1. Timeline – Friends, there is NOTHING quick about moving overseas. Whether you are raising a budget like we did or being sent overseas by the military or your company, it is not a quick process. You need to assess how much time you have before you move, research everything you need for that country {think passports, VISAs, moving companies, shipping prices…} and make a timeline. Some things take 6 weeks, some things take 6 months. You need to know what needs done first and how soon you can check it off your list. Make a timeline for packing, shopping, shipping, paperwork… all the little details should go on that timeline! When the person on the phone for your VISA appointment says, “You will need this paper in by this date.” MARK YOUR TIMELINE! You do not want to be that expat family who is scrambling for a last minute, notarized paper. Do your research about YOUR move and make a timeline. First thing. Then move to item 2.

2. Paperwork – There will be SO MUCH of it. Paperwork for your family at home. Paperwork for your new country. Paperwork for your company. Tons of it. Print it. Request it. Start it. Do not leave it in piles for another day. Attack it. There is no way around it. Dig in now. Follow your timeline and get it done.

A few tips for paperwork:

  • Get a lawyer. Yep. Find a good one who understands expats. Have him create your will, your power of attorney, your health advocate papers… Our lawyer had a great package deal that included a bunch of stuff we didn’t even think about. Plan ahead for you, for your family at home, for your kids. Make sure everyone is clear on your wishes before you leave the country. If you can, get a digital copy of everything to give to your boss and a family member. Your sending agency needs this info should the worst happen. They need to know who to call, what to tell the hospital in your new country and so on. Get a lawyer and make sure you have this stuff done ahead of time. Ask good questions and talk about the hard stuff. Now.
  • Leave someone you trust with your details. Passwords, bank information, online accounts… make a master list and give it to someone who has it under lock and key. If you have trouble with a bank or with taxes or with your rental property… most things can be taken care of from overseas. But sometimes, having someone with access to your accounts or bank or property manager can be a really smart thing.
  • Speaking of taxes… find one who can do overseas taxes. Make sure you can connect with them via email. Make sure they know you live overseas. Call and ask them questions about the best ways for keeping records now that you live outside the USA.
  • Another important person to visit is your doctor. Get up to date physicals right before you leave {add it to the timeline and make the appointments now!}. Make sure your doctor’s office knows you are moving and make sure they are able to get you medical info by email or fax. We have used our doctor back home a few times since moving here just 4 months ago! Before you leave, get CLEAR and OFFICIAL looking shot records for EVERYONE in the family. Also, if possible, ask your doctor to draw up a good health statement for each person in the family on his/her office letterhead. Have him stamp it and sign it and initial it and date it… you can not have enough “officialness” to your documents overseas. Doing this before leaving has helped us immensely!
  • Call ALL credit cards and banks. Know their policies for using their accounts overseas. Find out which one works the best and has the best fee prices. We LOVE our Chase Sapphire Preferred. It has a chip in it which nearly all European countries now require. Tell each bank/credit card that you will be moving overseas and give them exact dates if you have them.
  • Get a really strong file folder with multiple folders. Keep everything in one place and keep it on your person at all times while traveling. Then keep it in a safe spot in your new home. You will be amazed how often you need that file folder while setting up your new life.
  • Have an easy way to organize paperwork when you get to the field. You won’t always have a desk! Something like this works perfectly.

Also read: Working Abroad: How to prepare your finances

3. Translation – Once you have all this paperwork accumulated… birth records, marriage certificate, shot records, doctor’s letter and so on… have them translated into your new language. You can do this once you land in country but it is expensive, possibly a fraud risk and just plain time consuming. Do it before you leave. We used Languages International. They are AWESOME. They not only translate all your documents, they also give you copies and notarize everything. Their translation work is very well-done and with it we were able to get our girls registered for school without having to see a doctor here in France and have their records verified. The city accepted our documents. Huge win for this expat family! Whether you think you will need it or not, have it translated. And make 10 copies of each thing. You will use them. You can easily email them your documents, they will give you a price and within a few days, they will mail them back to you signed and notarized.

*speaking of languages – you want this set of Rory’s Story Cubes… huge language learning help! Get it before you go.

4. Passport Photos – This is HUGE. You do not just need these for your passport. You will need a passport sized photo for a ton of other things once you are in country. You need it for your kids paperwork at school, your VISA process, your city paperwork… bring lots and lots of 2×2 head shots. Yes… that can get expensive. Unless you are like us and use a passport photo app. We literally stood in Target because they have good lighting and held up a white poster board behind our kids and took the pictures ourselves. I sent them from my phone to Walgreens and had 3 4x6s printed of each of us. So for about $5 we had 18 head shots each. Cheap, easy and a fun family activity. Kind of. You’ll get a good laugh anyway.

Moving Overseas - 12 Things You Need to Know

5. Start packing – We used these Sterilite Footlockers… worth EVERY penny. We ended up with about 20 of them which can get expensive. So start ordering 2 here and 2 there as you need them. The bins held up GREAT through the whole flight and now they are storage bins, end tables, foot stools and clothes storage in our apartment. We zip-tied them closed and had no problems at all. They are also very light-weight which allows you to take FULL advantage of your 50lb weight limit. The other light-weight suitcase we LOVE, are It Suitcases. They have traveled and flown with us for years and are still going strong. Definitely invest in a few of them!

**We are STILL using many of the original Sterilite footlockers we flew with in 2014. We have used them on various airlines and have never had an issue checking them in. An extra flying tip for these bins – use duck tape over each clasp and over the handle.

***We have heard of some people having trouble with plastic bins to the Caribbean. So check with a travel agent or the airline!

Moving Overseas

Packing tips:

  • Buy a luggage scale. A MUST for your final days of packing and prep for the airport.
  • Make a full list of everything in every single bin. We lost 2 bins and we knew exactly what was in them from our notes. If you have to report lost items to insurance, you will need this info. It also helps you check and make sure you’ve packed the important stuff.
  • Number your bins. Helps with your packing notes, your airport check in and your baggage pick up. You can quickly know how many bins you have and what bins are missing. It also helps when you are weighing bins. “How much does bin 7 weigh?” “No, bin 9 is at 50lbs… add it to bin 12… it has a few pounds left.” I promise.
  • Don’t go crazy with vacuum bags. They might make your stuff smaller but it weighs just as much. We used them for winter clothes, stuffed animals, pillows and a few other big things. Other than that, it all got packed regularly because otherwise the bins just got too heavy.
  • Once you have them packed, labeled, numbered and weighed you are good to go! We did not have to repack even 1 bin at the airline check in. The lady was absolutely amazed.
  • Use grocery bags to pack your stuff. I collected Walmart, Target, Kohls, Aldi, and any other grocery type bag I could get my hands on for months. Then, I used them as packaging around our coffee mugs or other breakables. Then, once we moved, I had them for shopping {most overseas stores do not provide bags of any kind} and it was wonderful!
  • Pack the normal “I’m moving overseas foods” like peanut butter and cinnamon candy {I do have a whole other list for this too}. But also pack enough food for a few quick meals. It takes time to get groceries at your new home so having dry cereal, oatmeal packets, mac and cheese, beef jerky and some Starbucks Vias will keep your family happy until groceries are purchased!
  • Pack enough toiletries for about 3 months. You do not want to run out of toothpaste or shampoo right away. I pretty much had little bottles of this and that, band aids, lotion, antibiotic cream, children’s Tylenol, cough drops… spread out through ALL 22 bins and suitcases. Once we got here, I was able to outfit our whole hall closet with toiletries, medicine and other items. Very helpful when you don’t know where to get stuff, what it is called or how expensive it will be in your new country.
  • Check out our post about What We Brought Overseas
  • Look for organizer type things that will lay flat in your footlockers. Things like these boxes. When you arrive, you’ll be so glad you did.
  • Then, if you have children under 11, make SURE to have one of these collapsible wagons as one of your FREE carryon “strollers”. We did this to help haul our kids, carryons, snacks… all through the airports. It was a huge help during travel, very easy to collapse and check on the flight with no questions asked (in fact, I think the airport personnel were quite impressed) and we’ve even gotten great use out of it on the field!
  • Curious about what else we wish we’d brought or have purchased since? Read here.

Moving Overseas - 12 Things You Need to Know

You really will be super packer by the time it is over. You just might look like this on your way to the airport thinking, “What on earth am I doing??”

Moving Overseas - 12 Things You Need to Know

Lots of details? I know. Want to download a free guide to help? Sign up below. You’ll get a downloadable guide, a video link from me with a few personal tips, and a series of emails specifically for families moving overseas. Just enter your email below:

6. Check out travel.gov – There really is some great information there. Check lists and other helpful stuff you need to know. Look around their website and read as much as you can about leaving the USA and what they think you need to know. Their “Before You Go” tab is especially helpful!

7. Register your travel – The government really does need to know who you are and where you are and what you are doing when you leave the US. Should something happen, they need to know how to find you. You also need them. You need their updates and notifications and emails about your specific country of residence. Enroll in the STEP program so that the state department has your info and you get their info. Very crucial in so many ways.

8. Go for a pedicure. Eat at your favorite restaurant. Fill cups and cups with ice cubes {you will not have access to them for a long, long time} and drink a whole pack of root beer… also with ice cubes. Oh, and daily eat a spoonful of peanut butter. And use ranch dressing on everything. Then move on to #9.

9. Read about your new country. I wish we had done this more. I wish we knew more about West Africa and the history here. We are living and seeing things that I really wish I’d taken the time to learn more about before moving here! Take a trip to the library and read as much as you can. Learn a few phrases in your new language and get ready for plenty of new adventures! Study a map, make a must-see travel list, check out geocaches… it will all help you adjust in your new home.

10. Airlines – If you are a humanitarian worker as we are, there are airlines that give extra free bags!! That is HUGE. We were able to get 3 free checked bags per person on British Airways. That is 15 bins FREE. For a move overseas, you must take advantage of free bags. Be sure to call a travel agent who is experienced with overseas travel. {Fly For Good is a great one!} You might need their help in assuring you are marked to receive the free bags. Some airlines require an official letter from your sending agency prior to check in. Get the details!! And don’t forget your collapsible wagon!

Edited: I’m not sure which airlines still do humanitarian luggage allowance. Check with your travel agent!!

Our wagon has pulled 50 liters of water across town to our apartment multiple times now, and the little ones ride in it as we walk to and from church. I can’t imagine how much more challenging it would be without it.” – new overseas family

11. Plan for Electronics – power cords, chargers, adapters… all VERY important right away. Make sure you have what you need to charge in the airport and in your new home. Also, carry as much of your electronics with you in your carry-ons as possible. Everything from laptops to our Wii flew with us on the plane, not in a checked bag. Our 10 carry on bags were mainly electronics. Back up hard drives, important thumb drives, our DVDs… it was all with us. Pack things in clear Ziplock bags so security can easily see what you have in your bags when you empty them. Also, when thinking of electronics, what kind of DVD player does your new country need? Do you need something that plays both US and your new country’s DVDs? Are your phones unlocked so they can easily accept a new SIM card? Are they capable of being used in your new country? What about cellphone plans in your new country? What do you need to get cell service and what is a good company being used there? Wait and buy a printer in country. The legal paper size may be different! Research it all!

12. New Things – What new things might you encounter? Have you emailed a handful of people who have lived where you are going? What new games, customs, processes, events could you prepare for ahead of time? In France, we walked everywhere. I wish we would have packed our girls’ scooters and more jump ropes. The scooters to ride around on during big walks and the jump ropes for school recess! Then, there were things I prepared for and didn’t need to. Like school supplies for a French school system. I wasted precious weight on school supplies that we can’t use. The girls needed French specific items. School supplies are totally different here. The paper is different, the pens are different, they use a ton of whiteout… who knew?

A few other things…

Plan for your trip to and from the airport. Do you want family there? Should you say goodbye at check in or at a restaurant before hand? Who is dropping you off? How are you transporting all your luggage and bins? Who is meeting you at the airport in your new country? Do you need to rent a van? All big things to think about when you are moving overseas.

There is a whole other bunch of information for those moving to Africa or other hard to reach places.

Moving overseas is a huge, huge job full of details. The to-do list is massive.

But, it can be done.

Oh, you’ll make mistakes. And someone will say you are doing it wrong.

The packing will end and the move will happen. You will be as prepared as you can be and then deal with the rest as you can when you arrive.

God is faithful and He will help you. I promise.

Sneak hugs in the kitchen for support like we did…

Moving Overseas - 12 Things You Need to Know

And record the days before you fly.

Cry many tears, laugh often and trust God to handle it all and carry you through.


Need more?

Click here to get your free guide!

Moving Overseas - 10Things You Need to Ask

I’d love for those of you who have made a move overseas to share your tips in the comments. If you know someone who you think this post would help, be sure to share with them by email or facebook.

If you have any additional resources, please write them in the comments of this post!

“I stumbled upon your blog and I’m so grateful for it because we are moving in a couple months. We have three kids and it’s overwhelming to think of all the things I need to get in order to make this go smoothly. Thank you for sharing your story!” – new blog reader and overseas worker













  1. Finally, a post that’s helpful! I’ve seen so many that say “bring outlet adapters” or “check the voltage in your new country” or even “bring something to do on the plane”. If you don’t know these already, how are you even moving?!? We’ve visited our soon-to-be-home country many times but becoming expats is a very different experience with a whole new set of challenges. (Fortunately our daughter has already done it, so she’s paved the way!) This was a terrific list of genuinely helpful points and I’m so appreciative!

    1. We are just starting the process to do foreign missions. This post is the best I’ve found. Thank you so much for sharing!

  2. Yes this is very helpful blog. while moving all stuff are pack in the box, But i don’t know the which box is important. I read your blog and get the amazing ideas for the moving packing boxes. Thanks a lot for this beauty Enjoying article with me. I appreciate it very much!

  3. Once you arrived how did you get all your luggage and family to your destination? Did you have to take a train or did you rent a large enough van? I’m planning on moving to Italy and along with our luggage will have a full-size collie and two cats.

    1. We’ve rented vehicles at the airport and then just returned them the same day after using them. We’ve used Uber. We’ve also connected with people where we are traveling and asked for help. I’m not sure about taking the train with a lot of luggage. We’ve done it with a small amount for a small trip but not from the airport on arrival. I hope that helps!

  4. Wonderful article. Currently prepping for our move overseas with my boyfriend and it has me a little crazy! I’m trying my best to plan beforehand and I could definitely use your tips. Thank you for sharing!

  5. I never knew that you should buy a luggage scale for if you’re planning on moving overseas. My daughter was thinking about moving internationally but wanted to know what she should prepare for. I’ll pass this information along to her if she ever does plan on moving internationally.

  6. Hi there. We’re seasoned expats, but it has been probably 5 years since we’ve lived overseas. We are heading back again this summer so I am looking into buying new luggage. That’s how I found this post. I’m intrigued by your footlockers, but their total dimensions are 62.76 inches. All airlines I see allow only 62 linear inches. Have you ever had to pay any extra for that extra inch? Thanks!

    1. We’ve never had a single problem with airlines accepting the footlockers. In fact, they seem to like them! They have held up better than any other bin we’ve tried and tend to last longer than suitcases as well. For suitcases, we love the IT suitcases. They are lightweight and have been surprisingly durable. Keep us posted on your travels!

  7. Hi and THANK YOU for all the information.
    Have you found a way to call home to the US via internet or any other ways that are free or inexpensive? Someone suggested Vonage and others say Whatsapp.
    Thank you!

    1. We ported our US numbers to google hangouts for FREE so we can call the US and people can call our US numbers through the app! That has really worked well for us. That with iMessage and FaceTime, we’ve been good. We also LOVE Voxer!

  8. This is wonderful information. I would add getting one’s documents “apostilised (sp?)/authenticated. We are moving to Peru and in order to enroll our son in school his birth certificate and school transcripts must be documented by the Lt. Governor’s office, $20/document, 3 days for processing.

  9. This is wonderful! We are a family of 7 (our oldest is in college and will be staying in the states) moving to South America. We are so excited. We are a creating our own small company so your suggestions are a godsend. We will be homeschooling our youngest (7) and your homeschool helps are spot on. Thank you so much.

  10. Wow! This list is so great. Thank YOU!! Did you by any chance live in Albertville while in France? That’s where we’re headed for language training soon.

    1. You’re welcome! I hope it is a blessing to you as you prepare. Please email me if you have any questions. We were at Les Cedres in Massy but we’ve heard great things about Albertville and had friends there.

  11. Wonderful article and great tips. I’m planning to move overseas with my boyfriend next year and I could definitely use your tips. Thank you for sharing those!

  12. This is awesome! It’s so easy to go through life just accumulating more and more stuff, but taking the opportunity to clean out your stuff when moving is an awesome way to make sure you never have too much! Thanks for sharing!

  13. Ooooooooo man. This is incredible. Have been praying and praying and praying about my anxiety, thinking, “I don’t know how people do this.” And this list is incredibly helpful. THANK YOU! Also, do you have the PDF that I can have?

  14. Such a great post! I know I’m late to the game, since this was posted last year, but any chance you have the PDF list around?

    1. You will want a lawyer who is very good at estate planning, wills, and has some understanding of laws overseas and how that applies to Americans living there. You need to think through living will, power of attorney, who will raise your children if something happens to both of you… if you own a house in the states and it needs sold quickly or you loose your renter, can a family member sell your house for you… those kinds of things. Our lawyer had a special grouping of estate/will type services that he provided for 1 price. Hope that helps!

  15. Thank you so much for sharing…we are moving from Seattle to Austria in about 2 months and I am so living what you described, right now…list and more lists and sleepless nights and prayers..lots of prayers!! : )
    I love the idea of the numbering of bins, we will do that for sure…can you weigh them with the handheld luggage scale though?

    1. Yep you sure can! My husband had to because he had the height and strength to pick it up with the scale. It is awkward but can be done! Praying for you in your journey. With God’s help each day, it all comes together!

  16. Here is the complete process our family used both times we moved to Europe! Hope this helps someone!

    Might I also add that you will want to bring a cleaning rag or two for when you first get there? We did this both times and it made unpacking so much easier! We gave the place a good cleaning before we got everything unpacked and that really helped us to get settled in faster!

  17. Yes, that is so helpful! Just figuring out all the logistics is so crazy…! We also have 3 daughters, so the amount of stuff we need to figure out is overwhelming…
    How long would you say it took to sort through all of your belongings and decide what to keep and what to sell, give away, etc…?
    We are about 8 weeks out from moving… I am just wondering how many weeks it took? And how many garage sales did you have?
    (We are going to be shipping a very small crate w some belongings) found a good price. But will need to get rid of 80-90% of our belongings… Anyways, I’m so glad I found your blog 🙂

    1. Lindsey, may I ask what companies you looked into for shipping a crate with your belongings? My husband and I are moving to Kenya in 2 months and are also getting rid of about 80% of our stuff. We don’t have enough that we’re bringing to take space in a container, but it’s too much to bring on the plane with us.
      Jenilee, thanks so much for this amazing information.

    2. Be careful! Many shipping companies will quote one price, but when you arrive at your destination there are taxes that are double the quoted amount or more!!!

  18. Thank you for posting this! It is very helpful! We will be moving from Los Angeles, to London in a few months and we will be selling at least 80% of our belongings. I’m daunted by the process and do not know where to start.
    The bin thing is really smart. So my question is- do most airlines allow those type of bins? And when you arrived in your destination, how did you get from the airport to where you were staying with all the bins? Especially since cars in Europe tend to be so small?
    One more question- did you ship anything else over?
    Thank you so much 🙂

    1. These bins are great for airlines because they stack nice on their carts and in the plane. We had no problems with them at all during check in. Just make sure the weight and dimensions are correct! When we arrived in France, we had fellow missionaries meet us at the airport and help transport our luggage. We needed 3 cars for people and bags. It was a little crazy. This time when we head to the airport for our move to Africa, we are renting a large van and dropping it at the airport after we unload our things. We were worried about vehicle size too but Hertz has a large van that will more than hold our 25 bins/suitcases. We did not plan to ship anything so we brought things with us for Africa that we didn’t really need in France. But in the spring, we did end up putting some things on a container. You’d have to look into the costs of shipping a pallet of your things through a shipping company or taking it on the airplane with you. Hope that helps!!

  19. Thank you for all the posts. You do such a fantastic job of keeping us all informed, and we (most of us, at least, if others are like me) love all the details of your adventures. It makes us all still “know” you when we can’t exactly still “see” you anymore. Thanks for not being all “perfect” and letting us see your worries and concerns, all still in the context of trusting the Lord and having an underlying joy that you are fulfilling your call. So glad you have this all documented for your kids, forever. I am always looking for good missionary books to read, and I can see you writing a best seller of your story some day– be sure to include an appendix with all your informative posts like this one!! <3<3<3:-S

  20. A truly good written detailed post regarding overseas moving, thank you so much, I needed exactly that type of sharing the experience. I’ll be moving to Europe in two months, so this really helps!

    1. no 🙁 Sadly, I wish I had the time to create printables and make them available! I hope to add those things at some time. Right now, if I can get it on the blog, I’m doing good! Currently prepping for our next move overseas and it has me a little crazy! lol I hope the list is helpful to you!!

    2. Jolena, Just wanted to let you know that I do have a free printable PDF with some of this information. I’ll be coming up with a few more printable things soon! Shoot me an email and I’d be happy to send it to you!

  21. Such a helpful post, especially since my husband and I are also moving to a European country! Thankful that I found a list that “spoke to me”! May I ask what passport photo app you used and were successful with?

  22. A lot of useful tips all rolled into one place! Thanks for sharing your tips and experience! Greetings, Man With Van Ilford Ltd.

  23. Very helpful post! I have a friend who is moving overseas and she is freaking out! This post would definitely help her! Thanks!

  24. This is great advice, especially #8! I never thought of using Sterilite bins instead of regular luggage. What a helpful suggestion. I recommend visiting your doctor or a Travel Clinic as soon as you get your assignment. We didn’t have enough time to get the full series of vaccines before we left because the timing of the 2nd shot was after our departure. We also stocked up on passport photos and then discovered that our new country required BLUE backgrounds, not white.

    1. That is very good info! I wouldn’t have thought to check background color! Maybe hold up a bunch of different posters at target! lol!! And, yes, I would agree on meeting a doctor in your new country… We haven’t done it yet even though it really is something we should do soon! I need to put it on my list! Thankfully, we have been healthy, by God’s grace!

  25. Great info, and a must post for people moving overseas on their own. That is one thing nice about the military they do most of that stuff for you, even the packing 🙂

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