How To Become An Expat in 7 Steps

People become expats for various reasons, such as career advancement, personal growth, a change in lifestyle, or simply to experience a new culture. This guide offers practical advice on how to become an expat, covering everything from researching your destination to making the move abroad and settling into your new home.

What is an Expat?

Before delving into the intricacies of expat life, it’s important to have a clear understanding of what an expat, or expatriate, actually is. In this section, we’ll define the term and explore some of the key characteristics of expats.

  • Definition of an expat: An expat, short for “expatriate,” is a person who has chosen to live outside their native country, either temporarily or permanently. Expats often move abroad for various reasons, such as work, education, retirement, or to experience a new culture and lifestyle. They typically come from diverse backgrounds and professions, and their experiences can vary widely depending on factors such as destination, duration, and motivation for their move.
  • Distinction from immigrants: While both expats and immigrants live outside their home countries, the terms are not interchangeable. The term “expat” generally connotes a temporary or semi-permanent status, often associated with professionals working on international assignments or individuals seeking a specific experience abroad. In contrast, “immigrant” typically refers to someone who intends to establish a permanent life in a new country, often for reasons such as economic opportunity, family reunification, or political refuge.
  • Motivations for becoming an expat: Expats choose to live abroad for a variety of reasons, including:
    • Professional opportunities: Many expats are drawn to international job assignments or opportunities to advance their careers in industries that are more developed or lucrative in other countries.
    • Education: Some individuals move abroad to pursue higher education, attend prestigious universities, or gain specialized training that is unavailable in their home countries.
    • Lifestyle and cultural experiences: For some, the allure of experiencing a new culture, language, and way of life is a primary motivator for becoming an expat.
    • Retirement: Some retirees choose to move abroad to enjoy a lower cost of living, a more favorable climate, or a more relaxed lifestyle.
    • Love and family: Expats may also move to join a spouse or partner, or to be closer to extended family members living in another country.
  • The diverse expat community: Expats come from all walks of life, with varying levels of education, professional backgrounds, and personal motivations. This diversity enriches the expat community, creating a unique and dynamic environment where individuals can share their experiences, learn from one another, and form lasting connections.

1. Research Your Destination

Before taking the leap to become an expat, it is crucial to research your prospective destination thoroughly. This involves understanding the local language, culture, cost of living, job market, safety, political stability, healthcare, and education systems.

  • Language and culture: Gaining a basic understanding of the local language and culture can significantly ease your transition into a new country. Familiarize yourself with common phrases, greetings, and etiquette to help you communicate and build relationships with the locals. Additionally, learn about the country’s history, traditions, and social customs to better appreciate and respect the local culture.
  • Cost of living: Comparing the cost of living between your current location and your destination is essential to determining whether the move is financially feasible. Take into account housing, transportation, food, and other day-to-day expenses. Many online resources provide cost-of-living comparisons, which can help you create a budget and plan accordingly.
  • Job market: Understanding the job market in your chosen destination is crucial, especially if you intend to work while living abroad. Research the industries with the highest demand for your skills, as well as the availability of job opportunities and the average salary for your profession. It’s also essential to investigate local employment laws and workers’ rights.
  • Safety and political stability: Research the overall safety and political climate of your prospective destination. It’s important to be aware of any potential risks, such as crime rates, natural disasters, or political unrest. You can consult government travel advisories or expat forums for firsthand information on safety concerns.
  • Healthcare and education: Investigate the healthcare system, quality of medical facilities, and availability of healthcare professionals in your destination country. If you have children, research the local education system, including public and private schools, as well as international or bilingual schools.

With a comprehensive understanding of your potential new home, you’ll be better equipped to make an informed decision about whether becoming an expat is the right choice for you. The more prepared you are, the smoother your transition to your new life abroad will be.

2. Legal Aspects of Becoming an Expat

Navigating the legal aspects of becoming an expat can be complex, but it’s essential to ensure a smooth and hassle-free move. From visa requirements to tax implications, it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with the necessary procedures and regulations.

  • Visa and residency requirements: Research the type of visa you will need to live and work in your chosen country. This may include work permits, residence permits, or other forms of authorization. Requirements and processing times vary by country, so plan ahead and consult the local embassy or consulate for the most accurate and up-to-date information.
  • Tax implications: Becoming an expat can have tax implications both in your home country and your destination country. It’s important to understand your tax obligations, such as whether you’ll be subject to double taxation or eligible for tax treaties. Consult a tax professional with expertise in international taxation to ensure you comply with all relevant tax laws and avoid potential penalties.
  • National insurance and social security: Familiarize yourself with the social security and national insurance systems in your destination country. Determine whether you will continue to contribute to your home country’s system or switch to the new country’s system, and understand the benefits and requirements of each. In some cases, bilateral agreements may exist between countries, allowing you to maintain your benefits while living abroad.
  • Importing personal belongings and pets: Research the regulations and procedures for importing personal belongings and, if applicable, pets into your destination country. This may include customs duties, taxes, and specific requirements for certain items or animal breeds. Ensure that you have the necessary documentation and vaccinations for your pets, and consider enlisting the help of a professional pet relocation service to simplify the process.

3. Finding Employment

Securing a job in your destination country can be challenging, but with proper planning and the right resources, you can improve your chances of success.

  • Job search resources: Utilize online job boards, local newspapers, and professional networks to search for job opportunities in your chosen field. Join expat forums and social media groups to learn about local job openings, and consider working with a recruitment agency that specializes in placing expats.
  • Networking and leveraging connections: Networking is a powerful tool in finding job opportunities abroad. Reach out to friends, family, and colleagues who may have connections in your destination country. Attend local networking events, join professional associations, or volunteer to build relationships that could lead to job opportunities.
  • Tailoring your CV and cover letter: Make sure your CV and cover letter are tailored to the local job market and follow the conventions of your destination country. Highlight your language skills, international experience, and adaptability. Be prepared to provide references from previous employers, ideally from those based in the country where you’re applying.
  • Navigating the interview process: Familiarize yourself with the interview process in your destination country, as it may differ from what you’re used to. Be prepared for interviews conducted in the local language or via video conference, and practice answering common interview questions. Show enthusiasm for the opportunity to work abroad and demonstrate how your skills and experiences align with the position.

4. Housing and Accommodation

Finding a suitable place to live is an essential part of becoming an expat. Consider your priorities, such as proximity to work, schools, public transportation, and local amenities when choosing a location.

  • Types of housing: Research the types of housing available in your destination country, such as apartments, houses, or shared accommodations. Each option may have different costs, lease terms, and availability, so weigh the pros and cons before making a decision.
  • Finding and securing a place to live: Utilize local real estate websites, expat forums, and social media groups to search for housing options. Consider working with a local real estate agent who is familiar with the market and can help you navigate the process. Be prepared to provide references, proof of income, and identification when securing a rental property.
  • Renting versus buying: Decide whether renting or buying a property is the best option for your situation. Renting allows for greater flexibility and fewer upfront costs, while buying can be an investment and offer long-term stability. Each country has its own regulations and processes for property ownership, so consult a local real estate professional to understand the requirements and potential risks.
  • Tenant and homeowner rights: Familiarize yourself with tenant and homeowner rights in your destination country. This includes understanding local rental agreements, security deposits, maintenance responsibilities, and dispute resolution processes. Having a clear understanding of your rights and responsibilities can help prevent misunderstandings and protect your interests.

5. Financial Planning

Managing your finances as an expat requires careful planning and consideration of various factors, such as currency fluctuations, international banking, and retirement planning.

  • Budgeting and cost of living adjustments: Develop a budget that accounts for changes in your cost of living, including housing, transportation, food, and other daily expenses. Track your spending and adjust your budget as necessary to maintain financial stability in your new country.
  • Banking and international money transfers: Set up a local bank account in your destination country to simplify financial transactions and avoid excessive currency conversion fees. Research international money transfer services that offer competitive exchange rates and low fees for sending money to and from your home country.
  • Retirement and pension considerations: Determine how your move abroad will affect your retirement and pension plans. Consult a financial advisor with expertise in expat retirement planning to help you navigate the complexities of international pension schemes and retirement savings options.
  • Currency fluctuations and inflation: Be aware of currency fluctuations and inflation rates in your destination country, as they can impact your purchasing power and financial planning. Consider using currency hedging strategies (our recommended partner, Currencies Direct, provides these services) or maintaining a portion of your savings in a more stable currency to mitigate risks.

6. Cultural Adjustment and Making Connections

Adjusting to a new culture and building connections in your destination country is vital for a successful expat experience.

  • Adapting to local customs and etiquette: Take the time to learn and respect local customs, traditions, and etiquette. This includes understanding business practices, social norms, and communication styles. Demonstrating respect for local culture will help you build stronger relationships with the local community.
  • Language learning resources: Invest in language learning resources, such as language courses, books, or apps, to improve your fluency and comprehension. Join language exchange groups or conversation clubs to practice speaking with native speakers and make new friends.
  • Building a social network: Establishing a social network is essential for feeling connected and supported in your new country. Attend local events, join clubs and organizations, or participate in online forums to meet fellow expats and locals with similar interests. Building connections can help you feel more at home and provide valuable resources for navigating life abroad.
  • Joining clubs and organizations: Participate in clubs and organizations that align with your interests, such as sports teams, hobby groups, or professional associations. These groups can provide a sense of community, help you develop new skills, and expand your social circle.

7. Preparing for the Move

Once you’ve made the decision to become an expat, careful planning and organization are key to ensuring a smooth transition to your new life abroad.

  • Packing and shipping belongings: Develop a packing plan that prioritizes essential items and considers the climate, cultural norms, and availability of goods in your destination country. Research international moving companies to transport your belongings and request quotes to compare costs and services. Be sure to purchase insurance to protect your possessions during transit.
  • Arranging travel and logistics: Book your flights, accommodation, and transportation well in advance of your move. Investigate whether you’ll need vaccinations or travel insurance, and ensure your passport is up to date. Organize any necessary visas or permits and create a checklist of tasks to complete before departure, such as notifying your current employer, setting up mail forwarding, or canceling subscriptions and memberships.
  • Saying goodbye and staying connected with home: Saying goodbye to friends, family, and colleagues can be challenging, but maintaining connections with loved ones can help ease the transition. Plan farewell gatherings or events to celebrate your time together, and exchange contact information to stay in touch. Utilize social media, video calls, and messaging apps to keep connected and share your experiences abroad.

Common Misconceptions of Expat Life

Expat life can be an exciting and rewarding experience, but it’s not without its challenges. Many people have misconceptions about what life as an expat entails, leading to unrealistic expectations and potential disappointment. Here, we’ll address some common misconceptions and provide a more accurate understanding of expat life.

  • Expat life is a permanent vacation: One of the most common misconceptions is that living abroad is like an extended vacation. While you may have the opportunity to explore new destinations and experience exciting adventures, expat life still involves everyday responsibilities such as work, household chores, and financial management. Becoming an expat requires adaptability, resilience, and a willingness to navigate the challenges of living in a foreign country.
  • Expats are always wealthy: Another misconception is that all expats are wealthy individuals living a luxurious lifestyle. While some expats may have higher incomes or work in lucrative industries, many others live on modest budgets and make sacrifices to afford the costs of living abroad. It’s important to be realistic about your financial situation and plan accordingly to ensure a comfortable and sustainable life in your new country.
  • Language barriers are easy to overcome: Many people assume that learning a new language will be a simple task once they’ve moved to a foreign country. While immersion can certainly be helpful, becoming fluent in a new language often takes time, dedication, and practice. Don’t expect to become fluent overnight, and be prepared to invest time and effort in language learning resources and classes language learning resources and classes.
  • Culture shock won’t affect you: Some individuals believe they are immune to culture shock, assuming they will effortlessly adapt to their new environment. However, culture shock is a natural part of the expat experience and can manifest in feelings of homesickness, frustration, or isolation. It’s important to be aware of the potential for culture shock and develop strategies to cope with these feelings, such as seeking out a support network, engaging in familiar activities, or learning about local customs and traditions.
  • Making friends will be easy: Many expats expect that they’ll easily make friends and build a social network in their new country. While it’s true that expats can form strong bonds with fellow expats and locals alike, building meaningful relationships takes time and effort. Be proactive in attending social events, joining clubs, and participating in local activities to expand your social circle and develop connections.
  • You’ll never want to return home: Some people believe that once they’ve moved abroad, they’ll never want to return to their home country. While many expats thrive in their new environment, it’s not uncommon to experience homesickness or a desire to return to familiar surroundings. It’s important to recognize that it’s okay to miss home and that your feelings may evolve over time.


Becoming an expat requires careful planning, research, and adaptability. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can confidently embark on your journey to living and working abroad. Embrace the challenges and opportunities that come with this life-changing experience, and remember that an open mind and a willingness to learn will serve you well in your new home.

In summary, to become a successful expat, consider the following key steps:

  1. Research your destination thoroughly, taking into account language, culture, cost of living, job market, safety, political stability, healthcare, and education.
  2. Navigate the legal aspects, including visa and residency requirements, tax implications, national insurance, and importing personal belongings and pets.
  3. Find employment by utilizing job search resources, networking, tailoring your CV and cover letter, and preparing for interviews.
  4. Secure housing and accommodations that suit your needs and preferences.
  5. Plan your finances, including budgeting, banking, retirement planning, and currency management.
  6. Adjust to the local culture and make connections through language learning, social networking, and joining clubs and organizations.
  7. Prepare for the move by packing and shipping belongings, arranging travel and logistics, gathering essential documents, and staying connected with loved ones back home.

By following this comprehensive guide, you can make your expat dream a reality and enjoy a fulfilling and enriching life abroad.

by Maiane Cassanego
Maiane is the Founder of Expat Frontier. She is fluent in English, Portuguese and Spanish. Maiane has an extensive background in international moving, freight forwarding and logistics.