How to Become a US Expat: Tips to Plan and Prepare
Research shows that more and more Americans are feeling tempted to explore life in another country. According to research by the University of Kent, over 33% of Americans aspire to move overseas in the future.
As remote work becomes more mainstream, many Americans now have the opportunity to travel abroad while working remotely and explore new cultures simultaneously.
As exciting as it sounds to pack your bags and start a new adventure overseas, proper preparation is key to a successful transition. To that end, we’ve created a checklist you can follow to make your move to a new country as smooth as possible:
- Conduct research on the place to which you want to move
- Renew your passport (or apply for a new one)
- Apply for a visa
- Find online expat communities
- Learn the basics of the language
- Let the bank know about your move
- Don’t forget about your US tax obligations
1. Conduct research on the place you want to move
Often, there’s a big difference between how Hollywood or Netflix might portray a country and what the reality is like when you arrive. It’s recommended that you do thorough research on a country before officially moving so your expectations are appropriately aligned.
For example, a quick Google search can help get you up to speed on a country’s social norms! Certain behaviors that may seem commonplace in some countries could come across as rude in others. Fun fact: while tipping is an integral part of US culture, it’s actually considered disrespectful in Japan!
2. Renew your passport (or apply for a new one)
To enter most countries in the world, you typically need to have a passport valid for six months after the date that you’ll leave the US. Make sure to renew your passport if it’s on the verge of expiration. You’ll be able to do this abroad at your local embassy, but it can be a much more challenging process to renew a passport that way versus doing so while on US soil.
If you haven’t had any recent life changes and you’re able to renew your current passport, it’s easy to apply for a new one by mail! Otherwise, it’s recommended that you visit an agency in person. Be sure to give yourself enough time, however. Both options can take up to a couple of months.
3. Apply for a visa
Next, consider the visa options in your country of choice and determine which one best fits your situation. For example, let’s say you’re a digital nomad who plans to live in the country of Georgia for a while. You can apply for Georgia’s digital nomad visa, which requires you to prove a yearly income of at least $24,000.
4. Find online expat communities
As you’re planning for the changes that moving to a new country brings, it helps to have contacts already on the ground in your new home country. Chat with other expats who have previously been in your shoes.
Online expat communities allow you to network from afar, ask any questions you may have about the country you want to move to, and learn from the diverse experiences of others.
A few resources include:
Internations is an online platform designed specially to connect expats in foreign countries. The website has over 420 cities listed worldwide and also organizes in-person events.
Facebook is full of expat groups living in different countries. Finding a group is as simple as typing “expats in X city” in the search bar and browsing until you find a group that you feel you might connect well with.
Nomad List is a great network platform for digital nomads. It provides users with all the information they need about a country they’d like to visit, such as the cost of living, safety, temperature, and crime rate. You can also join Nomad List’s community to network with other nomads and ask your questions about others’ experiences in a specific country.
5. Learn the basics of the language
The country you plan on moving to may have a different native language other than English. Having a basic understanding of your new future home country’s language will go a long way in helping you with everyday activities and assimilating into the culture.
Now, you don’t need to be fluent in the local language. You just need a solid grasp of the language’s essentials, such as how to ask for directions or order food in restaurants. There are many online resources you can use to get started with learning a foreign language, such as Duolingo and Italki. Wanting to go a bit deeper? Virtual tutors are even accessible (and affordable!) with websites such as Preply.
6. Let the bank know about your move
Letting your US-based bank know that you’re moving overseas may help save you a lot of trouble. If the bank detects unexpected activity on your account, it could block your card to prevent identity fraud when you’re making credit card purchases in a foreign location. When the bank is already expecting you to be in a foreign country, swiping your card overseas won’t trigger the fraud detection system, and the possibility of your account going into an inconvenient lockdown.
7. Don’t forget about your US tax obligations!
Many expats think leaving their life in the US eliminates their need to file an IRS tax return. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case for US expats.
Under a citizenship-based taxation system, American expats must file a tax return each year to declare their worldwide income. Not doing so can incur penalties under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA).
However, there’s no reason to panic over being taxed in more than one country! The IRS has various tax relief programs, such as the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE) and the Foreign Tax Credit (FTC), to help you drastically reduce your US tax liability (often to zero!).
You may have other reporting requirements in addition to filing your US tax return abroad. For example, if you hold more than $10,000 in a foreign account abroad (across all accounts combined), you’ll have to submit a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) to the US Treasury each year.
Read More: What is Citizenship-Based Taxation?
Start Your New Life Overseas on the Right Foot
Failing to plan is ultimately planning to fail. When moving overseas, there’s a lot to consider, such as the social norms, what visas you need to stay in your country of choice, and making sure you’re still compliant with your US tax obligations.
Here are clear next steps you can take to plan your new life overseas:
- – Research, research, research. Make sure to be as well-informed as possible about your country of interest to avoid culture shock or problems.
- – Take the necessary steps to prepare by getting proper travel documentation, communicating with your US banks, or even studying the language. Set yourself up for success wherever possible!
- – Online expat groups will be a great help since it’s where you can ask questions directly to others who were once in your shoes. You can also start forming friendships in advance to avoid feeling lonely upon your official move!
- – Don’t forget that you’ll still need to file a US tax return while living overseas. To save time and headaches, you can hire a US expat tax advisor to help most effectively plan your US tax strategy while abroad.