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Preparing for an Overseas Move

Leave your old car at home and buy locally. You’ll save money and time for three reasons: First, importing your car may require you to make some adjustments. Second, shipping the car costs a minimum of $600 each way and takes six or more weeks. Third, if your car is not a common make or model, parts will be expensive or unavailable. If you’re overseas longer than a year, consider selling your car instead of storing it.

Store most things, buy the rest.To start with, shipping is expensive. UPS charges $90 for a small box to Europe. A 40-foot container— enough to ship a medium-sized household— costs a minimum of $3,000, not including moving costs to and from the ship. A storage locker, on the other hand, costs from $600 per year. So, pack only what you know you’ll need regularly and immediately. It may be cheaper to rent a furnished apartment than to ship your furniture back and forth.

Bring your computer but not electrical appliances.The U.S. is one of the cheapest places in the world to buy computer equipment, so you’ll want to bring a laptop with you. Include a modem, printer, software, and backup disks, as well as accessories to adapt everything for overseas use.

Find a property manager experienced with hard-to-reach clients to manage your house. Most property managers charge 7 percent to 10 percent of the monthly rental income.

Keep phone numbers, addresses, and paperwork handy. Write down every phone number, address, and email address of every business and government organization you’ve dealt with in the last two years—including auto, health, and home insurance, computer technical support, doctors, magazine subscriptions, and the IRS. Include account numbers for mutual funds, bank accounts, frequent flyer miles, business license numbers, and serial numbers for any equipment you bring, such as computers, cameras, and bicycle locks. You never know when you are going to need the numbers. For example, you may need to transfer money from your U.S. account to your foreign one, or you may lose the only key to your Kryptonite lock.

Second, make copies of important paperwork such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, divorce decrees, school transcripts, and old tax returns. To buy auto insurance at a reduced rate in Germany, for example, you must get letters from the insurance companies you’ve used in the previous seven years. As part of the work permit process, you must show a copy of your college and high school diplomas, no matter how long ago you graduated.

Get your bills paid automatically. Instead of paying bills such as mortgage and credit card payments by mail every month, set up an automatic payment plan with your checking account. For credit card companies that don’t have an automatic payment plan, you can prepay. Keep track of irregular bills, such as quarterly estimated taxes to the IRS and storage fees. Because mail to the U.S. takes up to two weeks, pay one month in advance.

Get a callback service and email. Calling from the U.S. is cheap. From other countries, calling anywhere else usually costs $1 or more per minute. Find a reliable callback service, which costs between 15 and 35 cents per minute, any time. With a callback service, you dial a toll-free number that connects you to a computer in the U.S. The computer then calls you back and you dial your destination number. You are essentially making a phone call from the U.S. to your location. Some callback services also offer a calling card. A good source for finding a callback service is the International Herald Tribune.

If you don’t already have one, set up an email account to contact friends, families, and take care of personal business. You can sign up with a local Internet service provider or use your existing service provider if it has international servers, such as AOL. AOL charges a minimum of $6 per hour extra to use the account from overseas. If you don’t have a computer, you can go to the local Internet cafe for $6 to $12 per hour or to the library.

Forward your mail. If you already know your foreign address, change the address for your most important mail, such as credit card bills and bank statements. Cancel mail order catalogs and magazines you can do without and change the address on the ones you can’t. Otherwise, find a mail service, relative, or friend who will send you your mail regularly.

Learn the language. Take time to learn at least some basic words in the new language before you get there.

Be patient. It is a big effort to move. Before you go it feels like you are spending a lot of time researching costs and arranging things. This is only the beginning. After you arrive, you’ll be running from office to office, tracking down missing shipments, or arranging permits and services. You’re in a new country and you have to learn to do things someone else’s way. That’s part of the adventure.

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