Before Moving to Europe
An Experienced Traveler's Checklist
1. Sort out your finances
How much do you need? Research the living costs of your host country and check with the embassy (www.embassy.org/embassies) to see how much cash you need to have in your account upon entering the country.
Anyone helping out? If you will be receiving funds from other parties (parents, sponsors), gather letters confirming the amounts, delivery dates, and the terms of your agreement.
Any contracts lined up? Bring copies of any contractual work agreement you have secured either at home or overseas. If you have arranged to do freelance jobs for home-based companies or publications but don't have an official agreement, you might want to get a letter of intent signed by your clients. Unlike a contract, a letter of intent does not bind anyone legally but still offers a frame of reference for outside authorities.
2. Get easy access to your money
Consult with your bank representative, plan your outputs and inputs and ready your accounts at home to meet your needs.
Set up your accounts. I set up three accounts: a "home account" in which I dump a fixed amount to cover monthly withdrawals (storage, insurance, visa card), a "foreign account" in which I gather funds for my stay abroad; and a "professional account" in which I deposit the money received through work. The latter is useful for income tax purposes as it allows you to tally your annual revenue.
Get a local bank card. Avoid using your bank card from home to withdraw cash as it will cost you dearly in transaction fees. Rather, open up a local account and arrange for lumps of money to be transferred from home to cover your living expenses. You will be charged a set fee for each transfer. Remember: the fewer transactions you make, the easier it becomes to monitor your cash flow.
Be in touch. Make sure you gain access to both online and phone banking systems to administer your finances at distance. If possible, work with only one bank. If both your accounts and credit cards are under the same roof it's easier to make payments and transfers. Even better, ask your bank to assign you a personal adviser which you can contact directly whenever necessary.
3. Apply for a visa
In all European countries, you are required to hold either a work or a student visa for stays longer than three months. Get in touch with the embassy of the country where you are planning your stay at least six months ahead. At a minimum, you will be required to show: a passport valid up to two months after your date of return, a certificate of enrollment in a school (not a certificate of acceptance) or a work offer, the address where you will be staying, and your last three bank statements and any other proof of financial independency.
Remember that a student visa entitles you to work up to 20 hours in Britain and up to 90 days in Germany. However, in France and in Spain, you will need to seek special permission.
Student Visa information:
4. Store your personal belongings
Storage in America's suburbs costs as little as $60 per month. Don't rely solely on your memory: keep a list of your belongings along with their location and take a few minutes while packing to write down the contents of each box.
5. Get insurance
You need coverage in case of sickness or accident. Budget anywhere between $500 and $1,000 per year. Travel Cuts (www.travelcuts.com) offers great deal for students.
6. Check up on your health.
Schedule appointments with your primary care provider, your dentist, and even the eye doctor before you go. It's much easier to deal with nitty-gritty health procedures at home than to wait until you ar abroad and have to deal with insurance reimbursements. Arrange to have a sufficient supply of your prescription medication (including contraception pills).
7. Update your driver's license
Not all European countries will recognize your driving license. In Spain and Germany, for instance, you will be required to hold a valid international driving license before leasing a vehicle. France accepts licenses from a limited number of states; Britain accepts any valid driver's license.
8. Renew your IDs and cards
You don't want to be stuck abroad with expired plastic. Make sure you leave with an updated passport, driver's license, health insurance card, and credit cards.
Once you're done, photocopy all of the official documents and cards that you are bringing with you—twice! That includes: plane ticket, insurance, birth certificate, all agreements and cards, and, most importantly, page 3 of your passport. Leave a copy at home with family or friends and bring the second set with you—separate from the originals.
9. Consider power of attorney
A bank representative suggested I get a power of attorney the last time I went abroad, and it was one of my smartest moves. When the time came to send a check to my storage company, pay an outstanding visa bill, or settle things with my car insurance, my appointed personal administrator was able to take care of everything, hassle-free. It is worth considering if you're abroad for more than six months.
10. Sort out your mail
Make sure you register a change of address with all of the institutions you have been dealing with: banks, schools, clubs, and relevant governmental departments. The U.S. postal services can also redirect your mail for a minimal charge (moversguide.usps.com). In all cases, it's probably best to keep a "home" address and have someone gather your mail.
11. Call home
International phone cards provide the best option to keep in touch, for both yourself and the people who will call you. They offer excellent value for money, are easy to find (in most newsstands) and to use, and they allow you to monitor your spending.
12. Watch out for adapters
Europe runs on 220 volts instead of America's 110, so it's probably best to purchase your electrical appliances on site to avoid grilling your own. If your laptop is traveling with you, drop by a computer shop to make sure you get the right adapter. Don't settle for the cheaper ones; you're better safe than sorry.
13. Give a piece of home
Pack a few souvenirs from your home (sweets, pins, cards). When you meet someone helpful, they'll appreciate the gesture.