With 195 countries in the world, moving abroad and becoming an expat is an enchanting idea. Nearly 785,000 British citizens were living in other European countries before the pandemic, according to latest estimates from the Office for National Statistics. Moving overseas is an enormous decision though and it means changes and rewards at the same time. It raises a lot of questions before you move: how do I find a job? Do I need visa? Where will I live? What will it be like there?
This year, there is one more important question to consider though: can I move overseas during Covid? Moving abroad this year requires even more careful research. Read our guide to find out whether you can move during the pandemic, how to move abroad from the UK and how to prepare for a move overseas to make the most of it.
You have decided you want to move overseas, and you’re looking for a truly new start. You’re hoping to break the bonds of your current living situation, and take flight for pastures new. Congratulations – that’s a brave step. Moving abroad is a glorious adventure, but it also comes with more than its fair share of stress, fear, and bureaucracy.
To help you take the leap, we put together this up-to-date guide with all steps you need to consider before and after moving abroad, and a checklist on how to move abroad. We have also spoken with expats who have made a move overseas recently. Based on our experience of working with expats around the world, 2021 could be the year you make the big move, joining the expat community overseas. We’re going to lead you through each step of moving abroad, so you can start your new life as quickly and calmly as possible.
What are the reasons people move abroad?
The pandemic has affected expats worldwide with many finding that their priorities shifted, both in terms of finances and quality of life. But many people made the leap before. And others are planning to follow, with many considering moving abroad in 2021, particularly young professionals and families with children and teenagers.
Several factors play in to the desire to experience life in another country in 2021. There is people’s increasing awareness of the importance of fulfilling their dreams, as well as the urge to escape the monotony of lockdown. The huge rise in remote working has also made it possible for many professionals to work from anywhere – including another country.
And why wouldn’t you? 74% of expats increase their income in their new country, according to HSBC’s latest Expat Explorer study.
As well as the financial benefits, moving abroad can open your eyes to different ways of living – and satisfy the wanderlust that’s been growing in you since the lockdown started.
Moving country in 2021 – what is it like?
Moving abroad is stressful enough at the best of times, and this is certainly closer to the worst of times. Expat life has always varied according to your reasons for moving abroad, where you choose to live and whether you move alone or with family. The pandemic has caused additional challenges for many expats with the severity of lockdowns in European countries, and xenophobia on the rise in some destinations.
Civil unrest and political uncertainty is also affecting some countries – from the US, where COVID-19 safety is also a concern – to Hong Kong. Plus there are fears about ostracisation in COVID-secure societies such as South Korea and Taiwan.
However, many of the current challenges will subside, and there are tens of thousands of expats who would not consider returning home as they enjoy the climate and quality of life in their adopted countries, among other factors.
Moving abroad or to a different country during the pandemic: how was your experience?
Honestly, it wasn’t bad. A few extra steps with Covid tests and needing to show various proofs meant that we had to organise a little more on the front end, but the flight itself was great. Once arriving in Portugal, the restrictions at the time were a bit less than what they were in the US although that’s now flipped. Overall, it was a fine experience and we think that it was so smooth because of our amount of experience moving from country to country. We kind of knew to expect the unexpected. Hope for the best, plan for the worst, and know anything is possible.
According to our mental health survey, a lot of expats were happy being in their country of residence during the pandemic. As always, the best advice is to do your research before you move abroad and talk to other expats. Read more about expats and their experiences.
Can I move abroad or return to my home country during the COVID pandemic?
The COVID-19 has been creeping its way across the globe since December 2019, and has now evolved into a full-scale global pandemic. Almost every person in the world has been affected in some way – some are having to contend with themselves or their loved ones contracting the virus, while others are swiftly adjusting to an indefinite period of self-isolation and social distancing. Meanwhile, due to national and global travel restrictions, a lot of people are currently living in limbo, with their dream move abroad now suddenly on hold. But there is now a light at the end of the tunnel. Recent events might have put dreams of leaving the country on hold but, now that restrictions are beginning to lift, it’s likely many more of us will again be looking at moving abroad from the UK.
How did your return to your home country go during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Because of the travel restrictions, we couldn’t leave Italy to go back to Brazil, our home country. It was a tough year to be an expat in Italy, and as much as we love the country, it was hard to be locked in one place. Only by the end of 2020, when restrictions were softened, that we managed to get back to Brazil. After 14 hours journey and three airport connections, we were back at Itajaí, our hometown in Southern Brazil. It’s good to be back, we are still facing restrictions, but nothing beats the feeling of being close to our loved ones. We do miss Italy, but we are waiting for the world to heal then we can go back to international traveling.
Moving abroad during COVID requires careful research. Not only do you have to consider which countries are accepting new citizens, but you must also take into account factors like healthcare, the nation’s response to COVID-19, the culture, and more.
What are the best cities to move abroad in 2021?
To begin with, if you’re planning on relocating, pay close attention to the countries that have dealt better with the spread of COVID-19. The Global Liveability Index 2021, a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit, puts Auckland, in New Zealand, at the top of the cities to consider in that respect, owing to the city’s ability to contain the coronavirus pandemic faster and thus lift restrictions earlier, unlike others around the world. The city largely remained open and it scored strongly on a number of metrics including education, culture and environment.
10 of the most liveable cities in the world in 2021
|City||Location||Rank||Healthcare||Culture & Environment|
* Source: The Liveability Index 2021 by The Economist Intelligence Unit.
What are the best countries and cities for expats in 2021?
Several countries are capitalising on the moving abroad trend in 2021, supporting expats and digital nomads. Dubai, for example, has launched a one-year virtual working programme, specifically aimed at attracting working professionals. It’s also offering free coronavirus vaccinations to some expats. Barbados has a similar programme – the Welcome Stamp – aimed at remote workers.
In Europe, Finland has introduced the ’90-day Finn’ scheme, which gives foreign tech professionals the chance to move to the country for 90 days to see if they want to live there permanently. And Greece is offering tax breaks to attract expats.
Forbes lists Portugal, Spain and France among its top 10 places to move to in 2021. Switzerland, Singapore and New Zealand are popular too.
Nearly 785,000 British citizens were living in other European countries before the pandemic, according to latest estimates from the Office for National Statistics. The three most popular EU countries, comprising 69% of that number, were Spain, France and Germany.
Can I move abroad from the UK during COVID?
Short answer is yes, you can. However, there is a lot of preparation you will need to do before.
Moving abroad from the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic
A key consideration before you move abroad in 2021 is the changes brought about by the pandemic. With air travel restricted and quarantine regulations in place, it may be more challenging to visit to your home country, or have family visit you if they need to. You will also have to think about getting a COVID vaccine – are you better off doing both doses in your country of residence, or when you move? You will need to make a decision and explore the COVID tests you need to do before flying.
However, many expats are already set up to work from home with the necessary tech – which makes it easy to keep in touch with friends and family via video call and online. The amount of remote jobs has increased since the start of the pandemic, and according to LinkedIn data, a lot of industries are still hiring professionals from around the world. See the full guide on top international jobs here. The COVID-19 pandemic has permanently changed the jobs landscape so understanding what “comes next” is top of mind for employers and job seekers alike as the global labor market begins to recover.
You may also need to have international health insurance and to have had a Covid test to enter your chosen country. See countries that require international health insurance for entry.
Are there any changes to employment for British expats in 2021?
More than 11% of expats say they moved abroad because they were recruited internationally. These job opportunities may now be on the decline, in part due to the pandemic but also Brexit, with companies looking to recruit locally rather than internationally. However, many expats-to-be are able to work remotely for their current employer – check whether you need to register to pay tax locally.
What about changes to healthcare for British expats in 2021?
Post-Brexit, some of the reciprocal agreements around healthcare in Europe have changed, so many expats now need to apply for residence to access state-funded healthcare. For anyone not permanently living in the new country, it’s important to have a Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC).
If you’re not eligible for state-funded healthcare, or would like additional peace of mind you may want to consider international healthcare insurance.
We have listed below the most important stages of moving abroad and becoming an expats, together with some tips from people who have already moved abroad.
There are dozens of different aspects to consider – so here are some of the main factors that’ll help you make your mind up.
- Decide on the country and documents you need
- Get on board with finding work abroad
- Check the costs and find accommodation abroad
- Think about healthcare and expat health insurance
- Learn about the logistics of life as a foreigner
- Tie up loose ends at home
- Move your belongings abroad
1/ Decide on the country, language and documents you need
Above we have covered countries that might be best for relocation, depending on your individual situation. Now let’s talk more about the specifics of becoming an expat.
Visa and staying legally in the new country
Brits are lucky than many other nations in the sense that British passport gives you access to living in a lot of countries around the world.
When you start your relocation process and start to check for the document requirements, you will visit a government website that lays out the different visa options, and how you can qualify for them. Every government has it, but sometimes you might have to use the online translator function (there is one in Google Chrome, for example). You can also call the country’s UK embassy and ask the representatives all the questions. Most likely, there will be relevant information on the embassy’s and consulate will be able to answer all your questions.
Read carefully, follow the instructions to the letter, and work out how much you’ll have to pay ahead of time, so you can budget it in.
There’s no point in choosing a country, only to be refused entry. Ascertain how easy it is to move to the destination you have in mind, and check whether it’s possible to test drive your potential new home.
Us lucky Brits can spend large chunks of visa-less time in many foreign countries – usually 90 days, but often longer.
If you speak multiple foreign languages, the world is your oyster. If you don’t know any, you may want to limit your search to countries that are English-speaking, like Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand, and Barbados. And of course, there are plenty of nations which are exceptionally good at teaching their populace English as a foreign language, like Sweden, Singapore, and the Netherlands.
But how can you learn the language as a new expat? Thanks to the abundance of digital technology we can access while sitting at home, you can learn a new language from the comfort of your own sofa. For example:
- Look into virtual language classes.Online classes are becoming a part of everyday life. Companies such as SkyEng offer online classes that support you in learning a new language.
- Use language apps. There is an app for everything these days, including ones to help you learn a language. We recommend dipping into Duolingo or Memrise to get yourself more familiar with another language. Both apps are free, and make learning a language feel like less of a chore.
- Immerse yourself in the language digitally. Well, since you can’t necessarily do that face-to-face for now, why not switch that film you’re watching to your chosen language?
How to be expat in the country where you are based now? What was the biggest challenge?
From America to Australia, funnily enough the biggest challenge was the language barrier – which may sound surprising considering both countries speak English, however there are many slang terms, as well as different words, phrases and ways of describing everyday things, which we’re still working through 8 years later!
2/ Get on board with finding work abroad
Becoming an employed, contributing member of society is generally the best way to convince the authorities that you deserve a temporary visa, never mind permanent residence.
We recommend getting a job before you make your move. If you’re taking a brave step into the unknown without paid work, be sure to get well-acquainted with job sites, and hit the ground running when you arrive to find a role as soon as you can.
3/ Check the costs and find accommodation abroad
Check living costs around the world before you make your decision, or you may not be able to enjoy your new life to its fullest.
On the other hand, a wise financial choice can lead to you living in comfort for the rest of your years.
The world is collectively going through a strange financial time: mortgages are being frozen, wages are being paid by the government, and energy bills are even being paused in some countries.
Before you make your move abroad, you might want to brush up on the latest news about whether your new country has been affected by these changes – and whether they’ll be ongoing by the time you move.
Of course, this is all very uncertain right now, so in the meantime, take a look at the main financial aspects you need to organise before you leave the country:
- >Bank accounts.If you don’t have any assets in the UK, such as property, it’s best for you to close your UK bank account. Before you get settled into your new home, you should also set up an international account. Many UK banks will offer these, so it shouldn’t be a stressful process.
- Pensions. You can either leave your pension in the UK, or transfer it to an approved arrangement in your new country of residence. But before you move, you must inform your current pension holder.
- Individual Savings Account (ISA). You can keep your ISA open and still get UK tax relief on money and investments held in it. However, you cannot put money into it after the tax year following your move.
- Expat taxes. Whether or not you have to pay expat taxes will depend on your own personal circumstances. You should test whether you’re liable for tax by completing the Statutory Residence Test.
4/ Think about healthcare and expat health insurance
Make sure you’ll be able to afford healthcare in your new home country, and have a look at whether it’s any good.
A foreign adventure is always exciting, but every adventure should come with a safety net.
If you want to protect yourself and your family with private medical insurance, we recommend Cigna. The company helps more than 95 million customers all over the world, and they have the know-how to get you the right cover too.
Start building a customised plan today, with a free quote to protect your most important assets – you and your family.
5/ Learn about the logistics of life as a foreigner
Don’t worry, there’ll still be plenty to sort out after you’ve moved abroad.
You’ll need to purchase plans for the following:
- Mobile phone contract
- Electricity and/or gas
And of course, you’ll have to find your local supermarket or butcher, baker, and fruit and veg maker. In all of these decisions, the key is research – so prepare as much as possible, and ask locals for their opinions after you’ve arrived.
When it comes to Netflix, you’ll continue to pay the same amount, in pounds, when you move countries. If you’d rather pay the local price, just cancel your account the day before the end of your month, then restart it the next day.
And don’t worry: Netflix is available in these 190 countries.
Likewise, if you’re signed up to Amazon Prime Video, it’s available everywhere apart from mainland China, Iran, North Korea, and Syria.
However, if you’re moving outside the European Union (EU) – or if you’re reading this after 2020 has ended – you’ll be limited to watching Amazon Originals.
If there’s one thing we can be sure of right now, it’s that everyone is in the same boat when they move abroad. Joining an online expat community can support you in the months ahead, and can help you connect with people in similar situations.
Self isolation doesn’t have to stunt your move abroad. You can learn the ins and out of your new town or city through online expat communities: ask questions, connect with expats in your area-to-be, take a look at other people’s queries, and who knows – you might even meet people going through the same thing.
There are global expat websites which divide into area-specific communities.
This is where a 90-day test drive will be particularly useful, but there are quicker ways to work out whether another country’s culture meshes with your approach to life.
Check out the United Nations’ World Happiness Report and the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, and research which nations are most tolerant of racial minorities and LGBT+ people.
Then look into which country excites you with its entertainment offerings, its approach to food and drink, and its national pastimes – and check out the working culture, too.
After all, there’s a big difference between France’s two-hour lunches, 35-hour weeks, and 30 holiday days, and the US’s mere 10 days of holiday.
6/Tie up loose ends at home
Finding a new home, a new job, and new friends is stressful, but at least it’s exciting.
Tying up loose ends is not exciting, but it’s necessary. Once you’re done cancelling your subscriptions and saying goodbye to your friends, here are the steps the UK government requires you to take.
If you receive any benefits from the government, you need to tell the offices responsible for them that you’re moving to a different country.
They’ll tell you whether you can keep getting them while you’re overseas.
Let your local council know if you move overseas, so they can cancel your council tax payments, and make sure to provide a forwarding address.
If you’ve made enough UK National Insurance payments, you’ll qualify for a state pension, regardless of whether you’re retiring here or abroad.
Nevertheless, you should contact the International Pension Centre, where staff will tell you how to claim your pension from a different country.
Tell the Student Loans Company that you’re moving to a new country, so you can continue paying what you owe.
The government has prosecuted some former students for failing to repay their loans, and though it’s unlikely that you’ll be tracked down in your new country, you should keep up repayments if you harbour thoughts of ever returning to the UK.
You’ll need to tell HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) about your move. Here’s how you can do that:
- Fill in form P85
- Fill in a Self Assessment tax return if you usually do
- If you’re leaving your company, ask your employer for a P45 form
- If you’ll be working for a UK-based company for at least one full tax year (April 6th to April 5th the following year), prepare a tax return
- Send all of the above documents that you’ve filled in to the HMRC, either by post, commercial software, or by using the services of a tax professional
- The HMRC does not accept these documents if you send them online, for whatever reason.
If you’re planning on spending less than half of each year in the UK for the foreseeable future, you’ll likely be a non-resident, and therefore will only be taxed by the HMRC on any UK income you receive, and not on your income in your new country.
Voting and citizenship
There’s good news in both these areas.
You’ll almost certainly be able to vote in UK elections while living abroad, and you’ll remain a citizen too. If you want to vote by post or proxy, all you need to do is fill in the relevant document – just make sure to print it off first, as it can only be completed in paper form.
Then send it back to your local council’s electoral services team. Check whether they’d prefer it by post, or whether you can send them a scanned copy via email.
7/ Move your belongings abroad
At this point, you’ll be ready to physically move yourself and all your most important belongings to your new home.
Shipping is by far the most efficient, least expensive way of making sure all your prized possessions follow you across the ocean in a safe and timely fashion.
Air freight is 12-16 times more expensive than sea freight, according to the World Bank, which makes it much less attractive.
Plus, from 2014 to 2016, ships transported an average of £9.3 trillion worth of cargo across the world – and 99.99% of containers travelled safely to their destination.
Looking for expat health insurance?Learn more about our plans
Your handy “moving abroad as an expat” checklist
- ☐ Research the entry requirements including any COVID-19 restrictions. Check what restrictions are in place if you need to get back to your home country quickly. Read here about how to get a COVID vaccine as an expat.
- ☐ Make sure you have your documents in place. If you are moving with a job offer in place, be ready to research corporate culture and customs in the new country.
- ☐ Consider using a relocation agent to help you navigate the move abroad. Availability of experts may be limited post-Brexit and COVID-19 so make initial enquiries as early as possible.
- ☐ Make sure you have found accommodation; during Covid restrictions, you should be able to have online viewings to secure the property before you move. However, you need to find out about your deposit and rent – sometimes you will have to commit to paying the full 6 months or even 1 year rent to secure the property, so it might be easier to get a hotel or Airbnb to explore the area before you get a property contract signed.
- ☐ If you’re moving abroad with family and/or pets, there are additional considerations such as schooling and pet passports.
- ☐ Be proactive about making connections, both with other expats and locals. It helps to know some of the language too.
- ☐ Figure out your tax in the new country, so you are prepared. Research helps!
- ☐ Prioritise your health, including mental health, as moving abroad – like any big change – can present challenges. Make sure all your medical appointments are up to date before you go, and that you have sufficient medication. Make sure you have researched the healthcare system in the new country.
We created our moving abroad checklist primarily for people who are considering leaving the UK covering everything that you need to do before you move and also important factors to consider in your first few months once you’ve moved abroad.
On top of it, you will need to tell the relevant government offices in the UK that deal with your benefits, pension and tax that you’re moving or retiring abroad.
You can usually vote in UK elections if you move or retire abroad.
Your UK citizenship will not be affected if you move or retire abroad.
Thinking of moving abroad in 2021?
With the end of the pandemic in sight, there has never been a better time to think about starting a new life. In 2021, we have created a guide with a list of best places to live and move abroad for expats, and we have considered healthcare as one of the biggest factors when you make a move. Wherever you decide to move, just make sure you have the confidence of global health insurance. At William Russell, we have been providing worldwide health cover for 30 years, helping expats like you and their families to settle into their new homes. Speak to us today to find out more about how global health insurance could support you.