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The Complete Guide to International Relocation

Published on Nov 11, 2019 by Kfir Cohen

International relocation involves a lot of details and requires much early planning. Read SDC International Shipping’s Guide to International Relocation

The Complete Guide to International Relocation

In general, relocation is a huge challenge. When it comes to relocating to a foreign country, this increases exponentially. A relocation can be difficult, time consuming and costly for some people. When it comes to living in a different country, and probably continent, there are even more things that need to be done.

The preparation for a move overseas requires far more time than moving from one state to another. When you move from one state to another, all you really need is an address to where to send your things and your set. When you decide to move to another country, you need far more than address, though that is necessary as well. 

The first thing that you will need is permission to enter and stay in that country. The requirements for different countries vary greatly. Some countries are quite lenient and will allow most people to at least reside in them, while other countries are very reluctant to allow anyone in. Typically, the more affluent the country is, the more reluctant it will be to accept new citizens. Some countries, like the United Arab Emirates will allow people who have obtained employment to reside in the country for as long as they have their job, but don’t have a path to permanent residence. Others, like Liechtenstein, won’t even let people with employment visas live in the country, forcing them to go to Switzerland or Austria every evening.

Once you have established that you are allowed to be in that country, you will have to find employment. Sometimes this will come first, as many countries do allow people to enter with permanent residence permit, but only if they have already obtained employment.

Other things that will require preliminary preparations are deciding what you can and cannot bring with you to your new home, and what you want to bring with you. Additional early decisions include decisions about pets, children and more.

Early Planning for International Relocation

Early planning for your move is critical for many things. There are some things that require substantial planning and preparation. We assume that most of our clients have visited their destination several times before they make their decision to move there. Some have even contracted to rent or purchase a place to live already. If you have not done so already, buy a ticket and go visit your relocation destination.

Early Visits to Your Destination

Probably the most important part about early visits to your destination is finding a place to live. We have moved many clients who don’t yet have an exact address, and supply us with one only once their shipment is bound for the destination port. If you already know where you will be living, we recommend that you take detailed measurements.

This includes measuring room sizes, door sizes, and kitchen and bathroom sizes. These things will help you decide which things you will be taking with you and which you will leave in the states.


In most countries, returning citizens and new immigrants are allowed to bring their automobile or other vehicle as a part of their household. This entitles them to import a car that they own without additional taxes. 

We recommend that while you visit your destination, that you check out the prices of the automobiles there, both new and nearly new vehicles. Typically you are permitted to import cars that are 6 months to 5 years old. There is a very good chance that buying a new car six months before you move is the best move you can do.

There are some countries that require you to obtain a special import license for your specific vehicle. Others will require that your car undergo some sort of localization when they arrive for equipment like different shaped license plates, emissions equipment, or headlights.

Being armed with this information will help you make a decision about whether sending your automobile to your new home is a good idea or not.

Registering for School

If you are moving with your children, registering them for learning in schools might need to be done early. A large number of our clients are relocating with their families for a few years at the request of their employer, planning on returning to the United States later. These clients typically like to enroll their children in the local international school or American school, local institutions that teach in English, some of which try to teach according to typical American school curriculums. Many people want their children to experience living in another country and learn to speak an additional language, and prefer that they learn in the local schools wherever they are moving to. However, in many countries our clients will prefer to register their children for quality private schools. Again, this requires prior planning.

Moving with your Pets

Almost every country requires some sort of prior preparation before you can move there with your pets. There are some countries, in particular island nations, that are very careful about immunizations, some even requiring specific types of immunizations that are not available everywhere and must be procured from specific suppliers. Please note that there are certain places whose requirements take several months, up to a year to satisfy.

Most countries now also require that pets have RFID chips implanted in order to travel there, or have them implanted upon arrival.

The United States Department of Agriculture provides a comprehensive list of the requirements of each country available at this site

Medical Considerations

There are several medical considerations that you need to take into account prior to your relocation.

First of these is your medical insurance, which will differ from country to country. Some countries will allow you to use the public health service if you have a residency permit. In many countries, even though there is public health available, our clients will want a better level of medicine including English speaking doctors, available through private health insurance. We recommend that you look into this early.

If you have an existing medical condition, it is prudent to understand how it is typically treated in your new country. It is a good idea to consult your American doctor about what the names and doses of medicines will be in your new country, as they will differ from the American names. It is a good idea to bring a few months’ worth of medicine with you if you can, along with printed copies of your prescriptions.

Depending on your destination, it might be important to translate relevant parts of your medical history into the local language. In any case, make sure that you have access to your family’s full medical history readily available.

You will need everyone’s full immunization history as well. Some countries will require this for entry or for school enrollment. As there have been recent global outbreaks of preventable diseases, this is becoming an actual requirement. The United States Center for Disease Control maintains a list of each country’s requirements and their further recommendations available here. Notably, some countries also have tropical diseases and other diseases with which you may not be familiar, and for which there are easily available vaccines.


Many of our clients are citizens or children of citizens who are repatriating to their origin countries. These people will not require visas for entry. However, children born abroad will need to be reported before you move back. If you married a non-citizen, it is very important that you check with the closest consulate of your nation about obtaining citizenship or long term residency for your spouse. The rules for spouses of citizens vary greatly, with some countries granting automatic citizenship upon request, other will allow only temporary or long term residency dependent upon future conditions.

However, many countries require that citizens who have been living abroad for several years be able to prove the time that they were abroad at the local consulate before returning. These documents will be necessary in some countries to exempt you from paying customs or taxes on the contents of your container.

If you are moving at the behest of your employer, you will more than likely be moving with an “essential skills” or similar visa. These visas will usually allow you to live and work for several years, and sometimes allow a path to permanent residency or citizenship. There are countries that will only allow non-citizens to move there if they already have a job offer from a local business. In these cases, it is the local business that initiates the residency request, or at least must be an active participant in the process.

There are a few organizations of nations that are somewhat similar to the United States in terms of freedom of movement. If you are a citizen of any European Union member country, you should be able to reside and work in any EU country. This is also true of Gulf Cooperation Council member countries. If you are a citizen of the United Arab Emirates, you can move to Saudi Arabia.

Those who are not citizens or not citizens of nations in an international agreement will need to acquire visas for the whole family in order to move there and send a shipment. The requirements for this will vary greatly from country to country, so see our site or consult the consulate of your destination country. 

Please note that there are several countries where you might have overlapping or conflicting visas, for instance a woman might get a visa for being a member of a necessary profession and her husband on a retirement visa. Those moving on a retirement visa usually only have to show that they have enough money to support them, but are not permitted to work. Some countries also have the requirement that you employ a local citizen, but for most this is not a problem as local help is quite affordable, and the ability to retire in comfort is a major impetus for their retirement relocation.

Timeline for your International Relocation

Your actual shipment movement will take 4 – 10 weeks. You can speak with your SDC International Shipping relocation specialist to get you a more accurate time estimate based upon your exact pickup and delivery locations. 

We want to make it absolutely clear that we can facilitate an international relocation, even on very short notice. However, the earlier we know about your move, the better chance we have to reduce the time you have to wait to receive your shipment. Most families move during the summer, this means that both movers and places on boats have full schedules. We’d love to accommodate whatever is the most convenient timing for you, but we need advanced notice to be able to give you better service. If you will need storage for all or a portion of your things, we can arrange for that also.

Three months prior to your proposed pick up date, you should already contract SDC International Shipping to relocate you from your American home to your new location overseas.

For most locations, you should have purchased anything new that you will be taking with you six months prior to the date that we will pick up your shipment. If you do purchase new equipment, make sure to retain receipts to show that it is at least six months old. While this should not present a problem for things like plates and cutlery, if you buy things like new bicycles or other expensive equipment, make sure to have the receipts available. If you are sending a grill, check the kind of gas available in your destination and make sure that you buy the right model.

We recommend that you start the visa process a year early if possible. While this isn’t always necessary, there are some countries that will require you to interview at a consulate, and not all countries have several in the USA.

If you haven’t visited your destination in recent years, we recommend several trips there as described above. Under all circumstances, it is best to visit at least once.

If you are unfamiliar with the language, start learning it as early as possible. Today you can find courses and conversation partners on the internet

By Kfir Cohen

Kfir Cohen is handling global operations, cargo shipping, negotiation, and management of different suppliers around the world. He has more than 15 years of experience in the avant-garde of relocation and the sea/air freight business.
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