6 Dumb Mistakes People Make When They Move Abroad

As exciting and seductive as a move abroad can be, it’s also complicated—with a seemingly endless number of curveballs thrown at you as you make your way from Point A to Point B across the globe. Sure, you already know about the visas you need to arrange, the vaccinations you need to schedule, the new language you need to mangle. But what are some of the home pitfalls you might encounter?

We asked experts and expats to share some of the most misleading or downright dangerous assumptions you can make as you move to your new exotic home. Prepare accordingly!

Mistake No. 1: Assume your furniture will fit in your new digs

“If you’re headed to Hong Kong, you’ll probably be in a small apartment,” says Elaine Phipps, a vice president at MSI Mobility, a global relocation services company. “You can’t bring American-sized furniture; it just won’t fit.”

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Climate is another factor. “If you’re moving from Arizona to a humid environment in Latin America, your prized Persian rug and expensive painting could end up ruined from mold.”

The golden rule of packing for an international move: If in doubt, leave it out.

Mistake No. 2: Assume all your electronics will work

“Laptops and mobile phones plug right in with a converter, but do that with a desktop computer without flipping the voltage switch and you risk blowing the power supply,” notes Jane Hurchalla, who just moved to London from Nashville, TN. “And yes, we did,” she admits with a sigh.

Some electronics, such as desktops, will let you switch the voltage from 110-120V to 220-240V, but many others, such as hair dryers and appliances, won’t work at all—and trying to plug them in anyway could ruin your device or even start a fire. Before you take anything electronic, look for “input” or “power source” on the back. If it doesn’t list 220-240 and you’re moving to another country other than Canada, leave it behind.

Mistake No. 3: Assume everyone will speak English

When Kayt Sukel from Houston, TX, to Hanau, Germany, she hired movers—and at first all went fine. “Except when I had questions once my stuff was en route, my German moving company told me to contact the subcontractor. When I called them, it was hard to find someone who spoke English! So I got a lot of runaround.”

Sukel had similar issues with transporting her dog. “I had to try to figure out where to pick her up at the airport, but no one knew because they hadn’t heard of my U.S. shipper. So I called the U.S. company, which was, of course, closed, since it was the middle of the night in the U.S. I was running around the airport’s cargo village begging people to help me.”

Go over all the details with your movers ahead of time to avoid the same fate. Your pet will thank you. And while we’re on the topic…

Mistake No. 4: Assume you can just bring your pets with you

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You’ll want to take into account the pet’s age and health and how it will do on the journey, especially since it may need to be quarantined for as long as six months going into a foreign country—and may need to be quarantined again upon your return to the U.S. And then there’s the price: Quarantines, vaccinations, special equipment to transport your pet, and the cost of transporting the pet itself can add up.

“I’ve seen costs of up to $20,000,” cautions Phipps. If you decide to bring Fido along anyway, consider hiring a pet relocation service to help with the often arcane logistics.

Mistake No. 5: Assume the stuff you leave behind will be fine

“Act as if the worst will happen, and you’ll be fine,” suggests Tanya Accuro, who now lives in Bangkok and has also lived in South Africa and Uganda. Digital copies of everything are a must, “just in case that secure location in your mother-in-law’s basement suffers a catastrophic incident.”

Accuro speaks from experience: “When I retrieved a cardboard box of thesis materials from the ‘safety’ of a friend’s attic, I found it had become a home for chipmunks that chewed up the papers in the bottom to make a cozy nest.”

Mistake No. 6: Assume your new digs will look as great as they did online

“I’ve witnessed situations where people have found a place online and even seen a show house when they get to their destination, but it’s all a scam,” warns Phipps. Her advice? Purchase housing assistance from a destination services provider to help with legal issues and make sure everything is aboveboard.

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