Since we’re between trips at the moment, let’s turn the Wayback Machine towards the fall of 2021. Anyone who knows me won’t be surprised that when we started to get serious about emigrating I started making lists. (Honestly, the lists sprouted more lists and it actually got a little nutty.) This list started as one that I created early on so that we had time to get it all taken care of. It was a good list that, unsurprisingly, was still missing things in retrospect. Fortunately, having gone through the move and (more importantly) shared moving stories with dozens of co-immigrants, I’ve had a chance to polish it up. Just a wee disclaimer: no list that you find on the internet is going to be perfectly suited to your life. After all, we have different environments, different families and so on. Still, starting with someone else’s list can prime the pump for you to put together your own. And so, a gently updated version of our starting list from 2021:
Make doctor’s appointments in your home country for everyone. If you have recent check-ups done just before you leave, you’ll relieve the potential pressure of needing to sort out the medical situation in your new home quickly. As part of that appointment:
* Have a complete wellness exam — you want to make sure there are no hidden issues
* Obtain written prescriptions for medications — many countries will honor previously made scrips, at least initially, without having a local doctor write a new one. It also helps your new physician approve it. In our experience, presenting current Rx documents to our new doctors led to new ones with minimal fuss.
* Fill all prescriptions to their max, and keep them in their bottles for travel — many countries will discard unlabeled pills. The argument is that they can’t tell the difference between aspirin and morphine, so they assume the worst and toss it all.
* Obtain copies of all medical records — we had a paper summary, but also all of our files on a USB drive to make it easy for our new physician to get up to speed on our health.
Schedule immunizations and medical services — you want to give finding a new physician the longest time possible. Plus, some countries have specific immunization requirements. Getting anything major may want to wait until you’ve moved. You may want to be able to rest and recuperate, or the procedure may be significantly less expensive in your new location. (In the US I would have had to pay $1000, after insurance, for a diagnostic colonoscopy, but here in Portugal it will be about 150eu, if my insurance doesn’t cover it.)
Make dentist appointment for check-up and cleaning — even more than the physician, finding a new dentist is a task you want to put off for as long as possible. Note that this does not necessarily mean getting any extra work done; it may be a lot less expensive in your new home. John, for example, developed a small infection in a back tooth. He was given antibiotics to hopefully get rid of it, but only had to see a dentist in Portugal to find out if he needed any further work done. (As a comparison, having an implant from our dentist would have been about $3,000 out of pocket, after insurance; here in Braga it would be about 500eu, if our insurance didn’t cover the entire cost.)
Make sure passports are up to date and valid through your stay — most countries require that your passport be valid for at least six months after your entrance, and you really don’t want to have try and renew your passport from outside the US as long as possible. In the best of times a passport renewal was not a quickie, and these days have been anything but. Deal with this soon if it does need dealing with.
Get copies of all court documents — Marriage and birth certificates, child custody agreement . . . if a court has made a decision that can affect you, bring a copy with you to your new home. This is especially important if there might be issues. For example, my husband and I do not share the same last name. We brought a copy of our marriage certificate as a “just in case”. As part of this, consider getting those documents apostilled* by the Secretary of State. This is kind of a notarization at a State level, and validates the document in a way other countries recognize. While you’re at it, gather and organize all legal documents, such as:
* Birth or naturalization certificates
* Marriage licenses
* Insurance polices
* Ownership paperwork / Bill of Sale for large items or electronics (there can be customs or tax issues)
Having copies of all of this will save you a lot of headache in the future, if you need it. If you never do, then its just a hassle to get a bunch of documents. But if you do . . . ’nuff said. Again, consider getting these documents apostilled or notarized as a precaution.
Sort everything in your house into one of four categories: sell, store, pack, or donate — From the art on your walls to the jewelry in your dresser, look at everything and decide what to do about it. Even if you’re just moving across town, this is a perfect time to look at what you’re moving. Do you need 14 plastic food saver containers? How about 10 empty plant pots? Moves are always great times to purge your possessions, take advantage of the opportunity. We decided to get rid of almost anything. We sold a bunch of books and started to do some piecemeal selling of things around the house, but it got overwhelming quickly. We’ve lived in this area for more than two decades, together for almost twenty years, and in this house for more than a decade. We have a lot of stuff. More than we thought we did. (See our posts on MaxSold and STUFF.)
Sell any vehicles you aren’t taking. If you do want to take your vehicle international, there are shipping options. However, pay close attention to regulations in your new home. Here in Portugal, retrofitting your vehicle to meet emission standards costs upwards of 2000eu and there is a 23%VAT on top of the cost of shipping. Many people find it far less expensive to just buy a new/used car when they arrive.
Reserve a storage unit. We knew all along that we’d need a storage unit. Having never been to Portugal, we just weren’t sure how much we’d like it, and weren’t going to ship all our precious belongings there if we were going to turn around after a couple of years and go back. Also, we hoped to sell our art before we left, but it didn’t work out that way, so we’re storing it. Other than those items, however, we didn’t keep much. A few plane trips, maybe a single palate will be necessary when the time comes.
Review financial institutions and decide whether to close the accounts, or alert them to the move; secure new banking options. Here’s the thing — some financial institutions will not do business with people who live outside the US; don’t be the person who discovers this after you’ve moved. I know of at least one person who found this out by being informed all of their holding were being liquidated within 10 days — barely enough time to find a new manager to transfer the assets. Note also that most of your financial institutions will require you keep a US phone number for two-factor authentication.
Create a power of attorney (PoA) document for a friend or family member to handle any stateside affairs. This is likely to not be needed, but is very much a “just in case.” A PoA is a simple document that requires only two witnesses – you leave the signed copy with the person you’ve designated. they’ll show it if they need to be able to sign documents on your behalf.
Purchase adapters for electronics. You’ll likely need more adapters than you think, and pay attention to whether your plugs are two- or three-prong. (While you’re at it, make sure your electronics are dual voltage. If they aren’t then adapters won’t prevent them from burning out quickly because of the different voltage.)
Purchase international health insurance. We needed this as part of our residency package, but its a good idea for everyone to be aware of how their health will be managed in the new country. Don’t take for granted being on the national policy — make sure you’ll qualify, and when. Get travel insurance (if nothing else) to cover you for any gap period.
Cancel insurance policies on your car, home, and health. You won’t be there, you won’t need it.
Register a forwarding address with the post office (this may be a friend or family member) or consider setting up a mail forwarding service. There are pros and cons to each in areas of privacy, reliability and cost. Watch out for services that may be recognized as commercial, which might raise red flags about whether you are in country. (It can make a difference to some institutions.)
If there’s something you think we missed, please feel free to leave it in a comment for the benefit of the inevitable visitor in 2026 who is led here by a deep-dive on google.
*An apostille is something almost nobody has heard of until they need it. (Spellcheck has no clue, that’s for dang sure.) As the University of Wikipedia will explain to you, it’s a specialized certification issued by a Secretary of State (at least in the US). Think of it as notarization that works outside of the U.S.