Congratulations, you’ve just secured your first international job! The new experiences and adventure start NOW!
Well, they probably won’t start for a few months.. and it’s going to be a busy few months at that. You’ll need to book your flights, get credit cards ready, say goodbyes to friends and family, the list continues on!
As my old man used to say, ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’. Before the fun starts, spending time preparing correctly will make your transition abroad as smooth as possible.
Through the calls and extensive email threads that we’ve with had with excited candidates, we have put together the most frequently asked question aka ‘The BG Prep FAQs’.
While we never recommend carrying large amounts of cash around with you, having some of the local currency on you before moving can make your first day much easier.
Landing in a new country without any local currency means that you’ll invariably have to visit the dreaded currency exchange at the airport and change cash at a low rate and pay commission or be wandering around town trying to find a bank that’s still open.
As a general rule of thumb, always avoid the money exchanges at the airport. They typically give very bad rates and pray on the fact that most travelers aren’t aware of the exchange rate they should get. Going to one of these booths at the airport is a rookie mistake…don’t be a rookie.
We recommend that you visit a bank in your home country and get money exchanged before you come. These banks will give you a better rate and will save you money. If you can’t do this, try to do it once you’re in the country. Going to an ATM will typically give you a better rate than if you were to go to one of the airport booths, especially if you have a card that will waive international ATM fees (more on this later).
Plus, if you need to jump in a taxi, rik-saw or bus once you land in the country, local currency gives you less chance of getting ripped off by the driver (though we all invariably will be…).
If exchange rates aren’t great or you’re moving somewhere like India (you can’t exchange Rupees outside of the country) then bringing foreign currency with you is a good call. Having cash on you generally makes it easier to exchange money and you don’t have to worry about ATM fees. As always, make sure you find a reputable ForEx spot and always check that you are given legitimate bills and you receive the right amount.
While you’re less likely to have any sort of trouble exchanging money at the bank, you will often have to pay a commision and the rates are generally poor. We’ve always found that asking other expats where they exchange their money is a sure fire way of finding a great rate with a legitimate dealer.
Though exchanging cash is one way to get the best rate, carrying large amounts of cash with you isn’t advisable…. this leaves us with two options;
Traveler’s checks are traditionally the most secure ways of getting foreign currency in your new country. However, exchange rates are pretty shocking and if you’re located in a rural area, you may experience difficulties finding somewhere to exchange your checks for cash.
That brings us to credit cards. A number of banks have started issuing no-fee cards. Not having to carry large amount of cash on you and not being penalized for using a card makes this one of the most attractive options.
There are number of credit cards that offer free transactions abroad. The Chase Sapphire and the Capital One VentureOne cards are two of the most popular. As well as zero transaction fees, these cards also have great offers on mileage points.
On the debit side of things, Charles Schwab offers a no-fee debit card that’s combined with an investor account (you do not need to use/have money in the investor account). Schwab reimburses the ATM fees at the end of each month, making this a very attractive option for getting access to your home bank account.
BrainGain assists you with your work visa. However, if you’re job searching solo, completing visa forms is a rather drawn out and painful task.
From my experience, rather than trying to gather information from the relevant consulate website, calling them directly often gives you way more information. Though a word of warning, always try to speak to a number of different employees and ensure their responses matchup. I’ve heard of too many people who have had their visa application rejected because they listened to a single employee’s advice and filed incorrect information.
Aside from that, internet forums are a fantastic way to answer specific questions. Invariably, you’re not going to be the first person with your question and forum users are eager to help.
If you take any medication, we recommend that you talk to your health care professional before leaving the country. Quite often your medication can be found in pharmacies emerging economies and at a fraction of the US price. If it isn’t, see how many months of meds you’re able to procure.
Common brands of toiletries are readily available. If you’re looking for Head & Shoulders shampoo or some Colgate toothpaste, there’s no need to bring a year’s supply. The small supermarket down the road from my place in India has a pretty extensive selection of Western products. If you’re looking for Old Spice Deodorant (this one’s for the guys), this is almost always impossible to find.
On the other hand, if you use more specific products and makeup, they’re most likely going to be hard to find and if you do get lucky, they tend to be much more expensive than home. Stock up!
Unlike the bootstrapped-backing hostels travelers love to stay in to save money, when you’re moving somewhere for an extended period of time, a dingy, dirty, and mouldy apartment can get tiring rather quickly.
The temptation is to try and get everything sorted before you arrive. There are now rental housing websites, apps, and platforms for pretty much any city in the world. It’s easy to find an apartment that looks great online and presume you’ve found your dream spot in your new city.
However, renting a spot from thousands of miles away invariably leads to disappointment when real life doesn’t add up to the pictures (much like Tinder… whaatt). Instead, we prefer to get a short term hotel or hostel, scope out your favorite areas, decide on your price point, and get hustling. Asking doormen of apartment blocks or working with a number of brokers should give you some great options to choose from.
AirBnB has also been a game-changer, as many of the places you will look at are open to longer term stays. We encourage you to always ask about these whenever possible.
(If you’ve got your position through BrainGain, we find you housing ;-))
If you’re moving abroad for an extended period of time and feel like you have too much baggage to travel with, it may be worth shipping a portion of your belongings before you leave.
There are various services that can ship internationally; the usual suspects such as UPS, and FedEx are widely used but there are cheaper options such as IPS which provide a similar service, and often use the major labels infrastructure but for a much cheaper price as they send your packages as part of a bulk shipment.
A word of warning; check how much customs tax the country is likely to charge you. Countries such as India have strict customs and can tack on a huge customs tax. On my recent move to India, I was rocked by how much they charged compared to the costs of the goods inside.
Getting your phone unlocked before leaving the country will save you a lot of hassle. In our experience, your carrier will unlock your phone for you. However, this often means that you have have a ‘retainer’ on the line (typically $!0-20 monthly fee).
Once in your new country, it is easy to pick up a sim card. If you’re in the country on a work visa, you can often get cell phone plans, rather than pre-pay.
Alternatively, you can buy a new phone. Brands such as Apple and Samsung are expensive compared to US prices. However, phones made by Xiaomi (pronounced ‘show-me) and Microsoft phones are widely available, much cheaper, and work well.
You can even get a $3.60 phone in India now…
Next up is trying to pack all your worldly possessions into your suitcase and keep it under 50lbs. However, that’s an essay in itself so stand by for our next blog post!
Do you have anymore questions, comments, or worries about moving abroad? Let us know in the comments and we’ll give you the rundown.