Kicking Off Your Expat Life

I’m an expat.


And even though this is my third (!) foray onto Australian soil, it still feels a little bit like starting over. There are certain boxes you have to tick every time you move to a new country, and I find myself doing them again. These are the boring, bureaucratic tasks that you can’t avoid, so sort them out as quickly as possible and enjoy getting settled into your new country.

If this list stresses you out, LOOK A KOALA. Don’t you feel better?

1. Visa: Make sure you get your visa sorted out before you do anything crazy. I can’t stress this enough – your visa is what allows you to be an expat, and if it’s not right, you’re at risk. Don’t overstay your visa. Don’t break the conditions of your visa. If the foreign government says jump, you say how high and can I get you a cup of tea. The visa is like your invitation to the party. Without it, you’re a party crasher – not a sustainable lifestyle.

2. Tax Identification Number: If you’re American, it’s a Social Security Number. In Britain, a National Insurance Number. Here in Australia it’s called a Tax File Number. Whatever it is, you need to have one before you can work. Sometimes it can take weeks for your number to be issued. In some cases you can work before you receive your official number, but there’s a catch – you’ll pay a fat chunk of emergency taxes (which you can usually get back) until the number comes. So do your homework and apply for your tax ID number as early as you can.

3. Banking: During my first work abroad experience in Ireland, I didn’t get a bank account. I have no idea why. So my employer had to pay me in cash, which I suppose I then stashed in a mattress or something. My advice is to compare bank accounts in your area and open one as soon as possible. If you’ll be sending money to your bank account from your home country, check the wire transfer rates. Ask about any monthly fees. Sometimes it can be difficult to open an account as a foreigner, and having proof of your address can be crucial. So save anything you receive with your name and foreign address on it.

Actually, there were a lot of things I did in Ireland that I can’t explain.

4. Mobile Phone: If you can get away without a phone, great. I salute you. But if you’re arriving on a working holiday visa or otherwise need to hunt for a job, you need a phone. Don’t skip this step. If you’ve got a fancy-schmancy smartphone already, get it unlocked and ready to use in your adopted home. Employers will not email you to set up an interview. I repeat, they will not email you. I know this from experience.

5. Library Card: What? Yes. I know this one isn’t essential, but I always scope out the nearest library in my area and sign up straightaway. Usually all it requires is proof of address and ID, and it’s free. These days, libraries have more than just books – you can get wifi, computer access, magazines, DVDs, and music, all for FREE. I go for the books, but you can go for whatever strikes your fancy. And if you tell me you’re not a reader, I’m disappointed in you. Go get a library card and start reading.

Little Free Library
If you live near an awesome Little Free Library you don’t even need a card.

Once you’ve done these five things – Congratulations! You’re a functioning expat. Now the fun starts.

Do you have any other must-dos when kicking off your expat life? I didn’t even mention insurance or taxes, so please leave any tips in the comments below!

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  1. I’ve got the visa! Whoop! You’ve just made me stressed thinking about everything I’ll have to do. I might have to make that koala my screen backdrop…

    1. Congratulations!! That’s usually the most complicated part, so the rest will be a breeze. I actually think it will, and just think of all the koalas you can cuddle when you get to Australia!

  2. Great tips! I think there should be a special layer of hell reserved for visa officials. At least I always feel like that’s where I am whenever I’m in the deep, dark depths of visa paperwork. So evil. In any case, totally agree about the library! The library is a truly local place that’s great for so many reasons!

    1. Ugh, I know. We’re going to lodge my partner visa in the next few weeks, and I keep hoping that we’ll be the special case, the one that gets fast-tracked. In my heart I know that’s not true. At least I have the library to keep me busy!

  3. I definitely agree about the mobile phone! Mobile phones are supposedly really difficult for foreigners to get in Japan, so we’re phone-less so far and it’s really irritating. We already have jobs, fortunately, so we don’t need to worry about job call-backs at least, but making plans is really challenging with one!

    1. Our co-teacher helped us set up a phone contract in Korea, because we’d heard the same thing. We ended up sharing one phone – our town was so small and we worked at the same school, so there was no real need for us both to have one. Making plans is the main reason we got a phone, and it was worth having it just for that. Good luck with getting yours set up! At least once it’s over, you kind of forget about what a hassle it was at the time.

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