Our comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know to make your move abroad successful and stress-free.
Are you thinking about moving overseas? If you are, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that 2.2 million to 6.8 million U.S. citizens have moved abroad. Some are seeking a more affordable retirement, some are seeking a new adventure, and others are embarking on a new job opportunity.
Whatever the reason for your move, it can be a complicated and foreign process. But with the help of this guide, we’ll make sure that you’re armed with all of the knowledge you need to make your move successful and stress-free.
Documentation and permissions
Passport and Visas when relocating abroad
Before making your international move, you’ll need to first secure a passport and a visa, possibly more than one.
Passport. U.S. citizens must carry and present their passport when leaving and entering the U.S. Make sure your passport is valid for the entire time that you intend to live abroad plus 6 months. If you need to apply for a new passport or renew your current one, do this early on in the process. It takes the government approximately 6 weeks to process your passport request.
Visa. You’ll need to obtain a visa from the country that you intend to move to. Visa eligibility varies from country to country. A visa that allows you to take up residence in that country doesn’t necessarily grant you permission to work in the country. Some countries require a special visa to work or a work permit. So it is imperative that you explore the rules and requirements for the country that you you wish to relocate to. Your pets also need to have proper documentation.
Why you should register your travel
STEP: The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program
The U.S. government encourages its citizens to register with its STEP service when traveling or moving abroad. It allows U.S. citizens to enroll with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
With STEP you will:
- Receive safety and security information for your destination country.
- Provide the U.S. Embassy with the info they need to contact you in case of an emergency, such as a natural disaster, civil unrest of a family emergency.
- Receive security and emergency updates from the U.S. Embassy, as well as travel warnings and alerts.
Citizenship/nationality and your rights and obligations
U.S. citizens are permitted to hold dual nationality if it is granted automatically through the laws of a different country. For example, if a U.S. citizen couple gives birth to a child while abroad and that country automatically grants that child nationality. That baby would hold dual nationality for the U.S. and the foreign country. Or if a U.S. citizen acquires nationality through marriage. The U.S. government does not require the U.S. citizen to choose one nationality over the other in these cases.
However, the U.S. does not permit dual nationality if it is acquired by choice. The U.S. government explains it like this: “A person who acquires a foreign nationality by applying for it may lose U.S. nationality. In order to lose U.S. nationality, the law requires that the person must apply for the foreign nationality voluntarily, by free choice, and with the intention to give up U.S. nationality.”
Moving overseas and voting
If you do not intend to relinquish your U.S. citizenship when you move to another country, you can continue to participate in U.S. elections by voting with an absentee ballot. Almost all U.S. citizens 18 years or older who reside outside the United States are eligible to vote absentee for candidates for federal offices in U.S. primary and general elections. In addition, some states allow overseas citizens to vote for candidates for state and local offices, as well as for state and local referendums. Check with your state for specifics.
Paying taxes when you move abroad
All U.S. citizens and resident aliens must file a tax return, whether they are living in the United States or in another country. Your income is subject to U.S. income tax no matter where you are living. You can file your tax return electronically or through the mail.
Unfortunately, you will also be required to file income taxes in your new country of residence. But keep in mind that although the requirement to FILE your taxes is the same no matter where you live, the amount that you PAY is quite different. The IRS allows for two methods to greatly reduce the amount of income tax you must pay: the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion and the Foreign Tax Credit. Learn more about it from the IRS.
Your Social Security benefits
If you plan on retiring abroad, whether permanently or temporarily, you will most likely be able to receive Social Security benefits. It all depends on which country you will be retiring to. Use the Social Security Administration’s Payments Abroad Screening Tool to find out if your country of choice is included in the list.
Health insurance. Some health insurance providers will cover medical care while living and traveling overseas. But many do not. Contact your health insurance provider to find out if you are covered in another country, and exactly what the coverage entails.
If your health insurance does not offer you coverage while abroad, there are many U.S.-based and international providers from which you can purchase health insurance.
Medicaid and Medicare. Neither medicaid nor Medicare is available to U.S. citizens living overseas. These programs only cover medical costs within the U.S.
Life insurance. As with health insurance, your policy may transfer with you when you relocate. You may only need to provide your insurer with a change of address. Be sure to check with your provider to confirm that you will receive the same coverage and benefits. If your provider does not cover you while living in another country, there are plenty of life insurance companies that offer coverage. Search around around for the best quote.