How to Emigrate in 21 Steps

Emigrating to Australia, New Zealand, Canada or America Daunted by the number of things you have to do to make it happen.

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As a helping hand, and to stop your head spinning,we've broken the journey down into 21 essential steps. But what direction should you be heading in:Due west or south-east

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1. Where to emigrate

Your decision to emigrate to a specific country must be based on sound research and a thorough decision-making process. A two-week holiday on the east coast of Australia or a one-week skiing trip to the Rockies is not a solid enough basis upon which to emigrate. You must define exactly what you realistically hope to achieve for you and your family by emigrating - write a list and ask your partner to do the same.

Once this is complete, you need to research, research, research in order to pinpoint the right country - even region, city, or town - for you. You need to find out about job opportunities, schools, property prices, lifestyle, living costs, and especially whether you qualify for a visa for the country in question (see step 2). The internet, expat forums, books, exhibitions and specialist publications are all great sources of information.

When you've narrowed down your options, take a research trip to investigate further. Remember: this is not a holiday, but a hard-headed fact-finding trip. Look for a region that needs the skills or business nouse you can offer, then a neighbourhood that is within budget, then schools, then find out what the locals do day in, day out and see if that really suits you. When you return to the UK, see if what you've found out about your potential new home ticks all the boxes on your emigration wish list. If it does, proceed to step 2. If not, either shift focus to another city, region or country, or ask yourself if your wish list is more dream than potential reality.

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2. How to emigrate

It's all well and good knowing where you want to emigrate to, but will you be able to qualify for a visa to get you there on a permanent basis Let's look in more detail at how to emigrate.

Therefore, step 2 is all about researching visa options - and these fall into five broad groups:

1). Skills-based visas - your qualifications and work experience are paramount. Note that Australia, New Zealand and Canada run points-based systems whereby you have to provisionally score a certain mark in order to apply. As part of this process, the skills that could qualify for a visa are clearly listed; there are even regional lists in many cases, where the pass mark required to make an application worthwhile are often lower than for the national visa equivalents.

Please note that some visas are age-sensitive. For example, if you are over 44 you are unable to qualify for an Australian skills-based visa (the exceptions are employer nomination and state/territory sponsored business visas); if you are over 55, New Zealand is also out of bounds in this respect. In Canada, no age is theoretically too old, but you'll score fewer points if you are over the age of 49.

In March 2009, changes were made to Australia's skilled visa system. As part of this, bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers, welders, metal fitters and many other trades were removed from the Critical Skills List (CSL) - which determines whether an application is eligible for priority processing. However, some media reported this as the occupations removed from the CSL were now not needed in Australia and therefore no longer eligible for immigration. This is not the case. To find out about changes made to Australia's skilled visa processing, click here.

2). Business visas - you have a qualifying investment, relevant experience and/or a promising business idea.

3). Family visas - you have a parent, brother, sister or child who is a permanent resident or citizen of Australia, New Zealand, Canada or America and who is eligible to sponsor your emigration.

4). Retiree visas - you have sufficient funds (realistically, at least AUS$1 million) and satisfactory health to emigrate to Australia on a rolling four-year basis. Note that Canada, America and New Zealand do not have retiree visas, although America's EB-5 investor is sometimes presented as a retirement visa because it requires a 'passive' investment).

5) Temporary visas - you are unwilling or unable to emigrate on a permanent basis, so secure a temporary work permit, working holidaymaker visa or a study visa to help you get your foot in the door.

Of course, all this can be rather confusing (especially when it comes to filling in the forms - see 6), or you may be concerned that you're missing a visa trick and that this will jeopardise or delay your plans. In this case, many emigrants decide that they'd like the peace of mind of employing an expert to help them get their application spot on. There are two broad types of expert help at hand: immigration lawyers/attorneys and immigration consultants/advisors - both of which are regulated in all four countries (New Zealand immigration advisors based overseas do not have to be licensed until May 2010). Unfortunately, the emigration industry also has a few less-than-expert companies and rip-off merchants, so caveat emptor applies just as much as it does in many other industries.

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3. Just the job

In the course of working through step 2, you might discover that the success of your application depends on you securing a job before you apply. If so, you have two options: Firstly, find a job yourself or, secondly, employ a recruitment specialist to help you. As with many things in life, this comes down to time and money. Do you have the time to prepare a CV/resume, and research and approach companies, or can you spare the money to employ a specialist who will maximise your chances of finding a job as soon as possible?

Qualifying in New Zealand's Skilled Migration Category and securing the popular H-1B or EB-3 visas for America often require a firm job offer being in place before the application is made. Changes introduced to Canada's skilled worker visa system on 29th November 2008(and retroactively applied from 27th February 2008) have effectively created a two-tier system in this respect. If you don't have a years worth of experience in one of the 38 occupations included on the High Demand Occupation list, then you'll need to secure a job offer in one of the other wide range of occupations listed in the top three bands of Canada's National Occupations Classifications list.

Even if you don't need a job, you may find getting one is highly beneficial to your emigration plans. Although Britain seems to be worse affected by the credit crunch than most countries, the downturn is global. So, the peace of mind brought about by knowing that you have a job to start on arrival in your new country should not be underestimated.

4. Timing

Generally speaking, skilled visa applications for Australia, New Zealand and America take approximately 6-12 months to be processed. However, there are plenty of exceptions to this. Moreover, Australia's Department of Immigration and Citizenship has recently reshuffled its processing priorities and reduced the number of visas available (the remaining number is still, historically speaking, high), and the impact on processing times is yet to be seen. Canadian skilled worker visa processing times are also something of an unknown quantity at the time of writing. Before the changes introduced in November 2008, processing times were four years or more, but Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) hoped that the amendments to the system would reduce processing times for those with a skill in high demand who applied after 29th November 2008 to less than 12 months. At the time of writing, it is too early to say whether this target will be met.

When you obtain a visa, you are given one year to use it - that is, land in your destination country and 'activate' the visa. Typically, the majority of immigrants complete steps 7-14 (below) within one year of emigrating - whether they do almost everything before they receive their visa, or after. Whatever your emigration timescale, ensure that the passports of all family members will still be valid by the time you jet off to your new life.

5. Family decision-making

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Now that you have all the relevant initial facts and figures at your disposal - where you want to go, likelihood of employment, suitable housing and schooling, a realistic visa pathway and an approximate timescale - you should sit down with your partner and children and discuss the genuine possibility of committing 100 per cent to your emigration plans.

Some prospective emigrants with children decide to involve their children in the process right from square - or, in this case, step - 1, while others wait until they are committed to emigrating before bringing their kids to the table. Of course, in practice, younger children are often given little choice in the matter, while those in the mid teens or older may find the pull of a new boyfriend or girlfriend or an approaching college or university education reason enough to dig their heels in and stay behind. Either way, timing in respect of school/university terms is a key factor.

Furthermore, it would be wise to announce your plans to family and friends at this point. Telling them well ahead of the planned departure date gives them time to work any emotional distress about your emigration out of their system before you throw a farewell party or invite them to wave you off at the airport. Leave telling them too late and you might not be seeing them at either. You have been warned!

6. The application process

All aboard the emigration boat If so, it's time to tackle the visa application paperwork - and all the supporting documentation, such as educational and vocational qualifications, police records (if you've lived overseas, you'll have more of these to collate), proof of employment• the list is virtually endless, and by no means painless.

With this in mind, a significant proportion of prospective emigrants decide to enlist the services of an immigration professional (see step 2), who will fill out the paperwork, collate and package the necessary forms, submit the application to the relevant immigration department, chase them up when the emigration trail seems to be going cold and guide you through the final part of the process - police and medical checks, and an interview.

7. The job search

If you didn't require a job offer to smooth your visa application, now that the application has been submitted it's a good time to focus on your post-emigration employment situation. After all, emigration will undoubtedly deplete your assets and savings, and/or make a sizable dent in any equity you plan to use as your emigration treasure trove, so you'd better make sure you get on the recruitment case as soon as you can. Hopefully, you did all the right things during step 1, so you've at least avoided making the same mistake as the beachwear salesman who moved to Alaska.

Again, you have a choice of forging your own employment contacts in a foreign country or employing the services of someone who already has a ready-made network to ease your employment intentions to fruition.

You may find, though, that your British qualifications are not recognised in your chosen destination, or that you need to pass an exam to get the licence necessary for you to continue in the same line of work. If so, this would be a good time to find out - and take the necessary course of action.

8. Your money

Besides planning an emigration budget (this is an expensive business - don't kid yourself that a few grand will do the job), there are a whole range of financial considerations that go alongside emigration.

One of the most important money matters to address is currency transfer. Yes, we've all undoubtedly taken a foreign holiday and used our banks or a currency exchange company at the airport to make the exchange for us, but when you're talking about sums of •100,000 or more it's essential to shop around for the best deals. And it's not just a question of shopping around, but planning as well. To maximise your currency exchange, it is important to contact a specialist early on in the emigration process. Why Because the bigger the window you have to transfer your currency, the greater the chance that you'll be able to exchange your pounds sterling into dollars at the highest possible rate - even fixing this maximal rate in advance. And when even over the course of one year rates can fluctuate by as much as 30 per cent, it's not difficult to spot the potential impact an error in judgement will have on your emigrant spending power.

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While you're busy turning $100,000 into $200,000 rather than $140,000, don't neglect your pensions or investments, either. As with currency exchange, there's a right way and a wrong way to move large sums of money overseas - but this time largely due to the tax implications of your chosen method of money moving. Therefore, the advice here is also to make an appointment with a financial advisor specialising in migrant money moves without delay to ensure there's no taxation trouble waiting for you on the other side of the world.

Many migrants suffer the frustration of having to rebuild their credit rating up again from scratch, and although opening a bank account in your destination country well before you move there won't necessarily help, it will certainly assist your settling in process by ticking one more job off the list. Again, though, if you have doubts about actually obtaining a visa, it's best to wait until you have the all-important slip of paper in your passport before you open an overseas account. When you are certain of visa success, however, be sure to request credit references from your banks and lenders in the UK (see step 14, below), and research whether an international credit rating agency can provide you with a piece of paper that will help when convincing bank managers overseas that you really do deserve to have credit extended to you.

A state pensions-related note to those moving to Canada, Australia or New Zealand: your pension's value will be frozen on departure. This means no index-linked increases or further payments into the pension.

9. Your property

For all but the luckiest of migrants, the lump sum to be transferred from pounds to dollars typically comes from the sale of a UK property. Some migrants decide to sell as soon as possible, and prepare a back-up accommodation plan should they complete well before the emigration departure date such as a rented home or, curse the thought, staying with the in-laws. Others decide that they'd rather live at 'home' until the big day, then leave the sale of their house in the hands of someone else. The choice, of course, is yours - but don't neglect to ensure the property is in the condition necessary to achieve that all important sale. When the sale is achieved, you then have the choice of transferring your pounds to dollars at the opportune moment, or - if you've already fixed a great rate - sticking the money in a high interest account for the time being.

Of course, selling your property in the midst of the infamous 'credit crunch' is much easier said than done. For all but the most well off emigrant, no sale means no go - which is a desperately frustrating situation for the many prospective emigrants who've done so well to reach this step of the journey.

So, what to do? Well, you have five options:

1). Make certain your house is as saleable as possible, and hold out for what you think is a realistic asking price. If you do this, though, be prepared to make a quick trip to your chosen country to activate your visa - because you could be in for a long wait. Looking on the bright side, green shoots have been reportedly sprouting in the over wise gloomy loam of the UK property market.

2). Drop the price as far as you need to in order to achieve a speedy sale.

3). Sell it to a house sale agency such as National Homebuyers - but don't expect to be thrilled with the payment you receive.

4). Explore remortgaging options. You could, for example, consider an equity-release mortgage to release a lump sum big enough to pay for your relocation. Bear in mind, though, that interest rates on such products can be pretty steep; moreover, the fact that you still own a UK home when you emigrate may have tax and asset transfer implications.

5). Become a landlord. Besides the challenge of actually finding trustworthy tenants who are willing to pay you enough money every month to make this plan worthwhile, becoming an absentee landlord may also have tax implications. On top of this,having to worry about managing a property in another timezone won't exactly help you focus on making the best of your new start in life.

Unfortunately, there is no right answer - it really depends on the financial specifics of your situation and what in psychological terms suits you best as a solution. To read more on this subject,click here.

When you have a clear idea of what your post-emigration property budget will be, it's time to hit the internet and start narrowing down exactly where you want - and can afford - to live. This will also help you decide on where to rent a property on arrival (see step 12, below) and where exactly your school-age children (should you have any) will have the opportunity to go to school (see step 10, below).

Again, this relocation aspect of emigration is another area in which you could enlist the services of an expert.

10. Education

There's no harm whatsoever in involving your children in deciding where they will go to school or university. Ask them to research possible schooling and undergraduate options on the internet and to find out what they'll be studying at school overseas. Moving to a country with a completely different geography, history, population and wildlife could be just what their academic life needs to get the best out of them.

11. Removals

Whether you plan to take absolutely everything overseas or plan to be a little more selective and are therefore prepared to flog the leftovers, start your removals planning early. Most reputable overseas removals specialists advise that you contact them for a free quotation three to six months before your hoped-for departure date. This way, when you do decide to employ one of these companies, there is a much greater chance that they can actually move your possessions when you want them to. Get the timing wrong and you'll either wave a temporary goodbye to your possessions well before you leave the UK or say hello to them in your new home country long after you hoped to. And remember: your possessions will be in transit for at least four weeks, so plan to move into furnished accommodation on arrival (see step 12, below).

For many migrants, it's not just moving the couch that matters, but the pooch and the moggy, too. This is a completely separate area of international removals, so don't assume that any old common or garden removals company will take care of this for you: instead, get in touch with a specialist. You may also find that your pet will need inoculations and a kennel on the other side of the world to await your arrival; it may even require a period in quarantine.

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12. Accommodation on arrival

Decisions, decisions. Here's another big one: Rent a property on arrival to give you time to find your feet and not make any rash mistakes in buying a home, or buy on arrival (if not before) to give you a real home of your own on arrival - and perhaps capitalise on property market conditions.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both courses of action, but either way it certainly doesn't hurt to book into a hotel for a day or two after arrival to give you much-needed breathing space between jetlag and the myriad practical concerns facing you. If you do rent, please note that rental accommodation can come with various strings attached, such as: a six-month deposit in advance, a minimum period, no pets, and - sometimes - no migrants!

13. Getting there

When you know the date and time your removals firm is carting off your worldly possessions, and you are certain of obtaining a visa, it's a good time to book the flights to your new life. Again, in theory the further from the planned departure date you make the booking, the more chance you have of scooping a bargain - especially if you can fly outside of school holiday periods.

14. UK affairs

Once you have you visa, the emigration trail often turns into a sprint finish - typically in the three months immediately proceeding your emigration. There is a list of things to attend to that will undoubtedly be as long as your arm - even if your arms are as long as a basketball player's and you have really small writing!

Here's a few examples of what you have to think about:

  • Selling unwanted items and preparing others for shipment
  • Selling your car
  • Cancelling insurance policies
  • Bringing payments for utilities and other regular services up to date
  • Informing key financial institutions and governmental departments of your impending move and new address
  • Requesting credit references
  • Handing your notice in at work
  • Collating all necessary paperwork in a convenient file
  • Booking car hire for arrival - and confirming hotel reservations (if appropriate)
  • Tying up miscellaneous financial loose-ends
  • Ensuring the children are registered to start at their new schools
  • Packing essentials to tide you over until the rest of your possessions arrive, and packing carry-on bags for the flight
  • Organising a farewell party
  • Arranging transport to the airport


15. Health cover

Amidst the kerfuffle enveloping your emigration readiness (or otherwise), ensure that you have fully investigated the healthcare situation in your country-to-be. Certainly, you'll want to take out one-way travel insurance, but will you automatically be covered by a national health service on arrival - or will it take 90 days or more for you to qualify for free medical treatment If the latter, be sure to take out temporary health insurance to cover the gap between your arrival and your access to free healthcare.

See our Healthcare section for more information.

16. Departure and arrival

However carefully you stage-manage your departure, the day itself is an emotional powder keg - so prepare best-laid plans but expect to be gritting your teeth quite a lot as well. As per step 5, if you've given your nearest and dearest time to adjust to your plans and understand your reasons for emigrating, they should at least be prepared to accompany you to the airport.

With this much emotion flying around, it's essential you have sufficient distractions for the flight. Besides keeping the kids entertained, perhaps with toys and books relevant to your destination, you might want to cram some information on driving on the other side of the Atlantic or the world - unless you've been so well organised that you've done this already. Checking the list of things you need to do on arrival would also be time well spent.

On arrival, you should set yourself modest goals - leave the bigger things for a few days later. Pick up your hire vehicle, check in to a hotel or motel, let your family and friends - and your relocation agent - know you've arrived safely, recover from the jetlag, and give yourself time to find your feet. A few days of rest and relaxation, though, and you should be ready to move into your new home - whether it's rented or already yours.

17. Getting around

With new places to explore, neighbourhoods to check out, houses to view, schools to visit, groceries to buy, and interviews - or even a job - to attend, you'll need wheels. Some newly landed migrants are happy to hire a vehicle for a week or even a month and get the feel of the driving in a new country, while others may want to get straight on with buying a car. If you take the latter option, ensure that as a new arrival you have the official documentation in place to actually buy a car and obtain insurance cover.

18. Paperwork etc

Unfortunately, paperwork is as difficult to escape from as death and taxes. From getting the appropriate driving licence to registering for tax file numbers, social security numbers, mortgage brokers, real estate agents, registering your kids at the local school and the whole family with a doctor and a dentist, you'll have plenty of paper flying around in the first days and weeks after your arrival. If you've yet to open a bank account in your new country, now would be a good time to do so!

19. Employment

Like almost everything else, a new life abroad comes with a price tag, so unless you managed to find a job to start upon arrival, one of your first tasks is to scour the recruitment pages of the local newspapers and websites, then start sending CVs/resumes, cold calling and banging on doors. Even in the perhaps unlikely event that you have a sizable emigration treasure trove from the sale of your UK home, it's best not to get into the habit of spending without earning because before you know it you'll have a frighteningly small amount of your hard-earned cash left. And remember, every extra penny you spend before you start earning is potentially less you have to spend on your new home.

In some cases, a new arrival starting work in a foreign country may need a little more support, at least initially, than a local, so it would certainly be worth finding out if the company you are about to work for has another employee that can empathise with your experiences and guide you safely past the pitfalls.


20. House and home

Some people can feel right at home in an area straightaway, and as a result go right ahead and buy a property, while others need time to suss out local amenities and the character of the community in question. Neither approach is right or wrong all of the time - it really depends on your specific circumstances and personality. Certainly, if renting first it would help if you were doing so in an area your research has pinpointed as being a potential place to settle - at least this way you can confirm your thoughts or realise before committing to a house purchase that you'd be better off looking elsewhere.

And when you have found the right place for you and your family, it's time to register with utilities, get a land line installed, sign up with an internet service provider, arrange insurance - and maybe take another look at your will.

21. Social networking

House Check. School Check. Car Check. Healthcare Check• While all of these aspects are essential, establishing a social network is equally essential to your chances of emigration success. With no family and friends on hand to share the burdens and triumphs of your big move abroad, those feelings of being a fish out of water can be even more suffocating than you expected. Anticipate, therefore, feeling a certain amount of culture shock on arrival. It would be a mistake, however, to let this chase you back to Britain with your tail between your legs. While time is often the best cure (even if the grass doesn't even have a hint of green, stick it out at least three months, if not a year or more), there is plenty you can do to ease your discomfort - and as the new kids on the block it really is down to you to be proactive.

Every country has its own customs, but inviting the neighbours round for a beer and/or a barbie is often a good first step. There may even be a British expats club in your area, but don't let that stop you from joining local clubs and attending local social functions. After all, you didn't emigrate over a distance of several thousand miles to find another Little Britain, did you?

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