All That You Can't Leave Behind
All That You Can’t Leave Behind

Have you ever dreamed of riding a taxi to the airport, rushing to an airline counter (preferably an exotic airline, not a low-cost domestic carrier…) and buying a one-way ticket on the next flight?

While I’m sure it can be done as long as you have one of these platinum credit cards, it is probably a bad idea because moving abroad involves a few more steps than this.

Disclaimer… I am a terrible example and I shouldn’t even be giving people advice. I moved to Canada without a plan and without doing any research whatsoever. My backpack and I just… came and stayed. Happens. Of course, I was in my early twenties and I had no career plans, no money and few responsibilities. When you have nothing to lose, starting a new life abroad is a pretty damn enticing option.

But the world has changed, immigration rules are tighter, and looking back, I think it’s better to be a tad more prepared than I was.

Here are 10 things you should con­sider doing before you move abroad.

Check out the price of retail products online

Recently, I was discussing with @sodhigagan, a prospective immigrant who had questions about life in Canada. As part of his immigration project, he had a brilliant idea—browsing Canadian retailer websites to estimate the cost of living.

Checking out local supermarket flyers (often available online) and retail prices for furniture, electronics, entertainment, etc. is a great way to budget, especially when, like @sodhigagan who is from India, the cost of living will be significantly higher than your home country.

Research the products you may miss and pack them!

Make a list of your favourite everyday products and items, and check if they are available in your new country. If not, pack them!

Of course, you can only carry so much, but having familiar products with you when you first settle can help with the transition (eventually, you will find great local products!). Many people focus on food (it’s not a cliché: many French ship the content of their wine cellar and huge chunks of cheese!) but think outside the fridge. For instance, I often bring my favourite soaps and creams from France.

Organize your paperwork

A few years ago, I was called for jury duty in France because officially, I was still living at my parents’ address—I had never bothered notifying the French administration that I had moved to Canada. Ooops.

You spent months taking care of immigration-related paperwork, but don’t forget your legal existence—and associated rights and responsibilities—in your home country. Don’t go MIA, you will be found!

Make sure your important documents are up to date

If your passport is about to expire, renew it before you leave. It’s much easier than having to deal with your embassy once you are abroad.

My French passport expired two years ago and I still haven’t renewed it because it involves multiple trips in person to the consulate in Toronto. The same goes with your driver’s license, IDs, credit cards, etc.—try to leave with valid paperwork.

Get your friends’ and relatives’ complete mailing addresses

These days, it’s easy to stay in touch online by email and through social networks or blogs. But post office and physical mail are often an immigrant’s best friend, to send or receive “care packages” and stay connected to your loved one in a meaningful way.

So don’t forget to make a list of everybody’s mailing addresses, including these tricky postal codes no one remembers.

Research childcare options

Moving abroad with young kids means that, maybe for the first time, you won’t be able to rely on a trusted network of close friends and family members. Unfortunately, settling in will keep you busy for a while and you may need childcare options—or at least know that there are available. Nanny, babysitter, drop-in centre or full-day daycare… contact them early on!

Start meeting people and networking

It’s very tempting at first to get into the “us vs. them” mindset, as in you (and your family, if applicable) vs. a bunch of strangers.

Don’t think of yourself as an outsider, even though technically you are still new.

Make the first step and introduce yourself to as many people as you can—your neighbours, the staff at the coffee shop, people in your field, other parents, etc. The sooner you start meeting people, the easier the transition will be.

Evaluate your priorities and set one goal

It’s a fact: you can’t have it all right away. It will take months, years even, to achieve your goals, whatever they are—a nice house, a dream job, a complete identity makeover.

My best advice would be to focus on one short-term goal at a time. Presumably, you moved abroad for a reason. What triggered the adventure?

Whether you want a cultural experience, an adventure off the beaten track, more job opportunities or a better quality of life, focus on what matters the most to you in the short term.

Have an exit plan

In both your personal and professional life, it’s often a bad idea “burn bridges”. Of course, there are exceptions—a toxic relationship, a hopeless workplace—but cutting off all ties is a risky move and the world is a small place.

You may feel like you are completely done with your home country and that a one-way ticket and a visa are all you need for a better future, and who knows, maybe you’re right. But if things don’t work out, it’s good to have an exit plan, including connections and a good reputation trail.

Bring the best of your culture with you

Whether you want it or not, your cultural identity was shaped by the culture of the place where you grew up and lived the longest. You may feel you’re ready to become someone else, but your accent, behaviour, dietary habits, ethnic traits, etc. will betray you. For quite a while, you will be seen as an immigrant, and guess what? This is okay.

Share the best of your culture and be a proud ambassador, after all, it is part of you!

What would you put on your emigration checklist? Anything to add?

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  1. Gagan March 10, 2015 at 12:00 am

    Thanks Juliette,

    These points will be a further help; I didn’t even think of most of these, but the first one 🙂 Last point is what has captured most of my attention, thanks.

    Thanks a lot for your hardwork.

    1. Zhu March 10, 2015 at 12:01 pm

      Thank you for the inspiration! 🙂

  2. Silvia March 10, 2015 at 10:29 am

    Zhu, thanks for the infographic by HiFX, it’s precious.
    Something I would add, in any moment between when you decide you want to go and some months before the departure (but I would say any moment is great for this, expat or not), is: get rid of all the junk you might (undoubdetly?) have in your home. I’m currently doing exactly this, and I can assure it is A LOT. 😀

    I stumbled on a book which really helped me a lot, it taught me how to discard things, something I’ve always been no good at. It’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. Magic, really! 😀

    1. Zhu March 10, 2015 at 12:01 pm

      I’m completely anti clutter. Without going for the monastic lifestyle, I find material stuff, at least too much of it, “clutter” my mind. Purging your house, drawers, whatever is often cathartic!

  3. Holly March 10, 2015 at 8:46 pm

    I wish I had researched things I would miss from home a little more and that I had looked into the effects of homesickness a bit more. Luke was the same as you when he came here – he came on holiday and then stayed. That was a long time ago and immigration has definitely changed – take it from me!

    1. Zhu March 11, 2015 at 3:36 pm

      I know… I hope you will get your RP soon 🙁

  4. Julien March 11, 2015 at 5:24 pm

    Thanks for these great tips ! 😉
    FYI the French embassy in Ottawa holds “permanence consulaire” if you need to renew your french passport. The next one is in June. You can find info here :

    Thought that would be useful !

    1. Zhu March 11, 2015 at 10:57 pm

      I had NO idea and yes, this is really useful. Thank you so much!

  5. Christiane March 14, 2015 at 12:59 pm

    I like this list !! I wish i had thought of checking retail prices online, but i was too happy to move lol
    I would add to check other expats blogs in the country you are moving to. It really helped get different perspectives about new culture and everyday life. For example, reading your blog and Holly’s helped ease my fear about moving and i got to explore different places in Canada through your eyes 🙂

    1. Zhu March 15, 2015 at 9:21 pm

      I wish I had connected with other immigrants more when I first came, but blogging was still in infancy.

  6. Daisy June 30, 2015 at 10:24 am

    This checklist it literally half the job done, thank you so much! I’m moving soon, and it is my first moving so I’m quite nervous, but I think this checklist from you will help me make a better plan. Thanks again!

    1. Zhu June 30, 2015 at 11:11 am

      You’re very welcome! I wish you a happy move 🙂

  7. Shy Girl November 6, 2015 at 7:01 am

    Hello Zhu,

    i am think­ing and seri­ously con­sid­er­ing mov­ing to Canada, but i am a lit­tle con­fused as i havent been to any col­lege or uni­ver­sity, can you advise what entry i can apply for as a per­ma­nent res­i­dent. i hear peo­ple say to be eli­gi­ble as a “Skilled Immi­grant” you need to be a Uni­ver­sity Grad­u­ate how through is this?

    1. Zhu November 6, 2015 at 1:31 pm

      You don’t necessarily need to have university education but you need to have the right combination of skills and experience the Canadian labour market need. Check out


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