Digital preparation checklist for moving overseas

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Digital bits. This is your data visualised. If you lose it, you lose everything.

Moving overseas is easy, right? Just throw everything into a suitcase, call a Lyft and get going.

Wrong. There’s a lot to do, and it’s not just things you do to prepare physically. You need to get your digital assets in order, which is why we put this digital preparation checklist together as we were going through the same actions.

Here are the critical things we’re going through before we move to North Africa.

In a nutshell, this is about

  • Getting everything online
  • Securing everything online
  • Having the right tools

Part 1: Get everything online

Think about all the things you do offline, and move them online.

  • Receiving physical notices in the mail (that you can’t move online… like, your drivers license renewal, or insurance notices)
  • Sign physical documents, like with your attorney or tax accountant
  • Read physical books.

Say bye to paper. Too bad if you like the smell of old books! The maximum we’ll let you take on this trip is one.

Move all your mail online with Virtual Post Mail

Yeah, you can redirect everything to your parents’ house. But what if they don’t live in the country? What if they’re not that handy with a scanner or forwarding things to you in the mail? Maybe you don’t just want to bug them.

Enter Virtual Post Mail. There are a number of competing offerings, but I found these guys to have the best pricing and snazziest website (and when it comes to going online, that counts).

The important things are that it’s not a PO box, something that’s important for a lot of people like banks. It’s a real, physical post box. Also for me, they have an address in California, so I didn’t expect any major upsets when I change my addresses with other service providers.

There’s three parts to setting up with them, after you create an account.

  1. Fill out a form and get it notarized (you can do this at a lot of places, like post offices or UPS stores. At the UPS store it cost me $15), authorizing them to open your mail so nobody is committing a federal crime. If you’ve already left the country, you may need to use an online notary.
  2. Redirect all your mail using an online form at USPS. It costs $1 to do it online, somewhat annoyingly.
  3. To make sure everyone’s cool and nothing gets lost in the cracks, start changing the registered address of everything you use. Start with banks. Then when everything has been processed (takes 3-5 business days), you can do things like PayPal and Stripe and what have you. (Those guys need to verify your address with your bank, so your bank address change needs to be fully processed).

Get online-friendly tax accounting services.

This depends on where you live and how you’re set up, but you want to move to an accountant who is familiar with using online accounting platforms (personal or business) and can give you guidance on cross-border issues. What if you have a company in Estonia, use credit cards tied to your personal bank in the US and are travelling through Africa? For example, of course.

We have experience in Europe, Hong Kong, Australia and the US. We’re not tax professionals, but can point you in the right direction.

Move to a digital library on your Kindle

My favorite Kindle is the Kindle Voyage.

A Kindle Voyage. Moving your library to digital format is a great preparation for moving overseas.

You might have a large library of books, and it might be wise to take one or two with you (which you can swap out in various hipster libraries around the world… surprisingly common outside SF and Portland), but really, a Kindle (or some other e-reader) is going to be your best friend. While the 3G option seems like a fancy nice-to-have, it really is convenient for pages to sync with your phone’s Kindle without you having to set up WiFi on your reader everywhere you go. I personally love that it’s always online, everywhere.

Part 2: Secure everything online

Now that you do everything online (you already did), you need to secure it. This is now triply important as it’s going to be really easy to lose your laptop or your phone (or get them stolen) in random parts of the world.

Every year or so one of my friends calls me, alarmed, telling me they’ve been hacked. This can have various degrees of seriousness, but in the worst cases, one of my old clients had his email hacked, exposing potentially a LOT of money.

Here’s the way to understand security:

Securing your digital life is just like securing your house. If you lock all your doors, but leave one window open, then your house is vulnerable.

One open window and a burglar could just come in. The more conspicuous the open window, the more easily and frequently they come in. You want as few doors and windows as possible, and for those to be thick and have extra layers.

Here’s a quick guide to closing all your doors and windows.

Step 1: List everything you have and digital, that has private information in it.

Just list it down. Think of all the places where you have passwords, copies of your passport, information about your loved ones. This includes for example

  • Emails where you’ve sent them around
  • Google Docs
  • Files on your hard drive, especially that document with all your passwords in it
  • Evernote
  • Dropbox
  • Contact list

Just write it all down in a to-do list. You’re going to secure everything.

Step 2: Remove as much of it as possible

Delete emails. Do a search for the word ‘password’ in your emails and delete them all. Do a search for the standard password you use in too many places (we’ll get to this later), like ‘p4ssword9’ or whatever. Delete those. Ditto for searches on bank information pin codes, credit cards, anything else.

Delete accounts. Now remove and delete accounts you’re not using any more. Think things like

  • Hotmail or Yahoo mail accounts 
  • Dropbox
  • Evernote
  • Apple (if you used to use Apple and switched to Android)

Finally, trim it down. It’s tempting to keep an archive of all your passwords and sensitive information. But you need to minimize the number of documents, emails or notes that contain sensitive information. Ideally, consolidate it all into one document or program.

Step 3: Put at least two passwords in front of everything.

You want two layers of security before your sensitive information. In many cases, this means enabling two-factor authentication on anything important to you.

Definitely enable two factor authentication on

  • Google
  • Facebook
  • Other important social media (Instagram, LinkedIn)
  • Banking
  • Investment accounts

For example, on your phone, you want a password on your phone and the sensitive information to be password-protected.

Your laptop must be password protected, and any passwords or sensitive information on it must be locked behind another password (not in your email).

Get the right tools

Once you’ve got everything online, you want to make it’s all safe there. The best ways to do this are with secure hardware and a VPN.

Stop broadcasting your passwords over airport WiFi: get a VPN!

This one is important if you ever connect to public wifi, which is pretty much all of you.

Get a VPN. Encrypt the info, and make sure it’s tunnelled through to a server.

How does a VPN work?

How a VPN works in a nutshell.
This is how a VPN works in a nutshell, evading the snooper.

The most common form of attack when you’re out there in the world is someone pretending to be public wifi… but they’re a hacker. You know how you can configure your phone to be like a mobile hotspot? Well, that’s an example. What if someone has a phone they just set up as “Airport Wifi Free”, then run an app on their phone to listen in and snoop all your passwords? This is exactly what they can do!

Just check out these search results for “snoop passwords with android hotspot” (please don’t look it up and do these things).

Results for searching "how to snoop someone's wifi". It's very easy to get your wifi hacked unless you have a VPN.
It’s very easy to get hacked, so get a VPN.

Connecting to a VPN is like driving through a tunnel (in fact, you might see the word “tunnel” around in the advertising copy). 

When you’re not in a tunnel, you’re exposed. Especially if you’re in a truck or convertible. Anyone can just reach in and grab things and leave.

When you’re in a tunnel, however, you’re safe. Unless someone else is inside the tunnel. So pick a good VPN provider!

Our favourite: NordVPN. I like it because

  • It’s fast
  • It has been around for ages
  • It works in China
  • It works on a lot of devices (including Chromebooks, which I use).
  • It allows 6 connections per account, which means it’s enough for two people.

Stay online everywhere with global data

Global data is one of those things that you can live without except it’s life changing when you DO have it. Suddenly you have maps, can google random facts, can check if a place is going to be open before trekking there. It’s a philosophical choice, but we prefer to have it, as we have clients and partners in many time zones.

Your two options are to get a local sim or to buy one with a great plan internationally.

Local sims: You have to learn how this works in every country you visit. Luckily, this website has been compiling a guide for every country! There’s only a few missing (to get a sim card in China go to any news kiosk and say “我要一个有数据的手机卡”… I’ll write this up somewhere else). Yes, you lose the ability to receive calls while you’re on a local sim. But you can still receive iMessage calls to your email, use Skype, use Whatsapp with your original number and generally stay connected in every other way.

Get a roaming sim from Google Fi: This is only available to travelers from the US or the UK, but wow, is it amazing. Especially if you share it among two users and multiple devices. Basically it’s $20 per person, then a $100 plan (actually a $100 cap – but we always hit the cap!), for unlimited data in every country in the world. This comes to $70 each. Which isn’t cheap, but it’s pretty cheap considering what they give you – data from the moment you step off the plane.

The downsides: Google Fi only is guaranteed to work with a small range of pretty nice phones. This does include iPhones and the latest Android hardware. Check their compatibility list for the latest!

Get the right hardware for global travel

This could be a page in itself. Let’s just focus on a few things.

Priorities for hardware for global travel are:

  • Robustness and reliability
  • Ease of replacement and repair
  • Adaptability
  • Lightweight

Laptops: Here are the class winners in each category

  • Small laptop: MacBook. It’s 2 pounds, powerful enough for almost anything. If you need more, you know you do and you know what to get. But the MacBook is going to suffice for 99% of people.
  • “I don’t want a laptop”: iPad Pro and case. It’s amazing what you can do with these. However they’re still not cheap, getting to the $7-800 range. In my experience, it’s not quite enough.
  • Extremely replaceable: A Chromebook. My favourite is the Asus C302. It’s $400, has a beautiful touch screen that is perfect for movies, and is powerful enough to edit docs, do browsing with a ton of tabs, edit photos, etc.
An Asus chromebook. Chromebooks are inexpensive, reliable and can do everything you need for medium term travel, short of editing videos.
An Asus chromebook. Inexpensive, reliable and hardy, they can do everything you need during travel.


Just get whatever phone you like best. Oh I’m sorry were you expecting an Android vs iPhone discussion? See everywhere else on the internet for that.

One thing to be sure of if you have a slightly older phone (say, more than two years old) is to make sure it has frequency/data coverage wherever you’re going. For example, this result for the Google Pixel 2 XL (what we’re currently using) shows the frequencies they cover. You should check what frequencies carriers in the country you’re moving to use. It’s unlikely there’s 100% overlap, though in modern times, most modern fines work fine.


If you’re coming from the US (or Japan!) everything you have is on 100-110V. Ditch everything that is even vaguely high powered (hair dryers, blenders, toaster ovens… why are you travelling with a toaster oven?). Even electric toothbrushes are often voltage locked.

Check on the back of your devices and make sure they’re flexible voltage (100-240V). If they are, you’re going to need four kinds of plug adaptors to cover you in most parts of the world:

  • Australia/China/NZ-style (so nice of you to join us, NZ)
  • US/Canada/Mexico style
  • Europe style
  • UK style
  • South Africa
  • One other one

Why are there so many??

A multi travel adaptor pack. Get a travel adapter that can plug into any outlet, and can accept all your hardware.
Get a travel adapter that can plug into any outlet, and can accept all your plugs.

You can also buy an all-in one adaptor, but I find these flimsy and annoying. It’d be a frustrating thing to suddenly break while you’re travelling.

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