One of the biggest challenges as a newcomer to another country is finding high quality and trustworthy service providers. Whether it be for taxes, getting a visa, shipping companies, real estate, buying a car, or building a house, there are many stories of people who take advantage of expats. When you don’t have a local network to provide reliable recommendations, when you don’t know how systems work, and when you aren’t fluent in the language, it’s all too easy to make mistakes in who you work with.
There are two general routes you can take to find reliable service providers — do it yourself, or work with services that connect you with vetted professionals.
Do it yourself
If you have the time and energy to dedicate to finding a trusted service provider, we recommend following the steps below:
If you’re seriously considering becoming an expat, chances are that you know at least one other person who has moved to your country of interest. The best way to find a trusted vendor is ALWAYS word-of-mouth. You can go back and forth over email, but if possible ask your contact to schedule a 30 minute call to learn more about the service-provision landscape in the area you’ll be moving to, and to dig into your contact’s experience with specific service providers.
Refer to reviews, but be savvy
Most service providers will have an online presence with Google or Facebook reviews. Remember to value not only the content of those reviews, but the number of reviews as well. Online reviews can be gamed, but it is harder to game the review-system if there are hundreds or thousands of reviewers. In your search, you will likely want to prioritize services that have experience working with American expats, who speak fluent English, and who have professionalized services — not just an individual with a DIY website, for example – and who get back to you promptly (no more than two business days). Services like Trust Pilot can be a great review-based resource.
Join Facebook groups
There are Facebook groups for most expat enclaves. These can be wonderful (and responsive!) resources for you to find trusted service providers — and to learn which service providers to avoid. Ideally you can join a Facebook group specific to the town/region that you will move to, as local knowledge can lead you to service providers with more in-depth experience in your specific area. People in these groups are generally friendly and very happy to help, which can be a double-edged sword. Beware that asking questions on these groups can lead to a high-volume of advice, but not necessarily curated advice, so you may need to sift through to find the truly helpful gems.
Be patient and ask hard questions
Don’t go with the first company you find. If you’re in a rush to find someone to help you, you could end up saddled with a bad service provider, or worse, an outright crook, during what is already a stressful period. You may also end up employing a service provider that isn’t well-suited to the task.
Use the steps above to gather a shortlist of 5 to 6 possible service providers, and then schedule calls with at least 3 of them. Don’t be afraid to ask hard questions. Remember, they will be working for you, and so you should make sure they are able to answer all of your questions to your satisfaction.
Work with relocation experts
If you don’t have the time, or if you want to prioritize your peace of mind and take the guesswork out of the process, there are a few companies that can connect you with vetted service providers.
Companies that vet service providers in 1-2 categories
If your list of needs is relatively short, there are a number of companies that can either directly provide or can connect you with service providers. For example, there are many visa-by-investment firms that combine immigration services with a real estate wing or partner to help you purchase property.
End-to-end relocation services
StartAbroad has trusted service providers across many categories: visas, real estate, in-country healthcare/medical planning, expat taxes, shipping, pet relocation, short-term rentals, car purchase, and more. We carefully vet all service providers to ensure they have strong local reputations, a track record of success, and a high quality of service. We can connect you with our team for self-service if you prefer to speak with every provider directly, or you can sign up for our concierge service where we’ll manage everything for you, selecting the right service provider for your individual needs and guiding you step by step through everything you need to know.