17 Essential Documents Expats Need When Moving Overseas

Documents Expats Need When Moving Overseas - Proudly South African In Perth

So you’ve decided to make the big move – congrats! And no doubt you’ve got a million things on your emigration to do list.

One of the first things you need to start working on are all the essential documents you’ll need before and after you emigrate.

I’ve put together a list of all the essential documents expats need when moving overseas – whether you’re moving to Australia, or anywhere else in the world.

The Essential Documents Expats Need When Moving Overseas


Obviously you’re going to need a valid passport, so check when your passport expires.

As it’s quite a lengthy process to renew your South African passport from overseas, I recommend renewing your passport in South Africa before you leave, even if you have a few years left on it.

The less admin you need to do with the SA government once you’re in Australia, the better!

If you do need to renew your South African passport from Australia, I’ve written a post about how to do this to help you through the process.


Once your visa has been granted, make copies of it and get some of them certified.

It’s always handy to have copies of your visa as you will need to show evidence of your right to live in Australia to various people – employers, recruiters, real estate agents etc.

Birth & Marriage Certificates

Something we often don’t have more than one copy of are our official birth and marriage certificates.

Apply for copies of these, and ensure they are the unabridged/full versions as usually these are the only accepted ones when you need to deal with government bodies.

Get these all certified as well and ensure you have all applicable certificates for yourself, your children and your parents as well. When it comes to your Australian citizenship application time, you’ll likely need to provide these as part of your application.

ID books or cards

Make sure you have your South African ID books or new style ID cards. Even if your green ID book has expired, don’t get rid of it!

It is essential if you want to open a bank account in South Africa once you have moved overseas, along with your tax number. And especially if you might financially emigrate in the future. You might want to chuck it in the bin when you leave, but hang onto it just a little while longer.

Immunisation Records for Children

All children need to provide evidence of immunisation before attending day care or school in Australia.

Get all your children’s vaccination records together in one book or list and keep it safe.

Medical Records (prescriptions/records)

If you have important medical records you would like to bring for your new doctor (once you find one) in Australia, ask your GP or specialist for a copy of your medical records.

You may be charged a fee for this but it can be worth it for peace of mind and continuity of care.

Regular prescriptions should be prepared and filled before leaving – you can bring up to 3 months’ worth of prescription medication into Australia when you arrive and will need to show evidence of your script. Read more about bringing medicines into Australia here.

Academic Records

While academic records are not always needed, they can be helpful if you are considering applying for a place for your child at a prestigious school or ones that offer academic entry pathways.

Ask your school to put together your child’s academic records for you in case you are asked for them upon enquiry or enrolment.

However most public schools in Australia will take you if you live within the catchment area, and private schools are fee paying so as long as you pay the fees, your child will usually be offered a place.

Insurance Documents

When you have a good history of no claims for insurances, ask your insurer for a letter to confirm how many years of no claims bonus you have.

This can help you get cheaper insurance in Australia for things like car and home insurance.

Some health insurers will waive waiting periods as well if switching from an approved South African medical aid to an Australian health insurer, so keep a record of your SA medical aid policy and ask them if they are affiliated with any Australian health insurers.

Flight Bookings

It goes without saying but shouldn’t be forgotten – print copies of your flight bookings and file them away safely.

Yes everything is online and stored in apps these days but if tech fails you, having a hard copy of your flight bookings and boarding passes could mean the difference between making it onto the plane or missing your flight.

Accommodation & Car Rental Bookings

Once you’ve booked your short term accommodation on arrival in Australia, print out all confirmations of this.

Include the address, directions, and any important check in procedures – the last thing you want to be doing when you arrive after a long flight is try and work out where you are going or how to get into the property.

The same goes for car bookings – ensure you know what car hire company you’ve booked with and have your driving licence and any relevant insurance documents handy when you pick up your car.

Shipping Documents

Are you shipping your household goods to Australia? Keep all records of your shipping container booking, including reference numbers, fees paid, shipping dates and the process once your goods arrive in Australia.

If you’re getting quotes for international shipping, get free international shipping quotes here now.

Bank and Tax Records

Chances are you’ll be keeping your bank accounts in South Africa even if it’s just for a few months after leaving so keep all details of your accounts.

You also want to be 100% sure that you will still have online access to your accounts once you are overseas so talk to your bank about how best to make sure this continues once you’ve moved.

Getting banks in SA to do anything is difficult when you are no longer in the country. Often requests are met with ‘come into the branch’ which of course is physically impossible yet doesn’t prevent this from being their standard response to most queries from account holders living overseas!

Consider putting a power of attorney in place for a family member, lawyer or friend to be able to instruct changes or transfers on the account on your behalf.

And don’t forget about your SARS e-filing. Much as you may want to leave all that behind, burying your head in the sand about your SA tax returns is never a good idea. Until you cut all financial ties with South Africa by financially emigrating, you are supposed to complete annual tax returns. Not having access to your e-filing will make that so much harder.

Print off a record of your SARS tax number for your essential documents folder – you’ll need this to open a bank account in South Africa from overseas if you need to, or to financially emigrate.

Police Checks

If you got a police check as part of your visa application, don’t lose this once your visa is granted.

Print a few copies of it and keep them – you may need it for job applications or for your citizenship application further down the line.

Driving Licence

Check the expiry on your driving licence. Hopefully it’s still valid so you can drive in Australia as soon as you land.

As long as it’s valid then there is no need to renew it if you plan to exchange it for a WA one when you arrived. You can simply swap it over as long as you’re 25 years or older, and the licence has not expired by over 12 months.

Find out everything you need to know about how to convert your overseas driver licence to an Australian one.

Life Policy Documents

Have any life or trauma insurance policies? Print off all recent documentation and correspondence for your essential expat documents folder.

Check with the assurer whether you will still be covered if you are living overseas, and think about how you will continue to pay the premiums on these policies.

Some will also only pay benefits into a South African account, not an overseas one, so ask the question before leaving, so you are prepared for all eventualities.

Wills and Power Of Attorneys

Wills and other legal documents drawn up in South Africa usually deal only with your South African assets.

Keep these in place and ensure you have valid and up to date copies of all these documents such as wills, power of attorneys and medical directives.

Also look at writing up an Australian will as soon as you are settled, to deal with all your Australian affairs.

Pet Vaccinations/Medical History

Are you bringing your beloved pets with you? You’ll want to get all their medical records including vaccinations together ready for their journey to Australia.

Find out more about the requirements you need to meet to bring your cats and dogs to Australia here.

Ownership Records for Property & Other Assets

Will you continue to own property or other assets in South Africa?

This includes:

  • Your primary home
  • Rental properties
  • Vehicles
  • A trust
  • A business
  • Shares
  • Investments
  • Retirement annuities
  • Preservation funds
  • Private pension policies
  • Loans, mortgages and other debts

Dealing with these from overseas can be complicated, so the more paperwork you have to show their status, values, and your ownership or involvement the better.

File all emails relating to these in named folders in your email account. Print off important letters like policy values, welcome letters and annual statements, and add them to your important documents folder.

Trust me, you’ll thank me when it comes time to sell them, close them off, or financially emigrate from South Africa.

5 Key Things To Do With Your Essential Expat Documents

1. Always have several copies ready to use or give out – at least 3-4 of each.

2. Categorise your documents with different dividers in your folder. It will make them so much easier to locate quickly.

2. Keep your essential documents in your hand luggage – don’t ship it as you don’t know when it will arrive, and don’t put it in your checked luggage in case it gets lost. Get more tips on what to pack in your hand luggage when you emigrate here.

3. Find a safe place to keep them once you arrive in Australia.

4. As you use copies for your various admin activities, consider getting more copies made to replace used ones. Your local library is a great place to get copies made quickly and cheaply.

I hope you have found this post on essential documents expats need when moving overseas useful.

Have I missed anything out? Let me know in the comments below.

For more helpful blogs on settling into Aussie life, check out:

What is 100 points of ID?

7 things you need to do in your first week in Australia

About Author

Helping you move to, settle in, and explore your new home in Australia. Avid reader, beach lover, and horse addict. As someone who has emigrated, not once, not twice, but three times, I know exactly what you’re going through. The ups and downs of emigration are faster than a rollercoaster and I’ve been there – three times!

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