The Optometrist's Guide to Moving: State Licenses, Personal Finances, and More

Jul 5, 2022
10 min read

Moving to a brand-new state or country can be hard, but adding in licensure can make the move even more difficult. Here you will find a moving guide to make this process much easier.

There are a lot of decisions to make before moving to a new location. If you are moving to an area you have lived before, or if you have friends and family already there, it can be easy. On the other hand, moving across state lines or country borders involve tougher decisions and even some sacrifices. It can be hard to know if relocating is the right decision, and even harder to outline the logistics of the professional move itself. There may be different licensing requirements and legalities that you have to research and understand.

In this guide, we will walk you through some items to help you prepare for this exciting next step.

Assessing the move

There are many questions to answer before deciding to move. Why are you moving? Where will you live? What is your timeline? This worksheet will help you answer crucial questions in your decision to move.

If you are moving abroad, there are even more questions to ask yourself. What steps do you need to secure a job? Will it occur before or after you move? Most countries require a work visa and/or sponsorship by an employer if you are not a resident. Research your specific country’s legal requirements, how their tax system works, and if there are any customs/import taxes for the items you are bringing with you.

You may need assistance from professional services such as a lawyer, attorney, tax accountant, or translator for an international move. Find people who can assist you in your journey—especially those who may have gone through a similar move.

Taking stock of personal finances

The first step any financial advisor will tell you when assessing your personal finances is to start tracking your spending. Knowing your spending habits can help you identify what you are able to save towards your move. Also research the cost of living in the new area. Will you be able to afford this new location long-term? If you’re moving abroad, take the exchange rate into consideration.

Next, write down all the potential expenses involved with the move. It’s best to do this in a spreadsheet so you can start listing costs for each.

Potential moving expenses:

  • Optometry license application fees
  • Gas/airfare
  • U-Haul/shipping container
  • Moving company services
  • Vehicle shipping costs
  • Pet relocation costs
  • Travel accommodations during transit
  • Work visa and other international fees
  • Associated costs for living arrangement (down payment for house, rent deposit, etc.)
  • Settling-in costs, like buying new furniture

When you are determining costs for your moving budget, get precise quotes for their services. Being prepared financially will help you to feel more successful in your move.

If you are moving before the new job is finalized, make sure you have a plan for covering your expenses in case the process takes longer than expected. Having 3-6 months of expenses saved can help relieve you of financial strain that may come from a move.

Download this Moving Worksheet to assess your needs and readiness.

Optometry licensing requirements

Some states may take weeks or even months to process your licensing application. Start early, and consider obtaining your license before you begin job interviewing (it shows your motivation to move!).

If you’re moving to a different state, check out our previous Eyes On Eyecare articles on obtaining your license in all 50 states and through reciprocity.

Make sure to visit your state’s licensing website for any new changes or requirements.

Moving abroad is a little more complicated. First, you will want to research the scope of practice for the country you are moving to. The scope of practice may differ compared to the United States, and in some countries, optometrists are not recognized as medical providers and have similar duties as an optician. For example, the scope may not include ophthalmoscopy or medication prescribing without an ophthalmologist, so your primary job would be refractions and glasses/contact lens dispensing.

Next, contact the national association that regulates optometry licensing in that country. Most countries offer an online portal with requirements and application information. For example, the General Optical Council in the United Kingdom lists their requirements for international optometrists to obtain practice licenses in the country.

Some requirements may include an optometry board exam, interview, language test or submission of qualifications. If you are a new graduate, be aware that some countries may require that you have working experience (unsupervised) for at least one year. If you are interested in practicing in Canada, check out our previous article on Canadian licensing requirements here.

Negotiating relocation costs

Many practices will negotiate relocation costs into your benefits, especially if you are moving a significant distance to practice. During contract negotiations, you may have the opportunity to address this as part of your discussion.

First, determine what type of relocation assistance is offered and how you can utilize these benefits. The relocation package may or may not include: coverage to sell your home or break a lease early, temporary accommodation assistance, transportation costs, moving services, and more. Or, it may simply be a fixed amount of money. Connect with your employer to understand how you utilize these benefits, and what steps you may need to take to receive the funds. Also, look into how these benefits may be taxed or subjected to other withholdings. By understanding what is included and how it is distributed, you are more prepared for your negotiation.

Second, research the costs of living in the area. Take into consideration taxes, housing and living expenses. There are many comparison calculators online that you can use. Does your potential salary and relocation assistance make uprooting your home worthwhile? If not, you know that salary or relocation negotiations are required.

Also, research typical relocation packages for your job and location, and reach out to colleagues and recruiters that have experience in relocation assistance.

Before negotiations, look at your moving expenses spreadsheet (from above) and determine what you need from relocation assistance. Maybe you need to break a lease early or have childcare needs. Even if you don’t get everything you request, you can negotiate on what is important.

During contract negotiations, emphasize the mutual benefits of the relocation assistance with your employer. Discuss what benefits your move can be to your employer to bolster your negotiation. For example, you can discuss how you could start seeing patients earlier than planned if you can find a home quickly.

However, be aware that each scenario is different, and some employers may not be open to negotiating the relocation assistance.

Post-pandemic considerations for optometrists

In the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, your new employment may require certain vaccinations. Contact your employer to see what vaccinations are required; this may or may not include the COVID-19 vaccinations and booster. If you are moving abroad, some countries may require certain vaccinations and/or a quarantine period upon entering. Due your research for your country’s requirements to ensure a smooth border crossing.

Over the past two years, you have seen how unpredictable the world can be. That is why insurance is crucial before any big life decision. Make it a priority to get health insurance, travel insurance, and renter’s insurance if it applies to you. This may be through your employer or an outside source. Even if the worst happens during your move, you can have peace of mind knowing that you have insurance to assist you.

If you are a new grad, you may have had the benefit of the federal student loan payment pause for more than two years. At the time of this publication, the payment pause is set to end August 31, 2022. Make sure you take your student loan monthly payment into consideration in your budget. Login to your loan servicer’s website to determine what your monthly payment will be.

If you are on an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan, your monthly payment is based on 10-20% of your discretionary income. Call your servicer directly to get the exact amount.

If you are moving to a different country and have federal student loan debt, you may have the opportunity to take advantage of the Foreign Earned Income Tax Exclusion. This tax strategy lets you exclude over $100,000 of your foreign earnings from your US tax return. Consult your tax accountant to see if you qualify for this exclusion.

What to expect after your move

Once you have settled into your new location, there may be a few more logistics to finalize. If you brought a vehicle with you, contact the local DMV to register your car and obtain a new driver’s license. You may have to take a driving examination depending on the state/country you move to. Some states and countries also require your pet to be registered upon entering.

Get to know your community by exploring your new area. Seek out groups or activities that interest you, attend local farmer’s markets, and stay social to establish new friendships. You can also contact your local optometry association to get involved and hear about upcoming events.

If you are far away from friends and family, you may experience homesickness. These feelings are normal, temporary, and part of this new change. Once you normalize these feelings, it can be easier to move past them. Find ways to stay connected with family and friends through video calls, letters, or care packages. Make new memories by engaging in your community and meeting new people. If you feel overcome by these emotions, do not hesitate to get professional help through therapy or counseling.

Steps for success in your new optometry career

  1. Assess the move – is this right for you and your family?
  2. Develop a budget of all the expenses associated with the move–can you afford to relocate?
  3. Begin the job search (if not already lined up), and apply for your license in that state/country
  4. Negotiate your relocation allowance
  5. Pack up and move
  6. Start your position and enjoy your new location!

The moving process can be daunting, expensive, and time-consuming, but you’ll find success smoothly if you prepare adequately. This is an exciting time in your life and optometry career, so enjoy your new adventure!

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About Deidrie Colter, OD

Deidrie Colter graduated from Pacific University's College of Optometry and holds a degree in biology from the University of Idaho. Upon graduation, she began her optometric career as an associate doctor in Eugene, Oregon at a private practice. Deidrie enjoys …

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