With some careful planning, you can minimize the stress of moving to a new country.
How many times have you scrolled through articles and social media posts filled with picture-perfect anecdotes and about moving abroad and thought, “That could be my life” or “It’s time to get out of here”? What you don’t see is the anxiety, indecisiveness, regrets, and general miscalculations and mistakes that happen behind the scenes. Moving to a new country not only takes guts, but it also takes a great amount of determination, effort, flexibility, and planning to have a successful move. First, no matter what cost of living estimate or expectations people share with you, you’re bound to incur unexpected fees or inconveniences, for example fluctuating costs of accommodation, food, recreational activities, taxes, medical expenses as well as maintaining a home. Creating a solid game plan will alleviate pre-move jitters and help you keep calm should issues arise.
Set Realistic Goals. Read and/or Revise That List Every Day Until You Move
Take ample time to understand your motives for moving, what your expectations will be, and what opportunities you hope to encounter while abroad. How will this move add value to your life? Will you be better off or worse than you were in your home (previous) location?
Are you searching for a place that provides security, access to a healthier lifestyle, education, or employment opportunities? Perhaps you’re searching for love or have a strong desire to learn a new language. You may even want to live off the grid or simply start over. Whatever it is, you need to be clear in your intentions to help you mentally, emotionally, and physically prepare for your journey. While you’ll need to be flexible in your expectations, be prepared to negotiate or walk away from circumstances that you deem unacceptable or detrimental to your peace of mind and happiness.
Emergency Prep: What Sorts of Things Do You Need To Be Ready for?
Even if you plan on relocating permanently, you should develop a short-term and long-term plan. Choose your emergency contact(s) wisely. If possible, make a note of the languages that each contact speaks along with the best way to contact them. Label your emergency contacts in your phone and computer. In addition, determine what to do with your belongings, cancel unnecessary contracts, and pay down debts. Have at least three-to-six months’ worth of the projected cost of living saved up plus a credit card for emergencies before you embark on your journey. Consider what you’d need to do if you need to return home unexpectedly, pay hidden fees, or if you change your mind about your new location. Do you really need to pay for an apartment and car insurance in two countries?
Pack, Repack, and Pack Again
Avoid overpacking to reduce unnecessary stress unless you’re heading to a remote location where necessities will be difficult to find or excessively expensive to purchase. Determine if it will be more cost-effective to purchase items like toiletries, furniture, cars, clothing, and appliances after you arrive. Avoid causing damage to expensive appliances and electrical sockets by buying the correct adaptor will save you a lot of angst in the long run. Rule of thumb, if you haven’t used something in over a year, you can probably leave it behind. Consider selling some of your items to mitigate the new costs. Chances are they’ll have access to what you need wherever you move to, for example, beauty and hair care products. Ask people to bring special items if they visit you instead. Donate or ask someone you trust to store items of importance, especially if you’re relocating for less than two years.
Finding Adequate Healthcare May Be Easier Than You Think
If you haven’t secured a job contract, you should definitely find short-term or low-cost travel insurance before you move, some visas may even require it. Use social media ex-pat groups that are specific to your destination to get feedback on insurance companies and pricing. A friend of mine was able to insure herself for about $10 a month in Lisbon, Portugal simply by asking her banker to assist her. If you and/or your family need to upgrade from a basic plan, try to find something flexible. You may be able to adjust your coverage as your needs change and that will help reduce your spending. Coming from the USA, I was shocked to learn that my fellowship contract in Spain included free health insurance. I was able to extend the coverage until my contract was renewed for the following year for about $40 a month.
Don’t Expect Your Accommodation Search to Be Like the Process in Your Home Country
Finding a place to live can be a daunting process. The requirements will vary in each country and it is best to be as prepared as possible. Countries outside of the USA use bank information, employment status, and references when choosing tenants instead of a credit report. Foreigners can expect to pay higher rents and/or additional deposits until they build “social credit” in their new locale. Book initial accommodation at hostels, hotels, or using vacation rental platforms to get a reduced monthly rate while you explore neighborhoods and hunt for your new home to ease some of the pressure. If you need additional help, consider hiring a realtor or finding a local to help you communicate with property owners and negotiate better rates. Avoid signing contracts and sending payments before you or someone you trust to view a location in person, especially if a hefty deposit is required.
Get a Local Telephone Number and Bank Account as Soon as Possible
Having a local number will help you communicate with local services with ease. Some people or businesses won’t even accept calls unless they come from a local number. If you’re concerned about astronomical fees and overages, consider downloading a free messaging service to use on your mobile phone and computer. You may have to fill out forms that require you to provide a local number. Use a Virtual Private Number (VPN) to continue with uninterrupted service for international calls and streaming services. Make sure your phone is unlocked before you leave and purchase a cheap local SIM Card upon arrival. Monthly phone plans have cost me as little as $23 for 20 GB (which rollover) and 200 local voice minutes in Spain and $10 for 40 GB and unlimited local calls in Australia.
Random Strangers on the Internet Should Not Be Your Source for Legal or Tax Advice
It’s imperative to get tax advice from a tax professional and legal advice from a legal professional. The help of a professional can save you time, money, and angst. Look for professionals that offer free consultations. Referrals are absolutely OK to use but what works for one person may not work for another. As far as money matters, do your best to understand currency conversion and credit card rates. Is the currency you earn weaker or stronger than the currency in your new destination? If you earn income in your home country’s currency, you’ll want to keep at least one account open and find the easiest way to transfer money to an account in your new home. Since countries outside the USA don’t use a credit score rating to determine credit worthiness, be ready to supply proof of sufficient funds whenever purchasing or renting abroad.
Don’t Underestimate the Power of Networking During Your Job Search
Some people are able to fast-track permanent residency under employment contracts. Finding a job varies by country and the visa you obtain. Check to see if your country of interest offers freelancing visas, artist (creative) visas, business ownership, or Golden Visas (investors, retirees), volunteer, research, or student visas. Make sure you thoroughly understand the conditions of your visa. The best ways are to apply directly through the company of interest, use a recruiting company, or an international networking website. Start with companies that have a base in your country of citizenship but also have international (satellite) offices around the world. Research how to format your resume. You’d be surprised by how many jobs you can find simply by chatting with strangers, friends, and friends of friends. Are there any restrictions? Are you fluent in multiple languages? There’s a chance your work applications will speed to the front of the line.
Learn the Local Language
Immersing yourself within the local culture is the quickest and most rewarding way to break any language barriers. You’ve come to a new country to grow. You’ll make heaps of mistakes even if you have some familiarity with a particular language due to colloquialism and other factors. Combine that with attending structured classes, using study aides, relentless memorization, and repetition, and you’ll accelerate your path to fluency. Have you ever conversed with or overheard someone that made many mistakes while speaking a foreign language? Don’t let your fear of sounding like an idiot stop you! It takes a lot of courage but learning from those errors by conversing with native speakers gives you an opportunity to practice what you’ve learned and accelerate your rate of retention. Liquid courage helps, too! Grab a glass of wine, a cold beer, or a cup of coffee and chat away.
Build Community Before and After You Arrive
Even if you’d like to live in solitude, creating a circle of acquaintances and friends will undoubtedly help you adjust to life abroad. One of the reasons that cause ex-pats to return home is the inability to overcome loneliness. No matter how awesome you feel your personality is, it still takes time to make meaningful connections and build relationships. Be purposeful in your intentions and try your best to practice reciprocity. If you’re concerned about cultural misunderstandings or language barriers, try meeting up with other ex-pats until you get your bearings. There is nothing like connecting with people that may understand what you’re going through or have similar backgrounds to you. Still, locals have a wealth of information, connections, and resources that many ex-pats will never have. Build trust with the local community and increase your chances of living a happier, healthier life abroad.