Have you ever considered to move abroad either for your studies, work, learning a new language or any other possible reason?
If so, where would you want to go and what are your expectations?
From my own experience as an expat living and working in Italy for eight years I can only tell you, moving abroad is a tremendous opportunity to learn so many new things, to grow as a person and to build yourself a successful international carrier.
But even if you get the opportunity to move to your dream country and working in your dream job, don’t believe even for a moment settling into a new life abroad will be easy. Regardless of how much you have prepared for it.
In my opinion, it is still worthwhile. But in the end, it is one of the most personal decisions to make and not everybody might be prepared for it.
In this post, I intend to give you some guidance what to expect when moving abroad and help you to make up your mind whether moving abroad is the right decision for you.
What are your reasons to move abroad
OK, at some point we all might have this dream to move to a faraway place to live the life of our dreams. This might or might not involve huge white sandy beaches and palm trees.
But all right, let’s get a bit more practical. In most cases a move abroad will mean a new city in a different country as well as a new job.
So if you have the intention to move abroad, the first thing you should consider is: What do you expect from your move? What are the benefits versus the downsides?
For example, do you want to learn a new language, would moving to a particular place help you advance your carrier, does the place offer the best opportunities to complete your studies, and so on.
Once you have put together a list of the reasons why you want to move abroad, you should verify if your dreams and motivations are realistic.
Go through your list and question each of your motivations – will moving abroad actually help you to achieve a specific goal?
In the end, what you should have is a list that says more time yes than no. Otherwise, you should seriously question if moving abroad is the right decision for you.
Where is the best place to live abroad
Again, this is totally individual.
Since by now you have put down the reasons for your move abroad, the question about the best place for you to move might already be answered to some extent.
For example, let’s say you want to move abroad to learn Japanese. Now than it is obvious where you will move to, right? Although this sill leaves you to figure out if it should be Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto or any other city.
If the reason is to gain work experience abroad, finding the best place is likely not as straightforward. It will nevertheless lead to several questions that will help you to narrow down your choice. For example if you are you looking for a specific job in a particular field, are there well-known locations globally that offer a good chance to find a job and gain particular experience?
Another helpful question would be, where are locations looking to attract people with your specific skill sets?
How to find a job abroad
So you have identified your realistic reasons to move abroad and you have narrowed down the location where you want to live.
The next big question is, how can you afford living abroad.
The most likely way to afford living abroad will be to find a job. This is likely even the case if your primary reason to move abroad is to study, as you still have to support your livelihood.
If you get the chance to work with your current employer abroad, than great. This will take away the pressure of job hunting in a foreign place. In addition, a lot of the bureaucracy of moving and getting settled abroad will likely be taken care of by your company.
Realistically however, not everybody will have that option. Which means, you either need to find a job abroad or work on a freelance basis as a digital nomad.
The main question to ask yourself is what type of job you want to find abroad.
Do you want to continue working in your usual field, are you prepared to find a different type of job and what would that be or do you plan to work as a digital nomad in a freelance position?
Should you still feel confident moving abroad having come to this point, there are several options to find a job abroad. You can turn to an agency or online platform offering jobs on an international basis, work as a language teacher, get a working holiday visa and look for a job once you are abroad.
Either way, finding a job and getting a work visa will require a good amount of research and often – at least in the beginning – some compromises. These could be starting with a job that you are not too enthusiastic about and keep looking for a better opportunity or earning less than you did previously.
What are the visa requirements, work documents and other bureaucratic issues when moving abroad
Be prepared that you will need a lot of patience to solve bureaucratic issues.
If you move abroad for your current company, your company might cover large parts of this process or at least provide you legal help to go through the process. Great for you.
However, in most cases you will have to sort out the various legal requirements on your own.
Make sure you know the type of paperwork you need to do in your new country.
Especially if you have to apply for a work visa, plan plenty of time to get things sorted ahead of your move.
Once you have moved, you will still have a lot of bureaucratic work do to. From registering as resident to getting your tax number, have your lease contract registered, sort out contracts for power and water supply at your new home, open a new bank account and get WiFi access at your new home, there is a lot of work to be done at the start.
How to find a home abroad
Going apartment hunting is perhaps one of the least appreciated activities on everybody’s list. OK, except those who find apartment hunting is fun.
But believe me if I tell you, looking for a new rental abroad can get truly challenging – and likely frustrating.
When it was clear I would move to Milan, I started to search for a long-term rental online. And there was a lot on offer. However, I quickly realized that most of the places offered did not match my expectations.
In fact, Italians are typically not spending large amounts of money for housing. Instead of spending money to buy fancy furniture or styling a home, they prefer spending their money for fashion or eating out.
Thus when I looked for a place to live in Milan, I really struggled with the quality of most places that I was offered.
It took me weeks to find a place I liked and even then I had to make several compromises. It was much further away from where I worked than I was hoping, it still had central heating (meaning you can’t regulate your own room temperature as this is done by the landlord for all parties) and the size wasn’t really what I had been looking for (not that it was tiny, it was actually quite large).
Thus the bottom line is, when moving abroad be prepared to make lots of compromises to your housing situation. Real estate standards are still very different in different locations; and finding a place you like can take quite a while.
How much will moving abroad cost you
There is no question, moving abroad means a lot of upfront payments to be made.
Again, if you are moving for your current employer you might be lucky enough that some of these costs will be covered by your company.
In most cases, however, you will have to face a wide range of costs.
For example, are you planning to ship all or part of your belongings to the new country? Then you can expect to pay significant shipping costs.
In case you do ship part of your belongings, you might actually have to pay custom duties or import costs.
And even if you are prepared to leave most of your possessions behind, you will still have to cover a lot of costs.
For example, getting a visa could easily cost you a couple of hundred euros or dollars. Finding a new apartment means to pay a deposit and in some cases you will have to pay agency fees too.
If you are moving with a pet, you will have to cover costs for medical checks pre-move, travel costs and in some cases customs costs as well.
Off course, you have to cover the costs travelling to your new country.
In addition, you might still face some ongoing expanses at home. For example, do you still keep a bank account, maybe you have rented a deposit to keep some of your belongings you do not want to move abroad or you need to pay for a mail-forwarding service.
What are the day-to-day challenges of living abroad
Whilst there is a whole lot to be gained from a move abroad, living abroad means to face a number of day-to-day challenges. Most of them might seem small; but believe me you sometimes might have a hard time dealing with them.
Here are some of the most common challenges you are likely to find yourself confronted with when moving abroad.
In some cases, learning a new language might actually be the main motivation for a move abroad and if that is the case than, great.
However, the motivation for you moving abroad might be a totally different one. In this case, the question of language will still be one of the most important. Unless you move from the UK to the US or Australia, or from Spain to Argentina; you get it.
When you move to a place where a foreign language is spoken and you are not already fluent in that language, you will be faced having to learn at least the basics fairly quickly.
Even if you have already taken lessens at home and feel you are fairly good in speaking a foreign language, let me tell you once you find yourself in the situation having to rely on that language you will quickly realize you still have to learn a lot.
And it is not just grammar or missing the right word. When I move to Milan, I was fairly fluent in Italian. But I would find myself in situations where I would totally understand ever word that was said but did not get the meaning as the words meant the complete opposite as they would have been used in my own language. Or would you think when someone told you to ‘turn down the air conditioning’ this means to lower the temperature even further?
Thus taking language lessons before and once you have moved in order to improve your language skills needs to be an essential part of your early experience living abroad. Which means, you will have to invest time, energy and money.
You will be without your trusted network of family and friends
That’s not to say you can’t maintain close contact. Today with the Internet and social media it is actually fairly easy to stay in connect even over large distances. Thus you can still maintain an active relationship with your family and friends.
However, by definition this relationship will be virtual. Which means, whilst you can have a chat or exchange messages you won’t be able to drop in on dinner at short notice, meet for coffee or a few drinks or otherwise spend time together.
In addition, you can’t rely on family to look after your cat when you are away for a few days, letting in the plumper while you are at work or run some errands for you when you are feeling ill.
You won’t find a lot of the products you are used to buy at home
OK, bread, butter and salt are sold worldwide. And should you move to a place where lots of other expats live you might even find supermarkets selling a small selection of products from your home country.
In most cases, however you will have to change a lot of your shopping habits. This will have some impact on the grocery and beauty products you purchase.
Whilst this again is a minor point and you will have a lot of other options instead, believe me you will start missing quite a few things that you’ve always taken for granted.
In a nutshell, moving abroad and living as an expat is no easy task.
So would I recommend moving abroad?
Yes, I absolutely recommend to move abroad. Living abroad, you will be able to make experiences you will never be able to make at home. In fact, mastering all the challenges that moving abroad will bring will make you a much more confident and stronger person then you were before.