Are you thinking about moving abroad? Moving abroad is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’ve lived in Costa Rica, Spain, France, Egypt and Australia over the past decade. In this post, I’ll share what no one tells you about moving abroad so you can live in another country with confidence.
#1 Know why you want to move abroad
To begin, the single most important thing you need to know before moving abroad is your WHY. Why are you moving to another country? Is it to travel more? Pursue a specific career? Live life in a different way than you experienced growing up? To be closer to family or friends?
The clearer you are on why you want to move abroad, the smoother your transition will be. This is because each time you face a challenge (and trust me, there will be a lot of those!) you’ll have the drive you need to continue with your dream.
I’ve known I wanted to travel and teach abroad since I was a teenager listening to my high school Spanish teacher recount her adventures in various countries. What about you? Take some time to really reflect on your motivation.
#2 Consider how much culture shock you’re willing to experience
I’m originally from the United States, so moving to a country like Australia wasn’t much of a culture shock. However, moving to Egypt was. I personally love a challenge and experiencing a completely different way of living, so I thrived in Egypt. Unfortunately, not all foreigners that I met in Egypt had the same experience and many struggled with cultural differences.
Before moving abroad, think about how much culture shock you can handle. If it’s your first time living abroad, you’ll want to choose a country that is similar to where you’re from. If you are more adventurous, then choosing a completely different culture can be exciting.
No matter where you plan on moving abroad to, I recommend getting a language partner. A language partner is a native speaker from the country where you plan on living. The idea is to meet either in-person or online and spend half the time speaking each person’s language.
You can meet language partners through apps like Tandem or on language exchange Facebook groups (that’s where I met my current Italian language partner and we have been meeting weekly for over a year! Just type in “your language” + “the language you want to learn” + “exchange” to search for these Facebook groups).
Not only will you pick up some of the language, but a language exchange partner can also help you navigate their culture as well. And this brings us to the next thing that no one tells you about moving abroad..
#3 You need to know the basics of the language
If you are moving abroad, you may hear people say “don’t worry, there are plenty of expats” or “there will always be someone who understands English.” I disagree. If you plan on moving abroad to a country with a different language, at a minimum you should know the basics.
Knowing basic phrases and vocabulary will not only make your daily life easier and more enjoyable, but it shows that you’ve put effort and thought into your choice of country. It also allows you to meet the locals and better integrate into your new country.
You can sign up for language classes before you move or once you arrive and supplement with your language exchange lessons. You can also opt for a homestay. While learning new languages isn’t always easy, it can open many doors when living abroad.
#4 Have a plan for what to do with your stuff
Stuff. As a serial expat I honestly don’t have much stuff anymore. After choosing to live abroad permanently since 2010, I basically sold everything I owned, stored things with sentimental value at my parent’s house, and moved abroad with a suitcase and backpack.
Since then, I’ve spent the past decade buying things second hand when I arrive and then selling them when I plan to move to a new country. I definitely embrace the minimalist lifestyle.
If you’re only planning on moving abroad for a year or two, then you probably don’t need to sell everything. However, you may want to rent a storage unit. Before you do this, PLEASE do your research. One of my friends who moved to Spain to teach recently returned to find that irreplaceable photos and documents had been ruined by a leak in the storage unit.
If you are lucky enough to have friends or family who will store your things, that should be your first option before getting a storage unit.
#5 FOMO is real
While you are off traveling through Europe, eating street food in Asia or hiking through the Amazon rainforest, your friends and family back home are celebrating holidays, getting married, getting engaged, having babies and celebrating birthdays. FOMO, or the fear of missing out, is something that everyone experiences, but can be especially hard for expats.
I recommend video calling into important events as well as scheduling weekly chats with your close friends and family to stay connected while living abroad. These days it’s so much easier to stay connected than in the past. Know that you may lose some friendships when moving abroad. This is normal.
#6 Taxes and finances get complicated
Disclaimer: I am not a financial advisor. I can only speak from my personal experience. Please talk to a professional about your tax and financial situation.
Depending on where you are living and for how long, you may be paying taxes in multiple countries. One year I had to file US, Spanish and Australian taxes. You need to do your research and talk to a professional about your personal tax and financial situation before moving abroad.
Likewise, it’s important to consider investments and retirement accounts. You may not be able to access certain accounts once you leave the county where you are a citizen.
Financial issues shouldn’t prevent you from moving abroad, but they are something that you need to be aware of. Moving abroad is challenging, but it isn’t impossible.
#7 It’s harder to move back home than abroad
In my opinion, reverse culture shock is worse than culture shock. I guarantee that living abroad will change your perspective on the world, your values and your daily life. Returning to the place you were before such growth is difficult.
Here are some tips for reducing reverse culture shock:
- Connect with a friend who has returned home after living abroad. You will feel less alone speaking with someone who understands exactly how you feel.
- Try to incorporate bits of your daily life abroad into your life back home. For example, if you used to walk to a cafe every Sunday in France to get a pastry, keep this tradition.
- Bring back souvenirs from abroad and put them around your house or room. I love collecting small mementos from the places I’ve lived. They help me remember my experience in that country and everything I learned there.
Moving abroad is a life-changing decision. The more prepared you are, the better your experience will be. Know your why, prepare your move in steps, and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime. If you want to learn about 10 things they don’t tell you about teaching abroad, you can watch this video.
About the Author:
Jamie is an American-Australian teacher and YouTuber currently living in Brisbane, Australia. She has taught both English and dance abroad and online since 2010. If you need any help teaching abroad or online, you can visit her blog www.eslteacher365.com or YouTube channel ESL Teacher 365.