Moving abroad isn’t easy. If it was surely we’d all be doing it, right?
Most of us have the dream of jetting off to a foreign country in the sun (or in the snow), but few of us follow through. There are many surveys out there that show how many of us regret not moving abroad during our lives, with some suggesting more than half the population regret not relocating overseas.
There are lots of reasons for not making the move such as commitments and the fear of the unknown. However, a big part of not moving may simply be the effort of becoming an expat. There aren’t many bigger challenges than starting a whole new life in another country. But how difficult really is it?
If you’ve been considering moving abroad, no matter which country you’re living now, here are just a few of the considerations that must be made that could help you make up your mind.
Counting up the costs
Money makes the world go round – but prevents a lot of us from going around the world. Whether you’re getting a visa or applying for citizenship, you’ll almost always have to pay something. There are many exceptions – particularly short stay visits to countries such as Japan or the UK, or moves from one EU country to another. Visas can cost hundreds in some cases such as Russia and Nigeria – always make sure you budget for this to avoid your plans falling through.
The next obvious cost is relocating you and all your property to your destination. Shipping items overseas will almost always be more expensive than driving them over land, although if you’re moving from a southern state of the USA to northern Canada, it could work out just as expensive if not more. Moving possessions often costs thousands but can depend entirely on what you bring (as discussed later).
The next biggest thing to consider is the cost of living in your new country. This is where you can either make or lose a lot of money. For example, if you’re moving from a first to a third world country, you’ll be getting less for your work and lowering your standard of living. Contrastingly, if you’ve moving from a third world to a first world country, you could end up making a lot of money, which could be sent back home to improve your standard of living.
In some cases, cost of living could rise in some ways and be lowered in other. Take a US citizen moving to the UK – you’ll generally get a lot smaller property for your money, however the free healthcare could even things out.
Avoiding legal problems
Every country has its own laws. Even moving from one state to another can involve a lot of research into local legislation, especially if you have plans to set up a business. Ensure that your lifestyle or plans aren’t affected by the laws of that country (for example, some countries may have stricter rules on alcohol or smoking).
It’s generally sensible to bring/copy all forms of documentation you may have. This should include everything from birth certificates, medical prescriptions, bank statements and even previous tenancy agreements. Having all this may be essential for proving your identity within the foreign country that you’re living in.
Immigration laws can be strict when entering certain countries – in some cases, it may benefit to hire an immigration attorney. When entering a new country with an entirely new legislation system, having this legal support on call can be handy to help you adjust as smoothly as possible.
You may need to take another driving test
Yep, you may have gone through the terror of a driving test before and thought that that challenge was now behind you. However, a new country may require a new driving test if you plan to use a road vehicle. Most countries will accept an International Driving Permit. However, a country such as China demands that all immigrants take one of their own tests before being allowed on the roads. Make sure to look into this first if you plan on owning or hiring a car.
Moving all that stuff
As already discussed, moving all your possessions is expensive. But on top of the cost there’s the actual physicality of doing it. Will your new place be able to hold all of your stuff?
In some cases, moving abroad can be a good opportunity to throw away and sell a lot of junk that you don’t really need, especially if your new life is going to be more basic. Most people who are moving on a temporary basis will put their possessions in self-storage and only take the bare essentials.
After all, you may be able to buy many items abroad such as washing machines, ironing boards and kettles. For some items such as TVs, selling and buying a new television set may save the hassle of adjusting to an international setting. Also remember that the climate may rid the need of many possessions that you currently use such as a duvet when going somewhere warmer or a fan when going somewhere cooler.
What to do with your bank account?
Knowing what to do with your bank account will depend on how long you wish to stay overseas. If it’s only temporary you may prefer to keep onto your home bank account. However, you should watch out for double taxation – your income could get taxed in two countries.
The conversion rates can also throw a spanner in the works. You may want to transfer money to take with you abroad or alternatively make money there to take back with you. Make sure that you can keep an eye on currency conversion rates and conversion costs to get the best out of your transfer.
Changing your address
Few people can afford to pay for two properties in two different countries. If you keep onto your home country’s property and rent it out, you’ll have to quite often pay an annoying interest fee on top for being a landlord living outside the country. You could offer it to a friend or family to look after whilst you’re away, however you’ll still have to switch the address of your permanent residence, which could lead you to stop getting benefits from ISA, insurance and pension schemes in your home country.
If you already own property, selling up can often be the most profitable way to go. You may be able to buy more for your money abroad – selling a bedsit in the US might get you a three-bedroom house in India. However, as already discussed, there may be some places where buying could give you less for your money.
Learning the lingo
By far the biggest challenge of moving abroad is learning the language. This won’t apply when moving from one English-speaking country to another. Similarly, you may be able to get away with learning minimal foreign lingo when moving to a tourist destination somewhere such as ski resort in the Alps or a beach resort in Thailand.
However, in other cases, learning the language may be mandatory. Even if the local speak good English, you won’t be able to fully integrate by speaking your own tongue. Some people will take a few lessons before making the move, whilst others may throw themselves in the deep end and learn whilst they’re out there. Remember that there are many free learning tools out there and learning a new language doesn’t always require forking out on a tutor and software packages (although they may work better for some people).
By far the biggest challenge of moving abroad is the emotional test of saying farewell to family and friends. Yes, it may only be temporary, and yes, you may still be able to communicate regularly via Skype, however you’ll still have to spend physical time apart. In some cases it may not be so hard because you’ll moving somewhere where you already have family or friends. If not, then you’ll have the struggle of building a new network of friends.
Meeting a few people before you make the permanent move could be recommended. This will stop you feeling entirely isolated when you arrive giving you some familiar faces to talk to. This could involve going over first for a couple weeks, talking on the phone or simply making conversation online.
There will always be a little homesickness, but for those that are outgoing, settling in could end up surprisingly more easy than you might expect. If you’re willing to put yourself out there, people will almost always be willing to help you adjust. There’s also no shame in finding people from your own home country within your new country to socialise with – having a bit of home comfort can make for a more easy transition and they may be able to help you adjust more smoothly.