Moving and living abroad is both exciting and daunting, wonderful and challenging. Your experience will vary greatly depending on where you’re going, but one thing will stay the same: adjusting to change.
Whether you’re living in Thailand for a year or permanently emigrating to France, you will discover a totally new way of existing and thinking, which might change you forever.
This new life may be the very reason you’re drawn to living abroad. Or perhaps you’re moving out of necessity, due to your job or your spouse’s career. Regardless of your motivations, moving abroad takes a lot of preparation, research, and paperwork. Here are a few things to expect as you embark on this journey.
The more you know about your destination, the faster you’ll be able to adjust after arriving. Thanks to the Internet and all the travel books out there, you can easily learn about whatever country and region you’re moving to.
How much you learn is up to you, but generally, the longer you plan to stay, the more you should try to learn. Start by getting to know the country’s culture and geography in general.
For example, you can start by hanging up a map of the country and the city you’re moving to. These maps are not only handy as reference points; they also keep the country present in your mind, so you can slowly memorize important places and names.
Local food and eating customs, as well as big holidays, are also important to know. If possible, you can visit restaurants that serve the country’s food or try to cook some typical dishes at home.
Definitely spend time studying the local language(s), too, even if you’re only staying for half a year. Knowing the language can make the difference between feeling isolated or thriving in your new home. And, thanks to technology, there are now countless ways to learn.
You can enroll in a group class; buy language-learning software like Rosetta Stone; use a free language-learning website like Duolingo; or for individual help and attention, pay a private tutor in person or online.
Language classes aren’t the only way to learn, though. If you’re motivated, you can get quite far with just books, movies, TV shows, and magazines. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s fun. You want to fall in love with the language, not end up hating it because of a bad teacher.
Paperwork and Practical Details
One of the biggest shocks of living abroad isn’t always the culture. It’s the paperwork, bureaucracy, and overall hassle of having your life split between two countries. If you’re underprepared or disorganized, each bureaucratic hurdle can cause immense stress as you scramble to get the right documents.
That’s why, before you leave, it’s crucial to have all your documents up-to-date and organized. Bring along everything you can. In addition to your passport and travel itinerary, you’ll want any marriage/divorce certificates, medical records, immunization records, tax returns, school records, birth/adoption certificates, banking/investment details, driving licenses, and other IDs.
Obviously, you’ll want to keep all these documents safe. Organize them in a binder, then place it in a waterproof bag. Once you’ve arrived at your new home, get a fireproof safety box for storing the documents.
Besides the paperwork, think about other practical details you’ll need to arrange, such as housing, banking, voting, insurance, and medical care. For instance, if you have prescriptions, you’ll want a good supply before you leave, so you’ll have time to find a new medical provider and pharmacy.
It’s natural to feel overwhelmed by this to-do list. Take it one step at a time, and remember that you don’t need to get everything done today. If you start planning far enough ahead, you’ll have plenty of time to get everything in order before the move.
Packing & Moving
Next to the paperwork, one of the hardest parts of moving internationally is saying goodbye to friends, family, and your belongings. While it’s certainly possible to move all of your stuff overseas, it’s incredibly expensive. International shipping is not cheap. In most cases, you’d be better off selling your current stuff and buying new things after you arrive.
Author and expat Karen McCann once shared her most valuable packing tip for international moves: “Before you go, lay out all your clothes and all your money, then take half the clothes and twice the money.” Chances are, you’ll be able to replace everything for much cheaper than if you tried to take all your things along.
Unless you’re moving to a rural village in a developing country, where clothing and other items are rare, you’d be better off saving your packing weight for things that are irreplaceable, sentimental, or otherwise valuable to you.
If you’re having trouble paring down your stuff, consider getting a self-storage unit for storing your things while you’re away. This approach is especially cost-effective if you plan on returning in a year or two, so you won’t have to buy everything again when you return.
If you do plan to ship things over, start researching potential shipping companies at least three months in advance. Look closely at their policies, prices, and payment options, and make sure they’re reputable as well as bonded and insured.
Building Your New Life Abroad
After overcoming all the challenges of an international move, you may feel utter relief and happiness when you finally arrive and unpack at your destination. Or, you may feel overwhelmed by all the challenges yet to come and wonder whether you made the right decision.
Either way, you’ll need time to adjust and feel at home. Though it can be intimidating at times, remember that you’re not alone. Every country has an expat community that provides support, empathy, and friendship. Your local community can be very welcoming, too, once you understand its customs. Though it takes time, you can build friendships and a new life anywhere.