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Welcome to the second week of our series: How to Move Abroad: An Expat Survival Guide!
Last week, we talked about The 8 Ways to Know if Moving Abroad is Right for You and thought about why you want to move abroad in the first place. Now that you’ve found your ‘why’, it’s time to find your ‘what’ and ‘where.’ What lifestyle do you imagine for yourself? Will your new home be a short or long-term move? Do you plan to explore one country, a few, or a whole region?
Being realistic about your needs, wants, and expectations is key. Below are six of the key items to consider before you buy your one-way tickets to your new home.
If you speak a second language fluently, your options are much larger than those of us that only speak English. Speak Spanish fluently? Congratulations! Spanish is the official language of 20 countries, any of which you could move to with a greater chance of finding a job than the rest of us.
If you only speak English, don’t fret! There are more than 25 countries that speak English as a primary language, with at least one on every continent. A word of caution: just because a country speaks English doesn’t mean the culture shock will be any less. My parents and sisters moved from America to Australia and have fewer American brands available in stores than I do in Taiwan.
Only speak English but want to move to a country that speaks another language? Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) may be a great option for you! Click Here to learn more!
Environment / Climate
What are you searching for in your new home? Do you want a busy cosmopolitan city or a more traditional, smaller town? Do you want to be in the mountains or by the sea? Are you searching for a tropical paradise or a winter wonderland?
Think about what kind of climate you live in now and what you like or dislike about it. Do you love the energy of the city but hate the cold winters? Taipei or Bangkok may be a great option. Do you want the convenience of a city but not the hustle and grind? Find the second or third largest city: Osaka instead of Tokyo, Busan instead or Seoul, or Kaohsiung instead of Taipei.
Do your research before deciding by connecting with expats on Facebook and other forums, or by reading about a country on Lonely Planet. We highly recommend their print and e-books for any travel destination. Check weather reports and averages for a city rather than guessing what you think it will be like. Summers may be hotter and more humid than you expect and even tropical beach areas can get cold during the winter.
The international political climate is constantly changing and it can be hard to tell what country could be dangerous from one day to the next. Check with the state department for their opinion on the safety of individual countries. Generally, you want to avoid countries currently undergoing war or debt crises. Check online for local crime rates in individual cities to help you choose the best place for you.
Depending on your gender or sexual orientation, some countries may be safer than others. If you’re a woman and considering moving to the Middle East, consider the local customs of dress for women. Ask yourself if you’ll be able to accept that as a part of daily life. If you’re LGBTQ, some countries may be dangerous for you. Countries like Egypt and Russia may prosecute or jail you under “morality” or “anti-propaganda” laws. Always do your research first to make sure you stay safe.
Some countries are going to be more friendly and accepting of foreigners than others. Check the internet or in expat Facebook groups to see what kind of reaction foreigners get from the locals. Living in Asia as a white expat can sometimes get some stares, but more often than not people don’t give me a second glance. Do you want to be in an area filled will fellow expats or somewhere more off the beaten path? No matter where you go, there are bound to be fellow travelers, but it’s up to you how much you interact with them.
When trying to make friends in a new country, you get what you put into it. Put yourself out there and join group activities or go sit at a bar or coffee shop with a book. Invite coworkers or neighbors to dinner and ask them about their lives. In my travels, I’ve found that even the stereotypically “rude” French are friendly and helpful. You just need to be polite, try speaking the local language, and don’t take yourself too seriously.
Cost of Living
This is a big one if you plan to send money back to an American bank account for student loan debt, credit card debt, etc. Will your job (teaching, freelance, or otherwise) provide enough money for you to live comfortably and save money? Will you be able to afford to travel and live the lifestyle you’re dreaming of? Find out what healthcare will cost in your city of choice and make sure you factor this into your calculations.
I love using Numbeo for their lists of expected costs for a variety of services and products as well as their comparison with other cities. Also, do some research to see what your salary will be compared to the local minimum wage to see what sort of lifestyle you might be able to expect.
Ease of moving – getting a visa
Hopefully, by now you’ve started to narrow down that list on where you’d like to move. Now here’s the trick – are you actually allowed to live there? Some countries are easier to get a visa for than others. Western Europe can be especially difficult to secure a visa. Yet many Asian countries have programs designed to attract white-collar workers. If you have a job or can find a job with an employer that will sponsor your work visa, this process will be much easier.
Have your heart set on Europe? Do you have your own business or do freelance work? Some countries like Germany and the Czech Republic have freelance visas that may work for you. If you’re 35 or younger, some countries offer working holiday visas that make it easier to find employment to fund your travels. These often have many regulations so be sure to do your research and follow the specific country’s guidelines when applying. If you still can’t find a country you love that you can legally live in, try traveling long term by moving from country to country while working remotely.
What country or city do you dream of moving to? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to follow us on social media so you don’t miss any of our posts!
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