“I know I want to move, but I have no idea how to figure out what’s next?”
That might be the most common obstacle I hear from hopeful expats. And I absolutely get it. It’s an overwhelming process.
If you’ve ever moved to a neighboring town, or cross country, you know it takes work. It magnifies when you go across the planet.
But how do you even know where your future home might be? While the world might be your oyster, there are over 195 countries and you’re going to need to narrow down your choices somehow.
Now, there might be a country or two that comes up on your radar because you may have heard it was “a good place for XYZ.” You are probably talking with others who are expats and travelers.
While recommendations are great, your life and particular needs may differ from those who might be advocating for a location. For example, a solo expat may recommend a place that might not be the best fit for you, who might be moving with a family and dependents.
Everyone’s life mileage varies and we’re all at different stages. Before you go and set up shop, have you figured out if that location is best for you?
Which is why it’s important you understand the reason, the need, the why for your move.
I moved to Qatar because a once in a lifetime opportunity happened to come up – an opportunity that aligned with my professional and personal goals. Plus, it was a chance to live in a part of the world I had very little interaction with beforehand.
As a traveller and just a naturally curious person, it was the right fit at the right time. If it happened earlier in my life, it wouldn’t have worked out and it wouldn’t work out now.
Likewise, there’s a reason why you want to move. Are you looking for a better quality of life? Are you seeking a higher income? Do you want to live closer to a more communal culture? Are you adventurous and want a location where there’s something new happening daily?
For example, if you value wellness and believe that a change of environment and culture will help, that’s going to guide the kind of places that will land on your prospective desired location list. If you’re somebody who enjoys being in the quiet, rural, more natural settings, then you’re not necessarily going to look at a big city. You may end up considering the Loire Valley instead of Paris.
When you understand your vision, you are giving your planning structure and a destination. In order to get to that destination, there’s some questions to reflect upon as you formulate bringing your vision to life.
On a practical level, this may determine if you are going to get rid of all your belongings and start life somewhere anew or if you’re sticking them in storage temporarily. Your time abroad may be a one year intentional sabbatical or an open, indefinite adventure. Are you selling the house? Will you have to sublease your apartment? Is it worth it to keep your car?
That said, life is unpredictable. What we may intend to do and what actually happens might be two different things. You may get rid of your stuff with the intention of not coming back only to find yourself home within two years. Either way, it is still advisable to have some idea of a timeline.
You’re going to need money. It doesn’t matter whether it comes from working for a company or working for yourself; you’ll need funds. You need some clear idea as to how to pay for your life. This may require some research depending on the cost of living wherever you may land. Will you be able to secure employment in your new location? Do I have the skills and ability to be self-employed? Have I saved enough money to live in my desired host country? Whatever decision you decide to take, it will have to start with a budget and a financial plan.
If people are part of the reason why you’re thinking about hauling it, this doesn’t apply to you. But for everyone else, this can be a challenge. Not having your support system immediately available when things go south when homesickness, frustration or depression kicks in can be rough. This is a big trade off for a new adventure.
As you would expect, this often shows up during times of stress and/or trauma. In her piece, Post-Natal, Maria Tumolo recounted the isolation she felt having a baby for the first time while abroad. If you are particularly close to family and friends, and have established routines, you will lose that — at least in a way that you know. You will have to be comfortable creating new networks with people who do not know you or your old life. And you may have to create new routines with your people back home. For example, you may decide that Sunday afternoons (time zones may vary of course) is the time you log on and share a cup of coffee – and this may replace your weekly coffeeshop routine with a friend.
Because on those days where things seem to fall apart and the homesickness hits just right, you need a reminder as to why you chose this adventure.
Seasoned expat, Dana Saxon wrote, “As much as it hurts to admit, Amsterdam and I were not meant to be together forever.” Saxon shared this after years of living in the Netherlands, where she had gone to school, expanded on a business and created a personal network of friends. Personal and professional circumstances made it time for her to look to a new location.
As much as we talk about going abroad, we don’t often talk about what it means to repatriate. Sometimes a move ends for natural reasons such as the end of a job. In other cases, a family event will trigger the need to move. Sometimes it ends because it wasn’t a good fit. That’s perfectly okay. Seriously. But have a game plan to decide if it’s time for you to leave and go somewhere else, or leave and go back home.
When it comes to considering becoming an expat, self-reflection is a good thing. Contrary to popular belief (and the occasional Tik Tok video), moving overseas requires some intentionality. Get clear on your why so you can start to put a plan together. Without it, this could mean the difference between a successful move and you trying to find the next flights out when a location doesn’t work out.