I’m a planner. I really am. Before I head out on a journey, whether it’s a trip or a move, I like to have some kind of order. You can call me a little obsessive Type A but I have packed enough suitcases, houses or whatever that I find it easier to be organized from the get go.
With that said, when it comes to considering becoming an expat, self-reflection is a good thing. 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. And while the allure is there, you should just want to make sure you’re in the right state of mind.
1. Why am I going abroad?
I really hope you have an answer for this. It doesn’t have to be a perfect answer. It just has to make sense in the context of your life. I moved to Doha 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. You need a ‘Why’. Trust me. Because on those days where things seem to fall apart or the homesickness hits just right, you need some kind of reminder as to why you chose this adventure. Make a pros and cons list to help with the decision. Does it make sense for my life right now? How will it impact my family/relationship dynamic? What am I hoping to get out of this whole experience?
2. How long am I willing to be abroad?
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? Tiffany Smith, an expat in UAE, decided it was better to get rid of her leased car for her one year move abroad because financially that was more prudent.
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.
3. Will I be able to support myself?
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.
4. Can I handle being away from my people?
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 a bad day, 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, expat 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.
5. What will be the decision making process to leave?
As 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… Or even move to a new location from the one that’s been our second home for a longtime.
Sometimes it will be natural such as the ending of a job contract. In other cases, a family event will trigger the need to move. But sometimes it might be more benign than that. At what point is it time to say goodbye?
Everyone’s timeline and circumstance is different. Sometimes a move ends for natural reasons. 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.