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In an increasingly smaller world, moving abroad is possible for more and more people. However, it doesn’t make it any easier than it was in the past. In fact, most of the challenges immigrants faced in the past are the same today. I don’t want to discourage anyone from moving abroad, but I do want to help others determine whether moving abroad is right for them or not, and what to look for when deciding on where to move to.
As someone who has moved abroad twice and interacted with many other expats, I have compiled a couple of questions to ask yourself before moving abroad. Here are the most crucial questions to ask yourself:
1. Are you able to cut your stay short/ move back home?
Not the most positive question to start with, but very important. You may move to a country that’s great on paper, but once you actually live there you may not like it anymore. The number one thing before moving abroad is to mentally prepare yourself for what you will do if you don’t like it there. Are you able to move back home? Do you have a home to go back to? Will you face any shame/ ridicule from anyone? If you can’t/ won’t return to your home country, can you pack up and move to a third country? These are not things you want to think about while in the midst of moving internationally, but having a backup plan is vital! The longer you stay in a place you dislike, the more miserable you become.
If you are not open-minded enough to consider moving back home or to a third country, I would not recommend moving abroad at all. I have personally witnessed immigrants who made permanent moves without a backup plan, only to find they dislike the culture and lifestyle of their new country. Thanks to their unwillingness to move elsewhere, they stayed in their misery, did not integrate into society, and became grumpy and difficult to be around. Many have gotten divorced, and have terrible relationships with others.
2. How far away can you go?
This question is about how resilient and mentally strong you are. Are you comfortable losing touch with important people because of the distance and time zone difference? Are you comfortable leaving everyone and everything behind to start anew? Are you comfortable with your loved ones moving on without you? Can you go through challenges by yourself in a foreign country while simultaneously seeing social media posts of your friends and family back home living their best lives? Like it or not, time waits for nobody and life goes on with or without you. Ask yourself these questions before deciding what country to move abroad to.
While you will always miss out on life back home when moving abroad, there is a big difference between moving to a neighbouring country and moving to a different continent. If you move to a country that’s a 30-minute flight away from home, you can frequently go back when you’re homesick, or visit friends and family for birthdays and holidays. It’s easy and inexpensive to schedule a last minute trip home, allowing you to stay present in your friends’ and family’s lives and grow old together.
On the other hand, if you move to a country that’s a 20-hour flight away, going home will be very tiring, expensive, and will require weeks, even months of planning in advance. After a few trips, it will be too much of a hassle to go home and you’ll want to do it less and less. In addition, the further away you go, the more challenging time zones might become and even phone calls or video chats could be too difficult to arrange on a regular basis. As a result, you lose touch with loved ones and slowly but surely you begin to grow apart. This leads to the next question.
3. Can you let go of your “life”?
Your life is composed of many factors from shelter, work, other people, hobbies, culture, daily habits, and more. These will all change the moment you move abroad. Can you let go of everything? Can you let go of your prized possessions and family heirlooms? Can you let go of your culture? Can you let go of your friends and family?
Even moving to a neighbouring country can be life altering. As humans we learn and grow through challenges. As you face difficulties, you may begin to re-evaluate your priorities and alter your lifestyle accordingly. This means that you may outgrow some friends and family members back home and have to “let them go”. You will always feel bittersweet when looking back on the people and activities you once enjoyed, that no longer bring you any happiness. The moment you move abroad, your life will never be the same again! Even if you only move abroad temporarily, you won’t return as the same person you were when you left. Are you prepared to make that change?
4. Are you okay not fitting in?
Unless you move abroad as a very young child, you will always be a foreigner in your new country. You will always speak the local language with an accent and be reminded of it when someone asks you where you’re from. You won’t be able to identify with certain traditions or lifestyles. Even if you do your best to integrate into the society, you will at times feel like an outcast. Are you ok with that? Are you ok sitting through some conversations that you cannot contribute to? Are you ok with people constantly asking you questions about what life is like where you’re from? Always having to describe your life story every time you meet new people?
5. What is your lifestyle like? What kind of lifestyle do you desire?
This question is oftentimes overlooked, particularly by those immigrants who move abroad in search of a better life. While most people consider factors such as safety, economics, and health, they don’t realize what a large impact their lifestyle really has on their quality of life. For example, if you’re moving from a European city to a North American suburb, you may find yourself spending more money on unnecessary stuff due to boredom or dissatisfaction. You may interact less frequently with people because you live too far away from each other. You may walk less due to fewer sidewalks. You may not be able to go to the theater or opera anymore because there aren’t any nearby.
Before deciding on where to move abroad, assess your daily lifestyle. How do you get to work? Where do you shop for food? What do you do in your free time? Make note of what you like and dislike about your current lifestyle. Then research what the lifestyle is like in the place you’d like to move to. Make sure it is something you want and can see yourself thriving in.
6. How much will it cost you to live there?
Building onto my previous point, consider the cost of living in the new country. Most people only think about moving costs, paperwork, and housing expenses. But costs go way beyond this. Food and utilities might be a lot more expensive than at home. There might be additional taxes and hidden fees. You may need to purchase additional things, such as winter gear or a vehicle. If you have to buy a car to get around you need to consider the cost of ownership. That includes more than car payments and gas; insurance, maintenance, new tires and accessories, are just a few of the many costs to consider before buying a car.
This leads to the next question.
7. Why are you moving there?
As with anything you do in life, it is a good idea to ask yourself why. Why are you moving abroad? How do you hope your life abroad will be better? Are you looking for more safety? Or are you simply looking to make more money? Is it your dream to move abroad or is it someone else’s?
If you don’t have a good reason for why you are doing something, when the situation gets difficult you are going to have a hard time getting by.
8. Can you take your income with you?
Relying on finding a job after you have moved abroad is very stressful. No matter where you go and how good the economy is, chances are you will struggle to find work. You might not fully understand how to apply for jobs in your new country (the process of applying for work varies from country to country). You probably do not have connections or relevant work experience in the new country. You will likely have to start from an entry level position and work your way up the ladder. This means that you will also start with an entry level salary.
It is always a good idea to bring some income with you. It is important to have some savings when moving abroad. However, even with a large amount in savings, it is very difficult to watch that amount decrease every month with nothing coming in. Any income, no matter how small, helps lighten the load. And in this day and age, there are infinite money-making opportunities online. If you cannot take your income with you, it is highly advisable you try to start something online before moving.
9. Are you willing to change?
Moving abroad is time consuming, stressful, expensive, confusing, and complicated. Times of uncertainty always change you. Your lifestyle will change, your preferences won’t be the same. You will learn a lot about what you truly need vs. what you just want to have. Are you okay with that? Are you willing to let go of your old habits that no longer serve you in your new country? Are you willing to embrace the local customs and start celebrating the local holidays and festivities? If you’re moving abroad with children, are you capable of letting them behave and participate in activities the local children do, even though you may not agree?
If the local language is different from the one(s) you speak, are you willing to dedicate hours and hours to learn the new language? Are you willing to put yourself in uncomfortable situations? Are you willing to do whatever it takes to integrate into the society? Are you able to cut ties with old friends and family if they become too judgemental of the ways you changed?
10. Are you willing to accept responsibility?
Least, but not last, the most important question to ask yourself before moving abroad. Ultimately it is YOUR CHOICE to move abroad! If you don’t like it or you don’t succeed there, you do not have the right to complain or blame anyone. You cannot judge the culture or the people of your new country because you don’t fit in. You must take responsibility for any shortcomings. If you’r life abroad doesn’t turn out the way you intended, YOU have to reflect on that and change yourself accordingly. As mentioned in question number 1, if you don’t like it, move back home or to another country.
To summarize the ten questions:
- Are you able to cut your stay short/ move back home?
- How far away can you go?
- Can you let go of your “life”?
- Are you okay not fitting in?
- What is your lifestyle like? What kind of lifestyle do you desire?
- How much will it cost you to live there?
- Why are you moving there?
- Can you take your income with you?
- Are you willing to change?
- Are you willing to accept responsibility?