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Are you looking for a change of scenery, culture, or lifestyle? Moving abroad can be a wonderful experience for almost anybody, regardless of financial wealth or life stage. If you are open-minded and eager to explore new cultures, I think you will really enjoy living abroad.
To live abroad, you don’t have to move permanently. You can try it for as little as 2 months. However, if you are looking to stay longer, the situation gets a little more complex, and this article is for you! This is a simplified guide to moving abroad long term.
Note: I wrote this article from the point of view of someone who moved abroad without a job. Many of these tips are about finances. You may still find some useful advice even if money is not a concern to you.
Whenever you travel or move somewhere, you’re going to have to finance it. Even if you are moving abroad with a job and your travel expenses will be covered, you will still need extra money. That period when you are packing your old home and unpacking your new one, you’ll be eating out more. Some things might break during transport and will need to be replaced. Some things are too big to be taken with you and will need to be repurchased. There are always unexpected costs involved in moving.
If you are moving abroad as a student, make sure to have a good amount of savings, or at least access to a line of credit (useful but not ideal). DO NOT rely on getting a job once you get there to cover your expenses. I did it and it didn’t go well.
If you are only moving abroad for a few months, I would recommend you have enough money to cover your entire stay.
ALWAYS have enough money for an emergency flight back home!
This is something I recommend to everyone who is moving abroad as an immigrant, international student, digital nomad, or full time traveller. DO NOT EVER move to a foreign country with the expectation to find a job! I don’t mean to sound negative, but being stranded in a foreign country without friends or family, unable to buy a meal isn’t fun.
Start something online, something you can realistically sustain while on the road. I personally sell digital products on marketplaces such as Etsy and Creative Market. Even when I’m not creating new products, I can still make sales (and money). All I have to do on a daily basis is check my accounts just in case some customer left a question. Otherwise there are no deadlines and I don’t have to stress about working when unexpected situations arise. I work on creating and adding new products whenever I can.
Ensure you are making some consistent income from these side hustles before leaving. If you are not making enough money, do not move abroad with the expectation that you will make more in the future.
If your alternative stream of income is also a hobby, that’s great. But if it isn’t, make sure you’re also doing something fun. As a human, you cannot be working all the time. You also need some downtime. Find a hobby you like, and think about how you could make money from it. The idea is that if you are busy working on something fun, you won’t be tempted, or have time to spend money on anything unnecessary. And if you can also make more money, all the better.
If your side-hustle generates enough money, you don’t need to worry about making money with your hobby. It can, however, give you something fun to do while you are saving money and no longer going out with friends.
If you plan on becoming a full time traveller or live abroad indefinitely, this is a crucial step. Skills like photography, videography, website building, or writing are all important in our modern world. Once you go abroad, you can use these skills in tandem with your travel experiences to create additional streams of income, which might allow you to travel/ live in more expensive countries. It is also nice to share your experiences and lessons with the world.
It takes a lot of practice before you can learn a new skill, so I would recommend you start practicing as soon as you can. There are many free tutorials online you can start with, so you don’t have to worry about spending any money on lessons/ courses.
Determine where you’d like to go. What kind of experiences do you want to have? What kind of accommodation can you comfortably live in? How long do you intend to stay? How much money do you expect to have in your savings by then? Is this country in good terms with your country? Research visa options in the event you fall in love with your new country and would like to extend your stay.
If you are moving abroad as a digital nomad I would suggest you plan your first destination, and a potential second destination. Once you arrive there you can determine what to do/ where to go next based on your experience.
If you are moving abroad as an immigrant, international student, or with a work contract, have a flexible mindset. Be willing to move back home/ to a new country if you don’t like it there. Don’t force what isn’t meant to be. The sooner you can be honest with yourself, the sooner you can find happiness.
When you are going away for longer than 6 months per year, you need to inform your tax authorities in your home country so you are not liable for paying taxes while not there. If you plan to make one country your home base you need to register with the tax authorities there. You should check that country’s government website to find out how and when you need to pay taxes.
Note: if you are an American citizen, you will still be liable for paying taxes to the U.S. regardless of where in the world you live.
Once you are ready to move abroad, check your passport’s expiration date and apply for any necessary visas. If you are going to a place where your country has an embassy, you can renew your passport there. I renewed my passport when I was living in Denmark, and it only took a week. However, that is most likely an exception and not the norm. If you plan on travelling frequently to neighbouring countries when you’re living abroad, consider renewing your passport before you leave.
Give yourself plenty of time to obtain any visas you may need. I would recommend applying at least 3 months prior to your date of departure.
If you are moving abroad for longer than a few months, I would suggest you sell everything you can. I would not recommend renting a storage unit, even if you know you will come back in a few years. The storage will cost you a lot more than the value of your items. It’s better to just buy new furniture when you come back.
I would recommend you take with you some painkillers, and cold medications. If you have allergies, also bring allergy medications with you. If you take prescription medications, bring some of those with you and have copies of your prescription.
You may catch something on the plane and wake up terribly sick on your first day in your new country. Being sick in a foreign place, not knowing your way around and where you get medications from is a terrible situation to be in. Even after you’ve settled, you may have a hard time obtaining some medications. In North America you can go to almost any grocery/ drug store and pick up any (non-prescription) medications off the shelf. In European countries, you have to go to a pharmacy and ask a pharmacist who will then decide whether you can buy that medication or not.
I have heard stories of expats who were denied ibuprofen by the pharmacist and given aspirin instead. For me, aspirin doesn’t help with headaches, so I always have enough Advil just in case.
Settle into your neighbourhood, take time to enjoy walking around the city. Try some local snacks, visit a museum, unpack and settle into your new home. I would recommend giving yourself at least one week to fully enjoy your new country/ city without worrying about working.
If you are planning on staying in your new country for a long(er) time, this step is crucial. You need to meet new people, regardless if you are there with friends/ family. If you are there alone, loneliness will hit you sooner than you expect. And if you are always with the same person, you might get into fights or start to resent each other. You need a break, you need to try something new from time to time.
Making new friends as an adult is always hard, but it’s even harder if you don’t have a job/ school to attend. Research expat groups on Facebook and see if they hold any events. And if they don’t, ask the group if anyone would like to meet you for a coffee/ drink. Try to attend some language classes, or any other fun cooking/ art classes. Even if you are meeting other expats and not a lot of locals, it is still a step in the right direction. Humans are social creatures and we need the company of others.
Making an effort to meet new people as soon as possible with ensure your success in your new country. Not only will they be great for your mental health, but you can also learn a lot from them about essential day-to-day living. How to open a bank account, how to use public transit, how to use the postal service, etc are all essential to your success.
A vacation is only fun for so long before it gets mundane. Working on something meaningful is essential for humans’ sense of fulfillment. Create a work and fun schedule. Decide on what, when and for how long you will be working.
On that note figure out what to do with your new experience. How is life different from back home? Can you write an ebook/ blog about it? How about some videos on Youtube? Even if you don’t need to make money with it, it is nice to share it with the world.
Now that a month or more have passed, what do you think you’d like to do next? Do you like your new country? Are you making connections with new people? Can you live there for a year or longer? If something is bothering you or you are not making new friends, be honest with yourself. If moving there was a mistake/ not what you expected, the sooner you accept it, the sooner you can move on and be happy.
While you are reflecting, also consider your financial situation. Has your income increased/ decreased? Do you have enough money to do everything you want to? Is your quality of life better than at home?
If you’d like to move on a regular basis and live in as many countries as you can, consider your moving experience thus far. Did things go smoothly? How costly was it (both in terms of time and money)? Can you realistically move to a new country every month/ few months and sustain it for a long time?
This has been my simplified guide to moving abroad. It’s complex, but not complicated. You shouldn’t be afraid to move abroad, it’s a fun experience, but you should be aware that you will run into some challenges. I hope this guide prepared you for the major challenges you may encounter when moving abroad.