The prospect of moving to a new country can be enticing, but before you sell all your belongings and ship off to another land, it’s good to remember what you’re getting into.
1. Do you speak the language there?
It may seem fairly obvious, but plenty of people move to another country without being able to say more than “hello” and “goodbye” in the local language. The more of the native tongue you know, the easier it will be to survive and make local friends.
2. How will you pay for everything?
Unless you have a LOT saved up or parents who are willing to finance your new life, you’re going to have to figure out how to get a job. In some countries, working illegally (especially if you’re teaching English) is common, and you’re not likely to get caught. In other countries, the rules are much more strict, and you’ll need to find a way to get a work visa.
3. Are you going to be an official resident?
Becoming an official resident in a new country can be a long, complicated, and expensive process, but if you’re planning on living abroad long-term, it can be worth it. Another option is to be a “perpetual tourist,” in which you enter the country under a tourist visa (usually lasting ninety days or so) and return after visiting another country for a designated period of time. Check your new country’s residency and entry/exit laws to see which option would work best for you.
4. Can you stomach the food?
Depending on where you’re moving, the cuisine can be very, very different from what you’re used to… and there might not be a way to avoid it. Many cultures would just give you a blank stare if you mentioned the words “gluten-free,” and you might go hungry if you choose to practice veganism.
5. And can you give up your favorite snacks?
It doesn’t seem like a big deal until you’re staring at the tiny jar of peanut butter in your hand and wondering if it’s really worth $10. Many other countries either charge a LOT for foods we wouldn’t think twice about buying in our home country, or they simply don’t have them at all. If you simply can’t live without Cheez-Its, pack a few boxes in your suitcase before you leave.
6. Are you willing to miss holidays and major life events in your home country?
The money you make if you work abroad is usually not enough to fly home for every major event that you would like to be there for. You’ll probably have to make the choice between either visiting your family for Thanksgiving OR for Christmas. This can be especially difficult as family members and friends grow sick or old.
7. Do you know how to acquire housing?
Renting and ownership requirements may differ depending on your property owner, but it’s a good idea to have a general idea of what you’ll need. Visit online forums from your destination country (or better yet, ask local friends if you have them), and find out if you need proof of residency and credit/background checks.
8. Do you already know anyone there?
While the idea of being completely anonymous when you move to a new country can be exhilarating, it can also be a huge headache. Even if it’s just the guy you met (and exchanged Facebook information with) when you took a voluntourism trip to your new homeland, having someone who you can get a hold of in the event of an emergency is always a good idea.
9. Are you willing to immerse yourself into the culture?
“Of course I am— why would I move somewhere else if I just wanted to be surrounded by people from my own culture?” You’d think that, but there are scores of “expat communities” no matter what other country you go to. If that sort of thing is what you’re looking for, go for it… but I know many people who regret spending their year living abroad spending time only with their fellow countrymen, eating at McDonald’s, and speaking English.
10. What are you going to do with all your stuff?
Depending on your life status in your home country, deciding what to do with all of your possessions can be difficult. Some of your things can be taken with you in your suitcases, but unless you’re willing to spend a lot of money to ship everything, you might have to either sell the big stuff or put it in storage (if you’re planning on coming back).
11. Can you adjust your schedule?
If all the shops close at 5 pm, nothing is open on Sundays, and it takes an hour to get money exchanged at the bank, can your go-getting personality handle it? What about if your chronic habit of being fashionably late isn’t cool with your future ultra-punctual coworkers? Getting your biological clock to adjust to a different time zone is one thing, but getting it to adjust to another culture’s idea of when things should happen is a whole other challenge.
12. Do you know the local customs?
This is good to brush up on if you’re just vacationing in a new country, but if you’re moving there, it’s crucial. Learn the proper procedure for saying “hello” and “goodbye,” which gestures are considered offensive, and how you should behave when you are invited for dinner. The last thing you want is to be living across the hall from someone you deeply offended before you even learned their name.
13. Do you know the local laws?
Again, good to know if you’re visiting, crucial if you’re living there. While many developed countries share the same laws, others have very tight restrictions that may infringe upon your lifestyle. If you move to Uruguay, you’re welcome to enjoy marijuana at your leisure, but if you’re caught possessing weed in Singapore, you could be sentenced to death.
14. Are you willing to give up the little luxuries that you’re used to?
This might not be a huge concern if you’re moving to a developed country, but there are plenty of other parts of the world where a hot shower doesn’t exist, or having an oven in your own home is a big deal. If you don’t think you’ll be able to get your hands on your favorite makeup or workout supplement where you’re going, it’s a good idea to stock up on it before you leave.
15. How will you keep in touch?
While loving so many people from around the world is amazing, it can also be heartbreaking. If you don’t have Facebook, Skype, WhatsApp, or another way to get in touch with loved ones, get at least one of them. Going to exciting new places will be much easier on you than it is for the ones you leave behind. Make it better for everyone involved by having a definitive method for keeping up with each other’s day-to-day life, and the distance won’t seem so great.
16. How will the move affect your love life?
If you’re single and ready to mingle with people who speak in sexy accents, moving abroad could be the beginning of your fairy tale. If you’re in a committed relationship when you go, it’s important to consider how to handle it. Taking the plunge together can be a stressful, but rewarding experience for the two of you. If you’re leaving your significant other behind, be prepared to go on a roller coaster of emotions. Many couples make the distance work, but many more realize that maybe this new lifestyle is better experienced as a free bird.
17. Are you ok with standing out?
Because you will. Even if your Japanese is flawless and your fashion sense is about as “local” as you can get, people will usually be able to tell if you’re not from around there. They will butcher your name. They will be fascinated by your driver’s license. The phrase, “Where are you from?” will echo in your ears at night as you try to sleep. Embrace it, you unique little snowflake. It’s all part of the experience.
18. Are you ready to change your life in the most amazing way possible?
Moving to a different country can be stressful and even a little scary, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who says that it wasn’t worth it. Whether you live abroad for six months or the rest of your life, you will learn more about yourself and about the world than you would have ever imagined. Prepare yourself and buy the plane ticket— you’re about to go on the adventure of a lifetime.