Want to experience life overseas? If you are ready to pack your bags and get a one-way ticket there are important questions to ask yourself before you move abroad. From experience, I recommend that you set some time aside to mentally prepare yourself for the move. Your future self will thank you for it.
Starting a new life in another country comes with a lot of challenges. So to help you to be ready for it all here are some important questions to ask yourself before you move abroad.
My Move Abroad
I moved from England to Canada in 2016. My last few weeks in the UK felt like a crazy frenzied rush of packing, working, goodbyes, and even a weekend event that I crammed in just before I left. Even the trip to the airport and boarding the plane was a rush…almost missed the flight!
I figured that anything I didn’t know or hadn’t prepped for I would just “figure it out” when I get there. Up until I flew out of Manchester airport, I had spent months and countless hours going down rabbit holes online. I’d focused so much time on researching things like what money I would need, how I would find somewhere to live and how to do a Canadian resume.
I put zero time or energy into preparing myself mentally and emotionally for the move. Instead I glossed over…or just avoided talking about my reasons for leaving, and emphasized what I was comfortable with. There I was my 30’s packing my entire life up into bags and boxes. I had no real clue what I was going to do with my life, and feared that I would in fact be alone forever. What I did know? After every thing life had thrown my way, I did not want to be in England anymore.
I wish I had taken the time to ask myself these important questions that I’m sharing with you. I have no doubt my life, and my experiences would have been very different.
Why do I want to move overseas?
This question is by far the most important question to ask yourself. Do you know clearly what your reasons are for wanting to move overseas? or what you are hoping the end result to be? And if you do know them….are you being straight about them to yourself and others?
The thing is your reasons for wanting to go and live in another country will have a massive impact on every major choice and action that you take whether you realize it or not. So it’s really important to take some time to figure out the real reasons why you are leaving your current home. If you are being honest, why do you want to move to another country? Be clear on this before you book anything.
For example, many ex-pats move abroad because they love to travel and adventure; to see new places, have new experiences, and meet new people. For others, like my best friend and her hubby, it’s job opportunities and career goals that influence decisions to live abroad.
Making A Fresh Start In A New Country
Often, like in my case, it’s also at least partly, about the independence gained by moving abroad. Making a completely fresh start in a new country where no one knows you at all is very enticing for many of us. Moving abroad is the ultimate in building a new life for yourself.
Then there are also all the small specific reasons why people choose to move abroad. Examples would be things like wanting to learn a language, trying local cuisines, the history of specific places, sports teams, or rubbing shoulders with celebrities if places like LA, New York, or Vancouver are on your radar.
Write down every single reason why you want to move abroad. If you are crystal clear on your why and what you want to get from the move then you can create the experience of a lifetime. So take the time to figure out your why and what you truly want in life. Your future self will thank you for it if you do.
But this is only beneficial if you are totally honest with yourself because lying to yourself won’t get you anywhere. Even if it’s really uncomfortable to do, take a good hard look in the mirror and ask yourself what is really motivating your desire to move abroad.
Am I Trying To Run Away By Moving Overseas?
I know. This question is really uncomfortable, right? But it’s important. Look back at your list of goals for moving abroad. Is there anything that’s pointing to a desire to escape, to start anew? What about the thoughts you haven’t listed like a fantasy of walking out on everything and never coming back? Yes, please.
These desires and feelings are completely normal, and it’s ok to feel this way but it’s just critical that you recognize them and consciously consider them when you are making big decisions like whether to move abroad.
As I said, I’ve been there myself. All I wanted to do was run away as fast as humanly possible from England. Actually I wanted to escape my life, the trauma’s, disappointments…everything basically. Looking back I wish that I had given myself the time and space to process and work through everything I’d gone through. My real reasons for wanting to move to another country (and never return to my home country) were ignored.
You see, the problem with running away from home, from a very personal and painful experience, is that you just never really run away. It all comes with you whether you like it or not. Yep, at least a chunk of the things you are running away from will follow you abroad.
Life Carries On As Normal Wherever You Go
Life abroad is still life. All the things going on at home still happen. A change of scenery and new adventures will only give you a break from things you are dealing with for a while. Then the novelty wears off, and all that stuff will still be there for you to deal with.
Anything you’ve experienced, or that is going with you doesn’t disappear because you’re abroad…you’ve just switched location. And a change of scenery won’t necessarily change you or heal you unless you also do the tough mental and emotional work on yourself.
So if the reasons you list for moving abroad equal you’re running away from something the chances are you’re not moving abroad for the right reasons. Give yourself some time and space to figure out if moving abroad is totally the right move for you and not just an in-the-moment escape plan.
What Do I Want To Learn Or Gain From Moving Abroad?
Moving to another country has a lot of benefits. It is a transformative experience so what do you want to learn from this experience? The possibilities of what you can learn while living abroad are endless and many things you will learn just by being there.
For me, I have always been a huge movie lover, and a fan of American TV shows — most of which are filmed in the States or Vancouver, Canada. Even as a kid, although living overseas didn’t come to mind till I was older, I wanted to travel around the States and Canada and see all the amazing sights that I saw on my TV. So aside from wanting to run away from personal challenges, I also just wanted to have adventures and new experiences. I wanted to travel a lot more, challenge myself and change as a person so I saw moving abroad as a way to do that.
Take a few minutes to write down anything that you hope to gain from a move abroad. There are no right answers to this question. It’s all about what you, as an individual, are envisioning for your new life abroad.
Are my goals for moving abroad realistic?
Now that you have all your reasons why you are moving, it’s time for a quick reality check. So take a few minutes to go through your reasons for wanting to move and all the things that you hope to learn or gain from the experience and for each thing ask yourself, “will moving abroad actually help me accomplish X?”. Put a mark next to anything you’re unsure about.
For example a lot of ex-pats move abroad in the hope of spending more time traveling but being an ex-pat doesn’t equal a life of endless adventures at all. There is still life stuff to deal with like paying bills and fulfilling obligations. In my case, I actually ended up with less time and money to travel than before I left the UK! My volunteer work gave me some travel opportunities but I have barely made a dent in my big list of places I want to see.
Goals like meeting new people or experiencing life in a different culture are generally a given although it is easy to end up in an ex-pat bubble if locals are closed off to newcomers. Things, like improving work-life balance or growing my career, will depend hugely on the job market where you move to and the decisions you make.
What Will Be Challenging About Living Abroad?
A new country means new customs, culture, laws, food, weather, environment, infrastructure, healthcare, shopping and so much more. Every little thing in the place you move to is going to create your ex-pat experience.
No matter where you move to, even if it’s a place with the same language and similar culture, you will experience some culture shock.
Write down all the possible challenges or obstacles you could face in your new place. List everything from a tough job market and limited rentals for newcomers to healthcare, taking care of your pets, or changing your routines.
Include everything you are giving up to move abroad so that you can start preparing mentally for the adjustments.
What Sacrifices Am I Ok With?
What are you willing to sacrifice by moving abroad? And more importantly what would be your deal breakers? Not to be a drama queen, but if I hear one more discussion about how expensive Vancouver is or how expensive and difficult the rental market is, I may scream.
Yes, Vancouver is stupidly expensive. Renting an apartment will eat up your income. Also, buying a home is impossible unless you are very wealthy. But these are all well-known challenges about Vancouver, one of the most desirable places to live in the world.
The lesson here is to figure out the things you have to have to be happy. What challenges are you OK with and what can you go without? My advice? Don’t choose the Vancouver housing market (or equivalent) as the hill you die on.
But that said, you don’t need to forgo everything you love and all your comforts because you are going on an adventure. It’s just going to be harder to put it all together.
Apartment hunting in Vancouver when I first got here was brutal. There was immense competition, and a lack of decent, affordable options to even compete for. I also faced the barriers of having no references, no Canadian credit history, and no job. Oh and a few landlords who made it clear that they didn’t want a British tenant or an immigrant. After a few weeks, facing the prospect of sleeping on a new friend’s floor, I was feeling stressed, pretty defeated, and scared that I’d made a big mistake moving to Vancouver. Crying on a park bench in the West End was a definitive low point.
Not long after that cry fest, my new friend spotted an apartment in East Van willing to rent to newcomers which I jumped on. Several messages, calls, and a meeting later I had a home to call my own. There are numerous issues with this apartment, but it was decent enough that I knew I could make it a home. It’s not even close to my dream home — but it’s home for now.
Moving abroad will require you to make a lot of sacrifices. So consider how you will handle the sacrifices you’re willing to make when you are faced with them before you have to deal with them.
Which Country Do You Want To Live In?
Do you know where you want to live? And have you checked that it will let you live the lifestyle that you are dreaming of?
Knowing your priorities in life is key to picking your new home. Do you want a lively city full of bars, nightclubs, and music festivals? or is a beach-side village or rural area more your vibe? The culture and customs in places can vary in countless small ways so make sure to do research on the country and city/town/village you are thinking of.
Do Google searches and visit official websites like tourism sites as a starting point to learn more about the places on your list. Look at things like the cost of living, job market, attractions, nightlife, and anything else that matters to you. Also, research what other ex-pats and travelers have experienced in different countries.
Will I Be Okay Without My Support Network?
If you’ve made it this far with these questions and you haven’t cried then now is the time to think about your support network or lack of when you move abroad. What will your life be like and how you will feel if your friends and family aren’t around you? Could you handle it?
For this question, reflect on how close you are with your family and friends, and times in the past when people have helped you personally. Maybe your friend looked after your cat or dog for you while you were on vacation, or someone left you a care package when you really sick. How would you have coped without that help, could you have sorted it without them? How will you navigate life in a new country, having to go it alone until you have a support network built (this will take time!).
I’d already moved away from most of my friends and family before moving overseas, and I’ve always been fiercely independent and self-sufficient not wanting to ask people for help so I wasn’t phased by this at all. I felt like I had handled tons of tough things and life stuff on my own already. But still, over the years, there have been many times when it’s been really hard not having anyone to help me or having to ask someone I barely knew for help. Being in a foreign country without emergency contacts or a stable support network requires some resilience and inner strength.
Do I Want To Move Abroad Without First Visiting The Country?
If this post so far hasn’t completely scared you off from moving abroad, what are your thoughts and feelings about moving abroad without first visiting the country? Are you up for it? Or do you want to go there before you book your one-way ticket?
The best way to know if a country could be your home is to visit it, and spend some time in any areas you are considering living in. Before I moved to Vancouver, I took two trips here. The first time I stayed for two weeks, familiarizing myself again with the city I’d visited before and fallen in love with. The second time I did a bigger trip to see more of Canada by visiting Vancouver, Jasper, Banff, and Calgary.
I was lucky that I had the money and vacation time to do this in a year, and I know that it’s not an option for everyone. But if you are truly committed to moving abroad, then you should be OK with getting creative and resourceful to figure out a way to make a trip happen. Travel off-season, use any reward points you have, look at your monthly budget and stop any subscriptions or unnecessary expenses to scrape the funds together, and piggyback off of statutory holidays to find the vacation time.
What Are My Visa Options?
There are a lot of visas out there. They all have different restrictions and eligibility requirements. They differ between countries and for different nationalities. Working visas can be one of the stickiest visas to figure out.
Have a look at the government website of the country you’re heading for and see what they have to offer. If you’re under 30 or 35, you may be eligible for a work visa that will let you work full-time for one or two years. If you have work experience in an area of skills shortage, you might be able to enter based on your skill set. Sponsored visas are also available in most countries.
Pay attention to the fine print. How long will it take to apply? Where do you have to be when you apply? Will it affect your eligibility for other visas in the future? Are there any restrictions on how much time you can spend out of the country to still be eligible?
Will Anything Prevent Me From Fitting In?
I’ve always believed that the most important attribute for a traveler is an open mind. As you’re considering moving to a new country where people will look, think, and act very differently from you. Laws and the culture will also be different. Embracing a new culture is an amazing experience, but it’s challenging at times. Are you ready for it or will there be things that hold you back?
So, just look at all your beliefs and any experiences that have shaped who you are up to this point. Do you have any beliefs, pre-conceived notions, or judgments that could prevent you from fitting into a new country?
If you make yourself fully aware of them and push yourself to be open-minded you will have a more successful and rewarding experience.
Am I A Patient Person?
Being an ex-pat requires so much patience…every day. And flexibility. You have to be really flexible to live abroad.
Prepare yourself for stupid amounts of time spent on paperwork, Visa appointments, job hunting, official documents like driver’s license and health card, numerous apartment showings, bank account set up, utilities…the list goes on and on. Literally hours and hours and hours of your life that you will never get back doing mundane things. It will legitimately feel like everything takes forever. I took so much for granted in the UK, and I only realized it when I got to Vancouver and started the time-consuming mission of setting myself up here.
If you are easily frustrated or expect things to happen on your schedule then you are probably not suited to ex-pat life. You will need to understand that time as you know it won’t match the time in your new country. Also “English-speaking representatives” do not always speak perfect English. Your accent may also be a big communication barrier. I’ve had to make so many adjustments to how I say different words to be understood by Canadians, and my voice-activated devices are pretty useless seeing as they can’t understand what I say most of the time.
Oh, and it doesn’t matter where you live when it comes to lines and queuing for everything.
What Kind Of Work Will I Be Able To Find?
While some people might move specifically for their career, for others it’s more about the adventure and cultural experience. Whatever the case, you’re going to need to support yourself somehow. Make sure that the kind of work you’re likely to end up doing will allow you to have the overseas experience you’re after.
Check what kind of work is available where you’re moving to. There are some countries that have skills shortages. If you have the right experience, getting a job (and a visa) could be a cinch. Some industries, such as hospitality, also tend to have high turnover and it may be easier for you to get a job. But there are a lot of countries where finding work is enough of a challenge for locals.
Is It Possible To Get Work There Before The Move?
Many people try to secure work before they leave. This provides financial security. Your employer may also be able to help with visas, accommodation, and advice about settling in. However, probably even more people look for work when they arrive. Temping and recruitment agencies can be a great help for this, especially if you just need work to tide you over while you find something in your field.
What Will It Cost Me To Live There?
Don’t forget that the costs of daily life differ significantly across countries and cities! Job salary or wages, food, rent, entertainment, and transport are all important when it comes to planning a move abroad. We suggest visiting the Numbeo website to check and compare living costs.
There are always cost-saving tips, of course. That’s one that locals, fellow ex-pats, and the internet may be able to give you pointers on before you leave.
How Will I Make New Friends?
Starting up a new life in a new country can be lonely at times. The sooner you start making friends, the easier it will be to settle in.
The harsh reality is that you won’t move abroad and magically have tons of friends and a great social life. In fact, the complete opposite is way more realistic. Unless you move with friends or family you probably won’t know anyone in town (or the entire country). You will have to put a lot of time and energy into making friends.
Although there are tons of networking sites and meet-ups you can utilize to meet people, you will still have to put yourself out there. It might feel a little uncomfortable at first, and you may hate it but I promise you that it does get easier with practice.
Expat communities can be a great way to get support and make friends, but I’d encourage meeting local people too who can help you to learn all the unique things about your new home. Try taking some classes, or starting a new hobby to meet people.
How Will I Stay In Touch With Old Friends When I’m Abroad?
Before you move abroad, also ask yourself how you will keep in touch with friends back home when you are working around different time zones and busy lives. Technology makes staying in touch possible but it can still be really tough.
When Do You Want To Move?
Planning your move in advance will make life much easier and reduce the stress so figure out when you want to move and then you can work backward from that date to get all your preparations done. A lot of things can determine when you move like family or friends, your work, or simply where you’re at in your life.
From experience, I would recommend that you start planning in earnest within 3–6 months of the move (at least 3 months). The bigger your move, the more you will have to do, and you will probably underestimate how much time you actually need before you go to get organized.
You’ve made it to the end of the exercise!
Pat yourself on the back. Of course, there are far more things to consider before you buy that one-way ticket to your dream destination.
Becoming an expat affects life in so many ways, from how you cook dinner to how much you can save for retirement. Use great photos and fun anecdotes to inspire you to take the next step. But don’t make life-altering decisions before doing a bit of reflection.
Additional Questions You Might Have About Living Abroad
How do I know if moving abroad is the right decision for me?
Listen to your heart and assess your goals. Moving abroad should align with your aspirations for an enriching experience.
What are some essential considerations and factors to weigh before making the move?
Consider finances, language, culture, job prospects, and lifestyle to ensure a well-informed decision.
How can I research and choose the best country or city to relocate to?
Research online, connect with expat communities and visit potential countries to find your perfect match.
How do I prepare myself emotionally and mentally for the challenges of living in a new country?
Prepare mentally for change, be open to new experiences, and embrace the adventure that lies ahead.
Are there resources or support networks available for expats to navigate the transition successfully?
Join expat forums, seek guidance from experienced individuals, and rely on local support networks for a smooth transition.
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Gemma Lawrence is the creator of This Brits Life. Born and raised in England, she has been living in British Columbia, Canada as a permanent resident since 2016. A solo traveler for the past 9 years, she hopes to inspire and help others to enjoy solo adventures too. As someone who has always struggled with her self-confidence and mental health, she also shares tips and inspirational stories relating to self-love, self-care, and mental health.