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9 Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before Moving Abroad

by Claire Litton Cohn Jun 28, 2016

1. Where do you want to go?

Just like buying real estate, location is key. It’s worth remembering that you probably can’t live everywhere and you may not want to live in some of the places that will have you, for safety or remoteness reasons. Probably most important: can you find work there? Work that is able to sponsor your entry to the country? This is the easiest way to make a decision: the place that will pay your way with minimal fuss and take care of all the immigration processes for you is the place you want to go. Otherwise, check the lists of desired professions for that country; I met an aerospace engineer who just flat-out got permanent residency in Australia without ever having lived there, because his skills were in such high demand. ESL teachers are not as highly sought-after as you might imagine, though.

2. What are your visa goals?

Do you want to eventually become a permanent resident or citizen? Do you qualify for a working holiday visa, which usually have age restrictions? Don’t be like the guy we eavesdropped on at the Montreal airport awhile ago; he and his lady friend were trying to check in for a flight to Australia, and his lady friend had successfully gotten her visa and luggage sorted out, and he did not get his visa, because he apparently thought that not hearing anything from the visa office meant his visa was approved and he could just get on the plane. She eventually left without him, and he stayed behind, presumably to determine what his new relationship status was.

3. Do you know anybody there?

Moving to a new country can be pretty lonely. People may have different friendship mores or socializing habits than you’re used to, which can lead to you feeling isolated if you don’t have even a small toehold into the local scene. If you don’t have any friends wherever you’re going, think about groups that might make good starting points for finding and making friends. Your job or school are obvious ones, but I’ve had good luck with groups, couchsurfing groups, and bellydancing and Burner community groups. Check bulletin boards for fun-looking events. Ask friends of friends on Facebook if they are willing to meet for coffee. You will have to be pretty extroverted to make this work, because people may not just show up on your doorstep wanting to socialize.

4. Can you communicate?

If you’re moving to place where people speak a different language than you, find out: Does anyone speak your language in that country? Will you struggle to find friends or access services? What are your plans for learning the language of your new home? Some countries (like Sweden) have federally-sponsored language learning programs for new immigrants, such that you can learn for free while you settle in. Don’t think you can get away without learning any of your new language at all, because…well, that’s just rude.

5. Do you want to bring your stuff?

For most of my trips to live abroad (which have involved living in 3 different countries so far, while currently preparing for number 4), I went with very minimal personal belongings. Moving to the States, I took whatever would fit in a very small moving van…while most of my childhood treasures and photos still live at my mom’s house because she has a basement. Moving to Australia, I was backpacking in Thailand and Laos for a month beforehand, so I took two suitcases and a backpack, then left the suitcases in the Hualamphong train station luggage storage office. Basically, if you’re bringing anything large (like furniture), your move is going to involve a lot of logistics. You need to get quotes from international shipping companies, and carefully inspect them so you know what’s included in the fees. You may have to work out storage if you haven’t found a permanent apartment by the time your stuff gets there — and if you find a permanent apartment right away, you’ll have to live without most of it for the month or two it takes to arrive by boat. Some people have saved money by transporting large suitcases as checked bags, but the luggage weight and extra bag costs might add up in a hurry. Ask yourself what you want to bring, and be as brutal as you can imagine. Your rock collection? International shippers go by weight, my friend.

6. Can you handle the food differences?

My British-Canadian friend still has his mum bring packages of Weetbix and jars of Marmite whenever she comes to visit. You can’t get peanut butter in Thailand except in specialty import shops, and they’ve never heard of toast. Your favorite hot sauce, comfort food, or breakfast cereal may only be available in small quantities, if at all, and prices will likely be exorbitant. You will discover exciting new flavours and favorites, on the bright side.

7. Are you ready for everyone back “home” to move on?

Life continues onwards whether you’re there or not. One of the hardest things for immigrants, I find, is having a mental picture of what the country they came from is like…and then realizing ten years down the road that they actually have no idea anymore. My mom left the United States in 1978, and her mental image of it has pretty much always stayed around there; not that she doesn’t read the news, she does, but when she thinks about what it’s like to live there, her concepts are all almost 40 years out of date. Same with your friends and family; they’ll be enjoying successes and suffering failures while you’re thousands of miles away, and eventually, while you can’t be replaced, the hole that was you in their lives will smooth over. Your relationships at “home” will never be the same, and this can cause some serious angst and feelings of loss.

8. What are taxes and other financial situations like where you’re going?

If the job you’ve been offered pays quite highly, it might feel very exciting…until you realize it puts you in a 65% income tax bracket. This seems kind of boring to think about, but is actually incredibly relevant to your daily life. You need to open bank accounts and learn how to pay bills, and you could end up in some unfortunate situations. For example, US citizens are required to continue filing taxes in the US even if they have left with no intention of returning, for the rest of their lives. They also need to file special taxes on “foreign investment accounts” — like your savings account that earns 0.5% interest, or your retirement savings plan that your new company was kind enough to open for you. Some banks won’t even open accounts for US citizens because US tax laws are so frustrating and arcane. Make sure you won’t end up in a crappy situation without knowing what to do.

9. Are you moving away or running away?

This is pretty important. If you’re moving because you’re looking for adventure or new experiences: great. If you’re trying to escape a sticky situation or avoid dealing with your feelings, rest assured, those feelings and that situation will be right there waiting for you if you ever go back. Try to address your nerves and your loose ends before you get on a plane (or a merchant steamer). Your life will be the better for it.

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