The hardest part of moving abroad is taking a concrete decision to make it happen. But once you have taken that mental step, and have resolution on your side, you will be able to find a way to overcome whatever obstacles appear.
So below is a checklist of issues that will help you clarify your position, and the steps you need to take to transform your moving abroad dream into reality. Moreover, once you can tick these items it will improve your chances of making that subsequent move a success.
1. Determine Where To Go
Every year a succession of reports and surveys are published by various banks, consultants and travel magazines pinpointing the most popular destinations for expats. The exact constitution of their resulting lists may vary, but a number of favorites – Canada, Australia, New Zealand and France, to name a few – are often to be found there.
There are many good reasons for the popularity of such countries: it might be the attraction of their climates, a comparatively favorable cost of living, the employment opportunities they boast, their education and healthcare standards, the wealth of leisure activities available to residents. Such factors may well guide you in your moving abroad plans too. Nevertheless, it is critically important when deciding on a location that you focus on the place that is best for your specific circumstances, irrespective of where is currently in vogue.
I recently received an email from a subscriber to my newsletter, who is making preparations for his intended move abroad. He is working on building up a business that will generate a continuous income stream regardless of his location (excellent plan), and is now weighing up his preferred destinations: the Dominican Republic or Brazil. And to decide, this year he plans to take extended vacations in both places (also highly recommended).
They are vastly different countries, both with their pros and cons. Deciding on one or the other, therefore, means first specifying what you are looking for in a location, and the life you hope to lead while there.
Do you want tropical weather or changing seasons? Beaches or mountains? City bustle or rural quiet? A change in culture or familiarity? Close proximity to your home country or to be an ocean – or more – away?
All locations have their wonders and attractions, as well as their challenges and problems. There is no perfect destination. Rather, the key is in finding that combination of factors that works best for you.
And if you can get a clear picture of what you want, and where best meets those requirements, it will enable you to make plans that are tailored to your goals. As a result, you’ll be better prepared for making the leap, and so have a better chance of making it a success.
It’s all very well deciding you want to move to Mexico, or the UK, or the Philippines, but will you be allowed in? Does your nationality, family status or employment credentials grant you automatic entry? And do you have the necessary documents/paperwork to prove it?
If not, what visa/work permit requirements will you need to meet in order to move to your desired location? Many countries now operate a points-based entry system, so the best place to start investigating those requirements is through the specific country’s immigration department website. Armed with the relevant information you can then start taking the appropriate steps to ensure you meet the bureaucratic necessities.
Arranging employment before you leave home can be an excellent route to moving abroad. Crucially, the prospect of a job ready and waiting upon arrival means you will have a salary deposited in your bank account from the outset. You may also receive financial and logistical assistance with the move, and support before and during those first bewildering weeks of arrival. That may include help with visa applications, relocation expenses, social security registration, temporary accommodation, advice on house renting/buying, healthcare coverage, advice/assistance on kids’ schooling, and a host of other details.
Nevertheless, moving abroad generally involves significant expenditure (unless your company is feeling generous and offers to pay for everything, a policy that is becoming increasingly rare!).
When I moved from London to New York at the turn of the millennium it was as part of an inter-company transfer. It meant I had no discontinuation in my salary, and my firm paid for me to stay in a hotel for two weeks while I searched for an apartment. They also offered a $1,500 shipping allowance for me to bring over some personal effects. The assistance wasn’t generous by many organizations’ standards, but it did prove a considerable help with transitioning. But when I subsequently found somewhere to live, I still had to lay down a deposit and two months’ rent upfront for the apartment, which in Manhattan is a hefty chunk of money. Without some savings behind me it would have been impossible to survive.
If you are planning to move abroad without any definite job lined up, having a sizable nest egg to draw on is even more important, since your savings will buy you time while you get settled with accommodation and look for work. There is always the risk as well that finding suitable employment will take longer than anticipated, that it produces a lower income than you had expected, and that you get caught in a temporary, higher tax bracket while you are being processed as a new employee. Don’t forget too that you once you start work you will have a further wait before you actually get paid.
Therefore, given how much there is to adjust to in any relocation, and the unbudgeted expenses that always arise, the peace of mind that financial security offers cannot be overestimated.
4. Your Income Prospects
Concern over income prospects may not be relevant for retirees, unless you are keen to supplement your pension. However, if you are of employment age you need to think about how you are going to finance your new life overseas. And this topic is applicable even if you are moving within your existing company, since you may want or be forced to leave your current employer at some future date, as many people have found in the current economic recession.
Some of the questions you should be thinking about include:
- Are your qualifications recognized in your proposed destination? Will you have to retrain?
- Do you have marketable skills and valuable work experience that will enable you to get a job, or set up as self-employed?
- What sort of income are you likely to earn? How does that compare with your location’s living costs?
- What is the current unemployment rate in your chosen destination? How is that trending – up, down or remaining fairly constant?
- Historically, have policies towards legal migrant workers been volatile? Is there a reasonable risk that requirements and restrictions on your eligibility to live and work in the country could suddenly change?
If you are planning to move to a country that speaks the same language as you then you can tick this box. (Although you may have to grapple with regional variations – for example, in Spain’s regions they speak their own languages and dialects predominantly, rather than Castilian Spanish.)
But if you do not speak your destination’s language, how much of an issue will this difference present? Do you have some local language knowledge already? How capable or willing are you to learn?
Despite living in Spain, as a freelance journalist and writer all my work is conducted in English. As a result, language was not a precluding factor to my move overseas. Nevertheless, even if your prospective work will not require you to communicate in the local tongue, having a decent knowledge of it will be a major contributor to your overall quality of life. By being able to chat with the locals, have conversations with the electricity company on the phone, or read the letters sent by the town hall you will feel less like a fish out of water. As a result, you are likely to be happier, and feel more like a member of the community. And that has to be a good thing.
Now comes the important part: make your decision! And whether you ultimately opt to stay at home or move abroad, embrace the life it offers.
Paul Allen is a freelance journalist and writer who moved to north-eastern Spain in 2003. He is the author of “Should I Stay Or Should I Go? The Truth About Moving Abroad And Whether It’s Right For You,” a comprehensive guide for anyone seeking advice on whether or not to move abroad. For more details about the book, and free information and advice on moving and living overseas, visit his website at http://www.expatliving101.com/.
Editor’s note: Moving abroad is a dream shared by an increasing number of people but it is not a decision that should ever be taken lightly.
Whilst there is a plethora of information on the internet most of it is positive and encouraging and written by those who stand to benefit financially in some way from the product or service they have to offer and sell.
The new book by Paul Allen cuts through the sales hype and presents a very realistic viewpoint on the challenges and obstacles that potential expats face.
Packed full of information, tips and hard facts about relocating to a new nation it is a definitive guide that anyone considering making the move should not be without.
If you only buy one guide to relocating overseas make sure it is “Should I Stay Or Should I Go? The Truth About Moving Abroad And Whether It’s Right For You” by Paul Allen
Editor – Escape From America Magazine