So you´ve done some extended traveling and realized the grass can, in fact, be greener somewhere else. After coming to this conclusion (and a lot of soul searching), you´ve decided to try living abroad. Cogratulations!
Living outside your home country is a scary step for many people and comes with its own challenges, regardless of locational beauty and friendly locals.
There are a lot of steps, which can be overwhelming in the beginning.
However if you follow along, I´m happy to explain how to get started living abroad!
Insider Tip: The term expat actually comes from the word expatriated, which refers to any person living outside their country of origin.
(FYI…I´ve been a full time expat for 10 years now.)
Step 1: Downsize! Sell or get rid of 85% of all your crap.
Now I know what you´re thinking: “But I have a HOUSE! I have soooo much stuff, it would be impossible.”
Well actually, it´s not.
I used to be that person with a house full of stuff and let me tell you, the amount of money you´ll pay to ship your worldly goods over seas is INSANE! You can literally buy new clothes, kitchen stuff, cutesy wall art, TVs and furniture in your new location; sometimes for less money. Same goes for your car (unless you own an antique or collector´s vehicle), shipping a car across oceans can be very expensive and I´ve never been to any country on earth where you couldn´t buy a new one.
Depending on where you´re moving, you may not even need a car.
The bonus of selling off your furniture is that a lot of homes and apartments in other countries come furnished. Jackpot! Less shopping you´ll have to do.
However, we all have at least a few boxes of stuff we can´t bear to part with. So if you have a family member or friend with space, you can always leave your remaining goods behind and come back for them after you´re settled. If storing your last few boxes short term with family or friends isn´t an option, then renting a small, inexpensive storage unit is a good bet until you´re 100% sure you want to put down roots in your new country.
Insider Tip: When it comes to moving your belongings across vast chunks of our little blue marble, you can´t beat the rate airlines offer for extra checked baggage. The process with customs is also easier than dealing with items arriving to a country via barge or cargo plane.
Lastly, we have the all important house to deal with.
If selling your house, condo or apartment isn´t an option, rent it out. Move your remaining personal effects into storage and hire a property manager to deal with the logistics of collecting rent, utilities, sign leases, etc. if it´s not something you want to handle yourself.
Step 2: Start reading. Start learning the language.
There´s a LOT to learn about being an immigrant in someone else´s country. Start by reading up on the visa and immigration process. What type of visa will you need? Do you need to be in person to apply for your long term visa, or can you do it from over seas? Keep in mind that most countries allow people to work with no extra requirements if they get a residency visa. Sometimes the paperwork for just a work visa can be more complex than becoming a resident (Chile is a good example of this), so make sure you do your homework and save yourself any unnecessary steps.
Also, spend some time learning the customs, holidays and spiritual traditions of the region. You´ll have an easier time making friends and assimilating if you dive into the details in advance. It´ll also make your new home seem less alien once you arrive.
Lastly, start learning the local language as soon as possible!
Step 3: Get hired (or not).
If you´re a retiree then you probably aren´t worried about landing a job. What´s even better (for residents of the U.S.), is there are many countries where you can live full time and still collect your social security benefits from over seas.
However if you´re like me, then you need to work.
Take a look at the article I posted explaining, in greater detail, how to find paid work while traveling. Some of it applies to expats looking for work:
Make sure your resume is polished and try to line up some interviews (or even land a job) before you leave your native country. Also, be sure to have at least 1 outfit for job interviews packed with the first round of personal belongings you plan on bringing to your new country.
If your plan is to open a business, be sure to learn the legal requirements in advance. Consider getting an immigration or small business attorney involved on the local end to help make things go smoother. This is a very popular approach for those who want to open their own businesses in Ecuador, which has a lot of red-tape for aspiring foreign owners.
Step 4: Hotel before you rent. Rent before you own.
When you arrive in your new home town, you´ll need a short term place to crash until you can decide on where to settle. A hotel or Airbnb would be best in this situation since in hostels, you just meet travelers whose main focus is partying. This is great when you´re also traveling, but it creates a false comfort for those trying to actually live somewhere.
You don´t party every night where you live now do you? Go sightseeing every day, eat out for most meals and hang out with tourists? No? Then staying at a hostel in this particular instance wouldn´t do you much good. It´s important to know what it feels like to actually live in the place you´ve chosen.
Truthfully, it will feel isolating and awkward at first.
You need to do regular, every day things like: Grocery shopping, figuring out public transportation (or road signs and parking rules if you decide to own a car) and other mundane details of life you dealt with back at your old home.
Life is still life. Regardless of a change of scenery.
Remember, you´re not on vacation. You want to live in this new country, right? Then you shouldn´t let yourself fall into tourist habits.
Once you do some research and decide on a neighborhood where you want to live, I highly recommend renting a place before buying one. Until you live somewhere, you don´t really know what to expect.
Buyer´s remorse is a real thing. Just read some of the stories from expats in Cotacachi, Ecuador. You´ll see what I mean.
Step 5: Get involved with the community.
Being a foreigner in a new country can be a cripplingly lonely experience, especially if you moved there alone (like I did).
But only in the beginning!
To get past the feelings of being displaced or an interloper, get involved with a volunteer project or other functions going on within your community. This will help establish feelings of belonging and also give you a sense of purpose.
There could be language exchanges, sports leagues, eco-projects, animal rescues, shelters, organized clean-ups and more. This is also a great way to meet people and start making friends!
Step 6: Figure out how to mail stuff.
This may sound like a no brainer, but not all countries have an easy way to mail things locally or internationally. This becomes important when you want to send things “back home” (you´ll end up using that expression a LOT the first year of living abroad) or have things shipped to your new location.
FedEx, UPS and DHL cover most countries on earth, but are crazy expensive.
(Good to have in a pinch though!)
I live in Bolivia and it´s a perfect example of this conundrum: There´s no internal mail service in the country and ONLY the big international carriers listed above ship here.
I literally got stuck paying $110 to mail a new bank card to myself. (thank you FedEx)
Luckily, there´s such a thing as international drop shippers for people who need to ship or receive a lot of ítems (example: If you run an online business selling handicrafts).
Otherwise, you can always rent a PO Box in your native country or designate a friend / relative as your “mail holder”. That way you can have whatever you want or need from outside the country shipped there and just collect when you return to visit.
Step 7: Decide on a banking relationship.
When you first arrive to your new country, it may not be possible to establish accounts at a local bank until you have a residency visa.
This is because many countries are trying to cut down on the amount of “off shore acccounts” they are responsible for. However when it´s possible to have local accounts, you´ll need to decide what you want to do with your money.
Some important things to consider:
- Will you be getting paid primarily online? If so, you need to make sure PayPal or other online Banks will transfer money to your new bank account.
- Does your new country have a stable government and currency? Are there any major elections coming up or other political related issues that could affect your ability to get to your money?
- Does your new country show a trend of economic growth? If not, you may want to limit the amount of cash you keep in local acocunts there. Otherwise, you could stand to lose money.
- Does your employer require you to have a local bank account for direct deposit in order to get paid?
Once you have this part figured out, you can make clear and informed choices about establishing banking relations in your new home.
In the meantime, keep your money assets in your country of origin and take cash out from ATMs or have money transfered through Western Union (whose fees are surprisingly reasonable), as needed.
Step 8: Get healthcare.
Understanding the healthcare system of another country is complicated, but an essential part of living in your new home. If you´re like most expats, you´ve already researched this well before boarding a plane.
Hell, it may even be part of the reason you´re moving abroad.
Many countries have basic level health care that´s either free or very cheap for residents (you will need to show your local ID card), but also have private hospitals and clinics that are better for any serious medical issues.
A lot of countries also have private insurance options (that are affordable) for those who choose a higher standard of medical care. (Ecuador and Bolivia are good examples.)
Once you have a grasp on how the system works, you can get recommendations for a primary care physician and a dentist (I ususally ask other expats or locals who have lived abroad).
This pretty much covers the basics for getting you started living in another country. As always, I hope to help people travel better, longer and farther, but most importantly…
I want to help people live better.
Until next time, keep wandering!