Moving abroad is a life-changing experience that can be both an exciting and challenging experience.
The comforts of going to the beach regularly and dining out at the usual restaurant with friends every weekend may have already been part of your routine.
But once you’re overseas, the situation may be different. You may find yourself at a local school learning their language, attending job interviews and networking sessions, or doing grocery shopping instead. Though this change in lifestyle may be daunting at first, you will also have fun and learn a lot about yourself while adapting to life abroad.
You get to explore a whole new country, meet different people, try local food and do things that you might otherwise not be able to in your own country. Your routine gets shaken up a little (but in a good way)!
Having relocated to Canada several years ago (and gone on a study abroad program in the UK), I’ve put together some of my top tips. So, here’s 13 things to know about moving abroad.
1. Visit the country first before making the move
I highly recommend doing this! By visiting the country that you’re interested in first, you get a sense of how it is like – whether things like the climate, cost of living, and job and housing market are acceptable to you.
If possible (based on the travel funds and time you have), stay in the country for a longer amount of time. At least 3 to 6 months are generally sufficient for you to tell if you like the country or not.
2. Do research on your new home before moving there
This may sound like a no-brainer. But doing thorough research on things especially visa requirements, cost of living, health insurance, and job opportunities would really help a lot in your preparation for the move!
If you’re moving to a country in which its official language differs from yours, you might need to take and pass a language test as part of immigration requirements.However, there is an exception for nationals residing within the European Union (EU), they don’t need to be fluent in the local language to work in other EU member countries.
3. Research on the cultural differences
Trust me, it helps!
Knowing some of the general cultural differences beforehand would be likely to make you more mentally prepared for the way things work in your new home country.
For instance, there are huge differences in the way things are done between the U.S. and France. While things such as setting up a bank account and finding accommodation are quite easy and straightforward in the U.S., the process for the same purposes in France is a big headache for foreign expats. The French usually require documentary evidence of almost everything (such as financial statements and guarantor in the country). If you’re an American citizen moving to France, knowing this before would come in handy.
Being familiar with some of the cultural differences would also be a good start in meeting the local people. Some behaviours that may be frown upon in their society could be avoided. An example would be removing your shoes once you’re in a Japanese guesthouse.
I’m not saying that you need to adapt to their culture and customs immediately. You also don’t have to change your habits and lifestyle completely. But, if you’re planning to move for the long term, the earlier you start learning how to adapt to the most basic etiquettes and cultural norms, the better!
4. Be organized and plan things ahead
The process of moving to another country could be overwhelming for most people. Issues such as bank accounts, mobile plans, and accommodation need to be taken care of in both your own and new home country.
But if you give yourself ample time and keep a list of essential things to do, you will find that the entire process is manageable after all.
Make sure that you stay committed and focused on finishing what you need to accomplish on that list!
5. Don’t arrive with high expectations of your new home
No country is perfect.
The beginning of your life abroad is usually the ‘honeymoon’ period as I called it; you’re free from worries and still enjoying yourself like a long-term traveler does.
However, as time goes by, the realities of life start to sink in. You need to think about where to live for the next few months, paying rent, job opportunities, and whatnot. You start to notice all the differences between life there and back home, and the need to re-adjust some of your habits or lifestyle.
6. Be open-minded
If there’s one thing I learn from living in Canada and the UK, it is to keep an open mind.
For example, be open to meeting the local people, trying their cuisine, accepting invitations to their homes or parties, and exploring new places across the country.
Eventually, you may learn more about yourself and your surroundings, and find that living in your new home country is not too bad.
7. Give yourself time to adapt and settle in
It is okay to feel a little lost and homesick when you first move overseas. Every country is different, so your experience is completely normal.
Just take things one step at a time, and you will get used to it.
Remember, every step you have made in moving to a new country is one step closer to adapting to life there!
8. Explore your new home country
There’s more to your country than only the major cities.
Consider a day or weekend trip to some of the scenic or off-the-beaten path locations in the country. It could be a refreshing and eye-opening experience!
9. Search for accommodation first before arriving
Depending on which city you will be based in, finding accommodation, especially those that fit within your budget, could be a challenge.
If you haven’t already found or secured long-term accommodation, I suggest starting with short-term ones! Try looking on short-term vacation rental websites such as AirBnB.
This way, you could find longer-term housing while staying at your current accommodation.
10. Search for a job before arriving
This depends on the type of work visa that allows you to reside in the country.
If you have an open work permit or Working Holiday visa, you don’t necessarily need to have a confirmed job offer before arrival.
But, being on a job hunt beforehand will give you a better idea of the job market and opportunities that are available in the city that you move to.
11. Learn the local language
If you’re moving to another country with a different official language, start learning it before arriving.
Consider downloading and signing up for an account on free language learning mobile applications such as Duolingo and busuu! They allow you to learn things such as the pronunciation of words, vocabulary and sentence structures through different levels, and to track your progress on the language.
12. Make sure that your partner or family is okay with all arrangements
Communication is very important especially if you’re planning to move to another country together.
There may be differences in preferences (or the way situations are to be handled) even between you both or among your family members. Make sure that everyone is clear about what needs to be done and to expect from the move, and that they are alright with it.
13. Ask yourself again why you want to move abroad in the first place
At some point in your life abroad, you might feel homesick, lost, or struggle to settle in. Those feelings or experiences are normal. I myself have also been through that phase before.
Maybe you start to think about returning to your home country. It’s your choice, of course.
But if you have always wanted to move overseas, do you really want to just give up so simply?
Think clearly about the reasons for taking all the trouble to prepare for the move.
One major reason why I moved to Canada for school was the work-life balance. The immense stress from and pressure to excel in school and career in Singapore made me convinced that it’s not a place that I can see myself settling in permanently. I want a change of environment at least for a few years. So, all the trouble that I took to move to Vancouver at the beginning was worthwhile.