Have you ever said to yourself, “I want to move abroad, but where do I start?” You are not alone! That’s how we felt at the beginning of our decade long quest to find our overseas home.

If you want to move abroad, your first step is to figure out where to go. In a world with so many options, it’s hard to narrow it down to one place. There are some fundamental questions to ask yourself when trying to figure out where to move. Be brutally honest with yourself; no one is going to judge you for your decisions.

Not everyone is cut out to be an expat, and that is ok. But if that is what you want, you’ll need to figure out what is going to make you happy. Don’t choose a country that will make it harder than it has to be. You can decide to move to Ireland or Oman, and it’s entirely up to you.

I can’t help you decide which country to choose. But I can certainly provide you with some direction about how to select a country before you move abroad.

This is your chance to redefine your life, so do the research, ask yourself the hard questions, and keep an open mind.

1. What is your ideal landscape?

Hiker on top of mountain overlooking valley

First things first–where would you like to live? Are you a beach person? Do you love the buzz of a city? Are you a hiker who needs the fresh air of the mountains to feel alive?

Believe it or not, as fair-skinned as I am, I am a beach lover. I could spend hours lazing on the beach, floating in the water. And truthfully, just seeing the ocean makes me feel happy. It wasn’t a question whether we would move to a beach; it was deciding which one that was a challenge.

2. What’s your monthly budget?

This is a no brainer and one that will lead your decision making.

If the cost of living is no issue for you, then excellent–the world is your oyster.

But if it is a concern, be real and err on the lower side of your comfort zone. Why move abroad and go somewhere more expensive just to stress over money?

We live a pretty luxurious lifestyle on around $2000 per month. There are a lot of countries that are as affordable as Malaysia, especially around Southeast Asia and South America.

3. What kind of climate do you prefer?

For me, winter was always a nightmare. The thought of escaping it was a driving force in my decision to leave.

Snowy Chicago-I want to move abroad. where do i start?

But can you handle hot weather all year long? Or do you prefer the seasons? What about a place with a temperate climate?

Be honest, it’s not a vacation, and you will be living in it ALL year-round.

Penang’s weather is always sweltering and very humid. I am used to sweating out every ounce of liquid I drink…including the vodka. But real talk, I would kill to throw on a pair of jeans and a cute little sweater every once in a while.

I know, I know… the grass is always greener=me.

4. Do you need to work?

If you have to work, keep in mind that most countries will require a working/business visa.

It also might be next to impossible to get a business visa, so it is imperative to do your research.

If you do need to work, there may be a few options to consider:

  • Can you start your own business?
  • Can you work online?
  • Can you work your current job remotely?

5. What visa do you need to move abroad?

American Passport on map. I want to move abroad. where do i start?

In Malaysia and many other countries, there are three types of visa–if not more. A tourist visa, a business visa, and a retirement visa.

Tourist Visa

If you move to a country that doesn’t have a long term stay option, you will have to leave the country before your visa expires. That could be every 30 days. And while a “forced vacation” sounds fabulous (not gonna lie, it was pretty awesome) it isn’t good for the budget.

Visa runs can also get super stressful. Every time you return, you are leaving your home life in the hands of an immigration officer; and we all know how grumpy they can be.

I know in Malaysia, the immigration agent has the right and authority NOT to grant you that tourist visa. So, what happens when you have all your stuff in your rental apartment, you go out for a visa run, and get stopped on the way back? You are given a few days to collect your belongs and move out. Now that is nerve-wracking.

Some people have been doing visa runs here for years, and others have been deported. Each country is different. You have to assess the visas and the risks you are willing to take.

The first year we moved to Penang, we were on a tourist visa which lasted for 90 days.

Every three months, we left the country on some fabulous “forced” vacation. That was fun while it lasted, but every time I came back and got drilled with questions by the immigration officer, I was a wreck. I’ve heard the horror stories and didn’t want to be one of them.

Business Visa

When we started our medical tourism business here, we needed a business visa. We had to jump through hoops to get it, and it had a two-year term. The medical tourism business sucked (but that’s another blog post), so when we were up for renewal, we wanted to go a different route.

Malaysia My 2nd Home Visa

The MM2H visa has a 10-year term and is considered a retirement visa. There are loads of requirements to get this visa, but the process is surprisingly painless. More so than the business visa process.

Not every country has these kinds of visas, so it is imperative to do your research.

We’ve had a lot of visas. Ask me anything; I’ve got you covered!

6. How is your health?

Are you currently in good health? Do you need a country that has a high standard of healthcare? Or are you not too worried about it?

Malaysia has incredible healthcare at very affordable prices. It was something we knew about when we moved here. But it wasn’t the driving force behind our decision to move abroad. It was just a bonus.

However, if you have specific healthcare concerns or challenges, that should be your top priority.

If you take certain medications, be sure to inquire if you can get them in your country of choice, and the price. Not every country has the same meds.

If you currently use medical marijuana as part of your daily routine, now isn’t the right time to choose Malaysia as your new country. Conversely, Thailand just legalized it for medicinal purposes, and supposedly Malaysia is softening their hard-core stance on it.

If you use a wheelchair, be sure you move somewhere with accessibility. A lot of areas in Penang have no sidewalks, and if they do, scooters use them as their private pathway.

While Malaysia has medical care down, it lacks the proper infrastructure and ease of access for people in a wheelchair. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t move here, but it is just something to think about.


Learn more about Life as An Expat, the Real Truth about living in Malaysia, and what NOT to do when moving overseas?


7. Do you need an expat community?

Chameleon turquiose and green stripes

Are you a chameleon who can fit in anywhere and be comfortable? Some people move to be submerged into an entirely different culture. They want more of a local experience and aren’t looking to meet expats.

Would you be more contented in a place with a large expat community, so it’s easier to find your tribe? Many new expats want a community to show them the ropes. We didn’t want to be pioneers; we tried to settle in quickly. It was essential for us to have a large community of expats to guide us, as well as and locals to blend with.

Penang checks both of those boxes.

8. Do you need to be close to home?

Clouds from a plane I want to move abroad. where do I start?

Will you be ok missing momentous occasions? Can you deal with the separation? If you want to be around for every birthday, wedding, or death, then choose a country less than eight hours away.

Living on the opposite side of the planet from Chicago means I miss certain events. I have come to terms with that. But can you?

9. What kind of amenities do you need to move abroad?

This is all about your creature comforts, and what you can’t live without.

Do you need a western-style grocery store? Can you live without your favorite cheese? Are you ok with shopping at the local markets?

If getting weekly massages is your lifeblood, then think about that in your research.

Hot stone massage, stones on spine

What about things like hair salons?

Ladies let me tell you; I have very few good hair days here. Not sure if it is my horrific dye job that turns pink. Or the fact that it’s so humid my hair is weighed down by the moisture in the air, but if good hair were a deal-breaker, I wouldn’t be able to live here.

Sounds superficial? Maybe it is. But it’s honest.

10. What kind of infrastructure do you need?

road leading to mountain with blue skies

Do you need fast internet and satellite tv? If so, then moving to a rural village in India might not be your best idea.

What about proper roads and international airports? If you are planning to travel or live in a larger town, then both of those are important.

If you are happy to live in the country, off a little dirt path, that’s all well and good. However, you don’t want to live four hours down a potholed two-lane road if you plan to travel every month. That will get old quickly.

11. What are your hobbies?

Skiers in mountains-I want to move abroad. where do I start?

Do you love to ski? Play golf? Are you a marathoner? Then choose a place that suits your interests. If skiing is a passion, don’t move to the tropics. Enough said.

12. Do you want to learn a new language?

This is a big one. If you do not want to learn another language, then don’t go to a country where English is barely spoken. Certainly, don’t move into the countryside of said nation.

That being said written, almost anywhere you go these days, you’ll find someone who speaks some level of English. The real question is, how good are you at playing charades when you want something, or are lost, or need something fixed?

If you look at it as an adventure, then you will be fine. But if you have no intention of learning a new language and want the ease of speaking English, consider that as one of your top priorities.

Our first plan was to move to Costa Rica. We had every intention of taking Spanish classes when we moved there. But once we visited Penang, we realized how much easier it would be to communicate. It made our decision to move abroad that much easier.

13. Do you have pets?

Another big one. If you have pets, can you take them with you? Will they need to be quarantined? Or will you have to rehome them?

If you are moving from a country farm to a little pied-à-terre in the city, will that be fair to your Great Dane or Greyhound? Not really.

We had a very quirky cat named Puss. Thankfully we were able to rehome her with one of our great friends. But seriously, I wept like a little girl whose birthday cake just fell on the floor. Like ugly sobbing. The hideous cry where you start to hyperventilate. It was brutal. I was a mess.

white cat with a balloon

I miss that little Puss, but we wouldn’t have been able to travel like we have if we brought her here. Plus, she would have to be quarantined, and she was already 20 years old when we left. We didn’t want to put her through that.

14. Do you have kids?

If so, schooling is a significant consideration. Will you send them to an international school? Or do you plan to homeschool?

Clearly, this wasn’t an issue for us. I wouldn’t have ugly cried over a cat if we had kids. But many of our friends in Penang have children. It is a radical lifestyle change for them as well, so moving to a place where they can fit in is also essential.

Resources

Now that you’ve thought about these questions in-depth, and answered them honestly, I hope you have a better idea of what to look for in selecting your new home country. If not, there are a lot of valuable resources out there.

For the decade before we moved abroad, we read International Living magazine religiously–imagine how stoked I was when they hired me to write for them!

Anyway, we poured over that magazine and website monthly. After every issue, we’d ask, “Could we live in Ecuador? In Panama? In Costa Rica,” and so on. It is a fantastic source of info, and I couldn’t recommend it more highly.

Internations is another excellent source of information about moving abroad. They have forums and guides about various countries. Once you’ve narrowed down your countries, you can go to a specific chapter on their site and see want kind of events they are having in your future home town.

Here is the thing. There is a ridiculous amount of info online. Maybe so much that it can be overwhelming. If you feel like you’re trying to drink water through a firehose, don’t hesitate to reach out for personalized guidance.

I am a great resource and happy to make your life a little easier where I can.

Ask me anything. [email protected]

The bottom line.

There is no perfect place. Every country has its pitfalls. It’s about finding the country that has fewer than the one you currently live in.

Lake hut in the mountains

One thing I can’t emphasize enough is that you can’t look at this decision through an emotional lens. You must be logical when choosing your next move/country. It’s not a vacation, and while you may love to go to a tropical island for a holiday, will you be able to stand the heat and humidity all year long? Will you get island fever?

Some people move abroad for the adventure. Some to escape politics. Others for the cost of living. No matter what your reason is for moving overseas, you need to make an informed decision. Nothing is written in stone. You don’t have to stay there if you are unhappy. But the more of these you can answer honestly, the more of a direction you will have.

Expats, did I miss something?
Are you thinking about moving overseas? Where are you at in the process?

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