It’s easy to daydream about moving overseas. Grass is always greener, right? But in actuality, picking up and moving to a foreign country is a significant undertaking. One not to be taken lightly. There is a lot to consider before you go, and even more to figure out when you’ve chosen your adopted country.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of moving overseas. Just the idea of going to a sunshiny paradise is thrilling, especially if you are tired of shoveling snow every day. In all that eagerness, it’s easy to overlook a few crucial things that could make, or break, your new life as an expat.
Here are 9 things to consider before moving to a foreign country.
Question #1: Who are you moving with?
Are you solo? Half of a couple? A family with a flock of kids? This is a primary consideration.
If you are solo, think about the expat community. Are you ready to pioneer a place with a little to no expats? Or do you want a population established that have already paved the way?
If you have a partner, and you aren’t on the same page, moving to a foreign country could be detrimental to your relationship.
I know Mark was ready to move abroad a few years before me. It took me a decade of thinking and researching about it to really up and move. If we moved any earlier, I am not sure I would have been able to adapt as I have.
Over that decade, we talked endlessly about what our dream lives looked like. Thankfully, we were on the same page, or we would still be in Chicago.
If you have kids, they are a priority. Their comfort, safety, and education should be at the forefront of your decision making.
Question #2: How “local” do you want to go?
I know this sounds like a strange question. You are moving overseas to experience other cultures. Of course, you want to “go local.” But how deep is another question?
Do you want to envelop yourself in a new place and be surrounded by local life? Do you want to be somewhere where you’ll be the only expat in the community? Or do you crave interaction with someone who has been through a move, just as you, and can show you the ropes a bit?
If you really want to go local, move to a fishing village or a small agricultural town, and you’ll be thrown into local life headfirst.
There are places all over the world with a booming expat population. Move there, and you’ll find plenty of English speaking compatriots to share your trials and tribulations.
There is no right or wrong here. But you need to figure that out before moving to a foreign country.
For us, it was about balance.
Having a community of established expats, who have experienced what I was about to, was essential for me. I already felt like I was stretching out of my comfort zone by moving across the globe. No need to make it any harder. I’m not trying to be a pioneer.
There is a big expat community in Penang, but you can certainly live in areas where you will be the only expat for miles. So you’d better be ready to pantomime and use google translate.
Culture is important to me, so I wanted to have both locals and expats in my life, I needed a balance.
We live in a high-rise condo with mostly Chinese Malaysian neighbors. There are only five western families living here. But we live in an area that has a lot of expats. For us, it is the best of both worlds.
We could have rented a home in the middle of the rice paddies, amongst the fisherman. But we weren’t ready to go that “local.”
Question #3: Do you want to learn a new language?
If you’d rather not, then you have to narrow down your countries. We knew that by moving to Costa Rica, our original choice, we would have to learn some Spanish. We were up for the challenge. But once we visited Penang and saw how easy communicating was, it made us rethink a few things.
Yes, I do realize that a lot of the world speaks English nowadays. And when you travel, you can always find someone who speaks English. But traveling and living somewhere are two very different things.
When you move to a new country, you’ll need to buy a hammer, ask for directions, call the phone company, buy a car. Those interactions will be smoother in a country where English is more common than not.
Question #4: Are you moving to a foreign country for the right reasons?
Why are you REALLY moving?
If you’re running from something, it will follow you. It doesn’t disappear or get easier when you’re not in front of it. It might even be more challenging to deal with from afar.
If your running to something, be cautious. A job, a love, a fresh start; lesser things have crumbled people, so follow your head and your heart.
Once the excitement wears off, your problems are still there.
We moved because we wanted change.
We had a wonderful life, but at times it felt empty. We knew there was more to life than working and paying taxes. The only time we felt truly happy was when we were traveling and exploring the world. We wanted an adventure and talked about doing it way before we were married.
Question #5: How is your health?
This is a biggie!
If you have any major health concerns, then it is imperative to look into the quality of healthcare before moving to a foreign country. And truthfully, even if you don’t have significant health issues, you should investigate that further.
You never tend to think about health issues until you have them. But traveling through Southeast Asia over the last six years means I’ve seen the inside of a few hospitals and clinics in various countries.
While I love Bali and Cambodia, healthcare there just isn’t up to Malaysian standards. Although some might argue that it is an unfair comparison, Malaysia has some of the best hospitals in the region. But if we lived in either one of those countries, I would fly elsewhere for anything serious.
Healthcare really wasn’t something that I thought much about before we left. I heard Malaysia had excellent healthcare and just assumed it was true. Thankfully, it is true, because we have both had hospital stints since we came here.
Something else to think about is if you have any mobility issues. Penang is one of those places where there are sidewalks … sometimes. Other times, there are open sewer grates, broken cement, and many obstacles to overcome with two feet. If you are in a wheelchair, daily life could be a lot more challenging.
I can read your mind. It’s telling me that you want to read more fascinating stuff so check out these blog posts> Interested in Malaysia? Read The Coolest Places to Go in Malaysia. Want something about Thailand? Want to read up on expat life, check this out> Life as an Expat: What You Need to Know. Or the Worst Mistakes to Make as an Expat.
Question #6. What’s your budget?
It is easy to move overseas if you have a spare $10K to spend per month. You can live anywhere on that kind of moolah.
However, it gets a little more questionable when you want to live on $1000 per month. You definitely aren’t moving to Singapore, London, or Sidney.
Your budget will narrow down the options for you and keep you on the right path.
Question #7: What kind of Visa will you need to stay there?
It is essential to know this upfront. If you are moving to a foreign country full time (not just trying it out), you will probably need a long term visa to stay there. You don’t have to get it right away, but you need to know that it is possible to stay in that country for more than a month at a time.
If you are an American and you move to Costa Rica, Malaysia, or the Philippines, you will get 30-90 days before you have to leave the country. Usually, you can pop out for a week and reenter the country and get another term. However, you can only do that for so long.
For any country within the Schengen Zone (26 countries in Europe), you will get a 90-day visa to enter. Then you must leave for another 90 days. That doesn’t work when you’ve just packed up your life and moved to Portugal.
So, if you plan to stay long term, learn about the visa options before you go.
Question #8: How far can you comfortably move?
From someone who has moved to the other side of the world, this matters. No, it was not comfortable moving here. Yes, it is way too far for my liking. But I fell in love with Penang, I tried not to, I really did.
If you want to be closer to home for events, emergencies, or in case of homesickness, then do not move to the furthest point on the planet. Trust me.
Question #9: Is this a full-time move?
There is nothing wrong with testing the expat waters. You don’t have to commit. You could make a list of your dream places and go on a test run. Live there for a couple of months and see if you really like it.
If you don’t feel enamored by your temporary home, move on. Or go back home and regroup. Rethink. Undoubtedly you will have learned what you don’t like. And hopefully, you’ll have learned what you need.
Selling all of your belongings and moving to a foreign country can be intimidating. And if you’re not ready to commit (or are a little commitment-phobic, like me), then, by all means, do the test-drive.
An extended stay in a new town will prep you for life overseas.
There is no need to rush, especially if you are retired or work remotely. You don’t have to choose one place to move to. Slow travel until your heart’s content and narrow it down that way.
Truthfully, you never have to move completely. You can be a part-timer, living the best months in your hometown and the worst in some faraway land. Maybe that’s the best of both worlds for you. And you’ll have a fallback plan.
Eventually, you may decide to move full time to one of the places you’ve fallen for. Or just stay for longer each year.
But what if you hate it?
The quick answer is, “So what, move somewhere else.”
If you do decide to jump in with both feet and move overseas, you aren’t stuck if you’re unhappy. Once you’ve sold all your stuff and moved to a foreign country, doing it again seems easy. It’s not nearly as intimidating; you’ll have fewer things to sort out and no houses to sell.
And you’ll have a lot more knowledge and experience in your arsenal.
We came here with the idea of testing it out for one year. If we weren’t happy, we planned to move elsewhere. Where? I don’t know. We never got that far.
The bottom line:
You will never be totally prepared. No matter how much prep work and research you do, things will fall through the cracks. But it’s unlikely that any of it will be detrimental. You will survive moving to a foreign country and most likely thrive in your new environment.
If not, move on.
You don’t need to have it all figured out. Just take the first step and let the rest play out.