6 Questions to Ask Before Becoming an Expat
Are you toying with the idea of moving to another country? Does the promise of travel, economic opportunities, adventure, or starting fresh excite you? Then, stick with me! People move abroad for a variety of reasons. For some it is to study. For others, it could mean a lucrative job offer or chance to reunite with a loved one. Some want to travel, experience a new culture, or simply learn a new language. Others might be escaping a terrible situation in hopes of a more promising future. Before jumping ship from your homeland, be sure to have a look at these 6 Questions to Ask Before Becoming an Expat.
Due to a growing cultural acceptance and more resources for expats, the number of people living abroad has exploded in recent decades. An estimated 9 million Americans currently live on foreign soil, and roughly 232 million people around the world have relocated outside of their home country of citizenship. In the 1960s, that number barely touched 73 million.
New endeavors are bursting with emotions. It's an exciting time for a plethora of new everything to come into your life, yet deciding to leave your loved ones and creature comforts behind isn't the easiest.
We've been through this swirl of emotional questions twice to live in very different countries and environments. Our first landing spot was the Little Red Dot of Singapore.
Second and current is Deutschland aka Germany.
These photos were taken mere months apart- departure from Singapore and welcome to Germany .
Without further adieu, here are 6 questions you need to sit with before packing your bags:
1.) Why do you want to move abroad?
This seems like a fairly easy question, right? Sometimes it's not as easy as one might think and can be quite vague. The reason you want to skip the country needs to be a positive and powerful one. Moving, in general, is a hefty order; moving abroad is an entirely different ballgame. You are essentially starting over on foreign soil- creating a new life for yourself. New job. New house. New circle of friends. New culture. And in some instances, a new language.
The memory making which lies ahead is indescribable, but be sure to flesh out exactly WHY you are moving first. When times get tough, you'll need those positive reminders of why you passionately wanted this experience. They will encourage you to keep pushing instead of packing up and heading back "home."
2.) How much do you REALLY love (insert favorite places)?
I've lived in four states around the United States, and each one held very different places which I didn't think I could possibly live without. Certain restaurants, shopping centers, bakeries, even grocery stores. Oh how I miss the ease of Trader Joe's and the super fresh selection of HEB. Cooking is totally my thing; I would much rather be food shopping than clothes shopping any day of the week, and I sorely miss those grocery stores.
How about you? Could you separate yourself from your favorite take out or local pub? It sounds silly, but we get attached to places of comfort equally as much as relationships.
3.) FRIENDS! Do you enjoy making them? Keeping up with old ones?
A sensitive and emotionally charged topic for many, but it's something to examine. Are you good at making new friends? This takes effort...a lot of effort and being vulnerable. How about old friendships? Chances are, you've lived in more than one place in your life. Think back to those days. Was it easy to stay in touch with friends in your previous town? Childhood friends? College buddies? Bonds you created with your first co-workers?
Do you go the extra mile to nurture those friendships? It's crucial to have familiar folks to lean on when moving. In the early days after arrival in a new land, the honeymoon phase is glorious. But on the days of overwhelm, it's comforting to have a dear friend at the ready.
Making new friends takes time and sometimes a strategy. For instance, finding the closest yoga class (if that's your thing) to hopefully connect with other yogis. Making adult friendships is much like dating-- finding commonalities and seeing who you mesh well with. And if not, move along. Wasting time on those who don't put in equal effort? Nope.
It's exhausting, but worth it to find your tribe!
4.) Do you have a healthy savings?
Even if your company is footing the bill for relocation, there will still be unexpected expenses and deposits. The last thing you want once leaving all your creature comforts behind is not having enough funds to get settled. Something as simple as restocking your pantry, fridge, and pharmacy cabinet with essentials will add up. Simple window treatments, new decor, and fresh linens might be added to the list as well.
Don't forget lingering costs back home. Some choose to keep valuable, bulky, or heirloom items in a storage facility which needs to be included- as well as anything else with existing fees such as cars, homes, and pets rehomed to a loved one.
5.) Checklists? Paperwork? Multiple steps? Do these excite you?
If not, then get ready. I thank the good Lord for my Type-A husband. We
might would be in a pickle if I had to keep up with the plethora of admin stuff for our family. Document after document will be searched for, filled out, copied, possibly notarized, and mailed off to now only sit on your laurels and wait for months. Yes, months. Visas, resident permits, driving license, and sometimes a birth abroad certificate are a few items that may keep you waiting for months. And prior to mailing them off, getting everything collected and filled out can be a searing pain. Oh, and don't forget translations. This wasn't required when moving to Singapore, but was a must when relocating to Germany. All of our documents: birth certificates, marriages license, diplomas, etc had to be translated prior to submitting them for approval.
Some documents take weeks to complete before finalizing.
Obtaining a local driving license is easily at the top of my list of most nerve-wracking expat experiences in Germany. It took me how long to pass the test?!
What about once you are settled in your new country? Fully research how taxes and insurance is processed. It's different in every country. And if you are from the States, double and triple check how much you still owe Uncle Sam every year being abroad. Yep, that's right! You still pay taxes in the homeland.
These can be harsh things to think about, but they are valid and quite pertinent. Each country works at varying speeds to process things. You don't want to be surprised by the time limitations.
6.) Is returning home the ultimate goal?
This is a general rule of thumb for most expats when they initially set sail. Some people relocate for a few years with plans to move back home. But you will hear more times than not, "yeah, our original plan was 3-5 years, but here we are 10 years later!" It's pretty common, because making a home in a foreign country takes A LOT of everything: time, money, effort, not to mention sacrifices. But once settled and accustomed to new cultural and language integrations, it's tough to imagine going back or living anywhere else. It's also tough to walk away from a life you've voraciously fought to make for yourself.
Have a family? It's even more challenging to pack up and move again. Your partner has also made a life for themself, as well as your kids. They are ingrained in their community with athletics and activities, not to mention friendships. Returning home might not happen.
And what to do when the honeymoon phase ends in your new city? Don't pack your bags just yet. Dig in to your new life abroad!
"Cool! Got it. I'm ready to go!!"
Not so fast.
Don't forget the longterm effects of living in a foreign country. After addressing a few questions you should ask before becoming an expat, I highly recommend diving into what life will look like in a couple of years. Hubby and I lightly discussed a few of these topics before leaving the US five years ago, but oh how I wish we would have fully laid it all out first.
It's much more than missing a friend's wedding or the birth of your nephew. It can also mean stunting your career and how many children you might have. We have run into every talking point, and each one deserves attention before becoming official expats: Long Term Effects of Living Abroad and What To Do
Whew! All that being said, living in a foreign country can be a once in a lifetime opportunity. It will undoubtedly forever change you. Your heart. Your mind. The way you view everything will be different- for the better. If you are skimming this article, I applaud you! Being curious and seeing what else is out there is exciting. Do your research and get out there. It's a BIG beautiful world, and I encourage you to explore it!
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