“I want to move abroad. Where do I start?…” If you’ve typed this sentence in the search engine box, you might be at any stage of the moving abroad preparation process. Maybe you’ve just spoken to your best friend who moved to another country last year and is enthusiastic about her new life. Maybe you feel miserable about your current condition and you think that moving abroad might help. Or perhaps you’ve already been comparing flight tickets to different locations.
I moved abroad in 2010 and lived in a new country for 6 years. Eventually, I returned to my home country in 2016, continued traveling very often, and now I’m planning a new move. Whatever your actual position is on the map, if the thought of leaving your country with a one-way ticket has visited you repeatedly, it’s time to give it the attention it deserves. I’d love to share with you a few tips that I could have benefited from when I was getting ready to leave Italy, my home country. I will include a few ideas on how to turn your dream of moving abroad into reality with more ease and comfort. Read on!
I WANT TO MOVE ABROAD – WHERE DO I START?
The first step to take to move abroad is visualizing yourself in the target country. Make this one of your primary thoughts. Visualize yourself living in the new country as often as you can. Imagining a future where your purpose is already determined helps you focus more energy on the things you need to do in order to move abroad. This implies that you have already come up with a place you want to move to. Is there a country that you’ve always been attracted to? Or is there something about the culture of a particular country? It could be anything, even a particular animal you can find only in that country, or a food you really like. This is so important. Your interest in something about that country is the fuel that will keep you going. There’s no one country that is better than another for any reason… besides yourself! If you decide to go to X country because you’ve heard that you can make good money working there, that’s ok too. It’s a good beginning. It probably won’t be enough to stay happy in the long run, but it’s a start. The stronger your motivation, the better.
And what if I fail?
This is one of the most common barriers, and I experience it too. Sometimes the sneaky thought crosses my mind: what if I don’t enjoy myself in the new place? And what if it’s all just a waste of time and money? Would I go back to where I came from, feeling even more miserable? Look, the truth is, in 10 years of expat life and long travels, I’ve never met a person who had moved abroad and was having regrets. If you stick to your decision without surrendering to the initial discomfort (usually 2 weeks to 2 months), you’re going to enjoy yourself so much that, even in the unlikely chance that you’ll have to go back, you’d be wanting to start it all over again, with double the determination.
Avoid comparing yourself with others in a negative, counterproductive way.
We all have that friend who moved abroad to work for a top company or another who is studying for a Ph.D. at a renowned university. There are still plenty of opportunities to grow for everyone, only the path is different. We’re all here to write a different, unique story. We all have what it takes to move abroad. It’s in our genes. Throughout history, individuals and whole populations have left their towns to find a better life somewhere else. Today we have advanced means to help us plan and connect with the rest of the world. Let’s use social media and other platforms to enhance and facilitate our growth. You can start searching for expat groups on FB.
Change in mentality
The first and foremost step to take if you want to move abroad is examining your mindset – I mean, all the mentalities rooted in your head that are slowing you down. A little while before starting to make preparations to move to China, I wasn’t even aware of the fact that I wanted to move abroad.
I had to remember that…
I had always been dreaming of moving to Asia since I was at least 12. But I didn’t get a flight ticket until I was 26. Why did I have to wait so long? Because my desire to experience life in another country, far away from home, had been buried deep down by worries, emotions, and needs that never gave me rest at that time. I couldn’t see them clearly. Clarity came after years away from home. I was lucky enough to step out of that limiting framework. Among the other worries I had, there were these 3 really huge ones: the sense of guilt for leaving my mother, money preoccupations, and the discomfort of doing the big move alone.
Your parents made all those sacrifices for you, and now you’re leaving them. And what if they need you while you’re away? How far away will you be? This basically means that you feel a responsibility toward your parents and that you feel you owe them something. Although this might seem absurd, one of the most common barriers to traveling or changing anything in our present life is a sense of guilt. The truth is, if you’re experiencing this, it’s partly your parents’ fault. I say partly, because now you’re a grown-up, and your first responsibility is to manage yourself. And guess what? You want to move to another country. You want to have the experience. But another part of you is feeling guilty. And this means that these 2 parts of you need to have a serious talk to each other, and the part that is guilty needs to understand that deep down inside, your parents want you to be happy more than anything. They’re just having a hard time accepting it. So, you need to help them. Show them how they can be ok when you’re gone for a few months, or even a couple of years.
The money issue
A lot of financial uncertainty is implicated in moving abroad, and this might make you freak out. You could have all kinds of unexpected expenses. But it’s also possible that you’ll find unexpected income streams! It’s a two-way factor. What fantastic news! How much money do you need to move abroad? Flight tickets and money to spend during the time needed until you find a job. You’ll need money to rent a place and to buy food and everything you need in your daily life. However, if you want to spend as little money as possible during your first weeks in the new place, you might try volunteering. (More on this below.)
True expat story
My friends from Germany arrived in Xiamen, China without much money, with zero knowledge of the local language, and looking forward to finding a job there asap. They were both graphic designers, and had heard it was a needed skill in that beautiful Chinese city. After a few months, they both had found jobs in companies but were having a real hard time sticking to them. They didn’t like their jobs, couldn’t communicate with colleagues, and they weren’t saving a penny. Eventually, they traveled to spend a weekend in Shanghai, where they visited a brewery founded by a fellow German expat. They had a gut feeling that the idea of founding a brewery would work for them. It took them more than a year, endless trial and error and the help of all their friends, but in the end, their dream came true, and now they own one of the most popular brewery-pubs in Xiamen.
Moving abroad alone
I wouldn’t say I was really afraid of feeling lonely before moving to China. It was more of an inertia, a longing for somebody to travel with me. I wished I could do it together with somebody else. That felt so important to me, that I ended up moving to China together with a friend. Later, I realized that being there with somebody else was actually limiting. We made new friends in a couple of weeks’ time. But there was always this feeling that I had to think about the other person and take responsibility for them, being there for each other. After the first month of sharing the room, it was clear that we were getting in each other’s way, but it wasn’t easy to part… The truth is, there are so many new fresh relationships and friendships waiting to be found in a new place. It’s ok to feel melancholy about the good old friends who couldn’t go abroad with you, but this is not always the case. It’s not in most cases, actually. If this is what’s stopping you from taking the necessary steps to move abroad, leave this thought at home.
This happened to me instead:
Forward 10 years since I moved to China: I’m happier when, once in a while, I meet with the people I met abroad, than when I see my old friends. This shows how meaningful the connections I made abroad are. Furthermore, having had a chance to spend a lot of time by myself, I’ve come to find out what my real interests are, and what I like to do in my free time. I also saw how difficult it was to have any free time back in my home country.
Language immersion programs
A great way to feel part of a group/community when you’re abroad is to attend an immersion language course in the country of your choice. This provides you connections and a tool to learn the language of your choice, which is always a plus when applying for jobs. The school can help you find a dorm/room or apartment most of the time. I took a Chinese course when I moved to China. If China is your target, read my post about Chinese language schools in China.
Travel and work abroad
Here are some tips you can consider to save money on food and accommodation while you’re abroad.
The dimension of volunteering is full of beautiful surprises if traveling the world for free (or close to) is what you aim to do. In every place in the world there are farms, guesthouses and families offering food and accommodation in exchange for help with various daily chores. You work for 4 to 6 hours per day with 1 or 2 days off. The beauty of this is that, if you don’t feel good in the place that you have chosen, you can leave. Volunteering is a cornerstone from which you can start getting to know the new country/culture. Read about Workaway experiences to get some inspiration and see what volunteering practically means.
Volunteering in Buddhist monasteries
Ok, this is not for everybody… but it might be the right thing for you. I volunteered in Italy in 2 Buddhist monasteries for a few weeks. It was a totally positive experience. You get free guidance in meditation and Buddhist philosophy, 2 meals, and a bed in a dorm. Monasteries are usually located in untouched natural surroundings. Most of the people you meet are interested in spirituality, yoga, and healthy leaving. Sex, drinking, and smoking are strictly forbidden. Check their rules first, and see if you can make it. A good place to start is the international website of the monasteries in the Theravada Buddhist tradition of Ajahn Chan, which originated in Thailand.
Pet-sitting and house-sitting
There are so many passionate travelers like you who haven’t been able to travel much because they have nobody to look after their pets. It must be frustrating. Bringing a small dog along is possible, but you can’t move other animals like cats, rabbits, or ferrets. Or you could, but they really wouldn’t like it. You can help those families by house-sitting and pet-sitting. They might even entrust you with their cars. But you need to make a very good first online impression. Have a look at the platform Trusted House-sitters.
Working remotely – being a digital nomad
Becoming a digital nomad was a dream of mine for a while… It all started when I met my Filipino friend Alfred. He had been traveling the world for years, working remotely as a social media moderator. He speaks 5 languages. (Knowing more than 1 or 2 languages is a plus in the majority of online jobs and I invite you to watch one of his multilingual videos to feel inspired.) There are so many articles about the digital nomad lifestyle on the web, but don’t take them too seriously… Ditch the image of the couple on the beach under palm trees with a laptop on their legs. Work is work, and vacation is vacation. You need a stable connection and a quiet place in order to keep your online job!
Teaching English Abroad
Even though my mother tongue is Italian and I had never studied to become an English teacher, I found many jobs as a kindergarten language teacher in China. Jobs literally came my way every now and then. Now that the news has spread, most of the schools have refined their requirements. Some look for native teachers only, others prefer teachers with a teaching certification, others are only looking for “Europeans”, and so on. Being a language teacher in a Chinese kindergarten is very tiring, even when done part-time. There are usually 20 to 30 kids per class, and feeling overwhelmed is common, especially if you don’t have any teaching experience. Most of the schools would accept an application from your home country, but choose carefully. If they find an apartment for you, ask them to show you pictures beforehand. Ask them to be clear about how many children per class, hours per week, and if you’ll have an assistant during your class. Kids are wild! They also learn incredibly quickly. There are WeChat groups for language teaching positions in China. (WeChat is a free app that resembles a mix between WhatsApp and Facebook.) Download the app and get an idea of what they offer.
Start with long travels
You don’t really need to have a particular reason like work or study to leave your country for an extended period of time. You could take a long trip at any time. Solo traveling is one of the most effective paths for self-development and understanding yourself and the place/people you come from. Traveling opens your mind, your eyes, your heart… not to mention all the fun and new experiences waiting for you at the destination. You’ll remember how it feels to be surprised. Travel for travel’s sake!
I hope I answered your question “I want to move abroad – where do I start?“… Let me know in the comments!