Over the last few decades, the internet has become an integral part of our daily lives. Remote work became a thing. The pandemic has accelerated this trend, making home offices a new norm. It’s now relatively common to be living in one corner of the world but be working in another. We’re approaching a future where people can choose where they want to live without worrying about whether or not they’ll be able to find a job there.
Perhaps you, like many others, will choose to relocate to another country in search of adventure or opportunity.
Here are some things to keep in mind before you do.
International services are your friends
The first thing to be duly noted is that all the international services and apps you may have gotten used to in your home country can help you a lot during your stay abroad. Airbnb, Facebook, Italki, Uber, and many services are available in most countries around the world. It’s hard to overstate the convenience and peace of mind that these can afford you.
- Airbnb offers discounts for longer term stays which start coming into play with stays as short as one week, depending on the host. This means you can secure a place to stay in your new country without much hassle—book a cheaper room for a month or two, and use that time to find a longer-term apartment.
- Facebook has communities for virtually everything. You can find groups of people looking for roommates in certain cities (and you’ll feel much better about renting an apartment once you’re in-country and can visit in person!). There are also groups where people advertise work opportunities in specific countries and also groups for foreigners in that country—both groups for expats in general and groups dedicated to different nationalities.
- Italki makes it possible to connect with teachers of virtually any language, no matter where you actually are. This means you can study your new language from the comfort of your own apartment. More importantly, the lessons are all 1:1, so you can be sure that what you learn will be relevant to your specific needs.
- Uber is great for when you need to get somewhere but the taxi industry in your new country isn’t well regulated and/or you don’t feel comfortable jumping into a random car off the side of the street. You can also use it to have groceries delivered to you, which is a godsend when you’ve just arrived to a country and might not feel confident enough to navigate your new city yet.
Keep in mind, however, that these sorts of services often come at a cost. Rather than living in an Airbnb forever, you’ll probably find cheaper housing via a local realtor or word of mouth.
Furthermore, depending on where you are, local services might be preferred. That is to say that while the local population might be familiar with Yelp or Google Maps, those services may actually be less popular than their local (often more convenient) counterparts. To make sure you’re getting the most accurate and detailed information, take care to find out about any local apps—if you aren’t sure where to begin, this would make a great conversation starter.
We couldn’t not mention the language barrier. First of all, please, don’t expect everybody to be able to speak English, especially if it is not listed as an official language in your country of choice. Some locals might even get offended at the notion of some foreigner assuming they speak it. Even if they do speak English, don’t expect them to be 100% fluent. You’ll have to learn to work with what you get until your ability to speak the local language improves.
How much the local language will matter to you depends heavily on the goals you’re pursuing with your relocation.
- If you’re just visiting for a few days or weeks, the absolute basics will be plenty. Locals will appreciate your efforts, and you’ll feel a bit closer to the culture / enjoy your trip more because of them.
- If you’re a digital nomad who will stay for a few months, an A2-B1 level would be great to aim for. This will afford you enough independence to navigate your new city and make some friends.
- If you’re planning to stay abroad for a prolonged period of time, potentially getting a residence permit or even applying for citizenship, you should strive for (at least) a B1-B2 level of proficiency. In addition to all the hurdles you’ll need to overcome, you’ll want a language level that enables you to connect with your local community and put down roots.
Note that these are the levels you’d ideally have before you relocate.
Say “goodbye” to your comfort zone
Moving to another country is stressful.
No matter how many preparations you make beforehand, there’ll always be something that you missed. You just kind of have to experience the process of relocating once or twice to understand. I like saying that moving abroad is like a nuclear strike on your mental health: a lot of things you took for granted at home will have to be relearned. Even very basic things like buying groceries and asking directions become story-worthy adventures. I’ve heard stories of immigrants who ended up leaving their new country due to gastritis—they just couldn’t properly digest all these new and unfamiliar foods.
This isn't to say that the experience is entirely negative. In addition to the comfortable routines that you lose, you'll also lose the environment in which your bad habits became firmly rooted into your life. You might find that those bad habits don't make it overseas with you. This is an excellent opportity to reinvent yourself and reorient your life.
Here are a few key areas in which you might experience cultureshock:
- Customs: New customs and traditions will also have to be learned and gotten used to, which can take time. Furthermore, if you’re planning to spend more than a few months in a new place, getting a local job and socializing with people is a must. This means that you’ll have to learn new etiquette, which might mean doing things you'd never previously thought about. For example, as an Eastern European, I had to learn to smile at strangers when I first traveled to the UK to study. This is a thing I had never done at home (and I still don’t).
- Social life: You'll likely face a huge temptation to meet your countrymen and/or other fellow immigrants in this new country. Meeting expats helps to relieve stress and can make you feel a bit less disconnected from home, which most people do start missing at some point. Some miss it right away, others have a “honeymoon” period where they love their new country at first and slowly start missing home as time goes on. Making expat friends can make it easier to adjust to your new environment, as those people have likely already experienced what you are going through now. However, there’s a risk that you end up trapped in a sort of foreign bubble, which raises the question: why did you relocate in the first place if you’re primarily going to interact with people who aren’t locals?
- Food: Some familiar items might turn into luxuries, and some strange dishes will become new staples. I know several people who discovered their love for bacon after moving to Turkey, for example, where it is not readily available due to local customs. My native country has lots of traditional dairy products that are consumed on daily basis by many, and many of these products are completely unheard of even just across the border. The same can be said about basically anything: bread, vegetables, fruits, candy, grains, etc. Simply put, it’s a big world and eating habits vary from place to place.
Try to take these things in stride: it’s an opportunity to grow that wasn’t afforded to you in your home country.
Expect unexpected situations
I’ll repeat myself: no matter how much time you’ve spent preparing to move, or even living in this new country, there’s always a possibility for the unexpected to occur.
- Having to deal with injuries is not just a matter of medical insurance, it is also about explaining your issue to a doctor or a pharmacist and understanding their response. What do you do if they don’t speak English? Do you have a local who can accompany you?
- Not knowing local laws can land you in a lot of trouble, potentially resulting in a hefty fine or even deportation. Your lack of understanding about local laws and norms is no excuse for a police officer. Oftentimes, the real headaches come from small stuff that you might not necessarily think about. For example, can you turn right on a red light, or can you not? Can you consume alcohol in public?
- You might fall victim to a crime or find yourself in an accident.
- You’ll find plenty of seemingly abnormal norms. In Japan and Taiwan, for example, it’s common to comment on whether someone has gained or lost weight. How are you going to respond when a seemingly kind and friendly person says Wow! You’ve gotten a little fatter, haven’t you?
In other words, it's not only your language skills being tested, but also your ability to calmly navigate stressful situations, which is extra important when far from home.
Of course, there’s a lot more to moving abroad than can be written in a single article. We’ve covered the big stuff, but there’s also a lot of small stuff we could have talked about. Towels aren’t so important to bring, for example: they take a lot of space in your luggage but can be easily bought in-country. Deodorant, on the other hand, is good to bring with you: it’s not commonly used in some places, and even if it is, you might struggle to find the specific brand that you want.
Whatever happens, it's going to be an adventure!
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