Updated: Jul 1, 2020
Have you ever dreamed of quitting your job, packing up your belongings, and setting off on an adventure abroad? Well 5 years ago, we did just that...and we haven't looked back!
We made plenty of mistakes preparing for this journey and our goal is to better equip you for each step along the way. So without further ado...I've used this phrase many times in my life, still not sure of the origin...Our Top 5 Tips to Consider When Moving Abroad!
1. Cost of Living
It wouldn't make much sense to move to paradise if you can't enjoy all the wonders it has to offer. You move abroad to live a fuller life, so first on the agenda is figuring out a budget.
I get it, budgets are boring, tedious, and tough to predict. Believe me, I know. I worked in Corporate Finance for almost 10 years, and budgeting was never enjoyable. It's one of those necessary evils in life.
In order to narrow down your dream location abroad, you need to think about what you can afford. First, determine your sources of income. Will you be working abroad? Do you have savings or retirement? Or maybe you're a professional cuddler... look it up it's a real job.
Once you determine how much is coming in per month, you need to estimate how much will be going out.
But where do you start? Let's say you want to spend the rest of your days surfing and living on the beach in Bali. What does a 2 bedroom house on the beach rent for in Bali? How much are utilities? What can you expect to pay in groceries? How much will my daily kopi luwak coffee set me back?
For these answers and more, there are some great cost of living comparative sites online like numbeo and expatistan. Here you can compare your home country and city to locations around the world and determine if living there is within your financial means.
Another great source of information is expat groups on Facebook. An expat is a person who lives outside their native country.
Almost every country in the world will have an expat presence. Connect with them on Facebook and get real answers from people on the ground. They can provide insight on average livings costs or point you to the best bars in town.
2. Geographic Location
When we were scouting places to live abroad, three things were an absolute must...Spanish speaking country, warm weather, and the beach. These "must haves" helped us narrow down our search significantly.
You need to ask yourself, "What is my happy place?". Do you love the smell of mountain air or do you prefer to stare into the ocean every morning?
What about your ideal lifestyle? Are you someone who prefers the tranquility of the countryside or do you want the conveniences that come with living in a bigger city?
Do you plan on having a car or will you utilize public transportation? Are you okay with being hours away from the airport and quality healthcare facilities?
Have a clear vision of your ideal location and research until you find a near perfect fit. Try to maintain a balance of going with the flow and preserving peace of mind, but don't give up your "must haves".
3. Visa Requirements
Understanding visa requirements is a crucial step because policies can vary significantly from country to country which may entice or dissuade you from moving to a particular country.
A visa is issued when you visit a country as a tourist and when you obtain temporary/permanent residency. Some countries are more lenient, while others are not.
During our research, we knew that countries such as Mexico, Panama, Bali, Costa Rica, and Ecuador had lenient visa requirements for Americans, so we looked into these first and settled on Ecuador.
With a tourist visa, flexibility is key. You want to be able to visit a country without paying a lot in fees and have plenty of time to explore and determine if it is a good fit for you.
Even if you have a total "go with the flow" mentality, we highly recommend visiting the countries under consideration before moving there permanently. Often the reality is much different than what is portrayed online.
A resident visa grants you permission to reside in a country for a fixed or indefinite length of time. In Ecuador for example, residency can be obtained through a pensioner visa, investor visa, professional visa, or Amparo visa. We have permanent residency is Ecuador through an Amparo visa since our son Gabriel was born here.
4. Ease of Integration
For our first 3 months in Peace Corps we had to live with a host family. The house was home to a family of 12 and we slept in a small bedroom. I remember sitting on the bed, staring at our luggage which filled up our entire room, thinking...what the heck are we doing here??
Peace Corps utilizes the full immersion approach with volunteers. While I don't expect you to bunk up with a family of locals, you need to think about how integrated you want to be in your community.
Do you want to engage with locals, sharing beverages and laughs? or do you prefer your own private oasis where time stands still?
Integration at its core comes down to language and culture.
How proficient will you be in the local language? Are you willing to learn the local language? While it's not necessary to learn the local language, it will impact your interactions in the community and should be considered when deciding where to move.
I was fluent in Spanish when we moved to Paraguay, but Clare knew very little. She struggled daily with the language barrier. There were many embarrassing moments and tears, but after 6 months or so she was standing in front of audiences giving presentations in Spanish. Apps like Duolingo and forced conversations helped to accelerate her learning.
Culture shock is real. Moving to a foreign country is much different than a one week stay at an all-inclusive resort. You are now a foreigner in uncharted waters, and you will need to adapt to your new surroundings. Some countries are very receptive to foreigners, others not so much. So, you will need to ask yourself, what cultural vibe am I looking for?
Do you need certain comforts from home? Like in Ecuador, there is no Amazon or Starbucks and we can't flush toilet paper.
Do you want a vibrant nightlife or peaceful evenings under the stars?
Do you want to live in a country with a big expat presence to help ease the transition or do you want to be surrounded by locals?
Decide what cultural aspects are important to you, and tailor your country search around those.
5. Country Stability
This can be broken down into 3 parts: Economic, Political and Infrastructure.
For your targeted countries, understand the current economic situation? How stable is their currency?
A beautiful country like Argentina may seem like a wonderful place to live, but they suffer from one of the highest inflation rates in the world. This can greatly impact the price of goods and if you're paid in the local currency, can result in unstable income.
Does the country have a history of civil unrest? How stable is their government? Are there laws that might impact you as a foreigner?
Did you know that it's illegal to chew gum in Singapore? Not sure I could live without my daily dose of Orbit gum. Check out this article for more weird laws from around the world.
Healthcare and Education are the big ones here.
How comfortable would you be having a major surgery abroad? What about giving birth? We had two children abroad, one in Paraguay and one in Ecuador. We were very pleased with the healthcare we received, and it was very inexpensive.
If you have children, you'll want to get a feel for the Education system of countries you are considering. Will you enroll them in the public school system or go the private school route? Some expat families elect to home-school, all options should be explored.
The last and probably the most important consideration is Safety.
There is nothing worse than feeling unsafe, especially when you're miles away from your home country and immediate family. We experienced this firsthand when our home was burglarized. It took many months to feel comfortable again and I still sleep with a machete next to my bed.
So, investigate crimes rates in the countries you are looking into. Petty theft is everywhere, high assault and murder rates are not. Determine your safety comfort level.
We hope this list helps you narrow down your dream location abroad! If you found this information useful or if you have additional tips to share, we would love to hear from you! Please drop us a comment!
Also check out our YouTube channel and follow us on social media @ourlifeunknown for more tips and an unfiltered lens of navigating life abroad.