Another day, another cramped commute into a soulless office and endless boring hours of emails and photocopying. Even if you’ve achieved your career ambitions and have that exclusive corner office, you can find yourself bored and unsatisfied.
At school the emphasis is put on getting good exam results in order to gain access to the right university and that will open untold magical doors into the world of work. And then what?Millions of workers crave something more than the paycheque at the end of the month and resent having to sit at a desk day in day out for it. What about a life of something more? Of action and adventure. Where every day is packed with interesting new people, challenges, and chances to learn new skills. Rather than living from paycheque to paycheque, live from experience to experience.
But before you tender your resignation and tell the boss exactly what you think of him, know that jetting across the world isn’t a straightforward proposition. You won’t be able to ride your office chair off into the sunset without at least doing a little planning and research ahead of time.
This is especially true if you’re chasing the expat dream – hoping to live and work in a foreign country and really get a taste of life overseas. Unlike just travelling through a country, you’ll need to find a job, apply for work permits, and arrange long-term accommodation.
That’s not to say that this extra work won’t pay off. The more time you invest in planning, the easier it will be to achieve the lifestyle you’re dreaming of.
To break down the mammoth task of moving abroad, we’ve broken it down into simple steps so you can start to understand just what’s involved in moving from drab desk to dreamy foreign soil.
Do Some Soul-Searching
It would be a real tragedy for you to up sticks and drag yourself around the world only to find that you hate everything about your new life. Just because you aren’t enjoying life at home, doesn’t mean you will automatically enjoy life overseas any more.
It’s down to you to decide what it is you are hoping to get out of your time overseas. You may be looking to jumpstart your career, gain experience, or change tack entirely. It may be that you are chasing spiritual enlightenment, sporting success, or fame and fortune on the world stage.
Whatever your motivation, be honest with yourself about whether this goal is achievable and whether you are willing to put in the hard work to make it happen. You may also find that this dream is not as heartfelt as you first through or that it is actually more achievable if you stayed at home but changed aspects of your lifestyle.
It is, of course, completely fine to head overseas just for a taste of another culture without any overarching ambitions or goals to drive you.
Whatever you decide is your motivation for jetting off remember to factor this into your plans and to keep it in mind once you actually arrive.
Do Your Research
There’s nothing more embarrassing than turning up somewhere unprepared, especially if you arrive at your destination without an essential piece of paperwork. To be sent home with your tail between your legs would be an awkward, expensive, and premature end to your expat dream.
Keep researching and learning from the moment you start daydreaming of moving overseas to the minute you land. And even after six months of residence, you’ll most likely still be hitting the web to answer unexpected questions.
Devour guidebooks, blogs, websites, and movies – anything to get an idea of culture and language as well as the official boxes you need to tick before calling yourself an expat.
A quick web search will uncover a wealth of information that you need to know about your destination. You may well need to start learning about business culture in Japan, driving restrictions in Saudi Arabia, or where to learn Swahili before you leave.
The earlier you research your destination the earlier you can decide if it really is for you or if you need to look elsewhere. It’s absolutely fine to change your mind and switch destinations at this early stage. But as soon as you do settle on a target location, get started on planning what needs to be done.
Reach Out to Existing Expats
Books, magazines, and web pages are all great sources of information, but there’s no easy way to ask them questions. Luckily there is an army of agony aunts out there just waiting to answer your queries.
Join expat forums, mailing lists, and online communities and start firing off questions. Don’t be afraid of sounding silly; everyone in that room was once a nervous expat-in-waiting.
Not only are expats a great source of information, they may be able to send you over copies of documents that are hard to source from afar. They can also advise you on filling these things in and give you the inside track on getting the foreign bureaucracy to work for you rather than against you.
Keep in touch with these people after you arrive. They are an instant support network of knowledgeable friends and they know what it’s like to be new and confused.
If you are heading over to start your own business, talk to this group about your idea and you may find them able to point you in the right direction for business contact, funding, and suppliers.
Balance the Books
Dreams can be expensive.
Be brutally honest with yourself about how much this move is going to cost and how much you have to spend on it. Research the costs of permits and paperwork as well as flights and accommodation.
Remember that once you are a resident out there, you’ll be liable to pay tax on anything you earn in-country. In fact, in some countries you may still be liable for taxes back home. American citizens can easily fall foul of the FATCA act, which requires them to declare all their earnings to the IRS regardless of what country they reside in.
You also need to plan ahead and for the worst. Look into the cost of healthcare, life insurance, and pensions. Anyone looking to move for the long-term needs to know now that they will still be flush ten years from now.
If you are planning to return, factor in the cost of getting you and your stuff back. The money you earn overseas may allow you to live like royalty, but with exchange rates and taxes you may find the cost of moving home leaves you with nothing in the bank to resettle once you get there.
Get a Job
The vast majority of expats will need to work in order to make ends meet. Luckily there have never been more options for expats to earn a few bob.
If you are currently employed by a company with international operations, look at a transfer. You may find yourself doing a similar job to your current employment, but in a vastly different culture. This method may also mean you get support from your employer to make the move.
Look into opportunities with charities, NGOs, and voluntary organisations. You could use your existing skills as a ticket to foreign shores as well as helping save lives in the process.
Some countries are crying out for entrepreneurial expats, offering visas and financial incentives to budding businesspersons and innovative inventors. Not only will you be able to live overseas but you can also get your dream project off the ground too.
Whichever route you take, make sure you are compliant with any visa or work-permit restrictions and you know what your tax liability is.
The job market overseas may look warm and welcoming, but you may still find the going tough if your qualifications don’t translate. School certificates and professional accreditation may not impress employers from foreign countries, so work out if you need to do conversation courses or even go back to school.
Once you do have a solid offer, go through your contract with a fine-toothed comb and work out if the package is as good as it seems. Don’t be afraid to negotiate for better terms, especially in regard to pay and health insurance for you and your family.
You can read all the guidebooks you like but there is no substitute for spending a little time at your destination.
Many employers will offer you the chance to fly out and scout your new home, allowing you see where you are going to live, make arrangements for the kids to join local schools, or for your partner to find work.
There’s also a lot to be said for first impressions. You may have become so enamoured with the daydream idea of a place that to actually go there comes as a massive disappointment.
Everything from the traffic, to the weather, the language, or the food may prove to be a panic-inducing deal-breaker that puts you off the whole adventure.
Get a Medical Check-Up
It may be a condition of your visa that you can prove you are free of HIV, Yellow Fever, Hepatitis, or other such illnesses – but even if not, it’s also a good idea.
Even if your destination offers a good standard of healthcare, you won’t want to be worrying about mystery rashes or stubborn coughs when trying to settle in.
Before you go, get a full check-up from your doctor and look into stocking up on any medications, vaccinations, or birth control pills that might be difficult to obtain overseas. You will also enjoy the peace of mind that comes with knowing you are fighting fit.
Book in appointments with your optician and your dentist, getting any work or prescriptions done that may cause problems in the next few months.
Order Your Visas, Permits and Paperwork
Although this step comes toward the end of our list, you may need to start this sooner depending on your destination. We can’t go into detail here about how to to battle with immigration authorities in every country. Do your research and get started as soon as you can.
There can be a mountain of paperwork to climb and no clear route to the top, so get started and ask your expat friends to explain how they got through it all.
Remember also to inform your government, social security, and tax office that you will be living overseas.
Arrange Flights, Shipping and Accommodation
Once everything else is lined up, confirmed, and sorted, start looking at getting yourself and your possessions out to your destination.
It can be expensive to ship containers filled with trinkets around the world, and you may incur import taxes too, so be strict with what you really need.
Remember to arrange transport from the airport all the way to your home, preferably with a trusted friend or contact. When tired, confused, and laden down with luggage the last thing you need is to haggle with taxi drivers.
Accommodation may be sorted for you by your employer, or you may need to sort it yourself. Don’t rush into buying or renting anywhere. Instead arrange a short-term lease of a few months that gives you time to search for the perfect home.
Tie Up Loose Ends and Say Goodbye
It’s easy to get caught up in focusing on your destination, opening up new bank accounts, and paying the electricity bill on an apartment half the world away.
But don’t forget to shut down your life back home. Arrange to hand back the keys on accommodation, pay any bills, and cancel subscriptions to services you can’t access overseas.
Rachel Jones, an American living in India, even recommends selling as much of your property as possible and putting the rest into storage. “If you are renting, of course you need to take care of cancelling your lease and find a place for all your stuff,” She writes at hippie-inheels.com, “mine is at my parent’s house, much to their dismay. It’s best to sell items and make a little cash. I took only two checked bags with me to India, as I was moving into a furnished house.”.
And remember also to say goodbye to family and friends before you go. Failing to do so may be seen as rude and can also make homesickness all the more heart breaking.
Spend some quality time with those dearest to you and make plans to stay in touch, then have a big send-off that makes you feel ready to walk away and take on your next adventure.
Article by Andy Scofield, Expat Focus International Features Writer