Who are you?
Hello, my name is Mariana and I am so excited to be writing for Expat Focus!
I am 30 years old and I live in Geneva, Switzerland, and I am from Portugal.
Where, when and why did you move abroad?
I have been an expat since February 2018 so about 4 and a half years now.
It sounds crazy but the truth is, being an expat was NOT in my plans (at all!) after I finished university. I thought I just wanted to stay in my home country and that would be it.
However, it looks like life had a different plan for me.
In 2017, after experiencing how difficult it was to both build a career in Portugal and have a good quality of life, where I could actually progress, I decided I wanted to at least try moving abroad.
So there it was, the decision that changed my life.
In 2017, I started applying to all the roles that matched what I was looking for in Europe, and in 2018, I started my new job in Edinburgh, Scotland.
It was hard because, since I had no international experience, a lot of recruiters would ask if I was really serious about moving or if I would just go back to Portugal after 1 year.
What challenges did you face during the move?
When I moved to Edinburgh, my biggest challenge was getting used to being by myself. I moved directly from living with my parents to living by myself in a city and in a country where I knew no one. That was a pretty big shock.
Moving by myself, I felt like I had no one to meet after work and I remember just not wanting to leave my workplace because I didn’t want to go back to feeling lonely.
And that was when I decided I needed to make friends because I didn’t want to have moved just for the better job conditions. I wanted to build a life I loved and to love my journey no matter how it would turn out.
After Edinburgh, I moved to Geneva in March 2019 and, I have to say, to my surprise, that was even more challenging.
It was more challenging because I felt that my friends in Edinburgh were like family. I felt that they were there for me no matter what and leaving them was harder than I expected.
Geneva was challenging not just for making friends initially but also because of the language barrier. I remember in my company even though the job was in English, everyone spoke in French quite often so I ended up feeling quite isolated.
So, Geneva ended up being my most challenging move.
I did end up learning French and making amazing friends.
In the end, one challenge I wasn’t counting on was having friends leave for another country. Being such an international city, people come and go often in Geneva, so it is so easy to see people we love leaving and that can be difficult.
Did you need to obtain a visa, residency permit or work permit? What was the process like?
Being European means I am quite privileged in the sense that I didn’t need a visa or residency permit to live in Scotland (different story now with Brexit).
For Switzerland, I needed a permit B and my company took care of all the paperwork. I got it after 3 months (the maximum you can stay in Switzerland without a permit B)
How does the cost of living compare with your previous country?
The truth is that the work conditions were much better in Scotland than in Portugal even though my salary was not that high. My salary was higher than in Portugal and the accommodation was quite affordable in Edinburgh at that time (my rent was around £600/month).
Moving to Geneva was a bit of a shock when it came to prices.
You have to pay monthly for health insurance that is around 300 CHF minimum, a 1-bedroom flat is at least 1700 CHF/month and then every single thing is quite expensive.
However, if you come to Geneva with a good job, it compensates more than living in Scotland for example.
Is it easy to open and use an account with a local bank?
Both in Edinburgh and in Geneva, opening a bank account was quite simple as long as I had my contract to provide at the bank (I chose HSBC in Edinburgh and UBS in Geneva at the time).
How did you find somewhere to live?
To find somewhere to live, I have to say I was quite lucky. I looked at flats in the first few days of arriving in Edinburgh and managed to find my apartment on the second day and moved there 1.5 weeks after moving to Scotland (before that, I was staying at an airbnb).
In Geneva, I had a relocation company helping me and I found a flat after 1 week, and I was able to move in after a month.
Are there many other expats in your area?
Edinburgh is quite an international city, but Geneva is just out of this world.
In Geneva almost 50% of the population is an expat. This really helps connect with people that have been through similar experiences, that know what it means to be an expat and that are more open to creating new relationships.
What is your relationship with the locals?
As Geneva is so international, I meet more expats than locals. However, I have really amazing Swiss friends.
What do you like about life where you are?
Honestly, what I love the most about my life right now is how active it is.
I often have different events to go to every single day, and if I want to go on a day trip I can just take the train and go somewhere beautiful. Living in a city with so many expats makes me feel like I am not alone and that we understand each other.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
Honestly, I love being an expat. It just feels right for who I am and what I value.
I love getting to know people from different cultures. I love seeing myself grow with all the ups and downs that it brings and how different people influence my life.
However, it comes with its challenges, that’s for sure!
Right now, what I dislike is that I don’t know how everything works in terms of paperwork, in more bureaucratic terms.
As Geneva is such an international city, it has many people coming and going. And this means, over the years many friends will go and we need to keep on making new friends.
So, another thing that is always tough, but that has changed a lot, is how I handle friends moving away. Honestly, this has made me change the way I look at friends as an expat.
It’s made me look more at what they bring to my life and how they shape my life with their values and their life views rather than thinking we will always be in the same city at the same time.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
Since I am from Portugal and I am in Switzerland right now, I haven’t had many cultural shocks.
Perhaps the amount of cheese they eat here?! Jokes aside, I think Swiss people can be quite rational and perhaps more conservative than Portuguese people, but to tell you the truth, I don’t like generalizing because we all are so different no matter where we come from.
What advice would you give anyone following in your footsteps?
Being an expat coach, my goal is to help expats have a life they love and where they feel at home, no matter where they are (more information is here https://empoweringexpatcoach.com).
For that purpose, I have created a podcast to help expats all over the world with their journeys which can be found here https://empoweringexpatcoach.podbean.com.
Right now, what I would say is that, if you want to become an expat, just know it is a journey. Sometimes you will love it and sometimes it will feel hard.
It doesn’t mean anything went wrong, it is just one of the biggest challenges you might face.
But what comes with a challenge is the opportunity to see yourself in a new way and to grow into someone that you might not even know.
So, if you are thinking about becoming an expat, all I have to say is try it out and trust yourself to be able to handle any challenges that come your way.
And if you can’t, no matter what happens, reach out to your loved ones in your home country or to a therapist or a coach as well.
When you are in your new city, focus on one step at a time.
Ask yourself, what do you want your life to look like? How do you want to feel?
And then, just ask yourself, how can I help this future version of myself out? What could I do today?
And remember, one tiny step at a time, that is all you need, and you will get there.
What are your plans for the future?
For the future, I want to help as many expats as I possibly can. I am an expat coach and I am so passionate about helping expats create a life they love, dealing with all the uncertainty that comes with being an expat and connecting more with themselves.
That is the beauty of it.
The more we are connected with ourselves, with our true power, with our true vulnerability, with our values and with our thoughts and feelings, the more we can create a life that aligns completely with who we are.
My plans for the future involve having strong friendships, building my business, building a family and just connecting more and more with my intuition and with what I truly want out of life.
And if anyone would like to connect or reach out, I am always over on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/coaching.by.mariana.