Every year, a significant number of people leave their countries of origin to live abroad. Moving abroad is appealing for a variety of reasons; for some it is the lure of better job opportunities or attractive locations, while for others it may be the chance to make new acquaintances or to explore a new culture. Many expats often leave for temporary assignments or short stays, and as they become familiar with the new destination, decide to make the move permanent.But as exciting as it seems, moving abroad permanently has its set of challenges.
It takes proper planning, time and effort to create a satisfying life abroad. Then there are also practical matters such as obtaining or extending visas, managing taxes, insurance, overseas mortgages, and a whole host of other paperwork to deal with. Moving permanently overseas also brings up personal issues since it is a major step that can take an emotional toll on an individual. Feelings of isolation, loneliness and homesickness may emerge. Some may also be disappointed if reality fails to match up to their expectations. For those making a temporary move permanent, here are some things to think about.
Applying for permanent residency
The process of becoming a permanent resident of a country may not be as easy as it seems. It can take long durations of time to complete the process. The first step is to find out about your eligibility and the paperwork required. Once you have all the documents, you can proceed to an immigration office. If all is in order, they are likely to hand you a document that accords certain rights during the time they take to grant residency. The document may need to be renewed every six months until permanent residency is granted, which may be anywhere between a few months to a few years.
Breaking the news
If your temporary move was along with your family, depending on whether they have had a satisfactory experience, it may be less or more of a challenge to prepare them for a permanent move. They would have had time to acquaint themselves with the country and culture. If you have left family behind, it may be hard to discuss your move with them, especially if they were not expecting it. Every family has its own way of dealing, but in general you should take into consideration the fact that they may be surprised at the development. The more difficult emotions of anger, sadness or denial may also emerge. This may cause you to feel guilty or defensive. But the best approach is to have thorough conversations with them. Provide as much information as you can about your new or extended employment. Explain to them about your experience with your temporary move and the reasons you have chosen to make it permanent.
A temporary stay in a new country is entirely different from a permanent move. This may seem like an obvious assumption, but it is often overlooked. Taking a good look at your expectations may be one of the most important steps in moving forward with your plan. Examine the motivations behind the move, and take stock of what you may gain and lose as a result of the move. It helps to keep your expectations realistic. Living in a different country is also what you make of it. So, navigating through the process without being overly optimistic or too pessimistic, but with a balanced sense of how your life is likely to be different, and also what may remain the same, is the smartest way.
Finding a home
Many expats on temporary assignments obtain lodging in hotels or company guesthouses. Once you decide to make a permanent move, you will require a home of your own. A number of expats may prefer to rent a house for shorter stays. Buying a home is very different from renting, with each country having different laws and processes, and it is necessary to have all your important paperwork ready. It helps to find out beforehand what documents you will require for buying a home. Online expat forums are a great source of information on these matters. You can also speak to a local attorney. The documents that are usually required include photocopies of your passport, tax returns and bank statements. You may also need a list of your previous addresses, contact details of references and a list of your past employers.
When negotiating an employment contract, it’s helpful to be prepared and aware of what you want. This way you will be able to stand firm on aspects that carry greater importance to you. If you are switching jobs, it is wise to negotiate your contract after an employer presents you with an offer, but before the contract is signed. Setting the right remuneration can be beneficial to both parties, as the employees receive a fair and competitive income and businesses can offer such packages to retain talent. To proceed with negotiations, you need to go in with enough information so you know what to ask for. Do some research on what professionals earn in the field and country of your choice. Also, find out about the country’s cost of living as this influences your expenditure, and your income.
If you have chosen to continue with the same company, a new contract may have to be drawn up. Similar rules apply, and in this case you will be armed with more detailed information about how much professionals earn, and also how high the cost of living is in your current destination. Housing costs will most likely take up a large part of your income. While negotiating, you can present your expenses and quote prices, since employers tend to use their own figures that determine cost of living.
Staying in touch
During your temporary stay, you may have made a number of friends and acquaintances. And with today’s multiple modes of communication, you may feel you are always connected with family and friends back home. However, staying in touch requires effort, and doing it within the framework of a new cultural atmosphere may add to the difficulty. Remember that while you are happily sharing your new experiences, your family and friends may not share the same level of enthusiasm. It’s important to be patient and understanding as they may be experiencing a different stage in their life. Make it a point to schedule Skype or Google Talk calls at appropriate times. Also, figure out other modes of communication that are available to you. It’s a good idea to work out a routine of when you’re going to call, as the regularity will make things easier.
Learning the language
In countries where English is spoke frequently, expats often do not feel the need to invest time and effort in learning a new language. This works fine for temporary stays but not so much for permanent ones. If you’re moving to a different country permanently, it is helpful to start learning the local language and even become fluent in it. Remember you will be shifting your entire base to a new place and integrating into the society and culture is an important part of having a successful expat life.
Setting a routine for your children
If there are children involved in the move, it is important to have them adapt to a routine as soon as possible. Apart from school, there should be a healthy balance of extracurricular activities. Get them acquainted with the culture. Most expats send their kids to international schools where the language of instruction is English or that of their home country. If your move is permanent, they will need to integrate a whole lot more in the local culture. It’s also not a bad idea to consider having them speak to a therapist, if needed, as permanently moving away from their home country may be traumatic for them. They may also be some amount of confusion about culture and personal identity in such cases.
Engaging in extra-curricular activities
Moving abroad can take its toll on your mental and emotional health, especially when you know you won’t be heading back to reside in your country of origin. Having extra-curricular activities is a great way to ease the stress and get through the tough moments. Once you are done with the practical matters, the gravity of the situation may hit you fast, resulting in some trying times. A strong support system and a routine of activities where you can engage in things you enjoy, and meet new people, are integral to the transition period.
Looking forward to going home
This may seem counterproductive, but looking forward to visiting your country of origin again actually helps during the initial transition phase. Knowing you will be seeing your home country, family members, and friends once again can be hugely reassuring. Even if it’s going to be months or even a year before you can make that visit, hold onto it and stick to the plan. The adjustment period tends to be the hardest during the first year for a temporary or permanent move abroad.
Talking to your partner
Considering that relocating overseas on a permanent basis is a drastic life change, it is helpful to keep an open dialogue with your spouse or partner. Having each other for support makes a big difference. It is also important to retain a sense of independence, which you probably had back home. Many expat couples are known for their resilience and faith in each other, as they learn to both struggle and adjust together.
Doing as the locals do
Beyond the expat communities and clubs lies the true heart of a country. Since you’re moving permanently, it helps greatly if you can move beyond the expat environment and integrate into the local culture and society. You may also not want to stick out anymore as a foreigner. If you haven’t already done so during your temporary stay, make it a point to acquaint yourself with basic local etiquette. Avoid practices that may offend the locals, for instance, in some cultures the left hand is not used for eating, while in others it’s considered impolite to show the soles of your feet. Also read up on the appropriate ways of greeting and sharing a meal. Another excellent idea of getting to know your new country better is to celebrate or participate in local holidays. This will enable you to get a closer look at the cultural landscape.
Organizing your finances
Relocating abroad is an expense, even if you have kept a budget. Proper finance management at this stage is essential. You will need to think about points such as whether you want to keep your bank account in your country of origin and create one in your new country. Some expats choose to do both. If you decide to keep your old bank account, will you be able to use your debit card abroad? What are the fees for foreign transactions? If you are opening an account in your new country, what is the required documentation?
Getting into the fine print
Moving abroad can be an exciting and adventurous step. But there is some fine print involved. Everything you used to do in your country of origin or during your temporary assignment, such as paying taxes, renewing identification, etc. still very much exists. There is also likely to be a whole lot more fine print considering you are moving permanently. Also make sure to find out the local requirements for establishing permanent residence. Speak to a lawyer or accountant. Learn about the obligations you may still have to your country of origin and whether you would like to keep them.
Planning for emergencies
If you have a medical condition that requires medication or any other healthcare service, make sure you think about how you will have these needs met in your new country. Take along detailed information such as medical history or a copy of medical records.