The Ultimate Guide for Why, How, and Where in the World to Move
Do you want to be smarter?
More sophisticated and creative?
Always full of fantastic stories to tell at dinner parties?
The answer is simple: move to another country.
Wait, you haven't done it yet?
Ah, yes. Moving to another country is stressful, you say. How can I get a job and uproot my life and live so far away from everything and everyone I know?
You're not wrong. Moving to another country isn't easy. But it is worth it.
Whatever your reasons (and the reasons to make another country your home are literally endless), moving to another country doesn't have to destroy your life, your relationships, or your budget.
But believe me, it will change your life.
Why Do It in the First Place?
Wait, go back a minute.
That all sounds fine, and moving to another country would be cool and everything, but how will it make me smarter? Or more creative?
And what about my kids/partner/dog/turtle/favorite donut shop?
Full disclosure, you might have to say goodbye to the donut shop. But as for the rest? They'll benefit too, promise.
Before you even get into the “hows” of moving to another country, think about your “whys.”
Reasons You Can Tell People (AKA the Practical Benefits That Will Make People Ooh and Aah)
You don't have to say much about moving to another country for people to start, well, freaking out. Even if you're still on the fence yourself, the reactions will come swift and hard. Prepare yourself to make the decision of a lifetime, and at the same time, shut those haters down.
Improving Your Career
Depending on the field you're in and the education you have, moving to another country can drastically improve your current career, give you new career options, and give you all sorts of employer-valued experience. Check out international job fairs, do some internet research, and make sure you list that international experience on your resume or CV.
Even if you don't get a job in your career field when you move abroad, the experiences you gain as an expat will greatly increase your earning potential. By moving to another country, you're gaining skills that all employers want: cultural understanding and sensitivity, communication, and international connections are just a few.
Money Money Money Money!
People tend to think of moving to another country as inconceivably expensive. Travel is expensive, but moving abroad might actually save you money. Even if you're not suddenly up for a promotion just because you're in another country, there are plenty of ways to save.
If finances are pretty high on your list of priorities and saving some bucks is a major reason for moving to another country in the first place, you can have the luxurious life of your dreams with just a little bit of research. Many countries offer higher wages and bonuses for specially skilled workers, and the cost of living in many countries may be significantly lower than what you're currently spending.
It's difficult and not very much fun to remain a picky eater when you're moving to another country. You'll be trying new dishes and flavor combinations all the time, and while you almost certainly won't fall in love with all of them, you'll be exposed to a whole new realm of food and drink. Not only will this make your future dinner parties awesome, it might even make you healthier.
Moving to another country with kids is not easy, but it is also not impossible. And you will probably find that the benefits (to you and to them) greatly outweigh the initial struggle of getting them through the long flights, packing their stuff, and getting them used to a new place and home.
Kids are notoriously versatile and nowhere does this come into play more than when they're moving to another country. They'll reap all the same benefits as you from the move (creativity, communication, experience, maybe language, etc.), but it will probably take them even less time to get comfortable in their new place. And remember, you're giving them the experience of a lifetime, whether you stay for a year or stay forever.
Everyone wants to be a better communicator, right? Whether it's at work with your boss or at home with your partner, you want to know that the other person knows what you're saying (and that you've correctly understood what they're telling you). Moving to another country can make you better at this.
If you learn a new language when you're moving to another country, great. But even if you don't, your communication skills will way amp up. You'll be talking to people all the time who don't speak your native language (or speak it differently), so you'll have to rely on a combination of shared words and nonverbal communication.
Think that you'll never be able to make a friend or make a business deal? Think again.
The relationships you can build across cultures and even across languages are pretty incredible. Take a deep breath, dive right in, and be prepared to come out a master communicator on the other side.
Up Your Productivity
Studies have shown that people in countries with higher numbers of vacation days are just as productive as those with fewer, so take this opportunity to explore not just your new home but the world. Depending on where you decide to move, the world is your oyster, and traveling internationally has never been so easy. Learn to balance your time while still bringing home the bacon.
Your communication skills will improve no matter what when you're in a new country, but if you stay long enough (and you work hard enough at it), you might be able to learn a new language to boot. Talk about marketable skill!
Reasons That Are Even More Important But Fewer People Care About
But don't just focus on the things that will make your parents happy. Moving to another country is a crazy amazing experience, and its benefits go far beyond any extra cash you can save.
Creative Problem Solving
You probably won't feel the sudden urge to pick up a paintbrush right upon landing in your new home, but the day to day experience of living in another country will naturally make you a more creative problem solver. Being in a completely new environment will enable your brain to come up with new and unique solutions to all sorts of problems in a relaxed way that never would have been possible had you stayed home with Netflix.
Be More Self-Aware
In a good way. Being more self-aware is directly linked to success-- if you know what you need to get better at, it is much easier to put in the time and get better. Traveling and moving to another country is one of the best ways to get to know yourself in addition to getting to know the people and places of your new home.
Even if you're traveling with a partner or family, you'll build your independent spirit when you move abroad. Little things, like going to the grocery store or paying your phone bill, might be a little scary the first time, but after you've figured it out, you'll feel more strong and independent than ever.
This doesn't mean that you always (or often) have to be alone. Moving to another country can be a fantastic opportunity to make new friends, build new relationships, and solidify the relationships that you already have through sharing phenomenal new experiences.
Where do all the Americans Go?
If you decide to take the plunge, you're in good company.
Over 8 million people (not counting military personnel) are currently living abroad and loving it.
Literally loving it.
The number one reason people move abroad is for love. Maybe you meet someone on a business trip or vacation, maybe they'd been living in your hometown but are ready to move back to theirs, or maybe it's an online relationship turned IRL.
People also move for jobs, for adventure, for fun. Pretty much any reason you have for moving to another country is a good one… unless you're hoping to meet a prince, fall in love, and live happily ever after in his enormous European castle. That one might not work out so well.
American expats live all over the world, but the highest numbers of them seem to converge in Germany (9%), Mexico (5%), and Costa Rica (4%).
If your job is telling you where to go, you should probably go there. But if the choice is completely up to you? Take some time, do some research, and know some stuff before you buy that plane ticket.
I'm an American. Where Can I Go?
Technically, you can go just about anywhere.
Where you can stay, however… now that is a different ball game.
Before you pack your bags and get a movin', consider making your big move to a country that will make your life a little more manageable when you get there.
Wait, don't just start Googling! Think through what you want in a country and new home, and then see what locations align with what you want, need, and dream. When you're looking at countries to move to, don't just focus on pretty beach pictures. Ask yourself some of the following questions to make your relocation as successful as possible.
Okay, you've got a nice big list of what you want. But that doesn't really help you pinpoint a specific country, does it? Move wherever you want, really -- at the end of the day, if you're confident in your reasons for moving and your chosen location, it will likely be awesome.
But if you're struggling with the choice… we've got you covered.
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Ah, the land down under. Kangaroos, English, and the bush await you. Full of friendly people and employment opportunities, this continent/country is an excellent choice for someone looking to get out of their comfort zone in a traditional vacation paradise.
It's a long way from home, but for US citizens, getting a work visa is pretty simple. Apply and you're pretty much set.
Brazil, Brazil, Brazil… there's a giant Jesus on top of hill! And more.
If you're a student, a teacher, a professional, or a retiree, Brazil might be the perfect destination for you. The cultural diversity is pretty incredible, and the country is full of amazing sites and locations.
It is, however, a bit tumultuous. There's some political and economic instability to look out for, and not very many people in Brazil speak English. You'll have to get a visa -- the type depends on what you're hoping to do there and how long you want to stay -- but with a little bit of research up front it shouldn't be too painful.
Czech it out! The Czech Republic is incredible: it makes travel to other countries easy, holds enormous historic value, and hosts a number of expats and friendly locals.
It's easy to visit, but it might be a bit difficult to get a work visa (as is the case in much of Europe). However, if you can get a job, it's the perfect time to be in the land of the Czechs.
Mexico is already home to a large number of American expats, and you can be one of them! Despite the occasional safety concerns (in some locations), Mexico is easily accessible, inexpensive, beautiful, and full of fabulous culture and food.
Beauty, beauty, and more beauty. This gateway to Asia will have you never wanting to leave even if additional travel was originally part of your plan.
The Thailand visa stuff can get a bit tricky, so do a lot of research on their immigration office website before booking those pricey plane tickets.
It's Go Time
You've got your destination.
You've done your research, solidified some job options, and you've told the world that you're going to be an expat.
First Things First: Months Before Moving to Another Country
If you already have a job lined up, your employer should help you with the work visa process. This can take a long time, so make sure you're thinking about it well before your physical move.
If you have kids, register them in schools or daycares. If you have pets, research what you need to do to take them with you. Some countries require extra vaccinations or quarantines.
Now for the fun part: packing. The earlier you start the better off you'll be: make lists, tag items with sticky notes, discuss the big things. Will you need your car? Will you store your big stuff, ship it to you, or sell it? The options are just about endless, and it's totally up to you. Be sure to check prices and options for shipping to your chosen country, though!
While you're doing all that, don't forget about practical stuff -- health care, banking, taxes, insurance, etc. Research, talk to other expats and your employer, and take it one step at a time.
Once you've decided what you need to take with you, figure out how you're going to get it there.
There are plenty of moving companies to choose from, just make sure (like double, triple, quadruple check) that your stuff will get safely from point A to point B.
Make sure everyone traveling with you has a valid passport, and brainstorm ways to keep them safe and handy at all times when traveling. Belted passport pouch? Sure. Front pocket of your jeans? Okay, if you can keep it from falling out. In the small interior pocket of the coat you packed at the bottom of your suitcase? Maybe not.
Research (maybe for the tenth time) what you'll need to do when you actually arrive in your new country. Will you need to fork over some money for a tourist visa until you get your work visa? Will you need to register with anyone? Will you be staying in a hotel until you can make long-term arrangements, or will someone from your workplace be ready to meet and greet you?
You're Home but it Doesn't Feel Like Home
You made it! It's been a couple of days or a couple of weeks and you're getting settled. But now… you feel weird.
This oft-overlooked part of moving to another country is perhaps the most important of all: culture shock.
You'll have to make some (or a lot) of adjustments when you make your move, and not all of them will be super fun. But with the right attitude and some thoughtful approaches to your new life, you'll be on the other side and loving it in no time.
First, make your new home feel, well, home-y. Put up some decorations, unpack your suitcases, and make the space your own. Then, even though you're not going to be a tourist for long, be a tourist for a minute. Explore your area and have some fun! Getting out and seeing the world is what it's all about, so take some time from your busy settling-in days to do it.
Meet some people, too. Join classes or clubs, start doing some volunteer work, meet your co-workers after the workday is done for a meal or a drink or a chat.
Avoid Being the Worst
Time for some truth.
Even if you follow all the rules and do your research, you might make some mistakes.
Just make sure the mistakes you make aren't any of the following ones.
Yeah, money's been a pretty big theme. But if you've got the money stuff figured, you'll have more time, more energy (and yes, more money) to focus on what you really want to do.
Make sure that when you're negotiating your salary, trying to figure out how many jobs you need, or choosing a job to begin with that you're looking at your actual costs of living in your new home. Just because you needed to work a full-time job and a part-time job to make ends meet in your previous life doesn't mean you'll have to do the same thing when you move.
Do your research, make your budget, and adjust or update as needed. You'll feel better, and so will your bank account.
#2: It's Not Going to Be Like House Hunters
One of the first things you'll probably do after your big move is look for a place to live. You've got all your bags, you're exhausted, and you just want to be home and settled.
Fight that feeling.
Give yourself the time to really consider your living options. You don't need to go with the very first apartment or house you see, even if it looks just fine.
As always, talk to some people and do some research. Be up front about your budget, but don't settle for the first and the cheapest. When you've gotten some rest and have started getting used to your new life, you'll be glad you did.
#3: Be Honest with Yourself
It's going to be different.
You're going to get overwhelmed.
You're going to wonder if it was all a big mistake.
It's okay, you'll be fine, and it wasn't. Take some time for yourself after the shock of moving has started to wear off: take a quick tourist trip, get to know your neighbors, or just give yourself some time to read a book and relax.
But you can also prepare yourself. Research social norms in your new country (both to avoid offending others and to make yourself feel more like a part of society), keep an open mind, and maintain a good support system (even if you can only Skype them at 1am).
You should also know that your new life will not be 100% vacation all the time. Sure, your new apartment might have a beach view and you might have more money in your bank account than you know what to do with, but you're still going to have to get groceries. Go to work. Go to bed on time if you have an early morning. Knowing this going in will make reality much less harsh when it finally hits.
#4 (but really the most important): It's Not Going to Be the Same
This one is tough: it's the reason you're moving to another country but it's oh so easy to forget.
Your new home isn't going to be the same as your old one.
That's a good thing, but it sneaks up on you in kind of nasty ways.
It's one thing to know that it will be different and another thing entirely to experience the difference all day every day. And while there are going to be frustrating days, a little bit of patience (and yes, research) will help.
Instead of getting frustrated that you have to go to five different markets to get groceries for the week, try to embrace the new experience. Instead of just learning when you're at a tourist site, remember that you're learning all the time. And that's a good thing!
Step outside of your comfort zone: try local foods, learn about and experience local traditions, and become a local. It's all part of the international growth, man.
For more tips, tricks, and overall words of hope and encouragement, check out the following video to get you pumped up:
Where Are You Going Next?
Once you start your international life, you will never want it to end.
And guess what? It doesn't have to.
Even if you come home to stay after a couple of years of globe-trotting, your life will be forever changed in the best of ways because of your international experiences. And whether you return to living a quiet Midwest life after gallivanting across the world or you decide to settle forever in your international home, you'll never get rid of that beautiful, nagging question in the back of your mind:
Where are you going next?
Featured image via Visual Hunt, CC by 1.0