Moving Overseas: How to Avoid
How to avoid mistakes when
Getting caught up in the excitement and romance of moving to a new country is easy, but if you are expecting a smooth transition to an idyllic new life you might be disappointed. Relocation is hard work, and there are plenty of potential complications to trip you up along the way. The good news is some of them can be avoided. Here are some of the biggest mistakes people make when moving overseas, and how to avoid them.
- Going Somewhere on Vacation and Assuming That It Will Be the Same When You Live There
Vacationing somewhere is very different from living there long-term. Everywhere becomes home after a while with daily routines and frustrations. You will still have to go to work, access public services, and clean your toilet wherever you live in the world.
Your troubles will not miraculously disappear because you live in a picturesque village or a warm climate. In fact day-to-day hassles will initially escalate as you adapt to a new way of life, learn a new system, and possibly new language—and generally deal with all the adaptations that accompany any relocation.
Accept that moving is stressful, even within your own country, and the stress can increase 10-fold with an international move. Set realistic goals for your new life. It makes sense to strive for a new, better, more fulfilling existence. It does not make sense to assume that all your worries will disappear and your life will become perfect.
When considering a move to a new country you need to be really comfortable with the way day-to-day life is carried out there. Research should include looking into local laws, customs, taxes, building regulations, the health and education systems, and the public transport system. These will be a part of your everyday life, and in the case of things like the health system, could literally be a life or death issue.
Never assume that you will be able to do things a certain way just because you always have. The laws and people of your adopted country may make your way unacceptable. Make sure you find out about all the major issues that may affect you, from property tax if you are buying a property, to tenants’ and landlords’ rights if you are renting, to school hours and policies if your kids will be in the local education system. Talk to other expatriates in the area and ask them about any unforeseen issues they had to deal with during their first few months in the country.
- Over Committing to a Job Overseas
Just because you have always dreamed of teaching English in rural China does not mean you will love the reality. While you should be prepared to persevere and overcome barriers in the first few months you should also be aware that occasionally things just do not work out, and if you have signed a year-long contract this will be difficult, if not impossible, to rectify. At best it will reflect badly on you from a career standpoint. An employer is unlikely to offer a good reference to someone who just broke their contract.
Find out what steps you can take to make a more gradual commitment to your employment. See if you can negotiate a shorter contract initially with the option to renew. Or ask for a probationary period, with your long-term contract coming into effect at the end of that time. This can benefit both yourself and your employer.
- Buying a Property Too Soon
Often, falling in love with a particular area, or even a specific property, can be part of the driving force behind a decision to relocate, but being willing to rent for a while before committing to a purchase can save a lot of heartache, and the ordeal of going through the process of a second property deal during your first year in a country.
If you can bear the wait it can be useful to spend a whole year in an area before buying a property. You may find that the neighborhood you loved in the off-season is unbearably noisy at peak times, that the beautiful old house you wanted to refurbish stands right in the path of the floodwaters in the rainy season, or the beautiful mountainside villa is vulnerable to forest fires in high summer.
- Not Learning the Language
The world is full of expatriates who mix with other expatriates exclusively because they cannot integrate into local society due to language difficulties. Having expatriate friends is sometimes a life saver while you learn to cope with communications difficulties abroad. But for a richer language immersion experience, your expatriate friends should not interfere with an attempt to become a part of the local community; you will need the type of language skills which are generally best developed by interacting with natives.
Even English teachers often fall into the trap of socializing with other English teachers rather than stretching themselves to learn the local language—and long-term this can have major negative consequences. Struggling with day-to-day interactions can knock your confidence and have an impact on your self-esteem. Not to mention that the lack of language skills can actually be dangerous if, for example, you are not able to communicate with health care professionals or report a crime to the police. No one likes to think of such humdrum necessities when planning an exciting new life, but they are a part of everyday life and, at some point, they will need to be dealt with.
Plan to start learning your new language before you plunge into your new life. Language lessons are a good idea, and necessary to start learning the basics, but a lifetime of lessons cannot replace getting out there and using your local language in everyday settings and interactions.
- Importing Your Home Country to Your Adopted Country
When you meet some expatriates you may wonder why they ever left their home country at all, as they seem to have brought the lifestyle, customs, and even the food of their home country with them. It is not unusual, or wrong, to occasionally crave real peanut butter or a Big Mac, but if you never eat in local restaurants and need a huge hamper of products from home sent out every two weeks, you are almost certainly not making enough effort to integrate, and are undoubtedly missing out on a lot of what your adopted home has to offer.
Make the effort to adapt to local customs, try local foods, attend local festivals, and generally adopt the same way of life the locals live. If, for example, you spend half your life complaining about the fact you cannot get anything done between one and four in the afternoon, try taking a siesta like the rest of the country.
- Acting Like You Are on Vacation
As addressed in the first point, living somewhere is different from being on vacation, and so it should be. Spending money like water, hanging out in bars every night, and sitting on a beach all day are fine for two weeks at a time, but insolvency, alcoholism and skin cancer will do little to enhance your living abroad experience.
Trailing spouses, retirees, and people with no regular work are particularly prone to falling into the trap of simply not having much direction in life, which can lead to dissatisfaction and even depression, no matter how exotic your surroundings.
The solution to this, again, is to get involved in your local community. Make friends, join a club, take a language class, or some other class that interests you. If you have a work permit, think about a part time job. If not, consider volunteering or an occupation for which you do not need a work permit, such as freelance writing or photography. Immerse yourself in the culture of your new home. Move away from the feeling of being a visitor and become a valued member of the community. You may always be a “foreigner,” but that can be your “quirk”—the je ne sais quoi that makes you unique and memorable to locals.
A lot of the mistakes made when moving overseas can be avoided by simply accepting and planning for the fact that things in your new country will be different. Not necessarily better or worse, just different. But then, if you had wanted things to stay the same, you would have stayed at home, wouldn’t you?