Living abroad is something so many people think about. Admittedly, the idea has bounced around in my brain a couple of times too. Over the years I’ve traveled a lot, met a lot of people who are living in countries other than their own (called expats), and have come to find common themes between those who have managed to move abroad successfully and between those who have struggled with it.
My definition of living abroad successfully is pretty broad. I’m going to say that successfully moving and living abroad entails maintaining or improving the standard of living you had in the country you originated from. By standard of living I’m talking freedom to do what you’ve always done. Maybe you make less money abroad but can you still join a gym and eat out four nights a week like you did in the states? If you’re able to live abroad with little to no real problematic reductions in your standard of living, I would say you have moved abroad successfully so for the purposes of this blog article, that’s what we’ll be using to discuss living abroad in a successful way.
Here are some pearls of wisdom that many successful expats have shared with me.
1. Plan ahead and be patient
So often we begin traveling the world and before you know it, good ole wanderlust has a grip on us and we just can’t wait to live abroad and be free. This could be a recipe for a lot of adventure and it could be the start of the downturn in the quality of life you have as you age. Jumping the gun usually ends up being pretty cool for awhile until people realize they’re not making much money, they’re not having as much fun as they thought and they really just want to go home. Of course if your idea of a successful move abroad is sleeping in a city park and eating chips and cookies as a staple diet, this may be fine with you. For the rest of us, some diligent planning will be the best bet to moving and living abroad successfully.
Patience also pertains to finding a place to live. Don’t buy a house! Wait until you have rented successfully for a year or so in your new country before making any long term investments there. The many expats I know have all ended up wanting to live somewhere else within a year of moving abroad and are glad they didn’t tie themselves to a real estate investment that might not have paid off.
2. Assess your work transition options
If you are an engineer, an accountant or an English teacher, moving abroad may be as simple as finding a job in the country you want to live in and managing the move. If you’re like the rest of us you may find that not all jobs are as easy to secure in foreign countries. For example, I have managed the fitness departments of large fitness centers for many years. I hire, develop and manage personal training teams and develop programs so that health clubs can sell them and make a lot of money. Well, fitness is part of pop culture in the United States. Fitness is legit and it’s everywhere in the states. This isn’t the case in most countries. In many countries people are already thin and eat healthy so weight loss isn’t a really common thing and I’ve found that most people from other countries enjoy being active playing sports like soccer, volleyball, tennis and swimming instead of going to the gym and running on a treadmill. This poses a challenge for people like me. More likely than not, a health club would not pay me nearly as much as they would in the states simply because working out as a part of society, and the fitness industry as a whole, is so underdeveloped in most countries as compared to the United States. So, if you have a career path and job history like me, you may be very good at what you do, but the market may not support your transition. Time to get creative!
3. Learn a major language
You’re going to have to learn it if you live abroad anyway so you may as well chalk it up to “personal enrichment” and get to practicing now. Rosetta Stone and other language learning software have worked wonders for people I know and are really great tools if you are able to keep yourself accountable. I’m not that person so I need to hire a language teacher and practice in a person-to-person manner. This is actually pretty cool. A lot of cities and towns have people who would love to make a little extra money teaching you a language they already know. Language teachers that aren’t making any money over the summer may be really excited about the opportunity of meeting you at a library or coffee shop to help you learn a language. The acquisition of language is really a linchpin to being free to move abroad. Even if your job isn’t ideal for transferring, if you know the language in the country you’re moving to, you can gain employment much more readily than if you haven’t learned the language yet. Get motivated, be proactive and spend the 6-12 months before you move learning to converse intelligently in the language of the country you want to move to.
As you can see in this graphic from 2014, the top languages worldwide are:
Arabic, Chinese, English, German, Russian and Spanish
As for me, I am focused on learning Spanish for a number of reasons. First, as a person from the U.S., I already know some Spanish and am familiar with many of the words and pronunciations. Secondly, all Central and South America as well as Spain in Europe and Mexico in North America speak Spanish as a primary language. This is a massive area that provides a person unlimited options for relocation abroad. Also, as you can see in the graphic above, a lot of countries in Europe have a considerable number of Spanish speakers as well. I remember initially having a hard time speaking French in Paris and almost every person asked me if I could speak Spanish to communicate with them as they had acquired Spanish as a second language. These are just my two cents for anyone from the U.S. who needs to acquire a second language to move abroad – start with Spanish and go from there.
4. Pick-up a marketable skill or just teach English
There are a lot of skills that could make you marketable in many countries abroad. Aside from learning the language spoken in the country you want to move to, teaching English as a second language (ESL) is probably the most common way people from the U.S. relocate abroad. You’ll need a certification to teach English in another country, but these are becoming easier to get and some are even offered online.
These certifications go by a number of acronyms including:
- TEFL – Teaching English as a Foreign Language
- TESL – Teaching English as a Second Language
- TOFEL – Teaching English as a Second or Other Language
- ESL – English as a Second Language
Thousands of jobs are available worldwide (literally everywhere) for a person with any of these certifications having at least 120 hours of credit. You do not need to know the language of the country where you are moving. That’s right! The certification’s curriculum teaches you to instruct students of other languages without needing to know their language yourself. Of course knowing their language would help you out a great deal and would add to the experience you would have living there, but having that foreign language skill is not a requirement. Pretty cool isn’t it?
For anyone whose job doesn’t naturally transfer to a country abroad but has a college degree and one of the certifications listed above, teaching English as a second language not only pays relatively well (you’ll be surprised), but schools regularly provide you with housing which ensures that the major hurdles of needing a job and finding housing are completely removed.
5. Pay off all your debt
Nothing will make your attempt of living abroad suck more than having to pay for debt you accumulated while living in the U.S. Chances are you won’t be making a huge amount of money to begin with in your new country of residence so paying off all existing debt prior to leaving not only makes like a whole lot easier, it also gives you peace of mind and puts you on a very healthy course of living debt free which feels awesome! Let’s face it, you don’t have to make a whole lot of money if you have no bills coming in each month to zap your earnings. If all you had to worry about was rent, food, utilities, transportation and living expenses all paid with money you have, life could be really sweet! Make the decision to eliminate your debt while you still live in the states. This will be an exercise of living within your means and it will allow you to jump ship and never worry about having an anchor of heavy debt to drag you down.
Also consider moving without having to ship any belongings. If you have no debt you can save cash and buy the essentials when you arrive in your new country without spending money shipping your stuff overseas. If all else fails, selling your belongings in the U.S. could help speed-up your plan of becoming debt free.
6. If you own property, wisely rent or sell it
Being an absentee owner can be tough so selling the property you own in the U.S. could be a wise decision. But, should you have an investment property you want to hold onto you still have options. If your property is the type that will attract responsible, conscientious people to rent from you then you’re golden. If you have the type of property that may attract people who are likely to abuse the place or trash it then you may be better off selling it. Should you decide to hold on to your property, but want to rent it so you can make money while you’re living abroad, consider having a real estate management company take over the details of managing your property. They’ll create a contract with you and will work to ensure the place is taken care of and is rented as much as possible should one tenant leave. They often oversee lawn care and any needed repairs that the property may need allowing you to rest easy knowing your property is being cared for by professionals who don’t get paid unless they do the job.
7. Visit the place you are moving one more time
Invest in another trip to the place you’re wanting to relocate to. This time instead of going as a tourist, go as a person aiming to live there. This mentality will help you see the place for what it really is. Go online and arrange to meet with other expats living there so you can ask them questions and have them share their experiences with you. Networking is key to transitioning smoothly into your new living arrangements. If you move abroad already knowing some people and having contact with others who have done what you’re doing, that system of support will serve you well and will help to ensure a successful transition. Instead of staying in a hotel, try AirBnB or CouchSurfing so that you can stay in a local neighborhood and get to know some locals. The key is to come away knowing all about the place you are planning on moving to and having at least some kind of network of people who are prepared to counsel and help you when you arrive. This could even be useful in helping you find a better job than you could find on your own.
These are the seven (7) common themes I have learned from the many people I know who have moved abroad successfully and are living the life of their dreams. Set yourself up for success and allow yourself the comfort and assurance that you are in control of your own destiny by taking these 7 strategies and using them to your advantage.
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