If you’re thinking about moving abroad, I’ll be first in line to tell you to do it. Living abroad is the best thing I’ve done and I think any doubts you have, you should push past and make the leap anyway.
But before I moved abroad there were a lot of things I just plain didn’t know, or never thought about before I made the leap to living abroad. Maybe because my first time living abroad was more of a small snowball of thinking that I might do something that somehow turned into an avalanche of actually getting on a plane and going than a really clear decision!
If someone could have told me what I should know before making the decision to move abroad, what would I have wanted to know? Well, probably something like the below…
Home won’t be home anymore
When you’ve moved abroad the concept of home is never going to be quite the same again. You’re now split across two worlds. There’s more than one place where you know how things work and there’s more than one place with things to miss.
If you return to where you came from, you’ll now have another place to miss. If you’re anything like me, you might even end up splitting yourself across more than two places!
Your relationships will change
Clearly your old friendships won’t be the same when you move abroad, but you might not be as prepared as you think. Different friendships evolve in different ways. With all of the technology we have now it’s easy to stay in touch. There are even apps like Zoom that let you play group games with friends, so you can keep your social circle going from abroad.
Having said that, you’ll find some friends you speak to every day, others maybe only once in a while and when you do nothing has changed. Then some you barely hear from until you go home, or sometimes, not really much again at all.
At the same time as you’re dealing with how your friendships from home are evolving you’re meeting new people and making new friends. Soon you’ll have friends all over the place and some of your closest friends will have never met each other. It’s weird but you talk about them all to each other and yet they don’t know one another!
If you’re single, chances are you’ll hear before you move abroad “ooooh maybe you’ll meet someone and fall in love!”. I’m not going to say it’s not possible (ahem) but moving abroad does make relationships more complicated.
Dating people from different countries can throw up all sorts of things that you wouldn’t have faced if you stayed at home and got with Johnny from next door. Pesky things called visas, or deciding whether to travel versus staying put, or not having a clue where you want to live but wanting to settle are your new issues.
Moving abroad is not as easy as it looks
The media gives us a ton of rose-tinted examples of moving abroad. Eat, Pray, Love and Under the Tuscan Sun, to name only two. Moving abroad is easy right? Nope. Moving abroad definitely has its challenges, and they are usually glossed over in movies, although not quite as much in books. Any expat will tell you that living abroad kicks your butt sometimes. Having to organise visas and bank accounts, negotiating a whole new way of life and system of doing things is not always pretty, and more often than not, it’s actually hair-tearingly frustrating.
Plus sometimes, it just doesn’t work out the way you thought it would. Travelling to a place and living there are very different, and it’s not until you move abroad that you realise how much. The key is to remember, even if it doesn’t quite work out how you thought it would, it’s still always worth the adventure.
The world isn’t really that big
The world might seem too big when you’re missing home and it’s too expensive and too far to pop back, but moving abroad also makes it smaller.
You realise it’s not really that big once you’ve moved abroad because things are largely the same all over the world. People have friendship circles and families, they go about their daily lives in much the same ways with meals and work. Sure there are cultural differences but beneath it all, we’re all human.
Then you realise you can make a space for yourself anywhere in the world. Suddenly, the possibilities of where you can place yourself are endless. You’ve done it once, and you can do it again!
You won’t just learn a language
If you’re moving abroad to a country where you don’t speak the language, don’t expect to just “pick it up” like so many people claim you will. Can you really learn a language by moving abroad? Yes, but with hard work. Learning a language takes more than just hearing it, or I would be amazing at Spanish by now! If you really want somewhere to be a home to you, you’ll need to put in the effort to learn the language. That means going out of your way to practice what you do know and to actively try and learn more.
Living abroad can be lonely
Even though you can make it into one long, grand adventure, living abroad is not a permanent vacation. You still have to do all those things you did at home like work and have a social life, except you’re in another country. I think it’s hard to truly travel solo because it’s so easy to make friends on the road, but let me tell you, it’s not so hard to move abroad solo.
Travelling puts you in constant situations where you meet people, and you can basically make instant friends. When you move abroad you meet a lot of people too, but meeting people and making friends with them are two very different things. People are comfortable in their lives and it can be very difficult to break in.
Sometimes you sit at home alone on a Saturday night trying to convince yourself you totally needed some “you” time. Even though you spent the last week by yourself too…
There are things you can do to help make friends when you move abroad, but it means finding the confidence to put yourself out there and risk being rejected. The easiest way to combat the loneliness is to find other expats, because us outsiders like to stick together. Just don’t let that be the only people you try and connect with.
Get used to goodbyes
That first lot of goodbyes when you move abroad might be hard, but it’s only the beginning. After you’ve lived abroad you’ll have to get used to saying goodbye all the time. Other expat friends will come and go, you’ll be visiting home and coming back again, or you might even move on to another expat home and keep living abroad forever.
In a harsh kind of way you’ll almost get used to it. It doesn’t mean you won’t be sad or it won’t hurt when you have to say goodbye again, but it becomes life. And since the world feels like a smaller place now, you’ll know to never write off the possibility of meeting again.
You’ll appreciate where you come from more
It’s true that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. When you move abroad and you start exploring your new home you’ll realise how little of the home you had that you appreciated. All of us have that one tourist attraction in our home town that we’ve never bothered to go to, yet everyone who visits always does.
Living abroad gives you an appreciation for what’s around you, and you’ll understand that talk about exploring your home like a tourist like never before. Travelling teaches us to choose the adventure, and living abroad helps us to keep doing it all the time.
You don’t care what’s cool anymore
When you’re at home surrounded by the same people you’re always conscious of what the popular thing of the moment is, even if you don’t realise it. That TV show everyone’s watching, or that new style of clothing everyone’s wearing. You don’t necessarily have to care about it, but it’s there.
When you move abroad you get the opportunity to completely create your own life. You’re that weird foreigner who does what they like. Songs, TV shows and styles will be completely different, and you’ll mash together this mix of things that you love from all over and create your own cool.
You’ll realise you have way too much stuff and you can cope with much less
When you have to pack your entire life into one case or backpack you’ll realise that you probably have way too much stuff, and really you don’t need it all. Clothes are the worst culprit, and the problem is that your new home abroad may have a completely different climate or style that everyone you own is unsuitable for, even if you thought you had it down. Plus shopping.
Do yourself a favour and cut the crap.
Be prepared to meet your emotions
Moving abroad mean mood swings. You can go from being completely happy in your new home to a blubbering mess because one tiny thing didn’t quite work out. Be prepared to experience the full spectrum of human emotion when you move abroad. From the initial excitement before you go to the nervousness when you first arrive, the frustration at trying to figure out a new system, to the elated feeling when something works out. It’ll happen.
The good thing is, you’ll learn how to cope better with your emotions, and let some things go.
You’ll be called many things
When people call me brave for moving abroad I don’t really understand. I just see it as going after something I wanted, which shouldn’t be brave, it should just be life.
The other option is being called crazy. Voluntarily deciding to upend my entire life and attempt to make a new one across the world? I may not dispute that one.
You might not find yourself, but you will learn about yourself
I don’t subscribe to the idea of moving abroad to find yourself. Where does that mean you were before? You’re already there, but you might just need to learn a little more about yourself. You’ll learn that you’re not the same person to everyone you meet, and there are different sides of your personality that emerge in different situations.
You’ll also learn how you personally cope with different situations, and if you don’t like it, you’ll be able to work on changing it. When you’re always in the comfort zone, it’s harder for you to grow, and moving abroad is one of the ultimate tests!
“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”
– Miriam Adeney
Have you lived abroad? Do you agree, or do you wish there were other things you knew before you moved?
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