Time and time again, I hear moving overseas described as life-affirming, liberating, confidence boosting. But deciding to up sticks and start a new life as an expat is a big step, much bigger than travelling for a few months. Moving abroad can involve making long-term arrangements for your home, whether that’s moving out, renting or even selling up. It means saying goodbye to the people you love for a long time. It might even mean leaving a secure job.
Image to Marianne from Raincoats and Coffee
So why do so many people take the plunge? For Marianne, who is moving to Taipei shortly, travel, money, life experience and new friends were the deciding factors. When I asked on Facebook if the expats out there think that everyone should try living abroad, Mizan Thropic replied that she’s “currently in a rut and depressed in life and dreaming of starting a new life abroad.” I think that’s something many of us can relate to: the lure of the fresh start.
“Is living abroad one of the rare cases where the grass actually is greener?”
Being able to meet people confidently is a valuable life skill. Although you may be haunted by images of sitting alone in a drab little flat while a party booms downstairs, it’s unlikely to be the case once you’re there, if you make a little effort. As expat blogger Sonja says,
“You have to put yourself out there, try and form a connection with new people and stay on their radar, and hope that something comes of it!”
Moving away from from everything you know can be like a second childhood when it comes to the intensity of new experiences. Think of everything you learned as you grew up, from what you like to eat for breakfast to how to speak to people politely. Moving abroad plonks you into a completely different culture; effectively, you’re starting all over again. Love Cornflakes for breakfast but moving to Japan? Maybe you’ll come to appreciate fish, rice and miso soup first thing in the morning.
“Learning to understand a different culture can help you to start to comprehend the sheer size and diversity of this wonderful tangled tapestry of human life on Earth!”
When you live somewhere for more than a month or two, there’s no need to cram in the sights like a tourist. You can slow down and start to recognise – and become a part of – the ebb and flow of a place. Yes, visit the museums and galleries, but see them like a local: unhurriedly. Spend the evenings in restaurants and clubs with your new friends, and catch up on local gossip over brunches with the local newspaper. On weekends, head to off-the-beaten-track escapes favoured by the locals.
The benefits of living life as an expat aren’t all abstract. Play your cards right and there are some serious financial incentives too. If you’re a homeowner, rent out your property and live somewhere cheaper overseas. Pay off debts or build up your savings with the difference. Plus, while new banking and tax structures seem overwhelming, you’ll surprise yourself as you figure them out – yes, you will!
“You’ll become better at budgeting and maths too, given all the currency converting you’ll be doing.”
5. Build resilience
Moving abroad is nothing if not character building! And the more the prospect scares you, the more you need to jump right in. That’s my motto anyway! You will necessarily become more independent and open-minded. Take a deep breath, open yourself up to new experiences and influences and see which ones become a part of your character. Some will suit you, some won’t but the brave failures are as character building as the successes. We are all of us continually evolving; from our tastes in fashion and food to our capacity to fall in – and out of – love.
Image credit to Rensina
Here are a few things that you may or may not do during your time abroad: learn a language; become an expert at packing a suitcase; know when to go with the flow, and when to dig in; intuit when a stranger is trustworthy, and when a stranger is not; barter; try new foods without feeling queasy; and successfully navigate foreign public transport.
Don’t underestimate the impact living in a warmer climate can have on your wellbeing. If you live somewhere that’s drizzly and dark for half the year, the effect of daily coastal walks in the sun on your serotonin levels can be life-changing. More energy, less baggage – physically and emotionally. The saying that a change is as good as a rest has never rung truer!