If you’re seriously thinking about moving overseas in search of a new life, here's our essential list of things you need to get your head around before you start packing, plus a few helpful resources to get you on your way.
We’ve done our fair share of moving about here at WeSwap. Collectively, we’ve lived and worked all over the place: Spain, France, Italy, Sydney, Israel, Hong Kong, Qatar, the US, South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, North Finchley... some more exotic than others. But anyway, we like to think we know a thing or two about living abroad.
Sometimes the allure of a new opportunity abroad is enough to make us want to drop everything and move at all costs. However, the most common reason expats end up coming home is financial, so it’s important to consider all of your costs before the move, not after! The three Fs: Flat deposits, flights, and furniture can end up leaving a financial dent that you'll never properly recover from. Is it possible to save up for six months first, for example?
To understand if the standard of life you imagine abroad is feasible, you need to know how far your salary will actually go. Even small expenses can vary dramatically between countries - broadband internet, for instance, is relatively cheap in the UK compared to Spain, Italy and France. And there may be costs unique to your new life (see “staying healthy” below, for example). Expat blogs and online cost of living calculators are key sources of information here. We can offer holiday spending guides, but they are holiday specific.
Don’t underestimate the need for adequate savings. How much you’ll need will vary, depending on your family status, lifestyle and job, but we’ve seen advice ranging from seven to nine month's worth of living expenses up to two years. Take into consideration the cost of moving and one-off costs you may need to pay when you first arrive, such as legal services, taxes, visas and permits. Also take care to watch out for currency charges when using your card overseas, which can easily eat into your budget. And remember, many expats end up overspending in the first few months simply because they don’t really know how to shop properly yet – they don’t know where the good deals are, or even what constitutes a good deal, so end up paying over the odds. For peace of mind, it’s always best to assume that you will need more money than you have budgeted for.
You might have heard stories about other expats who moved without knowing the language. “I just went out there and picked it up as I went along” is familiar, or “most people speak at least some English, so you can get by.” The fact is that moving abroad without some familiarity with the language is a bit like sunbathing without sun cream: a lot of people do it, but it certainly isn’t recommended.
Having a grounding in the language before you arrive will mean you’re much better equipped to handle anything official that needs doing, fix problems (which will crop up), and – importantly - integrate with your new community. Also, taking intensive language lessons when you arrive is a great way to meet people and ease the transition.
Despite the fact that everyone gets poorly once in a while, healthcare is still too often overlooked by people moving overseas. Each country has its own regulations on entitlement to free care, insurance requirements and costs. Look it up, and factor it into your calculations. If you move within Europe then it's likely you'll be covered under reciprocal health care benefits that non-English EU nationals get here. It's looking like these EU benefits will remain post-Brexit.
Assuming you’re not moving abroad to live on your pension or investment assets, (and if you are, make sure they will buy you a quality of life you will be happy with – see “cost of living”), you need to look at the local jobs market. Do you need a work permit? What is the average wage? Will your qualifications be recognised abroad? How easily will someone with your qualifications get work? This last one can be tricky to pin down, as official employment figures rarely tell the whole story. The best approach is to try to get in touch with as many people working in your field in-country as you can, and try to build good contacts before you go. If you can, try to run your C.V. by them too - they may be able to tell you whether you need to take on more training or skills.
Chances are that you won’t be able to go back to your home country as often as you think. So unless you already have the means, get ready for time differences and Skype calls and for being away from your BFFs on your birthday and other holidays. For some, it may well be that you need to think carefully about your choice of overseas destination so that you can get to and from your home country easily. Of course, it can also mean that your loved ones will have a handy new bolt hole abroad, and you get to show them all the great things about your new country.
The grass can be greener – of course it can! – but it isn’t in every case, and every expat will tell you that there will be highs and lows. So before you commit, do your homework, both online and ‘in real life’. Visit your destination as many times as you can, for as long as you can, to get a sense of what it’s really like to “live” there. Sign up to expat forums and talk to the locals. When you decide on a place, tell friends, family, colleagues – chances are they will know someone who knows someone. Take that person out to coffee and find out the nitty-gritty, go beyond the guidebooks. The point is to be mindful of your expectations, and go in with eyes wide open – when you do, your experience will be much more likely to live up to them.
The basics: For guides to visas, work permits, healthcare and other regulations the British Embassy Website is a good place to start.
Money matters: Sites like Expatistan and Movehub offer comprehensive price guides and comparisons for most cities. For example set up costs, expat blogger Wagonersabroad provides a helpful breakdown of everything they spent in their first few months overseas, plus where they ended up overspending. For local tax information, take a look at Global Tax Navigator.
Languages: There are many companies offering intensive language courses both in the UK and abroad. Also look into your local colleges and universities, many of which offer lessons. For the basics, free websites and apps like Duolingo and Memrise come recommended, and can get you off to a good start.
Forums and expat advice: Britishexpats.com, Expatforum and Internations all have thriving, friendly and helpful international communities. There are also many smaller expat community groups on Facebook dispensing local advice and advertising things like accomodation. Also take a look at Meetup.com for expat events and social occasions in your area.
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