It doesn’t matter how many times I pack up my life and move to a new country, it doesn’t matter how prepared I think I am, how excited I am, or how ready I am to make the move, I inevitably go through these six stages of emotion.
I often get emails from people who are considering moving abroad and they ask questions that I’m not really qualified to answer. Things like, “how will I know when I’m ready to move?” or “if I’m nervous about going, does that mean I don’t really want to go?”
People often want me to shed some sort of light on how I knew I wanted to move abroad or how I chose the country that I live in or how I know I’m making the right decision.
And the truth is, I don’t. I am just as nervous, I make just as many excuses not to go, I avoid the tough decisions just as much as everyone else.
What I think is important to know for those of you considering moving abroad is that it’s totally normal. You are about to massively change your surroundings, you’re likely going to be totally out of your comfort zone for the foreseeable future, even if you’ve been to the country before. You are leaving behind friends and will have to make new ones. You’ll likely be starting a new job, you’ll need to find a new place to live, find a new favorite coffee shop, possibly navigate a new language and culture. It’s not easy, no matter how many times you do it.
But your feelings and your doubts and your excuses aren’t some sign from above that this isn’t the right decision. The gamut of emotions that are running through you are things that most expats have felt before their big move, too. You’re not alone in your doubts, there’s nothing wrong with you, you’re not a wimp or a coward. You’re a human being with fears and concerns over what is a seriously big decision.
I hope this makes you laugh if you’ve moved abroad before and if you’re considering making the move, I hope this puts your mind at ease and helps you make those tough choices.
1. The “This is a Great Idea” Stage
The initial idea of moving abroad is always a great one. Maybe you found a job online in another country or your current job are asking if you’d like to transfer. Maybe you’re just fed up with where you are and you want a change. The first stage of moving abroad is one of the best. Every possibility is open to you. Should you move to Mexico and live by the beach? Should you go to New Zealand and go hiking every weekend? How about teaching English in Korea? You’d be able to see so much of Asia during your holidays.
The excitement of this stage is endless. There are definitely lists involved, many a daydream, plenty of hours spent pouring over other people’s blogs. It’s the most magical time because anything seems possible.
2. The “I’m So Organized” Stage
The next stage is when you actually start to try and figure out if what you want is possible. What do you need if you want to become an English teacher? What visas can you get for Australia? What sort of jobs are you qualified to get if you want to move to Europe? Do you want to go there first and check it out or is moving to a new city un-seen part of the adventure?
At this point, I have massive lists of things I need to do for visas, jobs, apartments, selling old stuff, and saving money for the big move. I have begun to channel my initial excitement into something more concrete, although I still have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.
In this stage, you have to go from excitement to practicality. What will you do with all of your stuff? Will you be moving with other people? It’s REALLY important to talk about your ideas with supportive people who truly understand what you want and won’t try to put you down or change your mind about things. This can be harder than you think. You may have to reach out to total strangers on the internet (Hi!) who are more like-minded.
3. The “Totally Confused” Stage
Shortly after the research stage, comes the totally confused stage of moving abroad. You hadn’t realized how much was involved. You didn’t think about health insurance and work visas, you hadn’t planned on how much paperwork was involved in taking your dog with you. You may have narrowed down your ideas thanks to all the research, but now you’re confused about whether or not it’s going to be possible or worth it.
Maybe you did exactly as I have warned against and you told someone at work or you asked your brother or sister what they think about it. They of course, love their jobs and their lives in their home country and can’t imagine why you would want to move abroad, so you start to wonder whether you should just stop daydreaming.
This is a really good time to get in touch with people who have moved abroad before. Expats Blog is a great place to look for bloggers who have moved to the country or city that you are planning to move to. Also try Googling: Expat bloggers in XX – obviously substituting the XX for the city or country you want to move to.
Read their stories, get in touch with them via email. See if you can find the answers to the questions that are confusing you most. I personally love when people email me about moving to Mexico City because I KNOW how hard it is to get through the confusion of paperwork, flight details, choosing the right neighborhood and all that sort of stuff.
It usually seems most confusing because there is so much information out there and yet none seem to answer the important questions. Finding an immigration lawyer who specializes in the country that you want to move to might be a good idea, too. Their websites usually have a ton of free and helpful information.
4. The “Massive Doubt” Stage
This intense emotion of “I need to back out of this right now” tends to pop itself in and out whenever it wants. You may have already experienced some massive doubt during the research stage. It will most likely pop up again as you’re about to move. I find it comes shortly after the confusion stage because I feel so lost and confused that I think it’s not worth it. I start to massively doubt whether this is the right decision or if I’d just be happier staying where I am.
The massive doubt stage is where you are most likely to give up. It’s when you feel like maybe this was all just a fun distraction, but actually, you’re not ready to move or you don’t want to live abroad after all.
If you get to this stage at any point, I highly recommend REALLY thinking about it. Spend some time making a pros and cons list if that’s your sort of thing. Figure out what made you want to move abroad in the first place. Really explore all of the things that are drawing you to this country and to leaving your current home behind.
Maybe you’re right, maybe you don’t actually want to move abroad, maybe the things that are making you unhappy in your life now will follow you to a new country anyway. Moving abroad isn’t a way to escape, it’s a decision to live your life in a different way (hopefully one that’s better for you).
This always really helps me push onto the next stage and leave behind the thought that I belong anywhere in particular anyway.
5. The “I Can Do This” Stage
After self-doubt comes total bad-assery. You know you can do it, you’ve pumped yourself up for it. You’ve bought the tickets, you’ve sold all your stuff. With every decision you make, you get more confident about moving. With every item that sells on eBay comes a feeling of elation. With every shirt you pack into your suitcase, with every box you donate to charity, with every row that you tick off of your checklist, you feel a little leap of joy.
This is the best stage of moving abroad. You finally feel like you’re doing the right thing. Sure, you still have concerns and you still sometimes wonder whether or not this is all going to fall apart, but most days you are nothing but excited about moving abroad.
6. The “Complete and Total Fear” Stage
If you’ve done all the planning, booked your tickets, you got yourself Expatriate Insurance, and are selling all of your stuff that you’re not bringing with you, you are probably absolutely petrified. Congratulations, it’s almost time to move abroad.
This is the stage in which most people email me. They know how to get their visa, they’ve sorted out their health insurance, they’ve even bought themselves a new suitcase that will fit all of their remaining belongings, but now they think that maybe they can’t do it. The thought of leaving their life behind and starting a new one leaves them with a pit in their stomach.
I have literally felt this every time I move abroad. What if I don’t like it? What is something bad happens? What if I’ve forgotten something? What if I don’t make any friends? What if I can’t find a place to stay? What if something happens with my money? What if I’ve filled something out wrong and they don’t let me in.
The “what ifs” go on and on. They could go on forever, but then you’d never go anywhere.
In the end, the adventure and excitement win out and I always get on that plane, but even as I sit in my window seat white-knuckling my passport in my hands, I’m nervous.
In the last eight years, I’ve gone through these emotions five times and not once have I ever regretted my decision to move to a new country. Things WILL go wrong. You will either struggle to meet people or to find a place that you love living. You may have some money troubles if you didn’t save enough beforehand. You may hate it.
Final Words of Wisdom
You will never be 100% ready to move abroad. There will always be a reason to put it off. There will always be something that is keeping you in one place. If this is what you truly want, you have to go anyway. You have to take that leap, even when you think it might not work out.
All you can do is prepare. All you can do is research, save tons of money, work your butt off to find a good place to live and a job that you’ll enjoy. What’s the worst that happens? You come back? It’s not as though you’ve failed.
You’ve done it. You’ve moved abroad. You’ll never have to wonder if you had it in you. You’ll never have to think what if. You’ll never look back and wish you’d at least given it a try.