The 6 Stages of Moving Abroad

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.

moving abroad

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.

moving to australia
I was super nervous about moving to Sydney AND I almost ran out of money while I was there.

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.

how to make money as a digital nomad
ALL the planning and researching. This is one of my favorite parts because I get to learn a ton about the places I want to move (I sometimes do this with places I have no intention of moving to in the near future just cuz it’s fun to dream).

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.

teaching english in Korea
Before I moved to Korea, there was a LOT of confusion. Even once I lived there I experienced a LOT of confusion. That’s half the fun though, right?

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.

moving to mexico city
This photo was taken the first week I was in Mexico City – I was definitely worried about moving here thanks to all of the bad press, but I’m SO GLAD I went with my gut and moved here 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.

life as an expat
This is the stage where you feel like anything is possible. Take advantage of that feeling and do as much planning as you possibly can!

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.

moving to mexico city

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.

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The 6 stages of moving abroad - if you're considering moving abroad, you'll no doubt go through these six stages!

23 thoughts on “The 6 Stages of Moving Abroad”

  1. Thank you for writing this! It fet like as if i am reading my own thoughts! Aaaahhhh!!! Finally someone gets my feeling—and this is normal. Although i havent left and made that decision… but its nice to know that this stage is normal. I’m currently on stage 3-4, soooo I hope and pray i’ll get the answer soon. 🙂

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  2. I have 4 months before I move to Syndey to train for two months and I’m definitely in the 4/5/6 stages. But your final thoughts eased my mind so much. Thank you! <3

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  3. I experience these emotions on every trip — I’m sure they are even more intense if you’re MOVING there! I actually got excited just reading this, thinking about living in another country!

    It seems like something you wouldn’t trade anything for, soo many amazing experiences!

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  4. Love this. I am an expat too. Have lived in Australia, Thailand, the Marshall Islands, Niger and now Vietnam. I always think I should write this type of post myself but I honestly feel like every time I move somewhere new it’s a different but same feeling. I can’t seem to ever put it into words. You did so well with it! Love it.

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  5. This is excellent. I will be referring back to this. My plan is to live on a sailboat and sail the world, living in places as we go. This article is right on as to the rollercoaster of thoughts and emotions.

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  6. What a great post, Laura! Although I have yet to move abroad, it is something I hope to do…eventually. And it’s nice to know that all the range of emotions are normal.

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  7. I loved this! 2 years ago I took this leap of faith and moved to Spain. It was definitely the best and bravest moment of my life. I went through all of these stages. One thing I’ve learned is that what is good for your friends/family isn’t necessarily what’s good for you. So when these important people in my life try to bring me down or make me feel like I am a dreamer, I always remind myself that. At the end of the day, we all have our own personal goals and aspirations. So it’s important to be around people who share similar ideas.

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  8. OMG THIS IS MY LIFE. You have totally nailed it! Haha! I’m always like “Why do I put myself through this every time?” Thanks for sharing!

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  9. Oh I completely agree with this! I moved permanently to the USA and before I left everyone said “you must be so excited” and I was like errrr no, I’m TERRIFIED!!!! Even a year and a half later I’m wondering if I made the right decision!

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  10. These will probably be the series of stages if I had to move to a new country now. But when I moved countries I was so young and naive (moved base to US for my post-graduation years ago) that my stages were totally reversed. lol Started with fear and anxiety first and now I am at organized and maybe was a good idea stage. Ha! 🙂 Loved how you expressed it.

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