Many people fantasize about living abroad, but it's important to remember that expat life isn't all parties and weekend trips. What happens after the initial giddy excitement wears off?

You, like many first-time expats, will want more out of life than you had back home. People often consider moving abroad because they are unhappy with their current lives; perhaps you are dissatisfied with your career path, romantic prospects, or lack of international travel. Maybe you just have an inexplicable longing for new scenery, new people, new everything. There are numerous factors to consider before moving abroad, but the most important aspect of the adventure that is the expat life is being prepared to start over. You must be willing to restart from the beginning.

"That's fine with me, I just want something different," some of you may say. That's fantastic; it's admirable to seek adventure and expand your comfort zone, especially when the end result is living somewhere new and exciting. Whether you're moving abroad temporarily because your employer has transferred you there for a set period of time or you're setting out to live in a new country without a job, the expat life will be both challenging and immensely rewarding.

You'll feel as if you're starting over

If you move to a new country, especially one where you don't speak the language, you'll feel as if you're starting over as an adult. To advance, you may need to improve your academic credentials.

Facing the wildest forest
"You’ll feel like you’re starting all over again" Photo by Guilherme Stecanella / Unsplash

If you move to a new country, especially one where you don't speak the language, you'll feel as if you're starting over as an adult. To advance, you may need to improve your academic credentials.

You must, at the very least, learn the local language. Even if you don't intend to use it as your primary language of communication or work, knowing a local language will help you enormously in practical matters. Whether it's dealing with the city hall or telling the cashier how you want to pay for your groceries, learning a new language makes living in a new city a lot easier. Attempting to speak the local language shows respect and understanding for the society you are gradually becoming a part of.

Obtaining a visa prior to arrival

Because you left your job and don't speak the language of your new home country, if you aren't enrolled as a student when you arrive, you won't be able to obtain a working visa unless you come over with a company.

If you are a student, you may be allowed to work, but only for a limited number of hours; regulations vary by country. Bars, restaurants, babysitting, and English teaching are the most common part-time jobs available to those who do not speak the local language well.

Making preparations for the practical aspects

A tourism visa can only be valid for three months, depending on the strength of your passport. In many countries, looking for work or attending interviews violates the terms of a tourist visa, so try to find work ahead of time.

Things to do
Get yourself organized before you move abroad Photo by AbsolutVision / Unsplash

Before you board the plane and begin your expat life, you should have the following items ready:

  • Have a job lined up, be accepted into a university programme, or have another plan for becoming an entrepreneur or digital nomad. Understand the visa requirements. Become acquainted with the local business culture.
  • Before you board the plane, make arrangements for a place to stay. If you have family or friends in the area, try to stay with them if possible; it will make your first few days easier.
  • Bring five months' worth of savings just in case. That amount will vary depending on your situation and the cost of living in the country you're moving to, but be prepared to cover all expenses. When you move to a new city and don't know anyone, you'll go out all the time to meet people; this is not a cheap endeavour.
  • If necessary, learn some of the language ahead of time. A good command of the local language will greatly improve your job prospects and mitigate the negative effects of culture shock in your professional and personal lives.

Be realistic about your chances

Your new job prospects in a new country may not be ideal, especially in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. Try not to delude yourself into believing that you despise your job and that moving abroad will change everything. The reality is that other countries have offices with jobs you despise; the difference in your expat life is how you approach your career opportunities.

Another common misconception is that you will immediately resume your previous standard of living. In reality, you'll most likely go back a decade and plant your roots in the soil of a younger you. You will regain your standard of living in time, but it will take time and patience.

Isolation from others is common

If you move to a country where you don't speak the language, be aware that you will not only be starting from scratch in your expat life, but you may also have no friends or family. There will always be times when you feel extremely lonely. Holidays that you would celebrate at home (such as Ramadan or Chinese New Year) can be especially isolating.

It’s perfectly normal to feel socially isolated when you first move abroad Photo by Francois Hoang / Unsplash

The key is to get out of your apartment and keep going: get up every day and go outside, no matter how frightening it is to walk into a strange new world. If you travel with children, they will most likely immerse themselves faster than you because children learn languages more easily. You may not become fluent in the language or fully comprehend all of the cultural nuances; however, if you arm yourself sufficiently, you will eventually have a social life. Take baby steps, but keep them coming.

For the right reasons, you should relocate

Understand why you're making this decision. Once the excitement and fear of starting the expat life and being free from your old one has worn off, you'll still wake up every day with yourself.

You could be running away from a broken relationship, a tedious job, a dead-end career, or your family. These things do not simply vanish. You'll find another job to replace your current one; you'll still have to pay your bills each month; you'll find another relationship that will break your heart at times; and your family will eventually find you.

On the surface, it may appear logical to be wary of moving to another country for someone who is not a spouse. Unfortunately, everyone has made a few rash decisions based on emotion. Imagine crossing an ocean to live with a romantic interest only to discover that they're actually married; strange, but not unheard of. Expat relationships are a journey, but make sure you're not jumping in headfirst.

This is significant: no matter where you live, you must still wake up with yourself and your problems. Please keep this in mind.

Take the time to learn about the new culture

Don't dismiss cultural differences, even if they seem trivial to you. There will be times when you will experience culture shock or even racism, and there is nothing wrong with that. You've moved to a new culture; it's up to you to adapt and immerse yourself as much as possible.

Walking back from shooting the sunrise on the Bosphorus toward our hotel near Taksim Square, I loved the way the morning sunlight filtered through the curving streets. The scene also stood in sharp contrast to the night before when this main thoroughfare was filled end-to-end with families out dining, shopping, and celebrating the Ramadan holiday.
Understanding a new culture takes patience and effort, but it’s an obligation that you should take seriously Photo by Drew McKechnie / Unsplash

Starting over at any age is about discovering yourself as much as it is about embarking on new adventures. You must let go of your former self and allow change to occur while remaining true to yourself. It's easy to become separated from everyone you've ever known thousands of kilometres away. And you will miss home, even if you have fled from your family.

With time, you'll start a new family, make new friends, get a job, and start living your life. But, no matter where you live, you still have to clean the bathroom on occasion, take out the garbage in the morning, and pay the bills; hiring an au pair will not solve all of life's problems. At some fundamental level, life is the same everywhere, including the expat life.

What you may give up in terms of advancement and stability, you may gain in terms of life experience and adventure. That is the harsh reality. And, as they say, time heals all wounds.