As a child we all have dreams. Some of us dream to be the president or princess of a far-off land, others of us dream of becoming a doctor or lawyer. Young me had the dream to travel.
Although I never saw myself working and living abroad as a kid, my dreams to travel came true when I accepted my first internationally teaching position. At that time I was just 21 years old, living on my own in a small suburb south of Minneapolis. Although I loved the school I was working in, I needed and wanted more for my life. Being a small community, I was much younger than the average age demographic and didn't meet or make any friends during my year of living there. Most of my weekends were spent either going home or back to my alma mater to fill the social void. I was too young to be “bored” and “stale,” I felt.
Now the average person may have moved closer to their friends or family, or started fresh in a different city, but I went down a completely different path looking for jobs abroad. At the time I didn´t process what I would need to make the move, or if I was financially or mentally ready. I just wanted a change.
When the job offer was extended to me, I jumped at the opportunity… and then drowned in all the work that it actually takes to move abroad. Moving abroad is a taxing process. Here's what you need to know before you move abroad:
Do your research! This may be obvious, but take your time to truly know the place you are applying/moving to. Look at the average salaries for people in your field, what monthly rent will be, what is included in your contract, research customs and cultures that may be new to you, look into the weather, learn the language, etc… The more work you do before you live will be all the more beneficial to you when you arrive.
Pay off any loans you may have BEFORE you move. This is huge. If you have loans of any kind: student, home, credit card, etc… moving abroad may not be the right choice for you right now. Working abroad, primarily teaching, is not a money-making career. Apart from how much you will be making, you need to take in mind how you will physically pay off your loans. Today most loans are paid for online, but they will need to be financed through a US bank account. You may still keep your domestic bank account open while working abroad, but factoring in the charge of sending money internationally each month will add up fast. Working in the US for a year after graduating from college gave me enough time and money to pay off my loans before I moved. Loans are one of the biggest burdens I hear from people living abroad.
Set up your bank account ASAP. Depending on the school or company you will work for, this is something they may do for you. Even if it is their responsibility, check-in with them. I have had a school in the past that said they would line this up for me, when in fact it was my responsibility upon arrival. That meant I spent the first 4 months living off of my home credit card, paying a 3% interest rate on everything. I also have had a great experience with my school doing all of the work for me. When I moved to Australia, opening a bank account was my responsibility, but was something I could do while I was still living in the US. Each country, bank, and contract has different terms and conditions. Some questions to keep in mind and ask are:
a. How will I be receiving my salary? (Direct deposit or check)
b. How often will I be getting paid?
c. Will I have a bank account upon arrival?
d. Are there any restrictions with being an international resident with my bank
e. Can I transfer money abroad? If so, what is the fee?
4. Start the VISA process early. Getting your visa, residence card, and work permit can take time. Like many things, the length of time it takes to have this process varies by country. When I moved to Australia, the process took only a few minutes and I heard back instantly. In South Korea, all the forms and paperwork were done by the school and I only needed to wait 2 weeks for the physical card to come in the mail once I arrived. Sweden was a much different story taking months and multiple different trips to different migration and tax offices. Ask your school and company how much they will do for you in the process, and who will be paying for it. Some schools will compensate you for portions of the process.
5. Have housing organized before you arrive? If you´re fortunate enough, some schools will have housing available for you when you arrive. Other schools may give you a housing allowance or stipend. There are also the schools that do not offer either. Although it would be great to physically see the place you will be living before you sign a contract, that isn't always the case. The best place to find housing is through Facebook marketplace and groups, area realtor pages, and to ask your school to post an ad in the area newspaper or school newsletter. Depending on your city and country there are also different sites, such as Craigslist, that offer housing options. If you are not able to physically see the place before you sign the lease, be sure to have someone at your job look at it for you. There are many scams out there that will leave you homeless on arrival. If you are uncomfortable signing a contract and sending money before seeing a place, you can find an Airbnb or hostel to stay in for the first week or month upon arrival. Many places will offer weekly or monthly rates. Take in mind the place will also be furnished so there is no need to scramble to find the essentials the second you land.
6. Become a member of the community. The easiest way to become a local is to mingle with the locals. Become a part of the area Facebook groups. You will often be able to score cheap furniture and clothing this way, as well as learn where the best restaurants are in town. Join MeetUp and mingle with the locals at the area restaurants or park. Language exchange programs are also a great way to become part of the community if you live in a country that does not speak your native language.
7. Financially prepare yourself. Moving abroad is not a cheap thing to do. You will need to financially see if it is something you can afford to do. Do you have the money for a down payment and the first month's rent? Can you afford the plane ticket to get there? Have enough money to live on before your first paycheck. When you leave, you will also need to cancel any subscriptions or monthly bills you may currently be paying, such as cell phone and cable. This will save you money. Selling belongings such as the furniture in your apartment, car, and clothing will also add toward your plane ticket fund.
8. Book Flights. If you are in charge of booking your own ticket, be sure to do this sooner than later. Keep an eye out on different sites and what routes they offer to get to your new home. Many websites will allow you to set up alerts if the price drops- a perfect time for you to snag your ticket.
9. Ensure that you are Insured. Look into getting travel and medical insurance. Will you be keeping your current medical insurance, and if so, what does it cover internationally? Does your new employer provide medical insurance? If so, when does it begin coverage, and what is all covered? With travel currently constantly changing due to Covid, getting travel insurance may be a good decision if you are unsure if you will be able to make it to your destination.
10. Know your contract inside and out. Before signing your contract, thoroughly read and understand your contract. If you are confused or need clarification on anything, ask! If there is anything you would like to have changed, or more clearly written, discussing this before signing your contract is essential. If there are any problems or gray areas after the contract is signed, be sure to bring it up with your employer and reference it.
11. Make a copy of your important documents. Before leaving, be sure to make copies of all of your important documents. It would be smart to make a second copy as well. You will want copies of your passport, contract, credit cards, visa, immunization records, flight itinerary, and address of your destination. If you were to lose or have your belongings stolen, having a physical paper copy of the document will be important.
12. Emotionally prepare yourself for the move. Moving abroad isn´t an easy thing to do. It will take a lot of mental and physical time to make everything happen, as well as emotional. Oftentimes you are so caught up with the paperwork and analytics, that your emotions are pushed aside until the day you leave. For me, from the moment I accept the job to the week before I leave, I am on cloud nine bursting with excitement. A week before my flight, when I start to pack, it finally hits me that I am actually leaving and moving. I start to second guess my decision and get anxious. On the day of the move the emotions finally come out and I am blubbering baby. It's different for everyone, but take time to allow those emotions to happen. There's nothing wrong with feeling anxious and sad about leaving a familiar place and starting new again.
Moving abroad is an exciting thing to do, but there are many things you will want to take in mind before you go. Being prepared will make the trip and transition that much easier and less stressful for you.