The definition of an expat is a person living away from their native country, whether temporarily or permanently, and we can all agree that these numbers have drastically increased in the last decade. Whether it’s for financial reasons, a sense of adventure, or seeking a better quality of life, any expat psychologist can also attest to the fact that expat numbers are on the rise.
But how does one become an expat in the first place? How does one choose where to go? Even if the reason behind the move is financial gain, how do you ensure that the move is the right one in terms of your mental health? In this article, we explore all the factors you need to take into consideration when deciding on where to go as an expat, so it can truly be a move for the better and not to your detriment.
How to Decide Where to Go
The following factors will help you decide on where your next move should be:
What is Your Why?
The reason behind your move will determine a lot. If you want to leave for financial reasons, moving to a country where the exchange rate doesn’t favour the currency will completely defy the point. Or if you would like to have more space and affordability in terms of housing and living costs, moving to a place such as London might not be your best bet.
If you just want to leave because you’ve had a bad breakup or a similar disappointment in your home country, you might need to rethink the move entirely – you will never be able to run away from internal conflict or pain, and the grass is rarely greener on the other side.
List the Pros and Cons
If you’ve picked a few favourites as potential destinations, make a list of pros and cons (according to you). You will see that this will be very specific to your needs and personal preferences. Where living in the remote regions of Alaska is one person’s worst nightmare, it’s another’s dream. And whilst living in a penthouse in mid-city is one individual’s lifelong goal, living in a modest farmhouse in the country is another’s.
The Language Barrier
What is your proficiency and tolerance when it comes to language? Can you speak the language of the country or do you understand it? Does it matter if you don’t? And what about when it comes to general day-to-day operations?
Does it matter if you can’t understand the tube’s announcement board or basic paperwork, and would you be able to adapt or change if it does? For example, if you’re thinking of moving to Japan, but can’t read, write, speak or understand Japanese, and have no desire whatsoever to attain these skills, you should probably give a move to Japan a skip.
Is it a Permanent or Temporary Move?
Being an expat can take on many forms these days. It could be that you’re just travelling around the world as a working Digital Nomad, working abroad for a short and set amount of time for the sole purpose of bringing savings home, or you could be sticking out feelers as to what would be the best fit for you long-term, or just taking the plunge into permanent relocation. Any of these will impact your decision on where to go.
If you’re not planning on moving there permanently and only need to stick it out for a short while, you’ll be surprised at how much you can tolerate. If it’s merely a “test drive”, you also won’t need to give it so much thought as when it’s a permanent move that can’t be undone.
What’s Your Budget?
Look, anyone can dream, but if you make just $300 a month you won’t be living in a castle in the south of France any time soon. And you also won’t go where the estimated monthly grocery budget reaches at least $250 a month. The general consensus is that your monthly available budget will greatly influence your move.
Your Work Situation
If you’re a freelance web developer, you can be sitting in a boat in the middle of the Nile as long as you have an internet connection, but if you need to work on location, it will affect where you ultimately shack up. If you’ll be working in the city centre, a 2-hour train journey every morning and afternoon will probably become a bit much after a while, and it most certainly will take its toll on a budget.
But how does it compare to the expensive housing costs of mid-city? These are the types of things one will need to think of and make comparisons of. And, as any expat psychologist will tell you, you want to take the pressure off a move such as this in any way you can – especially when it comes to finances.
Your Safety as a Top Priority
Safety will always be a big concern for any traveller, especially if you’re planning on doing it solo. Do your research. What does the country’s political and economic stability look like?
What do their crime rates and statistics look like? When you arrive, you don’t want to end up in the middle of a coup, a financial crash, or keep looking over your shoulder for a potential mugger whilst walking down the street. Ask any expat psychologist; a major move can be traumatic enough, you don’t want to add any more seriously traumatic events into the mix, especially not if it can cost you your life.
What’s the Vibe You’re Going For?
Do you want to live somewhere cosmopolitan and where you can feel the hustle and bustle in the air? Or do you want to lead a quieter life out in nature? Do you enjoy being around loud and expressive people, or do you prefer those who are a bit more reserved? Countries and their cultures can differ widely, and you’ll need to think about which will be the right fit for you.
One of the biggest issues an expat psychologist deals with is people feeling like outsiders when they move from one country to another – you don’t want to make that situation even worse by feeling like the odd one out in a population of people you cannot relate to.
Are You Traveling with Children?
Children bring an entire new dynamic to any move you make. You will need to consider the quality of education, the availability of education, space for them to move and play, whether there will be reliable childcare available, and much more. All these things will affect where you ultimately end up.
What Does the Transport Look Like?
There’s quite a lot to think about when it comes to transport. For example, perhaps you don’t have a driver’s license and you will need to rely solely on the public transport system. Or you’ll need to drive, but will suddenly need to drive on the opposite side of the road, or deal with road conditions caused by weather that you’re not used to. Whatever your particular situation – you will need to choose a country where the transport works for you.
Your Place Within the Property Market
Some prefer to live in commune-like houses with fellow expats, others are more than happy to rent their own space. But then you have those who have always dreamt of being a homeowner or who would like to buy a few properties to rent out to others.
This will also dictate where you go. You don’t need to be an expat psychologist to be able to advise someone that you’re not very likely to become the landlord of the year overnight in Hampstead, London, or become a property owner in the Dubai Marina.
How easy is it to get a visa (if you need one)? What will the visa allow you to do? What do the tax laws in the country look like? Will you be able to work or set up your own business fairly quickly and inexpensively?
These are just a few questions you need to ask yourself when it comes to the paperwork and red tape involved in a move abroad. You don’t want to exchange a bad scenario for a worse one. Or end up in limbo where you don’t know when you’ll be able to move. Or move and not know when you can start earning money.
What Does Your Support System Look Like?
Having an expat psychologist, especially an online one, is a great option when it comes to having support abroad, but what about friends and family? You need to decide how important having your support network close is, or how easy it is for you to build another one in another country.
What Does the Backup Plan Look Like?
Any expat psychologist will tell you that with a move such as this, you want to pick an option that will put you in the best possible position with the least amount of pressure. You might accept a job offer that gives you a great salary. But what happens if that job suddenly and unexpectedly comes to an end?
Will it be easy to find another job there in a short amount of time? And for the same salary? Does your visa allow for multiple job opportunities, or will it take time and money to get a new one in place each time? And will you have enough savings to sustain yourself in times of trouble or a job-hunting draught?
Ultimately, You Will be the Deciding Factor
An expat psychologist can guide you in terms of the general things we hear and have to deal with daily whilst considering your personality and situation. But, ultimately, it will be up to you to make the final call in terms of where to go. You’ll find the answer if you do proper research and deliberation, but stay away from overthinking (that’s a rabbit hole you’ll struggle to get out of as everywhere has its pros and cons).
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