Guest post by Rebecca Clarke, a UK-based freelance writer whose favourite things include writing, books, travel and caffeine. When she is not writing travel articles or working on the dreaded draft of her first novel, she can usually be found binge-watching true crime documentaries on Netflix.
Living abroad is a fantasy for many. It’s a fantastic way to soak up a new culture and meet interesting new people, and it seems more possible now than ever thanks to the technological age we are living in.
However, becoming an expat (also known as an ‘expatriate’) isn’t as simple as packing your suitcase and jumping on a plane. You need to plan carefully and ensure that this is the right decision for you. With this in mind, here are five things that you should do before you make your move.
1. Get clear on your finances
One of the biggest challenges expats face when moving abroad is adjusting to the local taxation system. Often, they find that the rules are more complicated than they’re used to or they end up liable to pay more tax than in their home country.
According to financial planning experts The Fry Group, “As well as the practicalities of making an international move, there are a number of tax and financial considerations which it’s important to be aware of…good planning will help limit your exposure to UK tax and protect your wealth.”
You should also ensure that you have enough money saved to get you through those first few months, especially if you don’t yet have a job. Remember that moving itself costs money, whether you’re shipping your possessions to a new country or buying new, so aim for at least 7-9 months of living expenses unless you’re working remotely.
2. Learn to speak the language
Before you move to your new country, make an effort to learn at least a few words of the local language. With less of a language barrier, you’ll find it much easier to carry out those everyday tasks such as shopping for groceries, opening a new bank account and dealing with any bureaucracy. You’ll also find it much easier to integrate with the local community, make friends and feel more at home. Besides, mastering that foreign tongue will give you a huge sense of achievement and can pay off significantly when it comes to your career.
Even if current COVID-19 restrictions prevent you from attending classes in person, you can still brush up on your skills. There’s a huge range of language classes available online via websites such as italki and you can download free apps such as Duolingo.
3. Check visa requirements
If you want to live abroad for more than a few weeks, then you will need to check for visa requirements, how long they are valid for, the costs and what you are permitted to do.
Some countries offer Working Holiday Visas for applicants who meet certain restrictions. This includes Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Thailand, whilst others have recently introduced so-called ‘Digital Nomad Visas’ which allow you to work remotely whilst based in their country. This includes Croatia, the Dominican Republic, Barbados and Costa Rica. Again, there are stringent rules regarding what is required and what is permitted.
Bear in mind that UK citizens no longer have the automatic right to live in another EU country as per the terms of the Brexit agreement. This doesn’t mean that your dream of moving to a Greek island is completely off the cards, but you will have to meet additional requirements before you can stay long-term.
4. Consider the local coronavirus restrictions
Unfortunately, when moving abroad in 2021, you should also consider your destination’s local coronavirus restrictions. Whilst millions of people are receiving vaccines across the world, this doesn’t mean that the fight is over. People are still getting ill and many require hospitalisation.
Therefore, it’s worth considering whether you can postpone your move until later in the year when the situation is likely to be brighter. If you absolutely must move now, be sure to keep a close eye on the COVID-19 situation in the country you hope to move to. Consider things like:
- How severe was the lockdown in March 2021? Could you live with that?
- Have there been additional lockdowns since?
- What other restrictions are in place: are masks mandatory? Are there local travel restrictions? How ‘normal’ is life there?
- Do you need PCR testing before arrival? Do you need to quarantine?
- What is their vaccine strategy? Will vaccines be mandatory and if so, how do you feel about that?
When asking yourself these questions, consider how you’d feel about them. How would this affect your life? If you plan to move with your family, how would that affect them?
5. Be prepared to feel more socially isolated (in the beginning)
Feelings of isolation are common when settling into a new home in a new country, especially when you’re far from your usual social circle and haven’t yet made friends. In 2021, COVID-19 restrictions could make this initial settling-in process harder than ever, especially if restrictions are in place.
According to the working parent support website Your Employee Wellbeing, “At the best of times, expats can easily feel disconnected from the culture and governmental policy of their host countries…Now their host country’s government’s response to the pandemic is directly affecting their quality of life and freedom as never before – testing their tolerance of being ‘an outsider’ to the limits and heightening their sense of vulnerability.”
To get through these difficult days as a new expat, use similar strategies as you did during stricter lockdowns. Use technology to stay in touch with loved ones at home, explore your local area in a socially distanced way, use websites like Facebook to meet potential new friends and meet up with others when it is allowed.
Moving abroad in 2021 does pose additional challenges compared with previous years, but it can still be the adventure of a lifetime. By considering your finances, brushing up on your language skills, checking both visa and COVID requirements and preparing yourself for that initial settling in period, you can avoid any nasty surprises and make your move a complete success.