It may not seem like it, but I’m very practical and responsible. But there is a part of me that is impulsive, stubborn, and flighty. And I have to admit, that part won out a little bit when I booked a one-way flight to Belgium.
Here’s the thing, my hometown has a ridiculously high cost of living and wages don’t really keep up with that. And though it would have been impractical and irresponsible of me to get a decent apartment I couldn’t afford (how dare I expect a kitchen and personal safety?), it may have also been a little irresponsible of me to attempt to start a new life in another country by going on what amounts to a month-long vacation and without any kind of plan for settling.
So here are some practical and financial concerns I should have had about moving abroad that may have saved me some money if I had planned ahead. But I didn’t and now you can learn from my mistakes.
1. The low cost of living in another country is only advantageous if you don’t have bills to pay in the US.
I actually don’t think it will be that difficult for me to get a job abroad. Maybe that’s wishful thinking, but it just seems like the European Union appreciates my qualifications more than the good ol’ United States. For how much respect I get as a teacher in Florida, I might as well be a hooker. And I’d get paid a whole lot more for that.
But I digress. I just left Poland today. I had prime steak and mashed potatoes for dinner for $10 and now I’m on a 7-hour train that’s going to take me to my next destination that cost $25. It’s amazing to visit and while I still have savings, it makes me feel like the Queen of England. As I look at the food and housing costs of the beautiful countries I’ve visited, I’m shocked and elated by how affordable everything is. But salaries here are proportionate to this low cost of living. So I can afford to live like a queen on the remnants of my United States salary, but if I’m making what amounts to $1,000 a month in Eastern Europe, I can’t keep paying for my US car, US storage unit, and US healthcare.
You can’t live two lives at once, no matter what you saw on Mad Men. Being as fickle as I am, I wanted to preserve as much of my life back home as I could in case I decided or needed to return. But when you decide to move abroad, it’s essential to cut all your financial ties to the US, sell your possessions and move with little to no bills so you can actually start a new life. So for the time being, my new hypothetical $1000 salary will have to cover $500 in local rent and $600 in transportation costs for a car I’m not using. That’s hypothetically financially impossible. I probably should have sold my car or at least downgraded my insurance.
2. What about healthcare costs?
Speaking of insurance, do you know what to do about health care when you move abroad? Because I didn’t. I don’t have a job that offers me health insurance benefits here. And I’m paying for US insurance that is useless here so I can avoid the tax penalty for not having health insurance coverage in the event this ends up being an extended vacation. A quick search of healthcare.gov shows that “if you’re a U.S. citizen or resident living abroad: You can claim the coverage exemption for any month during your tax year that’s included in the 12-month period.” But that only applies if you’ve lived 330 days in a 12 month period in another country.
Do your research about the things that you’ll need to replace completely when you move. US health insurance is almost worthless in the US, so it’s definitely not going to do anything for you in Germany. Besides, $100 for health insurance is food for a month in Eastern Europe. You’ll need those $100 when you’re making only $1000 a month. Since I don’t know how long I’ll be staying, I guess I’m stuck with my insurance (and the respective bill) for now. And I’ll just hope for healthy days ahead.
3. You need a job.
My brilliant plan of living in cheap Eastern Europe while working online and getting paid a US salary was flawed in a big way: I can’t stay in the EU indefinitely. I need a local job to justify being here and a local job does not a lavish European life pay. I’ve been applying here and there as much as I can, but really, I’m sightseeing and hanging out. Let’s face it, I don’t want to spend my vacation on Indeed. I’ll need to be settled somewhere before I get hired.
Like work anywhere else in the world, finding a job takes dedication and effort. And you’re better off spending time at home doing that legwork than applying for jobs using spotty WiFi on old Polish trains.
4. The visa process is lengthy and expensive.
There are many countries that will welcome you as professional or entrepreneur in order to enrich their own country and culture, but you will always need a visa. And unless you have a sponsoring job, which I don’t, you have to undertake the process on your own, which can take months and cost a few hundred dollars. In addition, you have to prove that you’re bringing something unique and useful to the table, like Native English skills or a novel business idea. So even if you pay the fees and put a lot of effort into obtaining a visa, there is no guarantee it will be granted.
Decide where you want to live and start the application process from the comfort of your own country or else you’ll be scrambling to finish it before your overstay your 90-day tourist welcome and you are permanently kicked out of the European Union.
5. What is the language where you want to live? And how necessary is it to live there?
If you are unlucky enough to only know English and you are seeking employment in a non-English speaking country, you are automatically disqualified from 3/4 of all available jobs. Unless you are going abroad to teach English, you might want to brush up on your Polish before attempting to find work. If you do know more than one language, consider relocating somewhere where that language is valuable. Know Spanish? Try Spain!
It might have been a good idea to invest in Rosetta Stone.
6. Don’t leave anything in storage that you might need someone else to help you access.
I put all my earthly possessions that are not on my person currently in a 5×5 storage space and then I locked it up and flew the key with me to Europe. I’m probably not going to need my high school yearbook anytime soon. But I will need all my professional clothes that are folded up neatly in there. And now I have no way to get them without shipping home the key, which then runs of the risk of getting lost. I probably also don’t have the luxury of waiting for all that snail mail. So if I get a job, I’ll probably have to buy a whole new wardrobe.
Come up with contingency plans to help you quickly get anything you left behind mailed to you. Or sell everything and start fresh. Paying to store items I can’t access is almost the same thing except it costs more.
All of these are definitely rookie mistakes but I’m making them now so you don’t have to.
And among my mistakes, I’ve made some good decisions, too. Like carrying my resume around everywhere in the event I get the chance to drop it off somewhere. It’s also a good idea to make friends. After all, we all get by with a little help from our friends. International friends can help you get a job, a visa, and give you a place to crash.
Another practical consideration, though admittedly a coincidental one, is going through this process before it becomes the thing to do so demand is not that high. I felt it was fitting that I was at Auschwitz when Trump clinched the Republican nomination for president. I may not have a plan, a job, or healthcare, but at least I’m beating the crowds out of America before any walls start going up.