Why Not Stay Awhile?: Turning a Visit into a Life
Every traveler who ventures abroad has the one, euphoric moment when they realize, "I could stay here forever." For some, that moment becomes reality. For others, that reality seems much too out-of-reach; I am here to tell you, it is not.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans move abroad each year, whether it is to reconnect with their heritage, embrace a more relaxed lifestyle, or start a new life for themselves.
While a country often lures in current or recent visitors, many expatriates move abroad on a whim, never even having visited their destination country. Shane Barnes, a native Ohioan, is a recent college graduate who spontaneously moved to Sydney, Australia after being invited by his partner about six months ago. He is living proof that it does not require years of accumulated travel expertise in order to effectively move abroad.
"[Before I moved to Australia], I had never been farther from the States than Canada," Barnes said. "I always though I'd stay in Ohio. When I wake up, sometimes I can't believe I'm in Australia, because it's the furthest thing from where I grew up."
..the most challenging part about living abroad is being so far from friends and family. I [also] miss being in a country that I can claim as my own.
Even though travelers will often feel a sense of urgency to stay in the place that feels like home, it will be easier to "claim" a country as your own if you first take the necessary steps to transition abroad before indulging in your new life.
#1. Get the proper documentation
Living abroad requires a passport (typically with at least six months' validity), visas (the types of visas will depend on the destination country), and proper identification, among other things. If you already live abroad, take a trip to the American Embassy in your city to learn how to renew visas and expired passports. Be sure to bring valuable documents such as birth certificates and government issued IDs. Required documentation varies from country-to-country, so do your research thoroughly.
#2. Secure work
If you plan to work while abroad, it is suggested that you find a job before moving (or as soon as possible if you already live abroad).
"I applied to and interviewed for a few jobs in the magazine industry, but once they heard that I didn't have permanent residency, they said they were wasting my time," Barnes said about his Australian job hunt. "If at all possible, I'd try to have work lined up beforehand."
Many countries require that a company sponsor you before you can acquire permanent residence, and a work visa is required for holding a job in almost every country. It can often be difficult to find a job prior to arriving, but have an action plan and networking contacts lined up upon arrival. If you already live abroad, then you likely know the relevant industries in your city; explore those industries, and see which are most befitting to your talents.
Editors Note: Teaching abroad is an excellent career that allows you to live and work abroad!
Did you know 5.2 million Americans are living abroad right now?
#3. Save money
Because working in a different country can present professional and cultural challenges that you've never before experienced, you will want financial security in case your job hunt is unsuccessful. Living on a different currency can be a benefit or a drawback, but either way it will take awhile to become accustomed to local pricing. You will also likely want to take advantage of easy travel to any nearby foreign countries, so ensure that you can indulge without draining your savings.
#4. Familiarize yourself with local laws
While familiarity with local laws may not be a priority while on a vacation, staying in a country permanently means abiding by its laws. Research driving laws, taxation stipulations, basic behavior laws and all other important codes of conduct.
#5. Create a home
Treat your move as just that: a move, not an extended vacation. Find a house or apartment in which you can imagine a future, open a bank account, join local clubs, explore the non-touristy parts of town. When making new friends, talk to them about their country's politics and practices and customs, not only those of your home country (as tempting as it may be). Refusing to immerse yourself in your new home means that you will feel even more isolated than the inherent cultural different will already make you feel.
#6. Keep in touch
As Shane mentioned, the hardest part about moving thousands of miles from your home can be a lack of communication with friends and family. To help ease this transition, try to incorporate some routine in your communication with loved ones: schedule weekly phone calls, update a blog for your family, mail pictures to your family and ask them to do the same. Instilling regular communication means ensuring your time abroad is enriching rather than lonely.
The most important rule when living abroad though, is to have fun. Making this decision means that you have taken a courageous and out-of-the-ordinary course of life, so take advantage of that opportunity in every way you know how - and hopefully in ways that you didn't know how to before.