A Beginner’s Guide to Living Abroad

 | Mon 2 Mar 2015 08:39 ICT

So you’ve decided to move abroad – good for you! You might have made this decision for any number of reasons: your job or relationship requires you to live abroad, you want to travel, or you just want to try something different. In the modern age, it’s becoming easier and easier – not to mention more common – to just pack up and go. Many jobs can be done remotely for at least part of the time, and there are many positions available in different industries (not just education!) to English speakers who take that leap and move abroad.

But now that you’ve decided to go, you probably have a few questions and concerns. Moving is never easy, and moving to a foreign country can be pretty daunting, especially the first time around. Here are some general tips and things to bear in mind.

airportWhat to Do With Your Things

This might be one of the biggest questions you ask yourself. Shipping things abroad is expensive, and you’re only allowed so much baggage on flights. Paying for extra bags or overweight bags quickly adds up. So what should you do with all those things?

The first thing to remember is that you don’t need to bring everything you own with you. If you can replace something abroad – like clothing or furniture – it might be cheaper to do so, and this gives you the perfect opportunity to downsize. If you can’t replace something abroad – personal mementos – you might look into storing things either at a relative’s house (if you don’t have much stuff) or in a storage unit. Even if you plan on living abroad for the rest of your life, you can always come back for a visit and take more things with you in your allotment of luggage on your next trip.

Visas and Regulations

Another important thing to keep in mind is visas and regulations. In order to live abroad, most countries will require you to have a long-term visa or residency permit. If you plan on doing legal work in a country, you will likely need a work visa as well as your residency permit. And even if you don’t plan on living in one country for an extended period of time and instead will be travelling and changing locations month-to-month, you need to keep in mind certain rules about tourist travel – for example, you can only stay in the Schengen Zone, or most of Europe, for 90 days out of a 180-day period. Should you disregard these rules, you may face fines and/or deportation. Check out this FAQ for more information about the Schengen Zone.


Unfortunately, leaving your home country doesn’t mean leaving taxes behind. For example, the United States requires its citizens to pay taxes annually whether they currently reside in the US or not (unless you qualify for an exemption, which you might if you spend 330 days or more per year out of the country). This can be quite a headache for expats working abroad, who oftentimes have to pay taxes in the US and in their new country of residence. In fact, recent changes in the system have made it so frustrating for US expats to file their taxes that many of them have renounced their citizenship! There’s lots of information about this online, but your average TurboTax customer service representative will probably have no idea what to tell you, so you might be better off just hiring an expert to help you navigate this nightmare.

Finding Other Expats

One way to find out information about visa requirements, taxes, real estate, schools, and other issues abroad is to find other expats living in that area. This can also be a great way to find some friends and seek out travel opportunities in your new home. Most cities have expat groups online and/or websites about this topic. If you’re on Facebook, you can try searching for expat groups and see what comes up. Or just do a general Google search.

Some people are of the mindset that if you’re living abroad, you should totally immerse yourself in that culture and only have friends from that country. But it can be nice to have a set of friends who understand the challenges of living abroad and who act in familiar ways and celebrate the same holidays as you. Having a mixed group of friends isn’t going to mean that you ignore everything to do with the culture you’re moving into; that totally depends on you. Also, just because your friends are also expats, it doesn’t mean that they’ve come from the same country as you! Meeting other expats might mean you meet new people from all over the world.

Keep Being a Tourist…But Don’t Overdo It

Just because you live somewhere, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep exploring that place! After all, why live in a cool place if you’re just going to turn your life into a boring blur of work and home? Get out and see the country’s festivals and try new foods and take weekend trips.

That said, don’t kill yourself. Being an expat with a job abroad is different from being a normal tourist on a two-week vacation. Maybe it’s not realistic to travel every weekend or to go out and explore your city every night – and that’s fine. Sometimes maybe you’ll just want to sit around on your sofa for the whole weekend watching Netflix (note that you’ll need to set up a VPN to stream Netflix abroad, though) – and that’s also fine. You’ll need to find a balance between being a tourist and living at home abroad.

Be Prepared for Grocery Shopping

This sounds stupid, but what I mean by this is, realise that there will be some weird, unexpected challenges. Sometimes you’ll get to a country and go grocery shopping and suddenly have that moment when you realise you can’t read the labels on anything, don’t recognise the brands, and have absolutely no idea what you’re doing. This may spiral into an existential crisis, where you find yourself no longer wondering which brand of butter is best and instead start wondering what you’re even doing living abroad and what made you think you were okay with leaving behind everything you knew. And that’s okay. Trust me, this feeling is not uncommon, and more importantly, it’ll pass.

On the other hand, you’ll sometimes experience the opposite – you’ll expect that you can’t find foods from home in far-flung places like Mongolia and instead be able to find a bunch of the same brands you would buy back home.

Send Your Grandmother Postcards

…or whoever it is that you’ve left back home. Seriously. I know there’s email and there’s social networking and there’s blogging and whatever else, but nothing compares to the excitement of receiving something tangible in the mail. Plus, it means your grandmother can take that postcard to her church, book club, society meetings, hairdresser, or wherever else she goes and show off this cool postcard that just came to her from halfway around the world.

Moving abroad may sound difficult, but it’s really not as hard or daunting as it might seem! There’s a reason you decided to move abroad though, and know that that reason is going to have you laughing out loud in exhilaration when you experience that “this could never happen at home!” moment. Maybe you’ll find yourself on the grounds of a castle watching Independence Day fireworks in a foreign country or invited to be an expat guest on a foreign reality TV show. Maybe it’ll just be one of those simple moments where you’re walking down the street and see a bit of architecture totally unlike anything you’ve ever seen. But it’ll happen, and it will make all those failed grocery trips worth it.