Is moving abroad worth it? Well, as someone who has lived in ten different countries, here’s my take on the value of life abroad.
Is moving abroad a good idea? Well, it depends… Here are my personal answers to ten of the most frequent moving abroad questions…
1. Is moving abroad worth it?
Spoiler alert: for a lot of these questions, I’m going to respond with ‘it depends’.
For me, yes moving abroad has been worth it, but not for the reasons I initially thought. When I set out moving abroad I was trying to progress in my career. But deep down I guess I really just wanted an adventure. I sure had an adventure or two, living in a variety of cultures from Switzerland to Angola, to Syria.
Personally, the most valuable thing that has come out of living abroad has been self awareness. I know what makes me sad, happy, anxious and fulfilled. I feel this self awareness has only been possible thanks to my diversity of experiences abroad.
The financial cost of moving abroad
A lot of people move abroad for financial reasons, but they don’t do the maths before they make the move and find themselves out of pocket. It’s really worth investing some time to think about pensions, savings and investments.
Is it worth moving abroad for love?
There’s another set of folk who move abroad for love. I think this is totally viable, but it really needs to be a choice. Open communication from the start is essential, too. I’ve heard too many stories of people feeling resentful later down the life abroad journey.
A life changing adventure
Then there’s a set of people who move abroad for the adventure of it. Again, I think this can work out. With any luck an adventure can switch into a fulfilling life plan.
However, and here’s a big ‘but’… moving abroad is also an interruption. In terms of your career, I think you really need to have a clear picture where you’re going or risk drifting from one adventure to the next. I think it’s also useful to think about the impact of your move on relationships too – that includes friends as well as romantic partners.
Growing pains, shifting plans
Finally, I think it depends on what you’re looking to get out of your experience abroad. It depends if you want to make mega bucks, cement a relationship with the love of your life, find fulfilment or enjoy a change of scene… the reasons for moving abroad are all personal.
It’s essential to have a realistic plan in the front of your mind before you jet off. Yes, you can be lucky or unlucky, but on the whole, the effort you put in will largely determine the fruits of your endeavours.
The effort you put in will determine the fruits of your endeavours.
Having said that, your priorities will no doubt shift and change. One moment you feel you’re happy on a life full of adventure, then a few months later you’re asking was moving abroad is really worth it after all? You go from craving adventure to a need for stability or vice versa. This shift is completely natural. And cold feet wobbles are completely normal too. For me, the most important thing has been to recognise these shifts and communicate them to people I trust.
2. Do you regret moving abroad?
Personally, I don’t believe in mistakes; I believe in learnings.
Yes, it’s human nature to wonder ‘what if’. What if I hadn’t moved abroad? Would I be making more money? Would my kids feel more settled? Would I feel more grounded? Hindsight isn’t reality.
Sometimes, for sure, I question my moving abroad decisions. I have often asked myself ‘is moving abroad worth it?’ Really worth it?!
However, I now realise that when I have those moments of doubt, more often than not there’s something else at play. So if I’m having these doubts in my head, I might be feeling anxious about a completely different issue.
Lastly, it’s important to remember that we nearly always have a choice. Expat life isn’t refugee life, we’re not fleeing a warzone or fatal persecution. Yes, the decisions can be really hard to make, but expat life is a choice. If I’m ever based somewhere I’m not I know I can always move.
3. Was moving abroad ever a mistake?
No. However to be brutally honest I wish I had never set foot in Quito! I had a horrible experience there.
My biggest regret was taking my kids somewhere that turned out to feel very unsafe. Call me pedantic, silly or fussy, I did not feel safe, so I did not feel happy. Happiness is very personal – what makes me happy might not make you happy. So, for me, Quito was not a good move.
Still, I wouldn’t call moving to Quito a mistake. I learned a valuable lesson about personal limits and lifestyle needs. I know that the feeling of personal safety is of paramount importance to me. Perhaps because I’m a mother I’ve been feeling this a lot more than when I first started moving abroad. I don’t care so much about money, but I do care about the feeling of safety. I can compromise on climate too, but I can’t compromise of the feeling of security.
As a young woman I’d see friends splashing out on houses, settling down into life and sometimes I’d feel a pang of envy. However it was only a fleeting pang. I think back to some of the experiences I’ve had in Syria, for example, and feel so lucky. Buying a house now feels within reach, however learning about life in Syria was an immense privilege – one that feels very out of reach right now. Sure, sometimes I feel envious about friends with stable lives, but then I think of the cost and sacrifices behind that and I realise they’re sacrifices I would not be happy to make.
On the flip side, I once turned down an opportunity to move abroad to Dubai. I was very happy to move to Dubai, but I felt I’d be side-lined in my career over there. I decided to stay in London where I thought I’d learn more in my job. Sometimes I wonder how my life would have turned out if I’d moved to Dubai, but then I stop myself – it’s not worth going down the Sliding Doors rabbit hole!
In summary, no, I don’t regret any of my moves. I’ve learned to be more cautious and that it’s always possible to say no to a move.
4. Will I regret not moving abroad?
Possibly, but only you can know.
Moving abroad is a very personal step in life. For some, a move is a huge leap, for others it’s a little skip. There are so many factors at play – your economic situation, personality, relationship status, career… Moving abroad can be a big deal, or not.
Of course it depends on the reasons you’re moving, and the ‘baggage’ you’re taking with you. Moving abroad as a young singleton is very different to moving abroad with family. When other people enter into the equation, their needs must be considered carefully, too. If children are involved they need their say. Parents need to make informed decisions about what is best for their children. Expat employees in a relationship need to listen to their partners, too. Moving abroad can be rewarding or selfish, depending on the context.
I follow the mantra that I’ll give it a go as long as I have the option to leave… to a certain extent. My backup exit plan means that I need to have an alternative place to move back to if things don’t work out. Right now, in the midst of a pandemic it’s not always possible to jump ship and return ‘home’. Moving in a pandemic can be messy.
I need to feel the plan will work; if it doesn’t it risks destabilising my kids and me. I really think very carefully, writing down all the pros and cons, listening to my kids and I’d be willing to turn down a move even at the very last minute if necessary.
Having said that, with some good communication and a lot of effort, the benefits of moving abroad can have a hugely beneficial impact.
In summary, think of other people involved in the move, consider the plan carefully, then make a decision and stick to it.
While constructive reflection is a wonderful thing, over thinking isn’t. There is no point dwelling too much. Make your mind up and go for it!
5. Is it a good thing to live in a different country for a while?
As someone who has lived in many different places, and among different cultures, I’d argue yes. However living abroad doesn’t magically make you a better / smarter / kinder person.
I’d like to think I’m a little humbler for living abroad. I thought I had it all sorted in life, whereas the more I move, the more I realise I need to learn.
Learning a foreign language is a humbling experience in itself. As I described my ‘poo poo’ and ‘pee pee’ to a rather stern-faced Swiss doctor (I’d forgotten the French word for faeces), I had to laugh at myself. Living abroad, starting from scratch, working out how to do simple things like cross the street, shop in the supermarket, pay an invoice is a humbling experience.
I also realise that it’s easy to stay in a bubble of white, English speaking expats when I move abroad. At first I was very intentional about steering clear of this bubble. I felt it was a waste of time mixing with ‘my kin’. I felt it was shameful not to integrate properly.
However, now I’m closer to finding my happy balance. I think I can learn from anyone I meet abroad. I try to integrate, and I’m more mindful of my little bubble and my learning gaps.
So, back the question – ‘is it a good thing to live in a different country for while?’ Yes, living abroad can give you insights on new culture and lifestyles. Living abroad can reframe the way you think about the world.
However, a flight ticket doesn’t guarantee a rounded education. I think the most valuable thing about living abroad is listening to different types of people, and you don’t always need to go abroad for that.
Finally, it’s worth bearing in mind the disadvantages of life abroad too. Depending on your personal situation expat life can take its toll on your finances, relationships, emotional wellbeing, and even your health. It can be a great thing to live in a different country in terms of the life education, but let’s not forget the other costs.
6. How long does it take to adjust to a new country?
Sorry, here it comes again: ‘it depends’. What does it mean to ‘adjust’? Is adjusting just about getting by, or is it about settling in? Or is adjusting about a much deeper level of integration?
Ever heard of the ‘six month slump‘? After a move abroad, the first few months is the manic frenzy of sorting visas, unpacking, trips to Ikea (or the local market) then follows a period of downtime. This downtime can be a bit depressing, it can be quite an anti climax (the slump). Then, after these six months you start to relax, mingle, find some good friends. Give or take a couple of months, this is my general expat life pattern.
I think it’s also a different experience for people moving abroad for a short stint, as opposed to people moving abroad for the indefinite long term. I’ve moved abroad for short stints and I’ve worked really hard to make good friends and really settle in. Nevertheless at the back of my mind I’ve known I’d be moving after a short while, so I make less effort in some areas. For example, I never invest enough time in making my rented accommodation really feel like home.
Adjusting to a new country implies so many things. There’s the practical side of adjusting to different lifestyles, for example going to a local market instead of a supermarket. Then there’s the deeper cultural side of things, such as making friends among a new culture.
I think adjustment takes place in stages, and it’s dependent on many personal factors. First comes the immediate unpacking and getting to grips with admin etc. Next follows a shift to understanding local culture. Finally there’s a much deeper cultural integration learning process, which I think never ends.
Right now, at the tail end of a pandemic, I think this adjustment takes so much longer. It takes longer to get anything done. Moving abroad right now is hard, adjusting is really hard…
7. What is it like to move abroad?
For me, I’ve felt all sorts of emotions on my moves abroad. The thing that has struck me most is the surprise element. No matter how hard I plan ahead, I’m often caught out by my feelings.
Life abroad can be scary, funny, educational, challenging, boring, lonely, stressful, tiring, glamourous and so much more. Even the supposedly straightforward moves, for example a move from one European country to another neighbouring European country have been challenging in ways that I hadn’t expected.
Life abroad is scary, funny, educational, challenging, boring, lonely, stressful, tiring, glamourous and so much more.
Moving abroad solo, as a couple or as a family are very different experiences. Moving abroad as part of a planned relocation with an experienced multinational company is different to a move without a job. There are so many differentiating factors involved.
However, speaking to fellow Expaters, we all agree that moving abroad can be a challenge. No matter where you move, there are challenges, and these raise important life questions.
8. How does moving abroad change you?
Personally, I feel I’m much more self aware after living through many challenges abroad. Moving abroad changed my life. I know more about myself through my experiences abroad.
Previously I thought I wanted a job with a great bank balance, but I now realise that this isn’t important to me. I need the security of knowing my kids won’t go hungry or lack for anything important they need. Nevertheless, I need people more than a fat wallet. I feel energised when surrounded by interesting people.
Some of my happiest days were living in the home of a wonderfully wise lady in Syria. Looking back the accommodation was rather simple perhaps, but the conversations I had with her and her friends were anything but. For me, moving abroad is a privilege. I feel so damn lucky that this is an option for me.
I’m increasingly aware of my privilege on so many levels. I hadn’t thought about the colour of my skin, my passport and my bank balance before I started living abroad. I’ve started asking myself a lot more questions in this regard.
I also get more emotionally affected by things I see on the news. If a catastrophe takes place in a distant land, I feel more connected to the people there. Even if my friends are OK, I feel more connected to the situations. After living in many places, the statistics are now humans.
In terms of life skills, I think I’m more adaptable after my moves abroad. I’m a natural conscientious planner. I like know what’s ahead of me. However, it’s impossible to plan for a lot of the things a life abroad throws at you. So in this regard I’ve had some good training!
I also think that I’m more resilient in some ways. I am better at dealing with pressure. However I still get upset if people say nasty stuff about me. I’m told I’m still rather naïve. Yes, I have been scammed a lot, perhaps I do need to be more streetwise. However, I prefer to believe in the good of people than turn into a grumpy witch!
9. Will moving abroad make me happy?
Moving abroad changed my life, but it didn’t make me happier. I think happiness is rooted in far deeper issues other than location status.
The desire to get away from it all is very tempting. It’s normal to want to shy away from challenges in life. But the truth is, life abroad can be just as tricky, just in different ways. The grass is not greener on the other side of the world, just a different shade of green.
However, on a practical level I do think there are marvellous opportunities to be had when moving abroad. After Brexit, moving to the UK just got a lot more complicated for my international family. Salaries are higher and cost of living is lower in other parts of the world. If your passport allows you to move abroad, I’d question anyone who wouldn’t want to make the most of a good opportunity.
Personally I thrive in exciting environments. I love learning languages. I really do appreciate the sunshine. And my husband is Spanish so a Brexit Britain would be messy for us. With all this in mind, I feel lucky to live abroad.
Nevertheless, I’m aware that I need to slow down my moves. I’ve been moving abroad too often and this has created a sense of instability for me and the kids. I’m happy abroad, but I’m no longer happy to keep switching countries so regularly.
I’ve found it tough living abroad as an accompanying spouse. There are so many challenges. The role of an accompanying spouse isn’t paid, it’s looked down upon, it’s deeply unfulfilling and if you complain you’re a spoilt brat. Yes, my lifestyle is a choice and a privilege, but I still struggle with it at times.
The grass is not greener on the other side of the world, just a different shade of green.
10. Why is it so hard to move to another country?
It’s generally very tricky for people who haven’t lived abroad to understand the challenges of the Expater lifestyle. So you’re sitting on a beach, sipping a cocktail that cost $1… what’s not to like?! Well, there is more to life than sunshine and cocktails. And it’s all so personal.
It’s a common mistake to underestimate the challenges of adapting to a new culture, of being separated from friends and family, of the stress of foreign bureaucracy.
Many of the challenges of moving abroad are hidden. You’ll find far more Instagram posts of sunny tropical islands than sweaty queues outside visa offices.
Some challenges aren’t evident until you’ve experienced them. Take finances, for example. The cost of moving abroad can be deceptively expensive. Even if your company is paying for your accommodation, chances are you’ll need to refurnish, redecorate, or fix it up. Then, if you’re moving as a couple there’s the lack of the spouse’s wages to take into consideration.
Very few companies properly compensate for the spouse’s loss of earnings. Then, there’s the emotional baggage attached to this. As an accompanying spouse, I want my name on my own cheque, but that’s not easy when you’re busy helping the kids settle / sorting visas / searching for a home / not able to speak the local language / not allowed to work by law.
The emotional side of moving abroad is just as important as the practical side.
The emotional rollercoaster of a move abroad is not to be underestimated. It can be tough on the employed expat, the accompanying spouse, the kids… anyone involved in the move. It’s even hard for those not moving – grandparents of expat kids can struggle too, for example.
As for me, my biggest takeaway from 15+ years abroad is that the emotional side of moving abroad is just as important as the practical side. Yes, sort your visas, check your net salary against the cost of living, but also consider how you’ll deal with loneliness, cultural shock, anxiety, stress, boredom, nonfulfillment and anything else the bucket of expat life might throw at you.
Honestly I’d say there is no such thing as an easy move abroad. This is especially true right now as we ease ourselves out of a seemingly never-ending pandemic. But is moving abroad worth it? Yes, despite all the above, I reckon it is.
As I’ve learned, it’s easy to underestimate the emotional challenges of a move abroad, but thankfully there are also some easy tools to deal with these challenges, too. I’m hoping this blog is one of them.
Is moving abroad worth it?
10 things to help you decide
- Plan your finances. How far will your net salary go bearing in mind the local cost of living and your lifestyle needs (schools, medical insurance, pensions etc)? Write down the costs and do the math.
- Consider others involved in the move. If you are moving with a partner, how do they feel about the move? Let both sides speak without interruption (believe me, that’s hard!) If you are moving with children, how do they feel about the move? It’s tempting to put aside their needs as childish, but they are valid and must be listened to and addressed.
- Be mindful of your roots. How do you feel about leaving relations and friends behind? Bearing in mind cost and time limitations, will you be able to make return visits? How feasible are return trips in the case of an emergency?
- Think about your career. How will this move impact upon your career? If you are moving with a partner, how will this move impact upon their career?
- Consider your personal relationships. How do you think your relationships will be impacted after this move?
- Create a life plan guide. What is your ten year plan? How does this move slot into it? (If you just want an adventure because you’re young and want life experience, then that is a valid reason!)
- Lay out the options. What are all the options? Make a list of at least ten options (write them down), ignoring any limiting assumptions until your list is complete. (for example 1. move to Dubai; 2. stay in London; 3. move to Dubai in three years’ time; 4. work remotely…) If you’re in a relationship, compare this list with your partner to confirm the best choices for your lifestyle right now.
- Ask why. Why do you want to move abroad? Is this goal only attainable abroad? How will you make this goal become a reality? Be realistic about your personal needs and expectations.
- Pause. Take a moment away from the stress of a potential move to just be. Breathe. Sometimes time out is a much better use of time and can offer a refreshing step back to help you see the bigger, clearer picture. Whether you need a long walk or a weekend away, take time not to think about the here and now. Take time to connect with yourself.
- Talk it out. Write it down. Map out your thoughts however works best for you. Important life questions can be difficult to make. Sometimes it can be useful to enlist the services of a professional expat life coach, sometimes the ear of a neutral friend who listens well is enough. Foster a great thinking environment that works for you.
Feel free to drop me a comment here if you’re struggling to decide if moving abroad is worth it. If you have a question of a sensitive or personal nature, feel free to email me.