By Zeyda Broers and Natália Leal
Moving to a new country can be a huge milestone in your (and your family’s) life. Usually, we end up focusing most of our time on the logistical elements since they’re often urgent and absolutely necessary.
Yes, we certainly need to take care of them. However, in the middle of this overwhelm, we frequently forget to take on a more holistic approach to this critical transition and neglect to prepare and account for other crucial dimensions in our life.
Here are a few ideas you might want to consider to ensure you can have a smooth start, thus avoiding some common mistakes and getting you set for a successful life in your new country.
A new country – almost always – brings new challenges with it; learning a new language, adapting to a new culture, and finding your way while not yet having a local safety and support network.
Most problems can be sorted out with good preparation and, for a smooth transition, we recommend you to do as much research as possible beforehand about how the way of living will differ from what you are used to.
Here are a few points to bear in mind:
Create an environment that will suit your needs
In creating a balanced life, everything around us – the city, our home, or our neighbourhood – significantly impacts how we feel about life.
Therefore, an excellent place to start and an important aspect to sort out – ideally before moving to another country – is housing and the environment where you will settle in.
It will create a solid foundation on which to build the rest of your new life.
- Make a list
Start by making a list of things you are looking for in your ideal new home location.
What are the characteristics of an apartment or home that fits your needs?
Budget, space, light, privacy, amenities?
What is crucial for you to have close by?
Access to nature, recreational areas, gym or yoga studios, cafes, restaurants, local businesses, public transport, schools, and hospitals?
- Do your research
It can be challenging to find accommodation when you are outside of a country, but luckily, nowadays, almost all housing and property listings are online, making it possible to do research beforehand.
This can also help you gather information at an earlier stage and determine in which area it makes the most sense for you to live in.
If and when possible, try speaking to someone who already lives and works in that location, or, better yet, buddy up with another expat who has already relocated and experienced the journey you are starting.
Look for groups online (FB, Meet-Up, etc)!
- Visit before moving
If possible, get familiar with an ‘advanced visit’ to have a clear vision of where you want to settle in and what needs to be done before moving there. A short few-day visit can give you the chance to tour potential neighbourhoods and see living space options in person.
Completing this process will give you the comfort of having the right place to start once you arrive.
Create a new home for all pieces of your self-identity
A great part of who we are lies in the things we do in day-to-day life. Routines, like going to work, going to the gym, visiting friends, enjoying our hobbies ... These are the things that make up our lives. Without them, it's normal to feel a little lost.
If spirituality and/or religion are an important part of your self-identity, then it is important to consider how to continue meeting these needs in your new country as well.
Even though the move on itself is something positive, moving to a new country can trigger feelings of loss of self-identity, overall vision, purpose, and direction for your life.
There can be moments where you might feel out of balance and are looking for empowering ways to make this new country ‘feel like home’.
Therefore finding ways to regain your sense of identity is important.
You can consider planning time for daily personal reflection, meditation, or taking quiet walks in nature.
Budget in advance for (greater) financial balance & independence
Finances are also a big aspect of any relocation, not only because you will likely have to prepare to pay for quite a few relocation costs, but also because it’s often one of the main reasons why we move.
However, keep in mind that the role of money and visible signs of wealth varies considerably from society to society: some countries do not look kindly at these, while in others that may help you further your goals.
Your likely average income and the value of money (your purchasing power) can equally vary a lot once you have moved. Having 1000€ in Sweden or in Vietnam are very different things.
Hence, before you move or as soon as possible, do a short budget exercise:
- What is your likely available income (whatever the source - your income, partner’s income, investments)?
- What are your desired expenses, that is, what products and services would you like to acquire in the new country, especially those you’ll need/want on a regular basis – rent, utilities, gym subscriptions, travel card, supermarket, clothing, etc)?
- Do you have enough income to cover it?
- Will you need to adjust your expenses?
- Will you have some extra for savings or entertainment activities?
Do note that having some level of individual financial independence can be quite important for your own well-being; it gives you the power and freedom to decide what to do with that financial income (even if little) instead of being dependent on someone else, even if that’s your beloved partner.
Prioritise your health and fitness
Moving countries or continents is a huge step that often comes with intense emotions. One of the priorities to give attention to and arrange when moving abroad should be your self-care routine.
A healthy diet and exercise can significantly elevate your mood.
It can seem like a big effort to find a gym or a dance class in a new place but remember that sports do not only get you physically in shape, it also increases your energy levels and strengthens you mentally. And it helps to meet new people.
Consider these questions:
- What actions can you take to support a healthy and active lifestyle in your new location?
- How will you keep yourself physically and mentally healthy?
- Besides your personal and professional obligations, do you have enough time to enjoy your free time?
- What helps you to switch off from work and relax?
- How regularly do you want to exercise?
- What is your diet like? Do you have any special diet restrictions?
Use your existing support network and catch up with loved ones
Moving to a new country is generally an ‘unrooting experience’.
In the beginning, close bonds as we knew it do not yet exist in the new country we are in.
Homesickness usually starts when the novelty of being somewhere new starts to wear off. Being far away from family, friends, and everything you know can be very upsetting.
It is helpful to consider what support system you want to have once you arrive at your destination, to help you transition into your new country.
Modern technology makes staying connected with friends and loved ones simpler. Whether in person or online, preparing for how to connect with them can help you find the comfort of ‘home’ when you need it.
Schedule a weekly time slot and speak to your close ones on Skype or Zoom. Sundays are often a good time for this.
And for the first year, plan a couple of short trips back home if you can.
Being proactive is very comforting because you know you’re going to catch up with each other sooner or later.
As time goes on, you’ll eventually find yourself developing new friendships and relationships, but it will be essential to consider your support system for the initial months.
Define what matters most in your relationship with your partner and remember to re-establish it in your new country/home
Moving to a different country can be amazing for partners’ relationships. Or a complete destroyer of these. Relationships are not only about the people involved in them but also about their context and the (multiple little) habits that form that loving relationship. The dynamics are bound to change if the context (and most likely several of your habits) change.
- Talk with your partner to identify what is most important to you both: what makes your relationship special?
- What elements would you like to keep and which ones would you like to improve on? Is it about having dinner together every night, sharing the house chores, a clear division of roles (bread-winner vs. guardian of the home, i.e.), spending time together without the kids on the weekend, the occasional gift or show of attention, etc…
- Do you need to improve on how you communicate with each other, and understand each other’s expectations and needs?
Make a list and have an honest conversation about it. Then, make sure to (re)establish the crucial elements or find valuable alternatives – once you have moved – and work on those that require improvement.
It is far too easy to allow the chaos of a move to absorb the time and attention that you used to devote to one another, and you generally only realise it too late…
Connect with the local community and build new relationships
Building a new network and connecting with the ‘local’ community in a new country can be challenging at times. Getting out and socialising helps to overcome feelings of isolation and homesickness.
Moving abroad is an excellent opportunity to meet new people and expand your social circle, friendships, and relationships.
The first months are in general a period of settling in and finding your ground, which will make you more confident when you go out to meet new people.
Therefore I encourage you first to take the time you need; and once you are ready to mingle again, here are a few ideas for getting started:
- Reach out to neighbours, colleagues, and fellow parents with a quick hello, and introduction. This feels most natural when done in the first weeks.
- Explore the Facebook/hobby/MeetUp groups and volunteer organisations you can join.
- Accept every invitation (party, get-together, etc.) that you receive. Those meetings are good starting points for future connections.
Once you start to meet people, some of those new connections will develop into more meaningful relationships in the weeks and months to follow.
A good self-reflection question here is: What kind of people do you like to surround yourself with?
Plan for what comes next in your career while abroad
Not everyone needs to have a paid job or a professional career; it’s perfectly fine to choose to be a stay-at-home parent (is there any bigger ‘job’?), to dedicate yourself to charity causes on a volunteer basis, or to spend more time developing your artistic skills. Nevertheless, most of us do choose to have a job, which constitutes a major part not only of how we spend our time but also of our own identity.
When our own job was not the main reason that led to moving to a different country, our career can be significantly impacted by it, often in a negative way.
While we follow our heart/partner, sense of adventure, or other callings, if you do not have a plan regarding what to do (soon) after your arrival, you are most likely going to get lost or feel stuck in it all.
Ideally, before you move, or as soon after as possible, make sure to reserve some time to plan at least your first career steps in the new country. Find out what opportunities exist and what are the main differences between the culture and professional expectations in that new country and your previous one(s); consider taking this time to re-center or even totally change direction.
Whatever you decide to do, determine what your first steps will be and assign them a deadline.
Take advantage of new opportunities to relax and look for your tribe
While most of us tend to feel guilty when we are ‘just having fun’, the fact is that relaxation – whatever form it takes for you – is important to maintaining healthy and sustainable levels of energy, physically but also mentally and emotionally. Rest, sleep, and fun are all essential!
If you already have some favourite hobbies or communities, check if they also exist in your new country. Independently of that, explore what else is new; you might find the ‘locals’ are quite fond of a sport you never tried (but you might really enjoy) or organise themselves socially in a different way. In some cases, the café is the local social gathering point, in others you’ll be invited to someone’s house fairly quickly, but in some countries, you might have to ‘de-codify’ the local rules to enter an existing group.
Remember, there is also always the option to create a new group or propose a new activity yourself! Find your Tribe and enjoy some fun moments!
Self-care and self-love are a prerequisite to everything else :)
Almost by definition, when we relocate to a new country there will be some sense of (at least temporary) up-rooting. In addition, many of us accumulate several roles (parent, partner, work colleague, hobbie partner, etc) but can easily forget about your ‘self’.
While we juggle our multiple roles and look for where we fit in our new culture, groups, and working environment, it is essential that we continue to take care of ourselves and our individual needs.
Self-care is not selfish: it is as vital as putting your mask on first in an airplane emergency, for “you cannot pour from an empty cup”.
When you love yourself – flaws and all ;) – and still dedicate some time to your own personal growth, you are ensuring that you get the attention we each deserve and need to develop as individuals and give more to others.
Some final thoughts
Moving to a new country is a life-altering project and can be one of the hardest things you will ever do.
Creating a happy life abroad takes time, effort, and above all preparation.
Like every project, it needs to be managed well for success and the best results.
Give yourself the gift of being mentally prepared for this phase.
Choose the proactive approach anywhere you can. There will be enough things you will need to react to and manage adhoc, anyway.
You will need more time and life management skills -especially- in the first period of your new life abroad while settling down.
Use the advice and tips mentioned above.
If you are struggling or finding it difficult to keep a balance or to implement any of the advice mentioned above, reach out to your friends and family, or look for a coach (We are happy to support you; check our contact details below).
The purpose of coaching is to add a new depth of clarity to a challenging situation (like moving abroad).
It's about bringing potential problems out from the shadows, exposing obstacles, and then finding ways to overcome them within a safe and supportive environment.
Connect with us!
Zeyda Broers is a Structure & Productivity Coach who offers individual coaching for success when undertaking major life changes and personal projects. Her approach is holistic, and she supports her clients in creating clarity, overview, structure, and time management, setting the right goals, and getting things done with optimum results.
Natália Leal - me! :) - is a Career & Life Coach who offers tailor-made, individual and group coaching paths for open-minded internationals – especially expats (incl. their partners, executives, and academics) –, so they can navigate their career & life journeys with the clarity, motivation, and strategy they need to be successful in their transition periods.