The Expat Struggle: What You Need to Know Before Moving Abroad

For many of us, the idea of pulling up stakes and starting a whole new life in another country feels like a dream come true. It’s the kind of adventure people write books about. It’s the stuff of award-winning cinema.

But for many of us, it’s also reality. The glorious fact is that life as an expat isn’t only for trust fund babies and self-made billionaires with money to burn. The expat life is open to all, even ordinary folks with jobs and a budget.

For real people with real lives, though, moving abroad means taking into consideration some issues you might not have to worry about if you were simply moving to the next town or even a few states over. Doing your research so that you know what to expect and how to prepare, though, can help make the transition quite seamless. With knowledge and a bit of strategy, you can build a beautiful life abroad for yourself and your family.

Earning a Living

If you’re planning to move abroad, chances are the first order of business will be to determine how you’re going to support yourself and your household. Some jobs, of course, travel more easily than others. Nevertheless, it’s going to be important to research employment laws and regulations both in your home country and in your host country. For example, if you are a US citizen, chances are you will still be obligated to pay certain state and federal taxes on any income you earn while abroad.

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Understanding what obligations you owe and what rights you enjoy as a citizen living abroad, moreover, is essential to avoiding benefits fraud, a growing concern that can costs governments tens of millions of dollars every year. While all too often these fraudulent activities may be intentional, you certainly don’t want to be among the cadre of those claiming benefits reserved for residents of your home country while you’re working to build your life abroad.

In addition to understanding taxation and other regulations, it’s also crucial to consider the state of your career. If your job doesn’t travel well or you’re not prepared to take work with a domestic employer in your new homeland, perhaps because of the language barrier or work permit requirements, don’t despair! In today’s digital age, opportunities for remote employment and education are practically endless.

If you’ve always had a particular fondness for numbers, then why not pursue a degree or certification in accounting? This way, you can build a truly portable career with a large number of networking opportunities, local and otherwise, taking your always in-demand skillset with you wherever you may roam.

Home Ties

As exciting and inspiring as making a life abroad may be, that doesn’t, shouldn’t, and mustn’t mean you lose your connection with home or, especially, with the people you leave behind. And that means you should expect waves of homesickness at times. 

You’ll inevitably miss the ones you love, but that doesn’t mean you have to be without them, particularly in this era of texting and video chats. Best of all, if you have kids, you can still expose them to the wonders of the great big world without depriving them of their connections to home, friends, and family.

All you have to do is get creative. For example, your kids can still share special occasions with friends and family even if they’re thousands of miles apart. With a bit of advanced planning, for instance, you can throw an unforgettable “virtual” birthday party for your little one, bringing friends and family together for cake and treats, games and movies, all in the virtual space. 

In addition to planning for sharing those special moments and holding on to those beloved home ties, if you have children, you’re going to want to take special care to ease the transition. While it might not be feasible to take the kids to visit their new digs before moving day, you can still help the little ones get acquainted with the new neighborhood.

Pictures and videos of the new house, the community, and all the fun attractions they’ll get to enjoy in their new home town will be an ideal way to help them get excited about the move. Additionally, involving your little ones in the moving process will help them to feel empowered, reminding them that the big move is something done with and for them, not to them.

Age-permitting, your little one might help with packing and boxing up the household belongings. This is a great opportunity to share memories and create new ones, even as you look ahead to all that will come in the new homeland. As you and your little ones prepare to say goodbye to the old house, make it special. Consider burying a time capsule or taking a few mementos from the old house. Take the time to say goodbye to the house and the neighborhood so that your little one will have the comfort of closing one door before opening another.

The Takeaway

The expat life is not for the faint of heart. But if you know what to expect and plan ahead, making a life abroad can be one of the greatest adventures you and your family will ever have.