Advice Europe Guides

From Traveler to Expat: Making the Transition to Live Abroad

2 months in Thailand – check.
4 months studying abroad in Spain – check.
Volunteering in Costa Rica – check.
Cultural exchange program in Morocco – check.
Moving to France permanently – let’s do it.

I’ve done my fair share of traveling, but I always wanted a little bit more. I wanted to live abroad for a long time. I wanted to miss the United States. I wanted to be in a place where just getting around on a daily basis is a new and exciting challenge. Small travel stints just weren’t going to cut it anymore. So, I moved to the French Alps.

If only it were that simple! If you’ve had the same feelings and want to make the transition to living abroad more permanently here are a few key things to keep in mind when you make the jump.

Research the visa requirements.
This is the most complicated challenge of moving abroad, and it’s important not to let it frustrate you. These complicated systems are what deter people from moving to a new country – but don’t let it stop you! If you want it badly enough, visas are just minor inconveniences.

Do your research well in advance. Each country has different requirements for different nationalities with processing times varying from a few days to a few months. You may be able to get a work visa through your employer. Some countries offer 1-year visas to work without having a job lined up beforehand. There are different types of family visas as well. Find out what will work best for your situation, which may also determine where you choose to go.

Look for work you can do in that country.
This is closely tied to your visa requirements in most situations. Teaching English is a go-to. Does your current company have international offices or support working remotely? Working for travel companies is another great place to start. Do you have language skills that will help you get a job in certain countries? Figure this out well in advance, as landing a job can take time.

Tackle the language.
It is a blessing and a curse to be a native English speaker. The fact that it is an international language makes it easy for us to get around in foreign countries but we are never forced to learn other languages.

If you move somewhere where you have little or no knowledge of the language, do a bit of practice on your own. There are great free language learning tools such as Duolingo (a favorite of mine) that can help get you started. Luckily you are in the best learning environment where you will be able to practice in your every day life. The local language will help you integrate into the culture and community but even if you can only manage a few basic phrases, the locals will appreciate your effort.

Build a community.
It can be hard to integrate into the community in a foreign country, but it is important to find people in the area you can lean on and learn from. I am lucky to be surrounded by a large expat community that has helped me feel more comfortable and also taught me about some of the local laws and challenges that expats face here in the Alps. They will be your home away from home and it is important to find your place in your new country.

Know you will get homesick.
Although I have had spurts of homesickness while traveling, I now experience a different type of yearning for home. I know that my homesickness will not be quenched in a month or so, but rather at an undetermined time in the future. Sometimes it’s just a movie or a song that can give me a yearning for the good ol’ US of A. You will be homesick at times, and you just have to let it pass. Stay connected with family and friends from home certainly, but the best cure is living in the moment and finding those new connections and comforts in your new country.

Be open-minded and enjoy it!
I am not going to live in France forever, so I try and soak up every aspect of it while I can. While living abroad you have a home and a routine – it’s easy to fall into the same habits you would in your own country. Work still gets tiring, household chores still pile up and you always want a little bit more. There will be times when it is much more challenging than being somewhere familiar, and you will have rough days. Be sure to have a reality check every once in a while and remind yourself YOU’RE LIVING ABROAD! Take the weekends to explore the area around you and embrace the little things. And on that note I think I’ll go grab a baguette from the bakery and maybe a bottle of wine for later…


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1 Comment

  • Reply Bridget Bell April 7, 2015 at 10:29 pm

    This is such a daunting task and you seem to have handled it pretty well! I hope you’re having the best time.

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