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5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Moved Abroad

Are you, like an increasing number of Britons, actively contemplating a move abroad?  Many Brits are planning emigration and relocation to avoid the dire state of the nation’s economy, in a bid to find employment, to give their children a better start in life and/or to find a better quality of life…

You will have your own unique reasons for wanting to expatriate of course, and you’ll very likely have an idea of your ideal nation – but what if you could learn more about what your new life will really be like before you go?  How advantageous would it be in terms of your planning and how positive would it be in terms of your dreams?

From personal experience there are a whole heap of things which I wished I’d known before I committed to moving abroad – and ever since then I have been more than happy to share my experiences, insight and hindsight will all new arrivals if they ask me for advice.  However, rather than just taking my word for it, I thought it would be more advantageous if we asked Expatra readers to write to us on the subject of ‘things I wish I’d known before I moved abroad.’  In this way, you can hopefully glean some great insight into what your new life will be like…and maybe even avoid some hurdles and pitfalls.

We asked a small handful of the most regular contributors to Expatra surveys and vox pops to write in with the elements of expat life which they wish they’d known about in advance of their emigration – and subsequently in this article we explore these 5 paraphrased elements in more depth.

1)  ‘I wish I’d known how culturally different my new nation was going to be, and what deep impact that would have on many areas of my life’

Emma: Germany and Kym: Australia

Both Emma and Kym wrote to us about how they were so surprised that their adopted nations were so culturally removed from Britain – and how, had they known, they could perhaps have been prepared to embrace the changes rather than having to discover them and then revaluate their feelings towards their new nation.

If you move to a country in Europe which is geographically close to UK, or you move to an English speaking nation such as Australia or Canada for example, you could absolutely be forgiven for believing that culturally there are bound to be plenty of similarities between nationalities – but that is absolutely not the case!

If you move to Scotland from England or to Ireland from Wales you will find deep cultural differences!  So, when you move beyond the United Kingdom’s boundaries you can expect everything to change!  Accepting that many areas and elements of life will be different is really important if you want to settle in smoothly – you need to be as open to change and as willing to accept differences as possible.

One of the best things about living abroad is exploring new nations from the inside out – discovering cultural differences, amazing vistas, the population, their religion, belief systems and even new culinary delights.  All expats need to expect massive change to all areas of their life when they move abroad.

2)  ‘I had no idea that some things were going to be so difficult – from the simplest aspects of life such as paying bills, to registering with the local authorities!’

Keith: N. Cyprus and Wendy: Italy

This ties in well with the first point raised – i.e., everything abroad can be different!  That sounds like such an obvious statement to make, and yet when we move overseas we often expect the daily minutiae of life to carry on exactly as before.

This is a bit of a pipe dream though, because generally speaking red tape and bizarre bureaucracy get in the way – and it’s red tape and bizarre bureaucracy which are steeping in the cultural heritage of the nation (see above!) and so we really don’t expect it, but should be ready for it!

If you can remain as open as possible to change – and the fact that even the simplest of things can be made complex abroad by new processes and different priorities, you will survive unscathed and learn to embrace the fact that it takes half a day once a month to pay all your bills (according to Keith in North Cyprus!).

3)  ‘I was convinced I’d get used to the sunshine and the scenery eventually – but I’m happy to say I haven’t, I don’t take my new life for granted’

Jayne: South Africa

When I moved to the Med I was told right out by people back home that the joy of almost constant blue skies would wane and I’d be pining for elements of my old home life – fortunately that never happened!  And Jayne reemphasised that point when she wrote in…

As an expat you can still be astonished and overwhelmed by the positive aspects of your new life at any time.  Yes, you slot in to the day to day, and the familiarity of your new surroundings really do make your adopted nation home – but every once in a while you’ll still catch yourself staring at a sunset or being amazed at a beautiful vista.  This is another one of the best things about being an expat – i.e., discovering a whole new world and embracing it.

4)  ‘It took me a lot longer than expected to make proper friendships – and I still miss my old friends and my family’

Hannah: Spain

One of the hardest aspects of emigration is integration – it takes a long time to settle in completely, and to fully embrace your new nation as ‘home.’  Part of this slow integration process is re-establishing a support network, and making deep and lasting friendships.

You cannot really rush this part of expat life either – all you can do is take every opportunity to meet people, to socialise and then hopefully you will develop bonds and connections with new friends.

Those you have left behind, together with your family members will always be missed – but to alleviate this it’s really important to make time to host your friends and family and/or to visit them ‘back home.’

We all need friends and support in life – and when we move abroad we effectively cut ourselves off from our familiar and critical support network.  We have to rebuild that, and also nurture old friendships and family relationships as much as possible.  It can be hard work – but it is critical and ultimately rewarding as it allows for complete integration into your new nation and your new life.

5)  ‘Financially I am much better off abroad, but it has been hard to know how to make the most of my better fiscal fortune because there are no such things as ISAs where I live!’

Andy: Cyprus and Nev: Thailand

It is increasingly the case that Brits are moving abroad to positively benefit their financial position.  This may simply be because opportunities for employment in the UK are limited currently, or because people know that there are ways to save tax, earn more, spend less and enjoy greater financial freedom by moving abroad.

However, as a number of our expat readers highlighted, it can be so hard to make the very most of your improved financial position when you move abroad.  Traditional savings and investment paths – from ISAs to SIPPs for example – are redundant for most expats, and locally accessible financial options may be equally unappealing or unsuitable.

Whilst increasingly expats are becoming aware of their financial advantage and the fact that they can ‘go offshore’ with their wealth, actually finding the right way to do this can be very difficult indeed.  Local financial advisers can’t help, financial experts from back home aren’t correctly placed or even necessarily regulated to assist an expat – so where can they turn?

There are expert financial advisories out there which specialise in advising expats – i.e., they understand the unique tax situation an expatriate is in, they appreciate that their lifestyle may mean they are on the move regularly, they accept that their financial priorities and opportunities may differ and overall they have a great understanding of the best products and companies available in the offshore financial marketplace.

When choosing an adviser you can go by personal recommendation – but ultimately you have to look at where the advisory is registered and how they are regulated, you need to know the qualifications and skills level of your adviser and you need to understand that you must always do careful due diligence to ensure you’re trusting a qualified and regulated individual to assist you.

In Conclusion…

We have summarised and paraphrased the 5 most common aspects of expat life that our select handful of Expatra readers highlighted as the issues they wish they’d known about, (or known more about) before they moved abroad.  Hopefully this will give you some good insight into areas of your life you’ll perhaps need to think more carefully about before you relocate?

Moving abroad opens so many doors in terms of opportunities, but it’s not always a smooth path.  The more aware you are of the effort you will need to put in to making a complete success of your new life, the more likely you are to enjoy the process and indeed succeed in benefitting from a much better life abroad.

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