How to expat?
So, you want to move abroad?
You're dreaming of retiring overseas?
You've had enough of this country's weather/cost of living/government [delete as appropriate].
You want to live somewhere else.
But how do you make it happen?
And where is the best place for expats, anyway?
In this episode I will take you through all kinds of ideas and delve in to the 'Where', 'Why', and most importantly, the 'HOW' to make your expat dream come true,
It's never too soon to make plans, but it may be too late. So, you need to get cracking and listen to find out what to do.
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Well, summer this year in the UK has been stereotypically wet, cold, and for most people, awful. I've had so many people reach out to me with a form of this comment, Oh, I so want to move abroad. I've had enough. And this is one of the most common questions I've always been asked. How can I be an expat? How can I move abroad? And regular posts in my group and various other places I hang out online are a variation of this. I've always wanted to move abroad. How do I make that happen? I plan to retire overseas. Other combinations include, where is the best place to live? Or, Where shall I move? Here's my wish list. I want better weather. By a beach. I want a safe country that's welcoming to foreigners. A country with no political unrest, a stable economy, easy access to excellent, cheap health care. Well, spoiler alert, that doesn't exist. Well, depending on where you're moving from, I suppose, as that will become clear later. And the thing is, if you know me, even the tiniest amount, you'll know that I'll be rolling my eyes so hard at these you may even be able to hear them.
The first time I was asked this, how to expat, many years ago, it did confuse me a bit. Surely the answer is to, well, just move abroad. Okay, some expected me to find them a visa to get them an instant job, but they were in the minority, thankfully. And no, I can't do that for you, sorry. Others wanted me to do all the work for them. Again, no. Frankly, if you're not prepared to put the work in yourself to make it happen, then ex-pat life isn't going to work for you. But over the what, eleven years since I've been working in the expatosphere, I think I've worked out what's going on. People just don't know how to start the process. Or deep down they actually have no intention of making it work so that they can blame all of life's ills on the fact that they're living in the wrong country. But let's be charitable here and consider that perhaps that hasn't occurred to them yet. Anyway, let's assume that not knowing where to start is all that it is. So in this episode, I'm going to talk through what you need to do to make your expat dream start to come true.
And it's okay to have a dream, but you also have to be proactive in order to make it happen. You can't manifest an expat life, you actually have to do the work. Dreams do come true, but not by luck, I'm afraid. There is no Fairy Godmother here to wave a magic wand and to transport you, lock, stock, and barrel to another country, and I no longer look good in a fairy Godmother tutu, I promise you. Also, take action today as you may find that there is a time limit to dreams, which you'll learn later on in this episode. It's never too soon to plan, but it can be too late. So you want to move abroad? Cool. Where do you want to go? Why do you want to go? How are you going to do it? First of all, I want to break down some of those comments that I mentioned, focusing first on the where shall I move? Firstly, I want to move abroad. Well, where the hell is abroad? Abroad is a big old place. The world is huge. And also, where are you starting from? Abroad is just too vague. Where do you want to move?
To me, in the UK, France, for example, is fairly close and wouldn't take too long to go back and forth between the two countries for family reasons. But if you're expatting from the US, France is far, and Australia and New Zealand are far from everywhere. And I quickly want to circle back to I want to retire abroad. Okay, fine. But do you actually have contacts in that country? Will you be leaving all of your friends, your social life behind, a network that you've built for decades. You may find it hard to settle. And then there's another major aspect to this particular plan. I've seen so many retirees return home after a few years, and my own in-laws did this too. Sometimes they move back because they can't find friends or fit in, but mainly, and this is especially true for British expats, the costs of health care as you get older increase dramatically. And the reason that this is especially true for British expats is because we have the NHS, which is free health care. Sometimes I lurk in groups for expats who are repatriating, and this is by far the most common reason for them returning to the UK in order to gain access to the NHS in their later years.
Okay, so you're getting the point now that I have a lot to say about this. The main one that really gets me irritated, for want of a better phrase, is where shall I live? Where is best to live? Well, I don't know. I don't know what you're like. Something that drives me nuts is all of those best places for expats to live articles and surveys. The best place to raise children, the best place for this, that, and the other. Where do they come from? There's so many of them. And what does best mean anyway? Okay, well, I know where they come from, obviously, because I get sent them a lot. But I have a massive problem with surveys and statistics. Because the old adage from Mark Twain: lies, damned lies, and statistics is related to this. In theory, statistics should settle arguments and help us make decisions. They ought to provide stable reference points that everybody can agree on, but they don't. They are manipulated figures. They are manipulated to provide a specific outcome dependent upon the company who requested them. Surveys are always waited in a specific direction, depending on whoever created or commissioned them and what results they want to see.
So the survey becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy based on the clever wording of those questions and also the variation of the sample group, the number and the demographic of people surveyed varies wildly in quality and quantity. This has an effect which can strongly change the outcome of the statistical data. Imagine the headline, 80 % of expats say living in the UK is brilliant, and of course, the flip side of that particular statistic headline is the opposite. 20 % of expats say living in the UK is awful. The headline will depend on who has commissioned a survey, skewing the positive or negative results. So if it was commissioned by somebody who didn't like expats in the UK, they would use the 20 % of expats say that living in the UK is awful. Do you see what I mean? And also the pool that's been used to create the results for this survey. If there is a pool of just 10 people, for example, two families, 80 % is just eight individuals. Therefore, two expats only don't think that living in the UK is brilliant. So this could be perhaps two families, each with a disgruntled teenager.
And yes, I'm being completely random and I'm not quite sure where I'm going with this. Let's continue and see what comes out in the wash. Okay, whereas a base group of 10,000 expats will give a completely different result. 8,000 individuals will love living in the UK, 2,000 individuals will hate it. Now 2,000 is a lot of people when you drill down to a real-life family, and that means that there are a lot of people who aren't enjoying their ex-pat life in the UK. And this is the difference between a number, aka quantitative evidence, and real people, real lives, called qualitative evidence. We are not a number. Not to mention the accuracy of all the data collected, that is dependent on whether or not the person answering the questions gives the truth. I actually had a conversation about this yesterday with somebody who wanted to know the number, the percentage of ex-pat partners who didn't enjoy their ex-pat life, and I could not give them that information. I've got information about how many ex-pat assignments failed in X year, but people aren't necessarily going to say, Well, I'm forcing the entire family to go home because I'm not happy.
They would probably say, My children aren't happy. It's not the right place for us, or something along those lines. They're not necessarily going to say what they're really feeling. For obvious reasons, it's just going to put a bomb in the whole family. And families are what we're looking at here. This is what I'm interested in. I'm not interested in statistics at all, even though I've just gone on for a load of time about statistics. And if I say that word statistics anymore, I shall probably explode. Anyway, I finished that rather laboured analogy, but hopefully you'll see what I'm trying to get out here when I say the best places to live for expat reports really aren't worth the paper they're written on. I did go into one very strange Facebook live back in COVID times about comparing expats' life to perfume, people asking, What's the best perfume? It's such a personal choice. It's such a... Well, that's it really. It's such a personal choice that you cannot say, You must buy this perfume. It is the best because that other person may not like it. It may turn weird on their skin. And the same is for countries.
They don't turn weird on their skin, but everybody is different. Everybody likes something different. That is why we are individuals, and that is why I will never recommend a place for you to live. What's best for one person isn't necessarily the best for another, even within the same family. A place one person loves may be another person's idea of hell on earth. What I like will bear no relation to what anybody else likes. Loads of you, I believe, live in the Middle East, and this is not somewhere I personally could or ever want to live. Apart from the heat, which would probably kill me, it's really not the life or place I feel comfortable in, and I do not want to live there. And yet I was thrilled to live in South Africa, which loads of people tried to dissuade me from doing due to the perceived dangers. But for me, it was Africa, baby. The wildlife, all that open space, lions and elephants and hippos and all the birds, all the plants. Absolutely fantastic country for me. And this is why I never recommend places to anyone. Okay, so I think you've got the point now that I don't recommend where you live.
So that's the where. I think you probably got to grips with the idea now that I will never tell you where you should live. I will come back to it in this section, but for now, I want to talk about the why. Why do you want to move abroad? The thinking behind your wish to live overseas is important to explore as it will have a bearing on how well your new life will work out for you. People move abroad for many reasons. Having a nice holiday somewhere for a couple of weeks is not a reason. Living abroad is not a holiday. Now, you're listening to me on this podcast, so I know that you're not really thinking that. Are you? And don't get me started on the Brits who move to Australia, having never even visited, and then proclaim it a disappointing country in every sense. Shock horror. They still have to work. The beach-life style that they assume that would just be there for them actually has to be fitted in around the work day. Horrors. The cost of living is actually sky high right now, as it is in many countries around the world, but always has been for Australia.
And it is often too far and too expensive for their families to pop over and visit them. Recently, I read something somewhere about where people would like to move and why. The answers were astounding and very and I hope they weren't real, but I'm not entirely sure. Let me read some out. And as far as I can tell, not one of these people had spent more than a vacation in those countries and some had never visited at all. The question was, where would you like to move? Italy, because I love the food and the beautiful people. Yeah, well, with you there. Beautiful country, wonderful food, truly beautiful people. Next one, Germany. Great green spaces, German efficiency, good public transport, good working conditions, good public health care. German efficiency does pop up quite a lot. It was efficient in some cases. It was also very early in the morning, mainly. I do remember builders start work at 6:30 in the morning and our neighbours, the removal people turned up at six o'clock in the morning. I don't do mornings. There's efficiency and then there's cruelty, really. No, I don't do mornings. A lot of people from the UK want to move to Canada for the scenery.
And life is a little bit more than scenery. Then people wanted to move to Greece for friendly people, delicious, healthy food, nice flat sea. Well, you only get the flat sea if you live by the Coast, but if you have to work, then you may not be living on the beach. This is a good one, especially from, as I say, mostly Britons answered this particular question. I want to move to Spain. I like the food, the weather, and almost everybody speaks English. I think that person had only ever been to tourist spots, but if you're to live overseas, you're going to learn the language, aren't you? You're not going to assume everybody speaks English. And here's one that justifies my little rant on Australia. I don't have anything personally against Australia. It's just the people who go over there thinking that all their worries will change when they land in the Antipities. I want to move to Australia for the beach lifestyle. I want to surf and wear shorts every day. Okay, you have to work to fund it. Unless you're a millionaire or you've won the lottery, we still have to do that thing called a job.
This one I'm going to end with just absolutely has me in stitches. I'll move to Finland. It looks like a beautiful country and I love Moomins. So they've never even been there because it looks like a beautiful country. Well, I have been there. It is a beautiful country. I did not see one single moomin. There are different reasons why people move overseas and they really boil down to two main reasons: a push reason or a pull reason. A push reason is getting away from a country. You're being pushed away from that country. A pull is a pull towards a certain country. A push may be a push away from danger, from war, from revolution, from famine, or it's a push away from a stagnant job market. To move away from a government you don't like, to move away from a crime-crime or a gun culture, perhaps. A push away from a high cost of living, which, as I said, is pretty global anyway. And okay, perhaps a push away from the rain. Almost likely for most of my expertise, it's a pull towards an easier life, a different life, a better career progression, a better life for your children, a better education, a lower cost of living.
It may be a safer country for you, and it may be a pull towards your family members who are already living there. You need to be clear on whether your new destination will actually provide a truly better life for you and your family, or if you will be taking all your troubles with you. Sometimes people look to escape their current life and start over somewhere new, which is fine, depending on what you think you're escaping from. Moving overseas is not a magic cure or wand. You will still be the same person in the same relationship. Your life will still be your life, just in a different location. Can you be really sure that you won't be taking all your problems with you? A reason for moving that I obviously hear a lot from Britons is for better weather, and it does drive me nuts, I suppose. Okay, fair enough. The British weather is legendary the world over as being constantly raining. And to be honest, this year, 2023, has certainly lived up to the stereotype, which honestly, I am loving because I'm a weirdo and I have a faulty thermostat due to medical reasons and I like the cold.
I'm quite happy with the wet as well, but I don't like heat at all. But the thing is, it is a pretty flimsy reason to move overseas. I mean, last summer was a heat wave all the way through, and it rains in other places too, and especially with global warming or global boiling, as I heard recently, the weather around the world is very peculiar, and I can't see it getting any better, frankly. But okay, you want to move because you want to go find some sunshine and some heat. Have you ever experienced constant searing daily temperatures of over 40 degrees every day while you go about your daily life? Not on holiday, not on the beach or by the pool, going to work may be in a suit, in an airconditioned building with tinted windows, so you don't actually see outside, having to do the school run in that heat or the shopping. I promise you, it's really not fun, but if that's what you want and you are prepared to work with it, and you're not going to complain about the weather there, because Britons would never do that, would they? I'm sorry. I'm in a really weird mood for this one.
But after you finish work at, say, 5:30, you probably only got a couple of hours of sunshine on the beach, in your shorts, in the surf before it gets dark and you have to go home. Okay, your weekends will be a bit better, but you're still doing the housework. You're still having to do school runs. You're still having to go to the dentist. You're still having to live life. It isn't a holiday. People do seem to think that expat life is a long holiday, and it really isn't. Perhaps you currently live in a hot country and want to move to Alaska. This is a real example that I've had a couple of times over the years. Apart from the cold, are you prepared for the dark mornings and evenings that you get when you reach the Northern Hemispheres? Some people find the nights drawing in cause something called seasonal affective disorder, a physical depression that hits as soon as it starts getting darker in the evenings. And of course, the further north you go, you may even have 24 hours of darkness. In Finland, with the Moomins, perhaps. Anyway, do some deep, thorough research on the country you wish to move to, to find out if it's really where you want to be.
Consider every part of your life now. What is missing? Why would being in another country make that bit better? Why do you think your life would be better in another country? I want you to really think hard about this question. Drill right down to your real reason for wanting this move, and then analyse the reality of this reason. You need to clarify to yourself exactly what your dream is about. Is it realistic? Just wanting to move abroad is not a reason, so think hard to avoid the same shit different place syndrome. You see, moving overseas is actually hard work. It can be overwhelming. It can be stressful. It puts a lot of strain on your family and your relationship. Usually, you hit a crap patch about six months in when the initial excitement is gone, but you don't quite have real friends yet, and you start getting a little bit homesick, a bit meh, is that it? Listen to my podcast episode on the calm down, as it's all about this feeling. It's quite normal, and if you recognise it for what it is and push on through, then expatting your life gets much easier.
Okay, question for you. Have you ever relocated within your own country? Have you ever experienced being in a totally new area, getting around, making new friends, starting a new job in new surroundings? Remember that this is within your own country without the added stress of a different language, a different culture, different bureaucracy, or having to transfer job qualifications. Cool, you've done that. Excellent. You're okay with all that. How about your family, your friends, your local support system? Do you rely on your family and friends a lot for your social life, perhaps for childcare? I think people who are very rooted to one place and who are very reliant on face-to-face contact with and support from extended family, parents, siblings, just your people, your tribe. These people often struggle to settle elsewhere. And are you prepared for the guilt? The guilt trips from others, the guilt that you may feel? If you've not heard of expat guilt, go and listen to my podcast episode as soon as possible. It is a big thing. Okay, you're fine with all that? Let's move on to my final part, which is the how. How do you move abroad? Is this a temporary or a permanent plan?
Are you thinking of doing the whole global nomad thing? Traveling around, working from the beach for a while? A working holiday for a year or so until your children ready for school, for example? Or are you going to move with work for a few years? Or do you want to actually emigrate, move overseas permanently? These are all utterly different experiences and require utterly different mindsets and plans. Right, so you know what you want to do. You want to be a digital nomad. You want to move overseas with your job. You want to move overseas permanently. Fine. So how do you get to move abroad? How do you choose your country? Because, yes, these two are completely linked. This is the key to moving overseas. Can I have a drum roll, please? Where can you get a visa for? That's it. That's the one key point that so many people ignore. They forget to consider it, they forget to research it. Google, it's simple. Search for a residence visa for the country you want to move to. That's it. Or Google, Digital nomad visa, and see where you can go. But residence visa for the country that you want to move to is all you need to do.
Actually, that's not all you need to do, because getting a visa to live in another country isn't always easy. Sorry. And this is not something I help with, by the way, in case you're getting ideas. It's a legal minefield for me with too many variables. This is something that you need to do. This is your life after all. To cover all the different aspects of getting a visa would require an episode of its own, actually, probably an entire series, and I'm not going to do that. It all depends on what your nationality is and where you want to move, what your work is, and many other aspects in between. So for now, suffice to say that this is a very important consideration. Getting the right type of visa is crucial for you to legally live and work in the country of your choice. There are lots of different types of visas, just to make it even more complicated, from temporary visitor, employment visas, or study visas, all of which give you a set amount of time to achieve your goal, which may be permanent residency. Sometimes they may be family or employer sponsored, and there is a huge broad spectrum of choice.
It's worth investing effort into being accurate first time to stay on the right side of international laws. Be aware too, that some countries make it more difficult than others to get a visa. I think the UK is very quickly heading into this particular area now, and the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are also prime examples. Start the process early and make sure you have plenty of time to jump through all the hoops. And this is not something that you can shortcut, skirt around, or ignore. So get going. Make it happen for you. The thing is, successful independent expats are those who are self-starters, those who put the work in, those who put the research in. I'm here to help you once you have your move planned and help you, I most certainly can. I can help you with planning, decision making, overwhelm. I can even research stuff on your behalf once you have a location and a date sorted. Oh, and you also need to look at cost of living, work permits, getting a job, tax implications, finding a school, finding a home. You get the idea. Of course, if you're moving for your job on an international job assignment, this is easier and most of the complex stuff will be sorted out for you.
But for an independent expat or immigrant, moving under your own steam, you really have to do the work and to do it soon because time is of the essence in some cases. As I said earlier, it's never too soon to start your research, but it can be too late. Australia, for example, has an age limit for certain visas, and I think it's quite young, but I forgot to check. Sorry. Well, not sorry. You do your own research. I did actually have somebody contact me because they had always planned to move to Australia, but had left it so long, had children and all sorts of things in the middle, dogs and such, and then realised that they were too late to apply for the visa. They were too old. So it's never too soon. Generally, you need to possess a very strong skill set and be qualified in your chosen field to get a work visa, a work permit, I should say. I'm confusing myself now. So do your research and create your own opportunities. If the expat lifestyle appeals to you, then the key to achieving it is learning how to create opportunities and to mitigate risks.
Once you've made your decision to do it, the rest is a matter of planning, research and preparing your family for the departure. The good news is that there are lots of resources to help you with all of this. Just get in touch. Many people want to move, but just don't know what their options are. So if this is you, start with the basics. Where do you want to go? And can you get a visa to move there? That's it. Then you just go from there. If you can't get a visa, change your country, change your circumstances. Basically, you research, you decide, you prepare, and then you do, you go. Many people move away from their home countries to become or immigrants, and you can too. Yes, it does require a fair amount of planning and a hell of a lot of research, but the world is pretty much your oyster. You just need to make it happen. Easy. Well, maybe not quite that easy, but it's certainly doable if you put your mind to it and if you go into expat life with your eyes wide open. Now, what I want you to do is if this is you, if I've been talking to you on this podcast, I want you to work out your why.
Why why you want to move overseas. Get out a notebook and write down some stuff. You need to know why you want to move abroad or why you want to move to that particular country and see how those reasons align with your values and your needs. None of us have the exact same life situations, the same values, the same outlook, the same anything, which is why you need to do this work and why you need to do the research. There may be a whole heap of different reasons why you want to move abroad, and that's fine. Just make sure they're realistic. To succeed in expat life, you need to take one of the biggest leaps of faith you've ever taken in your life. Ask yourself all the questions. Is this what you really want to do? Are you running away from something that will actually follow you? Are your family on board? What will moving overseas give you? What would you like it to change in your life? Knowing your motivations for moving overseas before you actually move is what will help you make it work. Expat life can be a great experience, but it's not the easiest thing to do, so it's important to know why you're doing it.
Is the grass really greener? Perhaps the grass is greener because it's fake? Perhaps it's greener because you're not watering the grass where you are. Or another I saw recently, perhaps the grass is greener because you're not there fucking it all up. Basically, to me, this just means that you will not magically become another person when you move to a different country. You'll still be you with all the hang-ups and the problems that you already have. Sorry, I'm not saying you do have hang-ups and problems, but a lot of people or couples that I've spoken to over the years do think that moving overseas is the magic you're all want? And it never is. And they end up skipping all over the world trying to find this mythical Narnia. So is a grass greener? No, it's just different grass. And that is the whole point to most of us. It's different. So you have to make this happen if it's something that you want. Too many times I get people saying, Oh, I'd love to live abroad, but when I ask what they're doing about it, they're actually not doing anything. Do keep in mind that it's never too soon to look, but it can become too late.
Get your expat life off to a great start. If you're currently rethinking and re-assessing your life and thinking of moving overseas for a better lifestyle for your children and you. I can help you, but only once you have got your plans in place.
You know where you can go visa-wise. As I said before, and I have to keep saying it because I constantly get messages, I can't help you with a visa for legal reasons. This is something that you need to sort out yourself.
Making decisions of this magnitude can be overwhelming, especially if your decision making affects other people, like your children. Being properly prepared for expat life means that you will settle more quickly into your new life.
I can help you work through your decision making process. I can say yes or no I would recommend moving overseas with your children at this age, or I would not recommend moving when they're that age. I can talk through your options, and I can talk through how to make your life easier for you. I can even do research for you, such as working through which schools would be for your children. So if you need advice and help from someone who has been there and done that many times, I'm right here.
Just an hour of chatting with me will help you gain the reassurance and clarity you need to make a well-judged plan of action. Book a consultancy call with me and I'll give you personalised guidance on your next steps. I can help you put an action plan into place that works for your family's specific needs to help you move confidently towards your new life abroad. I am dedicated to helping you build the foundation for a happy and successful expat life.
Details are in the show notes or just reach out to me wherever you can find me. I'm all over the internet.
Let's get your expat show on the road. Let's make this the last damp, soggy summer you spend in the UK or wherever you are in the world. I'm here for you.