So, you think you want to be an expat? Well, before you pack your bags and book a one-way ticket to a new country, set aside some time for these six expat questions to ask yourself.
I moved abroad for the first time in September 2014. My last few weeks in the United States were a whirlwind of Spanish classes, beach days, Target runs and—of course— goodbyes.
Rookie expat mistake: I didn’t take time to mentally prepare myself for the journey ahead of me. I just boarded the plane and figured I’d sort everything out once I got to Madrid. Eh, handled that one like a true 22-year-old.
I now know how essential knowing your “why” is for a successful move abroad. For more about how to prepare for life in another country, check out this post with what to do before moving abroad.
The second time I moved abroad, in September 2015 (yep, back to Spain), I didn’t make the same mistake. In fact, I trained for a marathon sans music (no podcasts, audio books or running buddies either) in order to give myself enough time to really think about what I wanted the next chapter of my life to read like.
I took “Expat Life: Round Two” much more seriously. Not that the first time around was a failure. I just wanted to make sure I put myself in the best possible position to get all I could (and all I wanted) out of the experience.
All the visualizing, internal conversations and self-administered questionnaires were worth it. The summer before I moved back to Spain, I did some serious soul searching, and as a result, I was prepared for the challenges that come with moving abroad.
Right, you do know it’s going to be challenging?
Even my third time moving abroad (I’m in Mexico now!) hasn’t been all rainbows and quesadillas. But, experience has taught me the importance of mental preparation, so before moving to Querétaro, I—once again—spent time asking myself the essential expat questions.
To help set you up for a successful life abroad, here are six questions to ask yourself before becoming an expat.
Expat Questions To Ask #1: Why Do I Want To Move Abroad?
Before you do anything else, you need to figure out your why.
As with all these questions, be honest with yourself. Lying isn’t going to get you anywhere. Take a good, hard look in the mirror and ask yourself what your real motivations are for moving abroad.
If what you come up with is that you’re running away from something or trying to impress the people you went to high school with, chances are you’re not moving abroad for the right reasons.
Life abroad is still life. Even though you’ll be in a new country, you’re still going to have to deal with a lot of the same shit you did back home. A change of scenery won’t necessarily change you.
And, as for wanting people to think you’re cool: no. Just no. You need to be moving abroad for you and only you.
Expat Questions To Ask #2: Is Anything Preventing Me From Adapting To Another Culture?
From the bottom of my backpack, I believe the most important item on any traveler’s packing list is an open mind.
As a potential expat, you’re considering moving to a country where people look, think and act differently than you. Are you ready to embrace a new culture? Or, is there something holding you back?
Examine your beliefs. Try to get to the bottom of how and why they were formed. Understand your beliefs are, in most cases, a result of your environment. People from other environments might not feel the same way you do.
You don’t need to accept everything about your new country’s culture. No one is expecting you to assimilate 100 percent. But, overall, you’re more likely to have a successful and rewarding experience if you first set aside any preconceived notions or judgments.
Expat Questions To Ask #3: Am I Patient?
Do you like waiting in lines? DO YOU?! Okay, obviously, the answer is no. Only the most psychotic psychopath would enjoy waiting in line, and while I pray that’s not you, you should be okay with waiting in lines.
Being an expat requires a boatload of patience. In fact, every woman that offered expat tips in this post about how to move to another country and start over, said you need to be flexible if you want to live abroad.
Get ready to spend an inconceivable amount of time on visa appointments and apartment showings and WiFi installation and paying your electricity bill at the convenience (irony!) store because that’s just how people do things in other countries. I had no idea how much I took American efficiency for granted until I moved abroad.
My second year in Madrid I realized I’d quite possibly been living in Spain too long when, after an emotionally-trying morning at the Foreigner’s Office to renew our visas, I said to Taylor, “Wow, we were only there for three hours!”
If you get frustrated easily or expect other people to operate according to your schedule, being an expat is probably not for you. Lots of people are willing to help foreigners. No one is willing to help an angry foreigner.
Accept that time, as you understand it, is not a universal concept and even “English-speaking representatives” do not always speak perfect English. My friend, adventure isn’t the only thing waiting for you abroad. There will also be lines.
More Posts to Read Before Becoming an Expat
- Moving Abroad Checklist: Ultimate Guide for First-Time Expats
- Expat vs. Digital Nomad: Which Lifestyle is Best for You?
- 5 Things No One Tells You About Moving Abroad
Expat Questions To Ask #4: What Sacrifices Am I Willing To Make (And Not Make)?
Not to be dramatic, but if I hear one more person on House Hunters International complain about how small European kitchens are, I will die.
YES, EUROPEAN KITCHENS ARE VERY SMALL. That’s because European apartments are, often, very small. Were those awful people honestly expecting to find a McMansion in the center of Paris?!
There’s a lesson here. Before you move abroad, you need to figure out what you absolutely must have to make you happy and what you can deal with. I highly advise not choosing the small kitchen thing as the hill you’re willing to die on.
But, don’t feel like you need to forgo all creature comforts in the spirit of adventure. You’re moving abroad—not doing hard time.
Apartment hunting in Madrid was so competitive and stressed me out so much, I almost took a place I hated just to have somewhere to live. In the end though, I held out for a place I could see myself being happy in. It didn’t have a big kitchen (because I’m not a monster), but it was centrally-located and had tall windows facing a park.
Moving abroad will require you to make sacrifices, and to prevent yourself from making an emotional decision, consider how you’re going to handle said sacrifices before you’re faced with them.
Expat Questions To Ask #5: Am I Good At Making New Friends (And Keeping Up With Old Ones)?
I’ve talked before about the shared fantasy among basically all first-time expats that they’ll move to their new country and VOILÀ! They’ll have a zillion friends, a booming social life and never ever feel lonely. Ahhhh, if only things were so easy.
When you’re first starting out, you’re not going to know anyone in town (maybe in the entire country). Fortunately, there are lots of networking sites to help expats get plugged in. I’ve had success using Couchsurfing and Meetup. Another great place to meet people is expat groups.
Simply setting up a profile or attending a meeting isn’t going to be enough though. You need to put yourself out there. It might feel weird at first, but you’ll get better. Making friends is a skill, and while it might seem weird at first, it will become easier and feel more natural with practice.
Before you move abroad, you should also ask yourself how you’re going to keep up with friends back home. Different time zones and busy lives can make it tough, but thanks to technology, staying in touch is totally possible. Having a plan helps too. I’m trying to be better about setting up regular FaceTime sessions with family and friends. But, even a text or DM can be enough to let someone know you’re thinking of them.
Expat Questions To Ask #6: What Do I Want To Learn?
This final question circles back to your why. What do you want from this experience? Hopefully, to learn something.
The possibilities of what you can learn while living abroad are endless. Some things you’ll learn simply being there.
For most things, it’s best to have a plan. One example is learning a language. You can go ahead and forget everything you’ve heard about “picking up” another language. If you’re serious about learning a second language, invest the time, energy and money into a bit of formal education.
You May Also Like: How To Learn A Language Online With italki
Maybe the skill you’re working toward isn’t as tangible as learning a language. Perhaps you want to learn how to be independent. Whatever you want to learn, have a plan for how you’re going to achieve your goals. Preparation is the number one precursor to success.
You must believe that too, which is why you read to the very end of this very long post about expat questions to ask yourself before moving abroad.
Are you getting ready to move abroad? Leave your questions about expat life in the comments below! If you’re an expat yourself, what advice do you have for someone considering moving abroad?
Pssst…don’t forget to pin this post for later!
OMG! I can totally relate to the “Oh, its so small” episodes on HHI! I’m screaming at the TV saying “You’re in Spain”!!!!!! (or where ever) for gods sakes.
Anyway. great post. I’m going in about a year or so. Looking forward to it 🙂
Alex | Backpacking Brunette says
Hi Jade! Thanks for taking the time to read and leave a comment. I’m so glad SOMEONE can relate! Lol. Are you headed to Spain in a year? Where will you be living? Best of luck on your new adventure! Cheers, Alex
Alex Wittman recently posted…6 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Becoming An Expat
Susan Moackler says
I am so with you about HHI! I also yell at the TV. Small kitchens, small refrigerators, small bathrooms, etc. Hello, have you done any research about the country to which you’re moving?
Alex | Backpacking Brunette says
Ahhh I’m so glad you agree, Susan! Like seriously, even the tiniest bit of research (or common sense) would help HH people. But, even though they’re so so frustrating, I still watch haha. Thanks for reading and taking the time to leave a comment!
Susan Weir says
We were supposed to do a 6 month lease in Belize starting May 1, as a trial to see if we wanted to move there. We are still waiting, and will eventually get there, but in the meantime enjoy reading tips about our expat life-to-be. I find that we have asked ourselves most of these types of questions, so hoping we are honest enough that our experience will be relatively smooth. There will always be hiccups, I’m sure!
Alex | Backpacking Brunette says
There will always be hiccups, but if you go in knowing that, you will have a much easier time dealing with them. That’s why I always recommend that expats ask themselves these kinds of questions. Too many people think their life abroad will be all roses & are completely disheartened when the first challenge arises.
I am sorry to hear your plans are on hold, but it sounds like once it is safe for you to move to Belize, you will be ready 🙂 Best of luck with your move & thanks so much for reading!