Thinking about moving to another country alone? Keep reading for advice from female expats who have made their dreams of living abroad a reality.
When I was first trying to figure out how to move to another country and start over, there was no one in my immediate circle I could turn to for advice.
Google searches revealed a few resources but not as much as or exactly what I’d hoped.
Even five years ago, the internet was a much smaller place. There was less coverage of female expats living abroad and, according to this Forbes piece, challenging what it means to be American.
Furthermore, I was also a lot more headstrong back then and told myself I could figure out moving abroad on my own.
And, I did…sort of.
My dad used to say that the smartest people are the ones who can learn from other people’s experiences and avoid their mistakes without having to live through them firsthand.
If you’re in the process of navigating how to move abroad, you’ve come to the right place. Whether you’re a digital nomad considering Mexico, student preparing to study abroad, family looking for a new adventure or retiree ready to make the leap, this post is chockfull of helpful advice.
After reading this post, you will have the best expat tips from women who have done or are still doing the damn thing.
You will know:
- What to include on (and leave off) your packing list
- Important logistical details to take care of before leaving home
- Practical advice for making friends
- Essential questions to ask yourself before moving abroad
- & so much more
This post contains the newbie expat advice I wish someone would have shared with me before I moved abroad to be an au pair in Sept. 2014.
How to Move to Another Country and Start Over
Each section is from a different expat blogger that, thanks to Instagram, I am fortunate to call a friend.
- Janine DeVault – Janine in the World
- Kim Rodrigues – KRod Collective
- Courtney Vondran – Courtney the Explorer
- Anna Maximovitch – Alive with Anna
- Alexandra Furbee – Candid Alexandra
- Emily Hughes – Loololo
Their advice is thoughtful, inspiring and exactly what first-time expats need to read.
Tend to Logistical Details Before Moving to Another Country
In 2017, I experienced a quarter-life crisis and decided I was ready to shake up my life.
I wanted to pursue my dream career as a writer and move to Mexico, a destination I had been in love with since a magical year abroad in 2010.
Three months (and 2 short recon trips) later I was moving into an apartment in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
While I don’t regret my hasty timeline, I will admit that there were a few logistical details of expat life that I overlooked in my rush to start my new life.
Namely, creating a plan to receive my mail, tax documents and figuring out how to vote from abroad.
If you’re considering expat life, I urge you to plan for this before departure. It can be done from abroad, but it is SO much easier if you take care of it before you leave.
Renew any bank cards that will be expiring soon, as it may be challenging to have replacements sent to you abroad.
Find a digital nomad mail service and submit the paperwork enabling them to open and forward your mail to you.
Then, go through and contact all relevant businesses and organizations you may receive mail from and advise them of your address change.
Finally, make sure you’re clear on how to file and pay your taxes as well as how to vote from abroad.
These details are definitely tedious, but once you reach your destination you’ll be glad they’re sorted so you can begin settling into your new life knowing they’re all taken care of!
Janine DeVault – Janine in the World
Janine moved to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, in 2017. She now lives in Xalapa, Veracruz, with her partner and three rescue pets.
Janine’s favorite thing about living in Mexico is tasting the regional food specialties (especially salsas) found throughout the country.
Moving Overseas Comes with Tough Times, Push Through Them
So you’re thinking of moving abroad huh? Kudos to you!
Moving from NYC to Barcelona was one of the best things I could have ever done. But in the beginning, if I’m being real, there were times when my fairytale journey across the Atlantic seemed to be crashing down.
And while I still stand by it being one of the best things I could have done, before I could guzzle down all the sangria possible, there were three major things I wish I had known:
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Okay, so real talk…moving abroad sometimes requires a lot of paperwork. And the bureaucracy of it all can leave you with a splitting headache and broken dreams.
I’m being a bit dramatic here, but all that is to tell you that it’s okay to ask for help. Don’t try to do everything on your own.
- Join Facebook groups.
- Go on Reddit.
- Ask friends and family.
While many things may seem daunting and even impossible (like visa applications, bank forms or finding an apartment), just know there’s always a way or a loophole. And sometimes finding these things takes the help of others.
I found my favorite apartment in Barcelona by asking a random girl I met at a party. One minute I was introducing myself, the next I had a new roommate. And we are still very good friends all these years later.
Making friends is difficult, but you will get there
The truth is, the beginning of any new adventure is difficult.
The beginning of a new job. The first day of a new diet and exercise routine. Whatever it is, starting anything is always the hardest part.
Whether you’re searching for your expat network (which trust me, you will need) or looking for local friends, just know that it will take time.
However, with patience and endurance, you will make them.
It took me at least a year to make good friends in Barcelona. I finally did though and could not imagine my life without them.
But the months leading up to that were really lonely. But if you can remind yourself that it will take time and continue to push through, you could meet good friends for life.
Don’t take too many things with you
No matter what it is, nine times out of 10 you can find some version of it in your new country. You’ll thank me later for that one.
Good luck on your new journey!
Kim Rodrigues – KRod Collective
Kim Rodrigues is a cat-loving, peanut butter-eating travel blogger.
After 10 years in New York City and three years in Barcelona, Spain, she’s currently in the US with family.
She writes all about the ins and outs of solo female travel and life in Barcelona on her blog KRodcollective.com.
Expert Expat Tips: Put Yourself Out There & Find New Faves
I think my best tips would be to make friends, build community and mingle with locals.
The more you put yourself out there and meet other expats and locals, the more you will fall in love with your new home.
I usually meet people through Facebook groups relative to the city (for example: “Busan Expats”).
You can also meet locals and other expats through the Couchsurfing website or app. They host fun events for locals and travelers.
My other tip is to find all your favorite things within your new city.
For example, I like dancing and staying active.
When I lived in Cali, Colombia, I signed up for a local gym and private salsa classes. I also took some pole, twerk dancing and yoga classes where I met a lot of locals and expats.
I also love coffee and cute cafes. So, in Cali, I quickly found a cafe I loved and became a regular and got to know the staff.
Just because you are far from home doesn’t mean you can’t find all the things you love!
Courtney Vondran – Courtney the Explorer
In 2014, Courtney quit her 9-5 to travel and never went back.
She has lived in cities all over Latin America and most recently lived in Busan, South Korea. Her favorite cities were Antigua, Guatemala, and Cali, Colombia. Both have large expat communities and the friendliest locals!
Know That Living Abroad Requires Patience
For whatever reason, my entire life I had always been a little weirdly obsessed with Germany.
The second I stepped foot into the country in 2018, I knew I would call it my home.
If I could tell that past version of me anything, it would be to have patience, an open mind and a really good sense of humor (because anyone who goes to the ‘Ausländerbehörde’ more than once a year definitely needs it lol).
And, of course, that it would all be so worth it.
So far, I’ve managed to get three different visas here in Germany. Full disclaimer – It is 100% a learning process, but here’s some advice I’d give you if you also want to live in Germany:
Keep trying until you get it right! Things likely won’t go exactly as you plan, but that is completely normal and okay.
Don’t be afraid to reach out
Connect with people who have done what you want to do and ask questions. The most valuable information I gathered was from talking with other people, not Google!
So by all means, if you see yourself strolling down cobblestone streets under half-timbered homes with the smell of fresh bread and schnitzel in the air, my inbox is open to your questions!
Anna Maximovitch – Alive with Anna
Anna wishes you good luck in your expat endeavors and wants you to remember that you CAN and you WILL do it.
Bring a Piece of Home with You When You Move Abroad
So, I didn’t actually mean to become an expat. I originally moved to Ireland for what was meant to be a year but that’s turned into 6.
I only knew one other girl who moved to Europe so I reached out to her before moving and this advice was so random but it’s been some of the best and I always pass it on:
Bring your favorite of something (could be a certain makeup or snack) from home because you might not be able to get it where you’re moving. And that little bit of home will help more than you think.
Also, take friends where you can get them.
I didn’t want to hang out with only Americans when I moved here but that’s who I naturally just found through school clubs anyway. But they were from all different parts of America so it wasn’t like I only hung out with people also from the South.
The longer I’ve been here the more Irish friends I’ve made but know that it can be hard to make friends as an adult and especially in a different country.
Alexandra Furbee – Candid Alexandra
Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Alexandra grew up in Florida and did a short stint in Nashville before moving to Dublin.
Her favorite things about Ireland are the people and the relaxed culture.
Accept That Things Will Be Different in Another Country
What advice would I give to first-time expats? I would tell them to embrace the change and accept that things will be different than what you’re used to.
And instead of immediately labeling it as “weird” you should embrace it, dive into the local culture, and start to accept a new version of normalcy.
The supermarkets don’t have what you’re looking for? Focus on something they DO have that you’ve never seen before and find a way to cook with it!
I’d also recommend connecting with other expats in the area on Facebook and Instagram, but it’d be a shame for you to not put in the extra effort to make friends with the locals.
I found this to be much more difficult in Portugal than in Germany, but once I made the connections, they really stuck! Oh- and learning the language once you’re there (not necessarily before) is an absolute must.
Emily Hughes – Loololo
Emily is an American expat who left New York City to try expat life in a sleepy Portuguese surf town, before landing in Hamburg, Germany, where she found the perfect balance of hustle and hygge.
A former singer, she spent two years performing on cruise ships around the world, before finding her stride as a talent and influencer manager in the digital world.
More Posts About Expat Tips
- The Ultimate Moving Abroad Checklist
- Expat vs. Digital Nomad: Which Lifestyle is Right for You?
- The Truth About Living Abroad
Final Thoughts on How to Move Abroad and Start Over
Often, when people talk to me about moving abroad—either saying they wish they would have or that they’d like to someday—this F. Scott Fitzgerald quote comes to mind:
For what it’s worth: It’s never to late, or in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.F. Scott Fitzgerald
Moving abroad has the power to change your life, but simply boarding a plane won’t transform you into a different person.
You have to be willing to put in the work.
Before moving abroad, I recommend wannabe expats ask themselves a series of questions. These questions will help you determine what you want out of this experience and knowing your “why” for moving abroad is everything.
- Why do I want to move abroad?
- Is anything holding me back from adapting to another culture?
- Am I patient?
- What sacrifices am I willing to make (and not make)?
- Am I good at making new friends?
- What do I want to learn?
Get ready for bigger and better things
An important part of moving abroad and starting over is having the courage to leave behind habits and people that no longer support the new life you envision for yourself.
In the years since I first moved abroad in 2014, I have fallen out of touch with people I thought would be in my life forever.
If this is something you’re scared of, don’t be. It’s okay to grow up and grow apart.
Sometimes, the parting of ways is natural. Other times, it’s just something you know you have to do so you do it. It will be hard and it will hurt.
Either way, it’s necessary and for the best.
You are changing. You are building a life you’re proud of.
Some people will get that and cheer you on, but many won’t.
It doesn’t matter because, when you move abroad, you’re doing it for you.
My advice for first-time expats? Keep your “why” close, be willing to put in the work and have the courage to start all over again…wherever in the world that may be.
Alex Wittman – Backpacking Brunette
In 2014, Alex called the newspaper where she had accepted a post-graduation internship to say she was moving to Spain instead.
The editor told her she was ruining her life, but five years and countless adventures later, Alex begs to differ.
She currently lives in Querétaro, Mexico. When’s she’s not blogging, you can find her reading, watering her many plants or reaching for another taco.