For those in my life that I have known for years, I am the friend that lives abroad and is constantly traveling the world. In fact, I often get emails asking me where I am, which is often a very legitimate question, hence the name of my blog and nickname, Carmen Sandiego.
I sometimes receive facebook messages and emails from friends and acquaintances that are interested in moving abroad. They want to know how I did it and how they too can do it. While I think we all need to follow our own paths and create our own opportunities, I decided to write a few points that I usually try to share with those who contact me.
Just as a bit of background, I left the US in February 2008 to start a new adventure. Several months before my departure I was quite unhappy and really wanted to find a totally new experience. I had a great job as a sales representative for a pharmaceutical company, was making a lot of money and living a very fabulous life at the ripe old age of 23. My job afforded me the opportunity to buy a riverfront condo as a gift to myself for my 22nd birthday and holidays in NYC, Miami and even London, Paris and Madrid and, most importantly, a custom made walk-in closet with all the shoes a girl could want!
Life looked good from the outside, but I was unfulfilled.
After one REALLY bad day at work, I headed home and googled “jobs in japan.” Almost immediately, I saw options for teaching English and I applied. The rest is history.
I had an amazing year in Japan and while there, I promised myself that I wouldn’t live in the states for at least three years. It has now been nearly six years and I have lived in Japan, London, Benin and Rome and have traveled to about 35 or so countries in between.
Enough about me, here it goes!
1. Why do you want to move abroad?
A man that I was seeing at some point once asked me: “what are you chasing or what is it you’re running from?” Because I never took the time to be introspective about my lifestyle, I was shaken to the core by his question.
I think that it is very important to think about why you want to live abroad, as this will help guide your decisions. Are you just looking for an adventure? Do you want to learn another language? Do you want to save money on graduate school? Are you interested in working abroad because it will look good on your CV? Do you really dislike your home country and just want to escape? Are you looking for love? There are tons of reasons that people want to move abroad and every single one is just as valid as the next.
Once you know the answer to why you want to move abroad, it will make the answer to the next questions that much easier.
2. Where do you want to go?
The world is a very big place, with 206 sovereign nations (though some are disputed) and countless other islands, territories and overseas departments, i.e. Martinique. One way to choose a destination is to spin the globe (remember those?) and see where you land, another is to be guided by your answer to the above question.
If you are guided by language this will make your choice very easy. For example, if you want to speak French, you have 29 options; Arabic, 26 options. Let wikipedia help you!
If you are looking for a graduate programs, I, as a grad school snob, suggest you pick a highly ranked university according to global standings so that in the event you move back to your home country, employers will recognize the university and consider it an asset.
If you are guided by the idea of love, I suggest you hop on google images and start searching by country to determine the country/region where you can find the aesthetic that you are most attracted to. I personally am open to men that span the rainbow so I have the whole planet as a mating ground, but I must say, if you love beautiful black skin as much as I do you know exactly where your efforts should be focused.
As far as working abroad, this becomes a bit trickier as it depends on what your career goals are, what languages you speak, the industry that you want to work in and how much you are willing to work for. This requires a lot of research and patience.
3. How on earth do you obtain a long-term visa?
Depending on why you are moving abroad and to which country you are going, the visa process can either be easy or a long, drawn out pain in the butt.
Student visas are semi-easy depending on which country you are entering and your nationality. Most countries will require that you show enough money in your bank account to cover tuition and living expenses for the year.
Work visas are the most difficult to obtain. If you do not have a company processing your visa for you I find that it can be a very frustrating and expensive process in a number of different countries.
Your nationality determines which countries you can enter on 90 day tourist visas. It may be easiest to enter a country in this way and seek opportunities while on the ground then figure out what you need to do to stay long-term.
Working holiday visas are agreements between several countries that easily allows you to go to other countries and work for a set period of time. I am not that familiar with these as no one wants to grant Americans these sorts of visas but I know for my Canadian and Australian readers, this is an option.
4. Are you prepared for a few lonely days?
All that glitters…
One of my favorite Instagram quotes is “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel.” – Steve Furtick.
If you look at my Instagram you will think all I do is frolic the globe snapping pictures, drinking good wine and hanging out with friends.
This is a very big part of my life but I also spend some days alone in my house missing family and friends, missing weddings, missing birthdays, missing my niece and nephews’ first words, missing their childhoods, missing house parties, missing chatting with my mom in her living room, missing my friend’s PhD defense. It is not easy.
Living abroad is very very rewarding for a number of reasons, but life is not perfect. You need to be present where you are but that doesn’t help us from longing for the comfort of people who have known us for 20 years or laying in your sister’s bed to gossip.
I have made lifelong friendships in many of the places that I have lived but I do not want to paint a picture of an easy transition. The first couple of months in Japan were definitely the hardest, but it gets easier with time. Also, if you have the flexibility to spend holidays and summers in your home country you can get your fill of family and friends, but just know this is a challenge that will need to be conquered.
Photo courtesy of Alina C