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In case you haven’t been following my story, in 2016, I quit my job so I could move abroad to Switzerland. I have been living here for nearly 2 years already! And I will be living here for another 5 more years if all goes as planned (I signed up to do a PhD)!
You have no idea how many times I get questioned about why I decided to move abroad. More often than not, people come to me for advice on how to quit their jobs and prepare for a life abroad. I love answering these types of questions! That’s why today, I have dedicated a post to the things you absolutely must do before you relocate!
1. Choose a destination
There are many reasons to choose a destination. Maybe you want to learn a new language, or maybe you want to live on another continent and discover a new culture. Make a list of destinations that have been on your mind and then narrow them down. If you’re out of ideas, check out this list of the top destinations for expats.
I would recommend speaking to people you know who have visited and/or even lived in the countries that you’re interested in moving to. Ask them how the life is there. Do some research online (through Facebook groups, expat forums, blogs, etc.)
For me, I chose Switzerland because I visited the country in 2014 and fell in love. It truly was love at first sight. And I met so many amazing Swiss people who kept telling me to come back! And so I did!
2. Visit destination/research everything you can about destination
I would advise visiting the country before moving there to see if you can really picture yourself living there. As I have already said, I visited Switzerland twice in 2014 and I immediately fell in love. I knew that I could picture myself living there some day.
I used to want to move to Hong Kong or Japan but after visiting these countries and realizing that I really couldn’t stand the humidity and congestion, I decided against it. That’s why I always advise to check out the place before you get there to set expectations. You don’t want to have any unpleasant surprises!
Of course, not everyone has the time or money to visit a destination before deciding to move there. If you can’t, then I highly suggest researching as much as possible about the destination (via Facebook groups, expat forums, blogs, etc.)
3. Research visa requirements and apply
Research the type of paperwork that needs to be done to get you the appropriate visa for your desired country.
Apply as early as possible! You don’t want to delay your trip just because of immigration issues.
I applied for my visa 5 months in advance and I only got my visa approval a month before leaving Canada. That means I spent 4 months waiting for the visa! So don’t wait, start applying as soon as possible and be realistic about timelines!
There are several types of visas available to you:
Working holiday visa
The easiest visa to get if you’re eligible would be a working holiday visa.
I would say the second easiest option would be to apply for a student visa, but then you would actually have to enrol in a course (and pass that course). Some countries require that you study for a minimum required amount of hours per week. Make sure you read up on the visa requirements before you start applying to universities.
The nice part about studying abroad, though, is that in some countries you will also be allowed to work part-time while you study. That’s what I did and definitely helped to pay the bills.
Another major advantage of studying abroad is that some countries (i.e. Germany, Finland, France) offer free or very low tuition fees. So, in a sense, you would be getting paid to study abroad (as compared to back home)!
For example, I am doing a Master in Management and the annual tuition is about $1,000. I actually don’t have to pay more than $160 a year because I won a special scholarship. What’s more, the same degree would have costed me upwards of $80,000-100,000 if I were to do it in the US or Canada. Studying in Switzerland was a no brainer for me.
Not sure where to study? You can check out this list of universities that offer low tuition fees.
Lastly, getting a work visa would be the toughest, as some countries (such as Switzerland) have strict quotas or require you to have a job before entering the country. However, if you are highly skilled and hustle hard, then you should be able to get a job.
4. Research living costs and start saving money
I would recommend you research the cost of living in the country you plan to move to. A great site that I used is Numbeo, which also allows you compare the cost of living between two countries.
I’d recommend to go with at least 3-6 months worth of savings to get you through the rough parts of settling in and not finding a job immediately. The more money you have, the better.
Keep in mind, there will always be unexpected costs that add up.
When I first moved to Switzerland, I expected a monthly spending of around $1,600. However, I ended up having to pay a lot more for unexpected costs – such as costs to issue a living permit and transportation costs, furniture costs, etc. Those expenses easily added up to another additional $1,000.
I went to Switzerland with about $1,000 in cash. I had another ~$5,000 in my Canadian account for emergency funds. It took me 6 months before I found a part-time job, so I was glad that I had this emergency money to cover my monthly living expenses.
If you realize the cost of living is too much, then you’re either going to have to choose another destination or figure out a way to make money while you’re there (and fast)! You might even want to start applying to jobs before you leave your home country.
Also, don’t forget to start a budget! Read my start a budget guide here!
5. Book your flight
Whoohoo! Once all the administrative matters are out of the way and your trip is a guaranteed go, then it’s time to book your flight! I use Skyscanner or Google Flights to find the cheapest flights. Make sure you book a ticket with enough baggage allowance for you to bring all of the things you need!
6. Sell your things
You’re not going to be able to bring all your belongings with you. Start selling your things now. List them on Kijiji, Craigslist, Ebay, and local Facebook groups. This is an awesome way to make some extra money for your life abroad.
Use this time as an opportunity to get rid of all the junk that you’ll probably never use. I’m a huge fan of minimalism and I got rid of so much of my crap right before I made my move!
For things that you don’t want to sell, put them in storage (or keep them at a friend’s/relative’s).
Take it from someone who’s been living abroad for two years. The more stuff you keep, the more headaches you’ll get. I have to constantly worry about what I’m going to do with all my stuff that I still have sitting around in my parents’ place. The next time I go back to Canada, I am definitely going to try to sell more of my things!
7. Give notice to employer
If you are employed, make sure to give notice early enough so that you don’t leave your job with a bad image. Ensure that there is enough time for you to transfer all of your knowledge to your colleagues. I’d say the general rule is 2 weeks’ notice in Canada/US. But the more time you give, the better!
It’s important to keep good contact with your employer as you will likely have to ask them for a reference in your new country when you’re looking for a job. Also, in the case that things don’t work out and you want to return home, it doesn’t hurt to have good connections in your old company.
8. Notify your friends and family
Make sure you tell your friends and family early in advance so they have enough time to say their goodbyes. I told most of my closest friends in person because I wanted to see their reactions. Most of them were very happy for me, but sad inside because I would be gone for so long.
Imagine if you were to hear that your best friend or daughter or sister was moving abroad for a few months/years. Wouldn’t you want to hear it face-to-face as well?
9. Cancel your rental contract/sell your house
If you have a lease, notify your landlord and start trying to find a replacement for you if you’re breaking your lease.
If you own your house and don’t plan on keeping it, then put it on the market to sell. You should see a real estate agent to help you out with this matter.
10. Cancel your subscriptions, car payments, credit cards, bank cards, cell phone plan and other things you won’t need
Cancel anything that you won’t be needing in your new country. You might have to pay a fee for breaking a contract early.
11. Start packing
It’s time to start packing! Make sure you have a sturdy suitcase! The suitcase that I use is the Samsonite Winfield. It’s light, compact, sleek, and there’s a 10-year warranty on it. I can’t travel without this suitcase!
12. Say goodbye
This is probably the hardest thing to do, saying goodbye to all your friends and family. On the bright side, you can see them again. And they are just a phone call/Skype call/Facebook message away.
I organized a bunch of goodbye parties, one for each of my groups of friends (i.e. university friends, work friends, childhood friends). I found I didn’t have enough time to dedicate individually to each person, so I preferred to meet them in groups. And it made the goodbye parties that much more fun!
Other things to consider doing (not a must)
Learn the new language
If you’re moving to a country that doesn’t speak English, it is worthwhile to start learning the local language. I recommend using Duolingo (free).
I’ve also hired Skype tutors through Preply (get 30% off your first lesson through my link). I’ve had outstanding results! The tutors are super experienced and will offer you tailored classes to suit your learning needs! Also, the prices are pretty reasonable (I paid about $5/hour to learn Spanish).
Find a place to stay
I know some people who decide to live in a hotel/hostel or in an Airbnb when they first arrive. This is a good strategy because it gives you some time to explore the new city and to decide which area you’d like to live in. It’s also low risk because you don’t have to decide on a place to live in before you arrive. However, the down side to this strategy is that it might be really tough to find a place, so you could be spending weeks or even months living in temporary housing.
Another strategy is to find a place to live from your home country. However, be very careful as I have heard of a lot of people getting scammed by wiring money for a fake ad. Try to find a trustworthy local agency and work with them. This is the approach I took when I moved to Switzerland.
Buy travel and health insurance
I’d highly recommend buying travel and/or health insurance. You never know what could go wrong.
In Switzerland, it’s mandatory to have a health insurance policy. I waited until I arrived in Switzerland to buy one of their local plans targeted towards expats.
Sign up for a local bank account or credit card
Figuring out how you are going to pay for your expenses abroad is important. There are a few ways to go about it.
a. You can just continue using your bank account from back home. However, this option might get costly, especially if you’re paying foreign transaction fees with each purchase.
b. You can use cash to pay for everything. I know some people who just withdraw cash from the ATM and pay everything with that.
c. You can sign up with a local bank account and wire money from home. This is what I did. I signed up for a Swiss bank account and whenever I needed cash, I would send money from my Canadian account. I use TransferWise which offers the lowest fees I’ve seen. If you use my link you can get your first transfer free (up to 600 GBP)!
Stock up on things that you probably can’t get abroad
You will be surprised at how much you will miss the products from back home. I’d recommend stocking up on: food items, cosmetics, medication.
Congratulations! You have decided to move abroad. This list is the exact same process that I used for when I moved abroad 2 years ago. Good luck with your move!
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