So, you're thinking about making the big move! Congratulations, it's worth it. It takes some serious cojones to move abroad. It's something that so many have considered doing but never imagined that they could actually do it.
It's been over three years since I moved abroad to Grand Cayman, and I finally feel like I have a handle on how to be an expat!
Seware made the move a little over 4 years ago, and I followed in his trail soon after. Living in the Caribbean has been amazing, as I'm sure you can imagine. But it isn't all sunshine and tan lines. Moving abroad is both exhilarating and frightening. In most cases, you're moving to a country where you don't know any one, you're living in an unfamiliar territory, and you're unaccustomed to the culture and ways of life.
I will be the first to admit that I like where we are in life much more now than I did in the first year. I thought for certain that I wouldn't last this far away from our family and friends for more than a year or two. Looking back, this move was one of the best decisions we have ever made. So much so, that we have even considered doing it all over again in a different country or unfamiliar U.S. state, just to gain experiences we otherwise wouldn't back home. Talk about a change of heart!
I was hesitant to call this a “pros” and “cons” list because that suggests that there are an equal amount of negatives to moving abroad as there are positives. I named this the highs and lows, because there are in fact lows. However, all ‘lows' can be taken in stride as part of the experience!
And with that, I give you… The Move Abroad Highs
You will make so many friends from all over the world.
When you live abroad, you're given the opportunity to enter the deepest of melting pots. You learn about different cultures, you may pick up another language and you create connections with people that will last a lifetime. Being put in a new situation forces you to open up and get to know the people around you, rather than sticking to what you know like you did back home.
And it doesn't hurt to have a place to stay when you want to return!
Grand Cayman is very transient in that expats come and go like clockwork. Many of the friends you make when you arrive likely won't be there a couple of years later. This is because many come for a quick island experience, and others are here on contract work. Because of this, you will find that many of your peers are in the same boat as you, trying to make new friends and curious about every one else's story. The same can be said for many different countries. If you put yourself out there, you'd be surprised to find just how many people are new and experiencing a place for the first time. This makes for a lot of interesting conversations, as you find out what brought your new acquaintance to the area, and possibly make a new close friend.
You break through the glass of ridiculous assumptions and open your eyes to the reality that is your new country!
Living abroad is like seeing the world from an entirely different lens. Don't make a move to a new country wearing filters created by hearsay or what you read online… come to your own conclusions after you get there and experience it.
I cannot tell you how many friends and family members have said to me, “Cayman, huh? Are you hiding money?” Erm, what money? Wrong! Or, “must be nice to ‘work' at the beach all day, eh?” Because an entire country's population must get by in life by simply sitting in the sand with a mudslide in hand… all day, every day. Get real! I beg you, take what you read online or hear through the grapevine with a grain of salt. While there may be exceptions and some truth in every story, chances are your belligerent buddy who told you some absurd ‘fact' about wherever you're moving has NO idea what he is talking about.
You will appreciate the time with your friends and family that much more
Not that you don't, but, as the saying goes, “You don't know what you've got until it's gone.” Not that they're gone forever, obviously, but you catch my drift. This is especially pertinent if you are moving away from home. The time that you get to see your family over the holidays, and those long phone calls to mom and dad matter so much more when you are living in a foreign country. You find yourself checking your phone even more than you already do, and sending pointless messages about things that you may not have shared before you moved, just for a little bit of attention. The need for a connection increases tenfold, and that's not a bad thing.
It will make you want to explore the world even more
We've all got a little bit of a travel bug buried deep down inside of us, but living abroad brings it out in full force. Experiencing different cultures is so exciting and invigorating that you will thirst for more. It'll be hard to go back home because it simply won't be the same (no offense, mom and dad!). Your first days abroad knock down those invisible walls that stood between you and the rest of the world. From there, it's over. You won't be able to stop imagining what comes next!
You will gain a sense of independence that you never knew existed…
…no matter how much you identify with Kelly Clarkson's “Miss Independent.” Living abroad isn't like moving out of your parents house. It's an entirely different beast. Not only are you fully responsible for the basics, like food and laundry, but you're also responsible for creating a LIFE, essentially from scratch! Living abroad will not only fortify your independence but it will teach you how to leverage it for the rest of your life. After all, independence is not about living by yourself, but rather, for yourself.
Your new environment will force you to fend for yourself in pretty much all facets of life, from where you eat and sleep, to where you work and shop, to who you surround yourself with. You'll grow and evolve quickly, you'll face and resolve setbacks on your own, and you'll overcome obstacles you never even imagined facing. And in the end, you'll be a better person for it.
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You will feel invinsible
If you can successfully live abroad, what CAN'T you do? ‘Nuff said.
You will never regret it…
…and if you do, at least you tried. But I doubt you will. Living abroad, for however long, is an experience you will never forget. It took courage, enthusiasm and a taste for exploration. When you get older and your life circumstances require that you settle down, you will look back on the years that you decided to take a leap of faith and not feel an ounce of regret. Wouldn't you rather say you did than wish that you did? There are no rules. You give it a whirl for however long you want, and if it isn't for you, it isn't for you. But I still trust that you won't regret it.
You don't always find what you're looking for… but that's OK.
Hollywood has painted an unbelievably enticing picture of this dreamy far away land where you somehow have all the money in the world to travel, you live in the most charming villa, and you meet your Prince Charming by accidentally running into him in an idyllic street-side cafe. You've seen it; they make the whole experience look seamless. Fortunately for me, (cheesy alert) I came to Grand Cayman with my lover boy so I needn't worry about finding love abroad. But, it didn't all come easy. There are many highs and many lows with moving abroad, and it can take time to really find your comfort and happiness. You probably won't live in some stunning villa because they are expensive AF (more on that later). You also likely won't have the budget to make regular weekend getaways to other interesting cities and countries in your neck of the woods. BUT, you can make it work if you plan appropriately.
Actually getting there and settling in can be a complete and utter pain in the ass.
No, you can't just hop a plane with only your passport and your dreams and set up camp in whatever country you want. If you want to move abroad, you will have to apply for a visa or work permit (which is a legitimate nightmare), you may have to show proof of accommodations, you may have to set up a bank account in advance or within a certain period of time after moving, and you may even have to get tested for things like, oh, I don't know, HIV and STDs (yep, had to!). In short, it's really unrealistic to make some spur of the moment decision to just up and go.
Life goes on without you
OK, that sounds dramatic, but it's true. What, do you expect life back home to stop until you're good and ready to come back? No! One of the hardest parts about living in a different country is missing out on what is going on back home. Seeing photos of your whole family together for a holiday or a birthday, without you. Seeing all of your college friends get together for a reunion, without you. Parents moving out of your childhood home, friends having babies, marriages, deaths… you name it. I've experienced all but one. Life goes on. Sometimes you can make it back to be involved, and other times you simply can't. Trust me, it's hard. It's one of the things I struggle with most. But it's part of the experience, and part of what makes you the person you will grow to be from it.
Depending on your situation, finding the right housing can be a challenge.
If wherever you are going is as transient as Cayman, it may be hard to find your preferred housing, at least right away. If a killer apartment goes up for rent, you can guarantee it won't be listed by the next day. Kind of like New York City. Grab it while it's hot! Or, you'll find the home of your dreams in the best possible location, only to see a price tag that makes you wince. I regularly have those moments as I browse the local listings in search of our next humble abode.
My friend Emma of The Blonde Tonic just moved here, and she had a couple of apartments slip through her fingertips before she was finally able to land one that she and her husband liked enough. They lived out of a hotel in their first weeks before moving to an AirBnB. It ain't easy!
What can you do to prepare?
Save, save, and save some more:
I don't know where you're moving, but I do know that when I made my first handful of transactions in Grand Cayman, I was dumbfounded. You see, I knew that it was more expensive than most places in the U.S., and I knew that the currency here was stronger, but I didn't take the import tax into consideration. A $100 grocery shop in Massachusetts easily costs $200 here, and that's being generous. I have been here for over three years and I still feel sick when I see my final bill. I feel freakin' LOADED when I travel state-side!
That said, save up as much as you can in the months before your move. Give yourself a buffer for unanticipated expenses. In fact, I would even recommend saving double the amount you think you need, because you can never be too safe. If you don't use it, kudos to you.
Make sure your passport is up-to-date
This may seem like an obvious one but hear me out. If you're expiry date falls within the time period that you anticipate being abroad, I would recommend renewing it before you even move. This will save you the hassle of having to go to immigration to apply for a new one, because you do have to send out your current one before they will send you a replacement. This means that you will be without your passport for at least a handful of weeks, unless you expedite. If you are comfortable with being abroad without your passport for a period of time, that's a risk you must be willing to make. But if you can afford the time to take care of it before leaving, it will make your life easier.
Stock up on your meds, cosmetics and toiletries
This is particularly important if you have prescribed medications! While you may be planning on finding a doctor on your new turf, you should still go prepared with 6 months to a year's supply of your meds, if you can swing it. There is nothing worse than relying on a certain medication and running out before you have a chance to get a refill either back home, or in your new country. Avoid that situation by arriving over-prepared.
Chances are you won't have trouble finding the basic self-care products like deodorant, toothpaste and shampoo. But, if you are hooked on a specific brand, you'd better stock up before leaving. You are likely to either find brands you have never heard of, or brands that you may not normally buy. Most countries will carry large makeup brands that you can find at a drugstore, like Covergirl and Maybelline, but if you use higher-end products like Laura Mercier, Chanel and Urban Decay, you may have trouble finding them. If you do end up running into your favorite brands, lucky you! But it's better to be safe than sorry on your first go-around.
Most of the makeup and skincare products that I use are not carried in Grand Cayman, so I stock up whenever I travel back to the U.S. If I know I won't be back for a while, I may even double up. You never know when you'll run out!
Find out if you need vaccinations well before you're due to depart…
…because you could get sent back or seriously ill! Real talk. Do your due diligence and find out each and every shot you may need to get before arriving, especially if you are relocating to an African country. We recently visited Tanzania and had to take prescription pills to prevent Malaria, and got vaccinations for Hep A, Hep B, typhoid, tetanus, and diphtheria. Some required, others recommended.
Get rid of or store what you don't need
This is the perfect time to purge all of the crap you don't use or need! Go through all of your clothes – if you haven't worn it in a year, you never will. Donate it. I did a whole car load of purging before I moved and thought I did enough. Seware will laugh when he reads this, because I've currently got half of our guest room dresser stuffed with clothing I've worn at a maximum one time since I moved here. And yes, you remember correctly… it's been three years. Now, I will be stuck with either getting it back to the U.S. when we leave or donating it here in Cayman. Trust me, you don't need as much as you think.
So, where to?