ABROAD: the basics

Where to start? After two years in Australia, some of the challenges I faced in the early days are only distant memories (like the corners of my mind…) and others still haunt me to this day. But if we start at the beginning, it is really before the plane touched down.

Let us make no bones about it, Australia is a lovely place to live. According to the Mercer Quality of Living Survey, Australian’s six largest cities are among the top 36 in the world to live in, ranking higher than London, New York, Tokyo and Milan. And I suspect I am right when I say that others looking to relocate (maybe you?) are also likely to want to go somewhere great. (Not that I do not believe Libya has its charms, but I suspect it is not high on most individuals’ relocation itineraries at the moment.)

With Australia offering a fantastic quality of life, beautiful weather and more, one question I often get is, ‘how did you get a visa’? (While common, this is not so common a question as ‘so, are you here for good’, but that is a story for another day.)

Now, for me, the story is a bit complicated (or simple, depending upon how you look at it), as I had worked for my (global) company for nearly six years when I decided to relocate. Additionally my long-term boyfriend/partner/de facto/fiance whom I relocated with, and later married, is an Australian citizen. These factors combined meant I had options and they allowed me to make a difficult proposition relatively easy. Others may not be so lucky, as I often hear stories of friends and acquaintances who have to fly back and forth as visas expire, pay large legal fees, and wait in insane immigration queues. The horror stories are endless.

It is hard to give sweeping advice that applies to varied situations, countries and more. But based on my experience, and what I have learned since, here is the most basic of advice that I can provide:

  1. Decide where you would like to go.
    In the age of the World Wide Web, there is a ridiculous amount of information – and misinformation – to be had. By deciding where you hope to end up, you can cut through the clutter and narrow in on the pieces of information that will be most useful to you.
  2. Examine your current situation and your expectations.
    Once you have a vague notion of where you might like to land (or, even better, a city, airport and GPS coordinates), you can start to think about how you are placed to make it happen. Ever the list-maker, I would recommend drawing up a table of what you have to offer said country, what connections you already have in place, and any ideas you hold about what you are or are not willing to do to make it a reality (teaching English to five-year-olds, slinging drinks at a pub, quickie marriage to a citizen). Try sketching out a mind map of the details, with your future home (FH) as the focal point, and the details flowing out from there.
  3. Begin researching your options and your next steps.
    Once you know where you want to go, and what options you may or may not within your immediate reach, you can start to look at what other avenues are out there. Talk to friends, friends of friends, strangers on the street with funny accents who may have been through the same process themselves. Visit expat forums (such as expatforum.comexpatexchange.com, missmoveabroad.com) and, even more importantly, specialised websites; including actual, honest-to-goodness government sites that explain (however poorly) the legal requirements for entry. Familiarise yourself with the current events, political landscape and hot topics in your FH by reading their top news publications on a regular basis. Use this information as you build a network of people ‘in country’ – such as recruiters, other emigrants, etc – who can help you determine what steps you need to take to not only get in, but to ease your transition and be a happy, healthy, wealthy and wise contributing member of society once you get there. Things to think about include: language barriers (Rosetta Stone, anyone?), cost of living, modes of transportation (keep left!), and cultural  and social norms and customs.
  4. Make it happen.
    Set yourself a schedule with a deadline and mini-milestones along the way to measure your progress, and remember not to get discouraged if things do not go perfectly according to plan. For the majority of individuals, moving abroad will be an intricate and sometimes exhausting process and the details are never completely within your control. That said, take charge as much as possible and drive the process to make your expat dream come true.
  5. Follow protocol.
    Last but not least, I am more than a list-maker, I am a rule-follower. So I cannot stress enough that you should play by the rules. Meaning that, at least in my book, ‘quickie marriage to a citizen’ is nothing more than a joke. And that, my friends, is why I am an adventurer only ‘within reason’.

Again, this only touches on the planning process and does not even begin to delve into the details of what you do after the move. That is certainly to come in later posts, but for now, I would love to hear from other individuals who have made a move and want to share their experiences, knowledge or resources as well. Please comment on this post if you have some wisdom you want to pass along, or if you have a question related to the topic.