10 Things To Consider Before Moving Abroad
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Over eight years ago, I packed up my things and moved to Nicaragua. It would be my second attempt at living abroad. (I count Hawaii, if you’ve been you know why.)
This would be the first time, however, that I would be speaking a different language, and dealing with an entirely different set of social norms.
Before I moved there were a few things I needed to know. So I snatched up every book, blog post I could find and contacted anyone I had met, even once, that had lived or currently lived in Nicaragua for help.
Here is the bare minimum of things you should know before making the leap.
10 things to consider before you move abroad
- Cost of Living
- Learning the Language – moving to an English speaking country means paying more to stay there.
- Transportation and what in the world is a chicken bus?
- What not to eat?
- Your biggest concern may not be the food but the mosquitos.
- Your cultural norms are abnormal.
- Are you going to wait until your kids are older? Is it worth bringing them while they’re still young?
- Public schools and hospitals may not be what you’re used to.
- Grocery stores versus La Mercado
- Where is your money coming from?
DO YOUR RESEARCH
Researching your country can be done fairly easily online by looking up the location and learning how much it costs for the locals to live there. However, if you don’t plan on washing your clothes by hand, or using an outhouse you might want to check in with the local expat community. They’ll have lots of information about the cost of living, bringing your kids, and retirement living.
For example, here are a few places you can do some of your initial research:
The one thing you’ll have the most trouble with and the most anxiety about is usually the language. You don’t have to be fluent in the country’s language to move there. Let me say that again.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE FLUENT.
There are some things that are necessary and other things that aren’t going to make or break your trip. I say that because most people who are thinking of moving abroad are older and that high school language credit was a long time ago. Don’t let it stop you. You’ll learn what you need to before you get there and everything else you’ll learn there.
Another reason not to stress is that no matter the language they’ll have their own way of saying some things that can’t be learned online or in a book. For you, practical language learning will give you the boost you need and the rest will happen in your new place.
In many countries, the mode of public transportation is a way of life and isn’t difficult to learn. The concept of riding in an old school bus may seem strange but it’s quite common. Get on and watch your knees. The ride can be a little tight when the seats are made for children.
DON’T DRINK THE WATER!
You’ve heard that before but I bet you never thought about how it would affect what you eat and what you eat with.
That wet plate and fork at your restaurant weren’t washed with purified water. Make sure it is completely dry before using it. The vegetables that they promise you were cleaned before they put it on your plate were washed with water from the sink. The contaminants that you’re trying to avoid will be living and be thriving right on top of your hamburger in that slice of tomato and lettuce you like with your cheeseburger.
These are the things that will get you every time. I know you want to be healthy but now is not the time to avoid canned and bottled beverages. They are the only ones made with purified water. Is it warm? Well, suck it up friend, if you choose ice and it is not uniform like the ice found in bags at the store then you’ve just sucked down a bunch of parasites with your drink.
Your chances of dying from eating the meat are less than catching a disease from a mosquito bite. Especially when you’re in a warm, humid, country where the people have to keep standing water for cooking and bathing because the water piping system is too old to be reliable and the country is rationing water all over.
Mosquitos carry everything from malaria to dengue and nothing they bring you tickles so wear repellent. Yeah, deet can slowly poison you but its a small risk compared to the certainty of getting sick with something that attacks your joints, skin, circulatory system, and nervous systems.
YOUR CULTURAL NORMS ARE ABNORMAL!
Living in Nicaragua, it wasn’t uncommon to be told daily:
You should hurry up and have children. (This is the advice whether or not you’re married).
You should eat rice and beans every day. (It is the local diet of the poor and rich alike).
You shouldn’t shower at night you might die.
You shouldn’t eat pineapples at night…again for fear of death.
The reason you get sick isn’t because of the water it’s because you don’t cook at home and shower at night.
You’ll get used to the water, you just have to take some in every day.
Only weirdos live alone and away from their families.
You must be rich if you can afford to travel outside of the country of your birth.
If you have a lot of mosquitos in your house you should mix gasoline with water and mop with that.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but I think you get the point. What may seem perfectly normal to you, is looked at with derision and concern from your well-meaning local friends and neighbors. Don’t take it to heart or become offended. They are passing on the knowledge that they learned from their parents and grandparents for generations. Just roll with it and try to smile while you’re shaking your head.
GROCERY STORES VS. MERCADOS
The grocery stores abroad have a very North American feel and make one feel less homesick, especially when they sell your favorite brand of peanut butter. Something that the locals don’t even eat.
However, I implore you to consider doing most of your shopping at the local market. In Nicaragua, this was El Mercado. Every city big and small has one. It is the place to get fresh fruits and vegetables for next to nothing.
There are packaged goods too but nothing beats the fresh produce. The biggest difference between the market and the grocery store is that you can haggle for prices. If you’re not comfortable with this don’t worry, I wasn’t either at first. I was raised in Minnesota where the price is the price listed and you politely paid what was asked. In other countries, the price listed or spoken is just a starting point.
If you’re new to negotiating a price for a product go with a local and learn how they do it. They’re not offended when you ask for another price so don’t feel guilty asking. They’re not ashamed to charge you double or even four times the price they give to locals.
Public schools and public hospitals aren’t what they are in more affluent countries. Keep in mind that they get very little money and there’s a reason why people would prefer to pay for a private school education for their children versus a public school. The same is true for the hospitals.
In Nicaragua it wasn’t uncommon to see, stray cats and dogs roaming around in the open areas of the half indoor/outdoor walls of the public hospital. If you’re unsure ask the local expats where they go. You might be surprised. You may be able to pay a small fee for medical insurance and go to the nearest private hospital.
WHAT ABOUT WORK?
If you’re not retired, or want to quit the day job and move abroad you’re going to need some money saved up before you move. But instead of depending on that money I recommend moving with a virtual job. You’ll have a steady income that is independent of your savings. That way you’ll have an emergency and relocation fund, should you need to return home in a hurry. What kind of job should you get? There are a number of places to start:
Upwork (a variety of online vocations).
Fivver (Jobs that start at $5 and go up depending on the project).
English First (Teaching English to adults worldwide)
Tutor ABC (Teaching English to children in China)
Want to create a job you can do from home? Keep following us and I’ll share some ideas in a future post.
My experience was a unique and special one. I’ll fill you in on a little secret. Living abroad is not as romantic as Instagram and travel bloggers make it appear. Stick with mom and I while we break down some of the common misconceptions as well as, what kind of mindset it takes to live away from the lower forty-eight.
Want to live abroad but not sure where to start? Please put your questions below.