Sunday, November 28, 2010

Why you'll say "no" to living abroad

Not a Bavarian Castle
Photo by Akbar Simonse
So your eccentric great-aunt Gertrude has invited you over for dinner and when you arrive, you find a mysterious stranger with her. She introduces him as "Count von Europe". After a long and pleasant conversation over food and drinks, the Count says "your aunt invited you over because I need someone to watch my Bavarian castle while I'm away for a year. I'll also pay you €50,000 a year and let you borrow the Bentley when you want to travel around Europe on your days off. When can you fly to Germany?"

Sadly, for many people I've spoken with, their "dream" of living abroad is little more than "Count von Europe." I see people on message boards saying things like "I want to move to Italy. Anybody got a job/marriage/house for me?" Honestly, it's not going to be that easy. However, you can do it if you plan things right and understand what's involved. When I talk to people about this, I sometimes use "Count von Europe" as a thought experiment, but the ending is a little different. He makes the same offer, but with a catch: you have to leave tomorrow.

First, we'll have a slight digression. Many years ago I used to sell cars (don't hate me for that. There are plenty of other things you can hate me for). One thing the management drilled into our heads over and over again was that 80% of people only agree to drive home in a car after being asked to buy five times. The number is probably bogus, but the concept holds true. That's because people have objections. "The price is too high." "I wanted red, not blue." "I'm just looking." My job as a salesperson was to understand and overcome all objections the customer had. If I could do that, they'd agree to buy the car, but it's harder than it sounds.

If you want to take up Count von Europe's offer, overcome your own objections. If you can do that, you're one step closer to moving to another country, so let's look at those objections.

I don't have a passport.

This one boggles my mind because I've been surprised at how many people say they want to live in another country but don't have a passport. If you're from the US, go here to apply for a passport. Otherwise, it's fairly easy to find out where to apply.

I'm locked into a long-term lease.

Then find a way to get out of that lease. When I was offered a job in another country in 2001 I had three months left on my lease. I went to the landlord and explained the problem. She was actually very gracious about it and let me end the lease early without penalty. It never hurts to ask!

Failing that, convert your lease to a monthly lease when it ends. Or have enough cash on hand to buy out the lease. Or when it ends, become someone's roommate.

But I own the property I live in!

Then sell it. Or rent it own and rent a room somewhere. Or find a property management company who will rent it out for you.

I have a wife/husband/partner/children, etc.

That's a tough one. Right now you have to decide what you want to do. If you have obligations to others who don't want to leave (I've been there and it's tough), then you're stuck. I can't/won't offer advice here other than to suggest taking them on a vacation to the target country. It's a lot easier to appreciate something if you know something about it.

I have a cat/dog/iguana.

You can still move overseas, but you have to make sure you conform to your target countries regulations for shipping your pet there. The "Transitions Abroad" Web site has a good article to help you understand the basics of moving a pet overseas.

Think about these objections and any others you may have. This is the starting point for being able to move overseas. If you find that you could say "yes" to Count von Europe, you've gotten enough of your life in order that you can make this happen. This is key to realizing the dream of moving abroad. I don't expect that you'll actually be able to leave at the drop of a hat, but if you can, it's much easier. Think how much cheaper and faster it is to move to a foreign country with a backpack as compared to an entire household of goods.


  1. On the objections, so far, the cat one is the only issue we have... One comment I would like to offer anyone else reading this: I've learned in my life that the scariest and the most unreasonable things in life are generally those life-changing-but-awesome-and-rarely-regretted experiences. Also, if you're making excuses and saying 'no', then you don't really want it, whatever it is that you think you do. A lot of times your head (ego-mind)says one thing, but it needs to convince your gut (body-mind). Sometimes that can happen (with a lot of trainig), and sometimes, you just have to do and not wring your hands about it all the time. Talk (and thinking and hand-wringing) is cheap.

  2. @thedr9wningman: pets are certainly an obstacle for many. You'd have to make sure that your cat has all of the proper paperwork and immunizations. Read up on the pet passport for a starting point on understanding the law in this area. It's pretty simple and it's actually good for your cat (since it guarantees the appropriate vaccinations are given).

  3. Regarding your pets I will give you my French vet advice: Follow the British regulations and you should be fine in almost any countries. They are the most demanding in this area.

    Be carful, as some vaccinations need to be done and checked more than 6 months before travelling.

  4. There's also the language to take into account. If you're thinking of moving abroad to a country with a different language to English, it's important to realise that perhaps what you learnt at school will not be enough. There are, however, some excellent immersion courses at language schools that can help the transition and help you land on your feet - you can even spend a couple of weeks with a local host family so that you can really get to know the place properly!

  5. ...Meant to say as well, thanks for the advice, it's a very good thought experiment to begin the process of assessing the real steps of logistics involved!

  6. My only obstacle at this point is the lack of a Count Von Europe offering me such an attractive deal. I have important short term obligations to finish but I could go in July if I had such an offer.

  7. Your objections are only applicable to people that came from "privileged" countries. Sadly, as a citizen of a country like this, you have to deal with even bigger obstacles. I wouldn't even mention them because is just obvious. So... well, you have to be a really talented, skillful, and marketeer-ed individual in order to get an opportunity in the old continent... or anywhere else.

    1. With all due respect, this is not true. There are quite a number of opportunities out there that people just never hear about. It's harder if you're not a skilled worker, but it's certainly not impossible.

  8. Ovid, you're right on the spot!

    This post is absolutely brilliant, thank you.
    Though I already moved to another country, there's plenty of people that say to me/us "You're lucky, I couldn't possibly do that".

    I will point them to this post :-)

    1. Thanks Cosimo. I hope it inspires a few people :)

  9. I have wanted to move to Europe since I was 19. It was always just this little dream in the back of my mind. I am nearly 35 now and the idea had really grown in me. I am not to sure where to start really. I work as a database administrator and user support person for a school district and county office of education. I have one daughter, 8 and a husband who would have no problem relocating. I have lived in many different US communities. I am college educated with a focus in art education and anthropology.

    I am not sure if my reasoning for wanting to move is sane or rational. I want to be in a place with a long history of civilization. I want to never own a car again. I want to be where my ancestors came from. I want to experience a different culture and way of life. I want to have the ability to experience many cultures and art and I feel somewhere in Europe would allow me that opportunity.

    I don't hate America, and I certainly hold no ill will against those who are here. I feel that in America we strive to be individuals and strive to climb to the top. I would like to be a contributing member of a community. I have no ambitions to climb over people to get to the top. I am much more live and let live and how can I help. I feel that I would be happy elsewhere and the journey and learning itself would be well worth it whether the experiences be good overall or bad. In addition I am not to proud to work any job be it cleaning homes or toilets. As long as I could make enough to live with a roof and eat I am a happy person.

    My worries are I don't speak another language.
    I don't know how to find a job overseas.
    I would be shunned for being an American (I don’t feel like an American, I feel like a human in awe of the cultural history of the world.)

    Am I insane for wanting to do this? My only family are my daughter and husband, there is no one else. I feel that I would be taking with me the only parts of America that would miss me.

  10. Hello! I wanted to say -- I found this post maybe six weeks or so ago, and I found the whole idea of "prepare as if you're moving tomorrow" sort of revolutionary, and (more importantly) extremely useful in getting my butt in gear. I'm getting all my ducks in a row so that I really will be able to just pick up a suitcase and go, when the opportunity strikes. Just having that idea in my head, that I have to cut my ties (or prepare to cut them on demand), was sort of revolutionary, despite working for years in a sort of vague, undirected way to get my affairs in some sort of order in order to try to get a visa. Great post, thanks much.