Expat Life,  Travel

Moving Abroad FAQs: Everything You Want to Know About Moving to Europe & Life Abroad

In case you’re new around here, my husband (Colin), our dog (Ellie) and I moved abroad from Vancouver, Canada to Prague, Czech Republic in June 2019. We were there for almost a year (covid cut things short!) and managed to set up a life in Prague while travelling all over Europe. Moving abroad was definitely one of the best things I’ve ever done and I’d highly encourage you to take the opportunity if you have it.

But before you sell all your belongings and book a plane ticket, maybe you have a few questions…Like how do you move abroad? Where should you go? What do you do with your stuff? How do you find a job? I had a lot of those questions too when we first set out to move abroad for a year. So in this post, I’m answering the most frequently asked questions I get about moving abroad.

Below are 20 questions that I had when I was doing my research, that our friends and family members wondered about, or that internet strangers have asked me. I hope the answers help you on your journey moving abroad. And if you have any other questions, feel free to comment below!

Why did you want to move abroad?

I’ve always wanted to move abroad! I had the opportunity to study abroad when I was in university and those six months in Amsterdam were some of the best of my life. I loved being able to call a foreign place home, travel all over Europe and meet some incredible people from around the world. So I knew as an adult, I definitely wanted a chance to move abroad again to immerse myself in a new culture and travel around a region.

How did you decide where to move abroad?

We originally thought we’d move to the UK because my husband found a program that allowed him to do his job as an x-ray technologist over there. But as that program got more complicated, we changed our minds and went back to the drawing board to decide where we’d move abroad. We had our hearts set on Europe and knew we wanted to be somewhere with an expat community, affordable cost of living, major travel connections, good transit, rich culture, and a place that was pet-friendly. Our biggest struggle was finding a city that was big enough to have an expat community, English-speaking jobs and major travel connections, but not so big that it was too expensive to live there.

Bold St in Liverpool, UK
For a minute, we thought we might live in Liverpool!

Why did you pick Prague?

I posted our criteria for a new home abroad in a travel group and the first few commenters all suggested Prague. Neither Colin nor I had been to Prague before and we didn’t know much about it. But after doing more research, we learned that it really did fit all of our criteria. And after 10 months of living there, I definitely think we made the right choice in moving to Prague!

How did you legally move to Europe?

My husband and I were both eligible for Youth Mobility Visas (also known as Working Holiday Visas). These are visa agreements between certain countries that let youth (usually aged 18-35 without dependents) live and work in the partner country for a period of 1-2 years. They’re very affordable and there are relatively few hoops to jump through, especially when compared to work, study or marriage visas.

As Canadians, we’re super lucky to have 34 partner countries around the world where we can apply for youth mobility visas (you can check out the whole list here). If you’re eligible and your country has a program like this, I highly recommend you look into it! It’s a fantastic way to live and travel abroad. And if you’re interested in specifically applying for the Czech Youth Mobility Visa, make sure to read through my guide.

Czech Youth Mobility visa
Getting our visas (and passports back!) a couple months before we moved abroad!

What did you do with your house/car/stuff back in Canada?

Figuring out what to do with your stuff at home isn’t easy, and is definitely one of the reasons people put off moving abroad. Some people decide to sell everything and start from scratch upon their return while others put everything in storage. We did a combination of the two.

At the time, we owned a condo just outside of Vancouver (which we’ve now sold as we’re much happier renting!). For our time abroad, we rented our condo out to tenants, and became international landlords, which was no picnic. We rented out our condo furnished, so all of the big pieces of furniture stayed. We did sell a few things and then stored some boxes of personal items at both of our moms’ homes.

My husband, Colin, did decide to sell his car (after a lot of prodding from me) and we haven’t needed it since. We now live downtown where Colin can walk to work in 15 minutes and I work from home, so a car really isn’t necessary.

Besides that, we didn’t have much other stuff. We cancelled our internet and utilities, and used an online service to save our Canadian phone numbers. We forwarded our mail to my mother-in-law’s and made sure we could do all of our banking online.

What did you do with your pet?

We originally thought we’d be leaving Ellie behind for the year but after a tough three weeks away from her when we travelled to Southeast Asia, we realized we wanted her to come with us. This was another reason why we nixed the UK from our housing shortlist because it’s more difficult to bring dogs into the UK and find dog-friendly rentals.

Bringing a dog to Europe is complicated! There’s a lot of rules and paperwork to consider, and it really pays to educate yourself as many vets, airport employees and border guards won’t know all the rules. So I did my homework and made sure we had everything we needed to move Ellie to Prague. Luckily, Ellie is small, so we could have her in the cabin of the plane with us.

Ellie loved Prague! She was an awesome travel companion, often coming with us on train trips and road trips around Europe. She learned some new social skills (thank to a trainer!) and got to hang out with some pet sitters whenever we travelled further afield. Prague was a very dog-friendly city and Ellie really thrived there.

Ellie at the airport
Ellie with all of our carry-on gear right before the flight!
Prague Astronomical Clock with a dog
Seeing the sights of Prague with Ellie

What did you do for work while living in Prague?

Luckily for me, I work online as a content writer and social media manager, so was able to keep up all of my client work while abroad. All I had to do was move a few calls around to fit my new timezone, but not much else had to change. I was even working with a travel planning company at the time, so got to do a lot of hands on research.

For Colin, once the UK was not an option, we knew he wouldn’t be able to work at a hospital in a non-English speaking country. The plan was for him to get a job in retail, hospitality or tourism; and one of the reasons we chose Prague is because we knew they had lots of English-speaking jobs for expats. Colin did amazing and ended up with multiple job offers within our first week of arriving in Prague. But after a few months of working at a hotel, we decided it made more sense for him to help me out with my work online so we could travel as often as we wanted. It was a tough call and definitely not ideal for either of us, but helped us make the most of our year abroad. (You can read more about that decision in this blog post.)

Did you struggle with the language in the Czech Republic?

Czech is an incredibly difficult language and we maybe learned 10 words of it while we lived in Prague. We had good intentions when we first arrived! We both downloaded Duolingo on our phones and I even put up a list of Czech vocabulary words on the back door of the bathroom (so you could study while peeing!). But we quickly realized it would take a lot of effort to learn Czech and, to be honest, we weren’t wanting to put in that much effort for a language that’s only spoken in one country – and a country we’d only be in for one year.

Would it have been cool to learn Czech, interact with more local people and maybe even make some local friends? Of course! We would have had a much richer experience, I’m sure. But we decided to make our experience rich in other ways, by prioritizing things like travel and food.

So if we had decided to learn Czech, we definitely would have struggled. But because we took the easy way out, it wasn’t hard at all. We got by with a few Czech words and some faux sign language, when needed. I can’t say I’d recommend not learning the local language, but it was what we decided at the time.

Colin with Czech vocabulary lists
Colin showing off our Czech vocab lists

Did you make friends?

We did! Both Colin and I were pretty nervous about how we’d make friends in a new city, especially once Colin quit his job and we were both just working from home. But we connected with some fellow expats, a friendly bunch of Canadians, a co-working group of freelancers, and Colin’s colleagues from the hotel. It was really nice to head out to a cafe and talk shop with fellow freelancers, celebrate Canada’s Day with our countrymen at a local park, and drink too many beers at the bowling alley with some new expat friends.

Did you get to travel much while living abroad?

YES! One of our big goals in moving to Prague was to travel as much as we possibly could. And I think we definitely accomplished that. From stopping in Paris and Munich on our way to Prague to our final trip driving through Slovenia and Croatia, we really did see a lot of Europe. We lived just a 10-minute walk from Prague’s main train station and an easy bus/metro ride from the airport, so the rest of Europe was on our doorstep.

Check out our travel superlatives from our year abroad to learn more about our European travels!

Us on the lake at Hallstatt, Austria
Hallstatt, Austria
Colosseum in Rome
Rome, Italy
Selfie at Oktoberfest
Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany

How did you find housing in Prague?

We actually found our apartment online a few months before we moved to Prague, which I’ve been told is very rare. I joined a bunch of expat groups on Facebook, including ones with rental listings, to try and learn more about the housing market before we got there. Our plan was to stay at an Airbnb for the first few weeks while we looked for a place.

But while browsing the Facebook listings, I stumbled upon an apartment that was available for our dates, furnished, modern, within our price range and in the neighbourhood we wanted to be in. So I did a tour over FaceTime with the realtor, we signed the papers online and secured our new home in Prague all the way from Vancouver.

We were a bit nervous as our Uber pulled up to the building. But luckily, it all worked out. (And I had done my homework to make sure the realtor was legitimate.) We were really happy with our apartment and it was so nice to show up and already have someplace to live.

How did you set up phone/internet/etc?

We impressed ourselves by getting our banking, cell phones, internet, transit passes and police registration all set up and done within our first week of arriving in Prague – and most of it within the first two days! We settled into Prague very quickly and I think that’s thanks to my research. As mentioned, I joined a bunch of Facebook groups for expats in Prague and did my homework to learn the best bank, internet provider, cell phone plan, etc.

Since we were only going to be in Prague a year, we wanted to hit the ground running and speed through the logistics of setting up our new life abroad. There are companies that can help you set everything up, but we didn’t find it too hard to do it ourselves.

Did you like the local food in Prague?

Honestly? Not at all. I’m not into heavy food with lots of meat, carbs, gravy, etc. A standard Czech dish would be a piece of pork and bread dumplings swimming in a stew or thick gravy. It was hard to find a fresh vegetable on a menu!

Luckily, I did find a few Czech dishes I enjoyed. Beef tartare was a good one, as was a special pork dish at the pub across the street from us. And I did enjoy the Czech beer! Plus, we found lots of great produce, cheese and snacks at local farmer’s markets and the grocery store.

But my favourite food in Prague was Vietnamese food. Most people don’t know that there’s a big Vietnamese population in the Czech Republic (immigration between the two countries was very easy when they were both under communist rule), and so the Vietnamese food was fantastic. And best of all, the food and drink prices were incredibly cheap in Prague!

Did you get homesick while living abroad?

Yes and no. I moved away from my family at 18 to attend university across the country and have been bouncing around the world ever since (though less so in the last few years). So it’s not unusual for me to spend months not seeing my friends and family in person. I’ve gotten very good at setting up Skype dates and writing snail mail.

Of course, we did miss our loved ones. But we luckily got to travel with our moms and with my siblings, so we got some love from home. We also missed a lot of things about living in Vancouver like delicious sushi, seeing the water and mountains, and hearing English spoken when you walk down the street.

Madrid with my siblings
Madrid with my siblings
selfie with view of San Gimignano
Tuscany with our moms

Why did you only move abroad for one year?

We were in Prague on Youth Mobility Visas that were only good for one year. So our plan all along was to stay from June 2019 to June 2020 (though covid cut that short by a couple of months!). I think that makes our experience pretty unique as most people either travel abroad for just a couple of weeks or move abroad for a few years, if not indefinitely. Having a year, or what ended up being closer to 10 months, was an odd period of time. We struggled with wanting to settle and have roots, but also wanting to travel and make the most of our short time in Europe.

We wouldn’t have been able to extend our visas but if we had really wanted to stay, we could have tried to apply for freelancer visas or youth mobility visas to another country. But the plan was always one year away. Ultimately, we did want to come back home to Canada to be with our families, reunite Colin with his job, and settle in Vancouver.

What did you do when you got back to Canada?

After our very abrupt departure from Prague, we landed back in Canada in March 2020 and quarantined at my mom’s apartment. We then moved into a furnished apartment in Vancouver’s West End that was supposed to be temporary, but we ended up staying about 18 months. We loved the West End and even though we’ve moved, we’re really happy to still be living in downtown Vancouver.

Colin got his job back at the hospital and while I was scared that he was interacting with covid patients almost every day, I know he felt really proud that he could help. As for me, my main contract jobs were in travel and weddings, so a lot of my work dried up when we first got back to Canada. Luckily, our expenses were low and I was in such a lockdown funk that I wasn’t up for doing much work anyway. So my lockdown life involved a lot of baking and colouring in the first few months. But eventually, my client work picked up and I settled into a good work/life routine.

Would you move abroad again?

Good question! And I answered it in this post. In short, we don’t have plans to do another year abroad anytime soon. We’re pretty settled in Vancouver, Colin loves his job, we’re aging out of the Youth Mobility Visa scheme, and the world isn’t fully open to travel at the moment. But we definitely want to go on extended trips in the future. So never say never!

Would you move back to Prague?

As I said, we’re not planning to move abroad again in a long term capacity. But if for some reason the stars aligned and we did decide to move abroad again, I wouldn’t say no to Prague! I think my instinct would be to go somewhere new, discover a new city and travel in a new region. I’d also like to go somewhere with a language I could learn more easily, like a Spanish-speaking or French-speaking place. Exploring a new continent would also be a lot of fun.

But I am very happy with our choice to move abroad to Prague and I would definitely pick it again for our year abroad!

Family Photos in Prague
Our family photo shoot at Prague’s Vysehrad Castle

What do you wish you had known before moving abroad?

Well, if I had a crystal ball, I wish I would’ve seen covid coming! Besides warning everyone, I think we would have taken even more opportunities to travel and explore Prague if we knew our year would be cut short. I wish I had known that Colin would quit his job after only a couple of months. If we had talked more about the possibility of him not working, we could’ve planned our year and finances more thoroughly.

But all in all, I think we really did make the most of our time abroad. I’m so proud of us for getting out of our comfort zone and pushing ourselves to try new things. I don’t think there was anything we majorly messed up on or any big regrets I have from our time abroad. I’m just so grateful we were able to move abroad and have this huge adventure, especially now that travel can’t be taken for granted.

Prague view

Still have questions about our move abroad, life in Prague or expat life in general? Check out these posts:

And if those don’t answer it for you, feel free to comment below with your question! 

 

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