So you want to take the leap and move abroad? That’s awesome! Our decision to move to Prague was definitely one of the best we’ve ever made and I’m so glad we’re on this awesome adventure. But don’t book your flights just yet – there are a few questions you need to ask yourself before moving abroad.
A quick recap of our moving abroad story: I’ve wanted to live abroad ever since studying for a semester in Amsterdam in 2014. Colin and I met in Vancouver in 2015 and in the next few years we bought a home and adopted a dog. I thought my moving abroad dreams were done. But, they weren’t! Colin was also harbouring a heart for travel and adventure. In 2018, we started talking about moving abroad and originally decided on the UK. During our Southeast Asia trip this past January, we came to some conclusions and eventually decided Prague would be a better fit. We applied for our visas in March, rented out our apartment in May, and set off on June 1, arriving in Prague on June 7!
Since putting our plans into motion over a year ago, we’ve done a lot of thinking, researching and questioning. Here are the 11 questions you should ask yourself before moving abroad.
Where do you want to move abroad?
Let’s start with an easy one: Where do you want to go? Most people who decide to move abroad have a specific destination or at least a region in mind. It’s usually a case where you come back from a holiday, having fallen in love with a place, and decide you need to move there right away. Unless of course, you’re like us and you choose Prague without ever having been there!
With your place in mind, you can ask yourself some questions. What is the expat culture like? Do they speak English? Are there other expats already living there? Is the culture one you could see yourself adjusting and living in? What’s the weather like? How easy is it to get around?
Everyone will have their own criteria for what they need in a future city. Here are some of the things Colin and I wanted (and found in Prague!) that you might want to consider:
- big city with lots going on
- easy access to trains/planes to travel elsewhere
- English-speaking community and job opportunities
- good public transportation and no need for a car
- beautiful city with European charm
- affordable cost of living
- mild climate
How long will you be going for?
Is this a permanent move abroad or are you only going for a little while? Perhaps you’re moving abroad to attend an international school or study abroad for a semester. Or maybe, like us, you’re on a Youth Mobility Visa with a definite end date.
Of course, you don’t have to know exactly how long you want to be in this international city. And even if you do think it will only be for a certain period of time, things can change and you may find yourself applying for a different visa and staying longer. But before moving abroad, it’s good to have a general idea of how long you want to be there. This will help with a lot of your plans that I’ll touch on below such as storing your stuff and applying for visas.
When will you be leaving?
For a move this big, it’s important that you have a timeline in place. And that timeline needs to be realistic. You’ll need time to apply and receive your visa, figure out your housing, store things, etc.
You’ll also need to factor in life events around your move. For us, we knew we had to move to Prague between some weddings that we were going to be attending back home. Based on the wedding dates, we were able to determine that our year in Prague would be between June 2019 and June 2020. We started applying for our visas in March, giving us just enough time to get our visas and make all of our arrangements.
What visa are you getting?
Speaking of visas, what visa are you getting? Hopefully this is a question you can answer. I see so many travellers posting in Facebook groups with something like, “I just got back from Florence and loved it so much. I’m going to move to Italy now!” But you can’t just up and move to Italy. You need a visa to be able to live and work outside of your home country.
Most long-term visas are very difficult to get. It’s one thing to spend a couple of months travelling in a new country. It’s another thing to live and work there for a couple of years. For most visas, you will need to either be studying abroad, have a company sponsor you, have a family ancestry link, be married to a local, or have a lot of money to apply for a business or retirement visa.
Now, that’s not true for every country. Some countries do have visa options, like Germany’s freelancer visa. But even these more accessible visas still take a lot of time, money and paperwork to get. So before moving abroad, you need to do your research. Ensure you’re eligible and know what you need to apply for your visa.
PS: One awesome visa option is the Youth Mobility Visa or Working Holiday Visa. This is a visa specifically designed for young people (18 to 30-35 years old) who want to live and work abroad temporarily (usually 1-2 years). If you’re lucky enough to be from a country that participates in these programs, you can do like us and move to the Czech Republic for a year with permission to live and work. Canada has these visa agreements with 30+ countries and it’s the best thing ever!
What are you going to do for work?
Getting the visa to be allowed to legally work abroad is step one. Actually finding a job is step two. Perhaps you’re in a situation where your current job is transferring you abroad. Or like me, maybe you work online and can do your job from anywhere in the world. If so, you won’t have to worry about this too much.
But if you’re planning to find a new job once you move, you’ll need to do a bit of research. Do your skills and qualifications transfer over to this new country? What is the market like for your line of work? What is the pay like? Do they hire expats who might not speak the local language?
Colin works as an x-ray technologist back in Vancouver. Unfortunately, that’s not a job that transfers very well as I’m sure Czech hospitals don’t really want an only-English speaking employee. So Colin has found work in a different field here in Prague; he works reception at a hotel. We knew before moving abroad that Colin wouldn’t be able to work in a hospital, so we did some research on the kind of jobs he would be interested in and able to do, as well as the availability of these types of jobs in Prague.
Who is going with you?
Are you moving abroad solo? Or are you moving with your partner, children and/or pets?
I moved with Colin and our dog, Ellie. With my remote job, I’m able to work from almost anywhere, so moving me wasn’t a huge issue. Colin’s job was a little trickier, but we did manage it. And Ellie was also a bit tricky, but we did figure out how to bring a dog to Europe (hint: it’s a lot of vet visits and paperwork).
If you’ll be moving abroad with other people or animals, you’ll need to start asking some questions and doing some research to ensure they’re all ready for the move. Start by making sure those people want to move abroad, and then look into the logistics of finding jobs, schools, vets, etc.
Where are you going to live?
Once you arrive in your new country, what’s your plan for housing? You don’t necessarily need to have a home rented or purchased before moving. Many expats stay in temporary housing at first, like an Airbnb, while they house hunt. But even if you don’t plan to find a house until you arrive, it’s a good idea to do a little research beforehand. What is the housing market like? What are the going rental rates? And what neighbourhoods would you be interested in?
I found the best way to do this was to join expat and housing groups on Facebook. I learned a lot about how apartments work in Prague, what payments are necessary, where to look for housing and the best neighbourhoods. While we were planning to just start the house hunt when we arrived in June, we actually ended up finding our amazing apartment online in April. We did a video tour and signed our contract without ever having set foot in the apartment (or the country, for that matter!). I felt confident that we had done enough research to make this decision from Canada and we ended up scoring an amazing place. Plus, it was such a load off to show up and already have housing sorted out.
Can you afford to move abroad?
Moving abroad can be very expensive. The first thing you’ll want to look at is the cost of living in your new country. What are typical wages like in your desired city? How much is housing? What are typical expenses? If you’re planning to do a lot of travelling or activities, how much will that cost you? If you’re moving from a rural town in Texas to the city centre of London, you’re going to have some serious sticker shock.
But it’s more than just the cost of living at your destination. You also need to take into account your moving costs – flights, storage, visas, insurance – it can really add up quick. Plus, you’ll want to have some savings. What happens if you arrive and can’t find an apartment for a while? Helene (from Helene in Between) lived in a hotel for six weeks before finding her apartment in Germany. What happens if you don’t get a job right away? You’ll want to have enough money to make it through your first few months. Or what happens if there’s an emergency and you need to fly back home right away? Savings are necessary for a move abroad.
What about your job, house and stuff back home?
Most people can’t just up and leave. Before moving abroad, you’ll need to think about all of your commitments back home.
For your job, will you be quitting, taking a leave of absence, transitioning to remote work or transferring to a new office abroad? All of these options will require you to give your workplace lots of notice. You’ll likely have to work with them to find a suitable solution. Colin began talking to his supervisors at the hospital in January in advance of our June move. They were able to work it out so that Colin could leave his position for a year and still have a spot at the hospital when we get back. Even I, working online, made sure to let all my clients know – at least so they wouldn’t wonder why I was sending emails at 3:00AM!
What about your home? If you rent, are you finishing out your lease, ending your lease early or subletting? You’ll need to give your landlord lots of notice and in some cases you may have to pay a fine. If you own, are you planning to rent out your place or sell it? If you choose to sell, you may run into timing issues if your home doesn’t sell before you’re scheduled to move. And if you rent it out, you’ll then have to find tenants and become international landlords (hopefully you get great tenants like we did!).
Lastly, what about your things? You’ll need to decide what to sell/donate, what to store and what to pack. For the better part of April and May, our main hobby was bringing things to donation bins or listing them on Craigslist. If you’re planning to store things, where will you store them and how much do you have to pay for storage? Or maybe you’ll be lucky and have a mom with an empty storage locker like we did!
As for packing, I’m planning a separate post all about what you need (and don’t need!) to pack when you move abroad!
What about your friends and family back home?
It’s not just about your stuff. Before moving abroad, you also need to think about your friends and your family.
Before we left for Prague, it was really important for us to see our loved ones and say farewell. I am so grateful that Colin’s mom arranged some great family functions for us in our last month in Vancouver. Of course, we are only planning to be gone for a year, so none of our goodbyes were permanent. But it was still great to see everyone and invite them to visit us in Prague!
Before you go, you’ll need to accept that you’re going to miss out on some stuff back home. Depending on how far you go and for how long, you might miss out on weddings, births, graduations and holidays. You may even miss out on deaths and illnesses.
Make a plan with your family and friends about how you’re going to stay in touch. Thanks to modern technology, you’ll be able to message and video chat from just about anywhere. Commit to checking in with your loved ones regularly with calls, messages and old-fashioned postcards. Plus, the best way to stay in touch is to have loved ones come visit you abroad!
Why do you want to move abroad? And do you really want it?
The first question you’ll likely ask yourself before moving abroad is why you want to move. In fact, you probably didn’t even have to ask it – you already knew the answer. Whether it’s for adventure, love, work, lifestyle or all of the above, everyone has their reasons for moving abroad and jumping into a new life.
But the most important question you have to ask yourself is: Do you really want to move abroad? A lot of people love the idea of moving abroad. They imagine they’d be very happy sailing around Croatia, hiking in Argentina or hanging at cafes in Thailand. But they don’t make it happen. They don’t want it bad enough.
Now, I realize that’s very privileged and ignorant of me to say. I’m very lucky that I was able to move with a willing partner, that I have a remote job, and that I could easily apply for a visa. Not everyone is so lucky. But give me any exuse to moving abroad and I will find you someone who has done it anyway. People move abroad with children, with disabilities, without speaking the language, without a job, without an easy visa route and with houses, pets, families and businesses back home. It is possible – you just have to want it bad enough.
Reading through the questions above, it’s likely you had some hesitations. Maybe you haven’t done your research on visas yet or you’re stuck in a lease or you’re worried about missing your family. That’s totally normal. The questions above should cause you a little bit of worry because moving abroad is a lot of work. It’s really not easy. You’re going to have to do a ton of research and make some hard decisions.
But it is so worth it. Moving to Prague was one of the best things Colin and I have ever done. This is definitely a highlight of my life and I can already imagine myself at 65 still talking about that year I lived in Prague. All of the stuff we had to do before we moved abroad, as stressful and time consuming and expensive as it was, was absolutely worth it.
I would do it all again in a heartbeat (and I hope I get to!).
Are you planning a move abroad? Where are you moving to and what worries do you have?
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