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How to Decide Where to Live: 12 Big Tips

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Moving is hardly ever a passive decision. You feel something about it, usually excitement, fear, or a little combo of the two. When you're trying to figure out how to decide where to live it's easy to let your emotions make the call.

Since 2013 I've lived all around the world, moving more times than I can count. Some of these moves were from apartment to apartment or city to city or, more often than not, country to country.

With the exception of 2 (and 1 coming up) that have been dictated by work, all the moves I've made have been based on choice and involved me deciding where to live in this big, beautiful world. While my focus is certainly living abroad, you can take these tips and let them help you decide where to live in your own country, too.

While the planning process will be super different, the tips, with the exception of just a few, will be the same.

With that, let's answer the big pressing question on how to decide where to live with these 12 big tips.

Tip 1. Let Your Emotions Help

A man strutting down a white sand beach on a Southern Thailand island on a clear blue sky day.

So often I hear people suggest that you keep emotions out of it and let logic and reason drive this decision. I totally disagree.

While, yes, logic and reason will help you overcome the challenges of moving and will help you make the move actually happen, if you're here reading the article, that means you have some choice in where you move. And that means there needs to be some excitement swaying your decisions.

I absolutely love gearing up for another move and getting excited when deciding where to live next. The rest of these tips won't nearly be as exciting as this one so really indulge here.

Actionable Step: Brainstorm around 5 countries (or cities if staying in your home country) that you'd love to live in, permanently or temporarily. Unless you already have something lined up, visas and other technicalities might prohibit you from moving to your #1 so it's better now to have a longer list to pull from.

Tip 2. Consider the Cost of Living

A view across the river of traditional stone homes and buildings in the Old Town of Mostar.

Now that you have your list of ~5 countries/cities, we're going to use those to work through the rest of our tips to narrow it down to our winner.

Start with the cost of living. It's really unfair to yourself to move to a place that you know you'll struggle month to month to get by.

Since you're moving with some choice, do yourself a favor and make sure you're picking a place you can certainly afford.

It can be tough to get realistic answers on how much you need to cover basic living expenses because we all live different lifestyles. Keep that in mind while doing your research!

Actionable Step: Nomad List is a really good starting point for this but do take everything with a grain of salt. Your real expenses will most likely fluctuate with what you see here. The good thing about this site though is that the number you see takes the average from many - it's not just the opinion of one.

To go a step farther than this, check apartment/house listings in the cities or towns on your list. Unfortunately every country is going to vary with which sites they use for this but if you do a simple "Warsaw apartments for rent" search you can get a good idea. I only recommend looking on Airbnb if you plan to be nomadic as the rental prices there are typically incredibly inflated.

Tip 3. Location, Location, Location

A woman standing on a rock with her arms lifted in the air at an overlook point with a jungle and beach below in Da Nang, Vietnam.

Location really is everything. When you have the choice of deciding where to live, this should bring us back to the excitement as we check off things you're looking for in your new city.

You might like the idea of living in Paris, for example, but when you think about your ideal lifestyle it has more to do with being near a white sand beach than a bustling city. Vice versa, the beaches of Southern Thailand could sound dreamy for a vacation but you'd rather have your day-to-day in Florence.

Actionable Step: Ask yourself the following questions to start narrowing down more places from your list:

  • Do I want to be surrounded by plenty of outdoor activities?
  • Do I want to be in the heart of the city?
  • Do I want to have a car or rely on public transportation systems or walking?
  • Do I want to be near an airport?
  • Do I want to be near the beach, mountains, or other natural resources?

Tip 4. Check Out Job Opportunities (if needed)

A couple laughing and posing infront of a Korean train car at a Cherry Blossom Festival

For starters, you need to decide if you'll be working in-person or taking your online job abroad with you. The answer to this question will affect your actionable step to complete this tip.

Unfortunately it's not always possible to get a job in another country or legally work remotely from there, so if you want to go the legitimate route, this one is key.

Actionable Step If Working In-Person: If you plan on getting a new job when you move, you need to do your due diligence before moving to check the job opportunities out there. For example, moving to a small town will certainly yield less options than a big city but based on your qualifications that might not be a deal breaker.

While your specific industry might be better found on a different site, LinkedIn is a good platform to perform some basic job searches to see what's out there.

Actionable Step If Working Online: While you get to skip over job hunting, your work isn't completely safe. If you work for a company, you have 2 options: you can either ask for permission to go abroad or pull a sneaky and do it without telling anyone.

Option 1 will be better in the long run because you can negotiate your schedule and even switch your payments to a local bank if needed. I work in digital marketing with a company in the US but since I currently live in Trieste, Italy, I get to work European hours, even if my team doesn't.

Option 2 could save you a job if your boss seems strict enough to deny this. Just know that if you change time zones, you'll need to alter your schedule to fit your old one instead. This might be easy if your move isn't too drastic but you might have to get used to working the night shift if you have your hopes set on somewhere faraway.

Important note: If you're planning to move abroad, hop to tip 11 now, before circling back to tip 5.

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Tip 5. Are There Plenty of Things to Do?

A smiling woman holding her snowboarding with snowcovered peaks in the background.

We're back to the fun stuff for a palate cleanser! This one is back to the emotional side of things when you get to dig into the things your new potential home has to offer.

Actionable Step: Now that we've narrowed down your list a bit, take a look back at the places that have survived the cut and see what things they offer their residents. Go a step further and don't just look up the things you know you like but also the things the place offers that you'd be interested in trying.

For example, my husband had never snowboarded before we spent last winter in Zlatibor, Serbia. Now we have a new hobby we both love that he never would have discovered if it wasn't for living right on the slopes.

Tip 6. Don't Overlook the Climate & Weather

A woman's back as she sits on the ledge of a pool overlooking a beach in Vietnam.

If you're from a place that has 4 seasons, you might think the whole world has 4 seasons. Wrong! Some places are only going to be cold, some will only be hot, and yes, some will offer 4 seasons.

As a general rule, the closer to the equator you are, the less likely seasons are. The weather is instead based on altitude. So for example, in Ecuador, Quito is high in the Andes Mountains so offers fall-like weather year-round but if you move down to the coast, you'll get summer weather every single month.

You might also want to check the weather patterns and understand if natural disasters are common.

Actionable Step: Do a quick search on the yearly weather the countries on your list offer. Note that if you're still working on a country list, for this one, you'll need to start looking into specific cities as this can vary if the country is large.

Tip 7. Think About Your Family

A couple smiling leaning against a railing with their dog and cat posed on.

And no, I'm actually not talking about the family you're leaving behind but the family that's coming with you on this move. If you're planning this move with your partner, children, or even pets, take their considerations into account.

This move is for everyone going so you really want to have all of their best interests in mind.

Actionable Step: This step will change based on who's moving with you:

  • No one: Enjoy making all the decisions - you can skip to tip 8.
  • Your partner: Ask your partner to make a list of their 5 countries and work through the steps, too. Or, make a list of 5-10 countries together and work through it side-by-side.
  • Your children: I'm not a mom so this might depend on the age of your children but I wouldn't necessarily bring them into deciding where to live. Instead, I would take this time to look up good schools, child care, and things to do that they'll enjoy.
  • Your pets: I am a pet parent so while it might seem strange, my pets do play a role in deciding where I live. I know what they like and dislike and do my best to give them wide open spaces to run wild and not so noisy cities to explore.

Tip 8. Make Sure You'll Feel Safe

A quiet plaza in Old Town Warsaw showing off the intricate architecture and designs on the buildings.

This one should be pretty straightforward but make sure you'll feel safe where you're planning to move. As a woman, nothing can make or break an experience then feeling at ease or constantly on guard in a new place.

Actionable Step: You can find this out by doing a search, "is X safe" and reading other people's opinions to make an informed decision. Just like the cost of living though, note that this is based on opinions, not facts. If you have real concerns about this, I recommend booking a trip to your potential destination and trying it out for a few days before making up your mind.

If you don't have that luxury, know that from my extensive travels, most places in the world have felt safe to me. It feels as though the world is mainly a good place with a few bad apples. I recommend being smart and practicing some basic safety tips but don't let the media totally sway you.

Tip 9. Don't Forget Transportation

Brightly painted houses with boats parked in the canal in colorful Burano, Italy.

Now we're really getting into the nitty gritty if you have 2-3 places left that you need a tie breaker for. This is just to look at public transportation and what each place offers.

As someone who was born and raised in the Southern US, I never would have considered this before moving abroad. I assumed needing a car was normal. Let me tell you, it's not. Now, I might not choose a particular place on public transportation but I will choose my specific location in that place based on it.

I haven't owned a car since moving abroad in 2013 and now prefer to travel on foot, by bus, or by train.

Actionable Step: Decide where your priority lies. If you're like me, do some digging and see if public transportation is a thing where you want to move or if you'll need to budget in buying a car.

Tip 10. Visiting Back Home

A picture of a smiling family with the clear blue waters of the Caribbean in the backdrop.

Is going back home for visits an important factor for you? Contrary to what your family staying behind will tell you, this does not have to be a priority for you.

Make it one if you know it is but don't if you just feel guilty. If it really is critical, see how easy or how difficult it is to get back home from the new country/city you're eyeing. This could make or break your decision.

Actionable Tip: Use Google Flights to get a feel for how difficult and how expensive it'll be to travel home where you decide to live and where your family and friends are. Know that the prices and exact travel schedules might fluctuate throughout the year but this will give you a good idea how feasible it'll be.

You might also be more interested in your family visiting you or meeting in random destinations for a vacation. I actually don't go back to the US but still manage to see my family every year by meeting somwhere for a trip.

*Tip 11. Can You Get a Visa?

A view of a small, bright town in Croatia from across the bay.

The next 2 tips are specifically for those that are deciding where to live abroad, not in their home country. If you're not planning to move abroad, jump on down to the conclusion. If you are planning to move to another country, hang tight, we're almost done.

Visas are the arch nemesis of expats and nomads but a necessary evil to understand if you plan to live abroad.

Now that you have your list of countries, you need to see if you can actually get a visa to stay in said place. If you want to live somewhere, in most cases, you can't just show up and stay put. Navigating visas is one of the biggest things to consider when moving abroad.

Actionable Step: Take a peek at the most common visa types below and see if any sparks an idea. If you plan to work remotely, the last option on the list will be for you. If you're still at a loss after this list, search "long-term visas in (country)" and start researching. Government pages have the most accurate information but unfortunately tend to be the worst sites to navigate.

These are the most common visa types:

  • Tourist Visa: In general, this will allow you to stay only for a few days, weeks, or months. You legally can't live abroad on a tourist visa.
  • Business Visa: This visa is for those who work in one country but need to spend extended time in another for work. This visa typically only lasts for a few months so while it does allow you to legally work, you wouldn't be able to turn this into residency.
  • Work Visa: This is for those who get hired to work in a foreign country. This could be for anything from teaching English abroad to working in IT at an international corporation.
  • Working Holiday Visa: This is an agreement between specific countries that allows you to spend usually a year in a country, traveling or working (if you want to). Most countries cap the age limit at 30 but there are some exceptions. Japan, Australia, and New Zealand are some of the most popular countries for WH Visas.
  • Student Visa: Did you know you can go to university for your undergrad, masters, or doctorate in a foreign country? This visa allows you to do so.
  • Freelance Visa (Digital Nomad Visa): This is the newest visa to take the world by storm. Freelance visas are called many names but all target remote workers who want to live abroad. Each country will have its own unique set of requirements.

*Tip 12. Culture & Language

A person holding a fortune at a temple in Tokyo, Japan.

Is culture and/or language important factors when deciding where to live? If so, you'll want to give this one priority but if it's not, you can use it as a tiebreaker like we're doing with tip 10.

Maybe you want to move somewhere completely different to where you grew up or maybe you want the transition to be a lot smoother than that. There's no right answer - this decision is completely yours alone (and those moving with you).

Actionable Step: Give a thought to how important this is to you. For me, I love exploring new cultures and new languages so I enjoy bouncing from one extreme to the other but I'd be lying if I didn't say it's always a great mental break when we live in places that speak English or Spanish (the languages I speak).

If you're gearing up for a new language, the sooner you can start to practice it the better off you'll be. It's not always a requirement to know the language but it will make making friends and integrating into your new community a whole lot easier. You'll learn fastest in-person but apps like Mondly are great to get the ball rolling.

So, Where Will You Live?

There are so many factors to take into consideration when deciding where to live but this should help you narrow down your list to somewhere that'll be a great fit for you and your family.

A final note I'd like to leave you on is I know it's easy to get overwhelmed as you decide where to live. You could be overwhelmed because you feel like you have no options or because you have too many. Either way, it's helpful to know that this move doesn't have to be permanent unless you want it to be.

You can move for a few months, a few years, the foreseeable future, or forever. The choice is really up to you.

I've never moved to a new place because I didn't like where I was; instead I tend to move to experience new places. Understand you're free to pop around or stay put. When deciding where to live, do your best to listen to your gut and go where feels good today, knowing you can change it tomorrow.

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