You want something new. Something exciting. Something that shakes up your life, gets your heart beating, and makes you feel alive. That something new just might be a new landscape, in a new country, surrounded by a new culture.
While maybe you’ll end up choosing to move abroad to a country that resembles your home country or you throw caution to the wind and go as opposite as possible, the base steps to get you there are the same.
Since 2013 I’ve been living all around the world. I started as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador and haven’t looked back. Since then, I’ve volunteered with Workaway in the Amazon and remote Caribbean islands; I’ve worked on a yacht in the South of France; I’ve taught English in South Korea and Vietnam; I became location independent and embraced the nomad lifestyle first by living in a van and traveling the western U.S. and now in the Balkans, where I’ve changed countries every few months.
When I say I get it, you should know now that that’s true. I understand those emotions that drive you towards a new horizon. For me, it’s never been about the negative though - I’m not running away from places I dislike, more I’m running towards the unknown. There’s nothing better in the world than plopping yourself down in a foreign country and calling it home…for now or for good.
So, regardless as to why you want to move abroad, these 10 steps will get you off on the right foot.
This is a crash course for someone looking to move abroad as quickly as possible. If it feels like I’m skipping steps, it’s because I am. I’m focused on covering the most important aspects to make a quick yet smooth move, without just telling you to buy the cheapest plane ticket to anywhere and hope for the best.
There are so many reasons people don't move abroad, but two of the top reasons I hear is because it's "too complicated" or "too hard." Allow me to break down the process for you because it really can be as easy or as difficult as you let it be.
These next 10 steps on how to move to another country are in the order that I like to do things every time I move to a new country but, unless otherwise noted, feel free to complete the steps in an order that feels more comfortable to you.
I know you're excited to dive right in, but before we do, I suggest you make sure that moving abroad is right for you. Having confidence and a true desire to get abroad is key to taking care of the next steps, especially when tiresome visas get thrown into the mix.
Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's hit it!
1. Pick 3 countries that excite you
Most of my moves have been motivated by the “where.” I love daydreaming about different countries I could live in and the lifestyle I’d like to have in each one.
If you don’t know where to even begin, start by writing down all the reasons you want to move abroad. By being clear on what you’re hoping to accomplish by moving, you’ll be able to narrow down which countries can meet your needs.
Even after you’ve picked your 3 potential spots, hold on to that list of your whys. It’ll be nice to consult if you start to lose momentum or get stressed in the later steps.
This part tends to be where most people actually get stuck because they let indeciveness and the fear of “what if I made the wrong choice” lead them. The biggest piece of advice I can give you if you’re stuck here is to remind yourself that this move doesn’t have to be permanent, unless you want it to be.
I’ve never left a country because I didn’t like it but always because I’m eager to explore other places, too.
You’re allowed to try and go back home after a year with your head held high knowing you gave it an honest shot. You’re allowed to move around every few months, years, or even decades. You’re allowed to pick one place and never again leave. How you build your life abroad starts with those whys and where you envision it coming to fruition.
2. Decide how you’ll make income
Unless you have enough money to retire or not work for an extended period of time, I wouldn’t suggest moving without knowing where your income will come from. From obtaining your dream job abroad to work in-person or choosing to take your job on the go and and work remotely, there are a lot of options out there.
If you already work online, tou might even be able to talk with your employer about you working remotely from another country or if you’d rather really make a quick escape, choose a country that you’ll be in the same or similar time zone and no one might notice your distance.
If you don’t already work remotely, you’ll need to decide if you want to make the switch and start applying for remote jobs or if you have better-suited skills to work in-person.
Keep in mind, this decision will greatly affect the visa you apply for so it’s better you have this decided before hopping to the next step.
For a huge list of jobs you can do remotely and in-person around the world, browse A Way Abroad's “Working Abroad” section for loads of ideas and resources.
Working Online vs. Working In-Person
I know working online is the hot topic and what many strive to do. As someone who has made the switch from in-person jobs to remote jobs in last few years, here are some things to consider when making your decision.
Working online is great for flexibility. If you dream of being a digital nomad and not being tied to one location, having a job that can go with you is certainly important. Don’t forget though that digital nomads aren’t always on holiday - even if social media perceives it this way. We still have to work, we just get to choose where we work from.
Working in-person is best for community. By working alongside locals and other expats, you’ll be instantly given friends, or at least new people to talk to. This makes settling in abroad go a lot smoother and it’s a lot more fun. If you’re eager to integrate into the local community, it’ll certainly be easier if you work in-person and befriend your colleagues.
3. Grab a beer & research visa options
If this is your first international move, you’ll quickly grow to loathe visas just like the rest of us expats do but you’ll also quickly learn that they are a necessary evil to understand. Some countries aren’t strict on them, while others are extremely so. Some countries you’ll be able to land a visa no problem, while others might be a headache or even impossible.
Some people prefer to first see where in the world they can get visas and narrow down countries that way. That’s actually the reason I suggested you choose 3 countries. Some of the countries on your list will be non-starters unfortunately.
The order of things is totally up to you and will be based on your priorities but I’d just make sure you have an idea as to how you’ll want to make your income clear before you jump into visas first. It’ll make your research a lot more streamlined.
The most common types of visas for expats are:
- Work Visas
- Freelance Visas
- Student Visas
- Tourist Visas
If you work remotely and want to keep working remotely, I’d search for places you can live either long-term on a tourist visa (Latin America and SE Asia are great for this) or places that offer freelance visas (Europe and the Caribbean have the most options here). These are visas that allow you to continue to work remotely while legally residing in a different country for X amount of time.
Another perk for working in-person is that if you go that route, once you secure your job, your employers will take care of your visa. Sure, you’ll need to gather paperwork and probably have to make an embassy visit or two but they’ll guide you through the process.
If you plan to get your own visa, I highly suggest you reach out to an immigration lawyer based in the country you have your eye on or reach out to the local embassy to get up to date information about the steps you need to take. Some countries require that you process your visa in your home country, while others just need you to bring some paperwork and will do it all once you land.
Each country and each visa is different, so be clear on what you need before you book your flight.
Do understand that if you're wondering how to immigrate to another country, not just move there for a few years, researching the visa options will be a much more in-depth process. Choosing a place that'll give you a visa for a year is a lot easier than finding somewhere that will lead to a permanent residency or citizenship. Its absolutely not an impossible option, regardless of where you want to go and where you're from, but just know it is a much more time consuming process than choosing to stay put for a year or so before heading to the next country.
4. Reach out to anyone you know who already lives abroad
Having connections around the world will make this process easier. It’s nice to have a familiar face to ask any questions to or help ease your doubts. It’s also a great way to learn any tips on finding a job or landing a visa. Since they already did it, they can guide you on what worked and what didn’t.
They'll also be your biggest dose of reality when it comes to things expats don't usually talk about.
This isn’t a requirement but it is helpful and will save you a lot of time on Google. Learning how to relocate to another country can feel like a daunting process, so someone showing you the ropes can make it all seem much more attainable. Plus, if they moved abroad, that's just further proof that you can, too.
Don't know anyone who has moved abroad before? Let me be your digital wingwoman.
Together we'll overcome the hurdles that are holding you back from making a move, whether it be fear, lack of confidence, uncertainty, or feeling overwhelmed by your options.
Through a 1:1 call with me, the A Way Abroad founder, we'll dive deep into all the good, the bad, and the messy aspects of life abroad, so you can make informed decisions and take the next right step.
5. Book your flight
Now that you have your income, visa, and future home abroad chosen, you’re ready to go ahead and book your flight! Just know that it could take just a few weeks to get your job and visa lined up or it could take months. Remember to be patient and that sometimes, good things take time.
The next 5 steps are mostly logistical stuff so you can knock them out quickly if you’re motivated. Just be sure to give yourself a week or so to make sure you have everything in order.
6. Make sure your bank is international
If you’re not sure if your move will be something for just a year a two, I recommend keeping your bank account in your home country. This is especially true if you already have a remote income and are getting paid to that account.
Before you go though, check out how your bank handles international transfers and how much they charge you to use your card abroad or at ATMs. Some banks have much higher fees than others. You might need to open a new bank account in your home country that’s better suited to international travel.
For a great credit card, I highly recommend Capital One Venture. They have no foreign transaction fees and my favorite part is that you can redeem your points at a low rate for airfare, hotels, and other travel expenses. If you are new to the concept of using miles and points to save on your travels, check out Frugal Flyer to learn more.
If you’re hired to work in-person, your employer will set you up with a bank account from that country. Even while I’ve had accounts in Ecuador, South Korea, and Vietnam, I’ve still kept my US account. I use the account in-country to cover all my expenses and keep my US account for savings. I’ve even transferred money out of those accounts abroad to my US account to better help me save or to clean it out before a move.
If you instead opted for a freelance visa or something similar, it might be a requirement to open a bank account in country and deposit a certain amount in there. If that’s the case, your lawyer or the embassy will walk you through how to best do that.
7. Keep a local mailing address on file
Again, unless you’re trying to cut off all ties from your home country, I recommend keeping a local mailing address on file. Personally, I use my parents. Although I haven’t lived in the US for over 10 years, that’s the address I have on my driver’s license and it’s the one connected with my bank account.
Keep in mind if you're focused on how to emigrate from your home country and immigrate to a new one, you'll eventually cut these ties to your home country. If you're more like me though and want to understand better how to migrate to another country again and again and again, keeping the ties like a local mailing address will help you while you're bouncing around and don’t have another legal address.
If you don’t have a family member to use, you can also choose to open a PO Box.
While you’re changing your address, this is a good time to cancel all subscriptions you have. Except for things like Netflix that are online and you can use abroad.
8. Get reliable travel insurance
If you’re hired to work abroad, local insurance should be included in your package. Every job I’ve had abroad has included local insurance in the package so make sure you get it, too.
For remote workers or those of you that don’t need to work, there’s a variety of travel insurance to choose from. In the past, I’ve used Cigna but now I use SafetyWing. I made the switch simply because SafetyWing was much cheaper and since healthcare in Vietnam is already so affordable it made sense. Although, Cigna’s coverage was much more inclusive so you do get what you pay for.
9. Pack, store, and/or sell your things
I know what you might be thinking, you’ll get a storage unit and move all your belongings there so you have them when and if you come back. I’ll be honest, I don’t think that’s a good idea. Unless you are 100% certain that this move will only take you abroad for a year tops, cut out that extra expense and sell or donate your belongings.
Ask a friend or family member to hold on to any super special keepsake items but out of courtesy, keep it limited to a box or two. For everything else, sell what you can and donate the rest.
Remember, when it comes to packing, it’s a lot easier to move with limited bags. Unless you scored a great job abroad that is paying for all your moving expenses and hired international movers, it’ll be you carting your things around the airport and up the flight of stairs to your new apartment.
If you’re a homeowner, I’d suggest renting out your house while you’re away. That way you can have some extra income and your home will be there when you come back. There are the obvious websites like Airbnb to list it on but I’d recommend hiring a property manager in your area to handle everything from renting it out, to cleaning it and dealing with any guests questions or complaints.
10. Say good-bye to your friends and family
This one can be a doozy, depending on how much support you’re getting from your loved ones. Maybe you don’t want to wait until the day before your flight to say bye but there is a reason I put it at the end of the list.
Moving internationally is stressful. It’s exciting, yes, but there are a lot of moving parts, paperwork, and things to double and triple check. If you tell your family you’re moving at the height of your stress, that stress will undoubtedly rub off on them.
Choose a time to talk with them once you have answers to their millions of questions and once you’re confident with your decision. At the end of the day, your family wants to see you happy (at least I really hope so), so if you talk with them with excitement in your eyes, instead of fear and uncertainty, they’ll see that.
It can also feel tempting to pull a Houdini and tell them once you’re already overseas but good-byes are an important part of the process so take the time to have a party and let them in on your plans before you go. I know byes are never fun, but I can promise you, you're about to make some great new friends abroad!
Even after you arrive, it's important to keep your family in the loop with how you're feeling abroad. Throughout all the stages of life abroad, it can be tempting to tell them everything that's going on. Keep in mind to only worry them if it's necessary. I say this not to ask you to keep secrets from your friends and family but because now that they can't see you whenever they'd like, they'll already be worried about you. If you use them only to vent about the negatives, it's only inevitable that they'll try and push you back home.
You’re Ready to Move Abroad ASAP
With these steps, you’re ready to make a quick yet successful move abroad. We’ve stripped away the excess and keep it short and sweet.
For the fastest move abroad possible, having a remote job will certainly help. With that, you just need to pack your computer and get on a flight and figure the rest out while you go.
For the fastest way to move abroad without needing a remote job, I’d recommend working in a common industry. For example, teaching English in South Korea or Japan. These countries process 1000s of work visas annually so they’re well-versed in what needs to be done and speedy in the turnaround time.
Moving abroad is certainly possible for you. You just need to put in a little effort and trust yourself to make these decisions. And remember, you can always change your plans as you go.