As a new expat, I often find myself being asked many questions about moving abroad. I get sent messages from so many people who have seen me make the giant leap into the sunset and asked for various tips and advice. One thing I can’t do is provide immigration advice as you need to be a legally registered immigration advisor to provide that kind of advice but I can speak about my own experience and answer some of the broader questions asked of me.
I think it’s really important to say first and foremost, no one can tell you whether you should or should not move.
No one can answer the questions about whether it will be worth it.
No one can guarantee that you will have the same experience that they have had so you really need to think carefully about making decisions based on the experiences of anyone else.
Five questions to ask yourself BEFORE you move to a new place
1. Why are you leaving your current city?
I think a good place to start when you are deciding to make a move is WHY! Why do you want to move? Are you unhappy where you currently are? Can you do something to change that situation or is the only way you can change that to move to a new place? Maybe you could move house if you don’t like your area? or you could change your social circle or you could find a new job etc.
Maybe it’s not at all about the city but about your life in the city so if you can, try and look at way to change the things that are making you unhappy unless you just want to pack up and move away because that is actually totally okay too!
For us, moving was pretty simple. We wanted a better life for our son in a country with better job opportunities for both of us. South Africa has an unemployment rate of almost 30% so even though I am Masters level educated, I really struggled to find work in my field and the jobs that I could apply for, paid so little that I made more money working for myself as a freelancer. Leaving wasn’t a hard choice for us.
We were definitely influenced by the pull factors of New Zealand. An English speaking country (important for me as I only speak English), safe, high chance of finding a job in my field and beautiful. So we had no trouble making this choice.
2. Is the new city right for you?
It’s really important to look at your new city or country holistically. Is the climate one you could live with? Don’t go live somewhere with extremely hot summers if you can’t handle heat. Don’t go live somewhere that it’s dark all winter if you get depressed when there’s no sun. You really need to do your research before making up your mind.
Look at the job market in the place you want to move to. Try to get a good understanding of the needs in your field. Will you actually get a job? Does it pay enough to survive off? If you are going with a partner and you both need to work, you have double the research to do. Don’t just pack up and hope for the best. It may work out but if it doesn’t, make sure you’re prepared for the worst case scenario.
Are the people welcoming? Do they value the influx of migrants or will they be hostile to your arrival? This sounds like something you might not need to worry about but for me, it was really important to feel welcome in a new country.
I am very aware of my status as an outsider and so I’ve tried to do as much research as I can about fitting into New Zealand culture. I make sure not to walk around talking about how much better South African X,Y,Z is. I know a lot of South African expats really miss home and so it can be easy to start comparing. I don’t have that feeling that we might have been better off at home with Mrs Balls Chutney and I know I don’t need someone to clean my house for me.
These are actual, legit concerns of people wanting to move over. It’s not a decision to be made lightly and I can’t emphasise more how thoroughly you need to consider if you can cope without the “luxuries” of home.
3. Can you see a future for yourself there?
If you look at the type of lifestyle that most people live in the new place, is it one that you see yourself fitting in to? Do you see yourself feeling passionate about the city? Do you think you’ll fit in with the people? Do you see lots of job opportunities and room for growth? What about the property market, if that’s important to you, do you need to consider the price of houses?
There is so much more to moving that often we forget to think about. Schools for our kids. Weekend activities. Parks and playgrounds. Commute to and from work. The cost of living. The type of opportunities available to you over time. Retirements, healthcare etc.
You need to look at the long term plan and decide if that place is a viable option. Of course none of that matters if you’re the kind of person who just packs up and moves on after a few years. For most of us, one move is really traumatic and pretty intensive so moving regularly is not an option. So if you’re in it for the long haul then you need to really do your research.
4. What reasons do you have to stay behind?
When deciding to move, there will be both reasons to go and reasons to stay. You need to look at both of those. It could be really helpful to make a pros and cons list. Leaving my mom behind was really hard for me, it would have been one of the only reasons to stay for me. However, my son’s safety was more important to me (sorry mom) and so we decided it was a sacrifice that had to be made. I also really struggled with leaving behind my friends. I have some really awesome friends and I can’t pretend like that was an easy thing to give up. But again, not being able to find decent work in Cape Town was a good push factor and it outweighed the reasons to stay. We do after all need to provide for our family.
Make the list and decide what’s more important to you. Ask yourself if the sacrifices are really worth it. If you think that starting over might not be worth it financially, then don’t leave. If you want a big house, don’t move to New Zealand and start over because that’s not very likely to happen. If a house is what’s important to you, and you think you can’t live without yours, then stay. If you know you won’t manage to clean up after yourself – and you really really need your domestic worker, then don’t move. You will most likely not have the same standard of living here as you do in South Africa. If you value having financial rewards over safety and the lifestyle that another country offers you, then that’s a very very good reason to sit down and rethink your choices.
If you don’t agree with your partner on the move, immediately scrap your plans to move. You BOTH need to be on board because moving is hard and if one person has been the driving force and the other is unsure, you will probably not survive the move. It’s taxing on any relationship so you need to be a united team before deciding to up and go.
5. What will you do if it doesn’t work out?
Moving is really not easy. Moving back if it doesn’t work out is probably even worse. If you get to the new country or the new city and it doesn’t work out, you need to have a back up plan. You need to have enough money to sustain you until you find a job and it might take longer than you think. You need to know that the grass is not always greener but if you’re very aware of the reasons why you moved in the first place, you will be better off if those reason have at least paid off. We got to new Zealand as they changed the law – suddenly we couldn’t buy a house as foreigners and our dogs had no where to go. We had to make a plan overnight for our two dogs who were waiting for us. Luckily, we had two very incredible pairs of friends who rescued us, each couple taking one of our dogs until we can move them here. I was ready to pack my shit up and move back home for those dogs. It hasn’t been easy. I hadn’t even considered that the original plan we had made for them might not work out and it was a massive shock to us.
You really need to think of everything because that way, when inevitably, things don’t work, you can remind yourself of the bigger picture.
Moving across the world is hard – it’s not for everyone and you really do need to be honest without yourself about what is important to you.
I traded a life where I owned my own home, worked as a freelancer and had a great social circle for a life where I NEED a job, rent a house and can’t have my dogs with me until I can finally buy a house and yet somehow, I go to sleep every night feeling at peace. I am less afraid than I’ve ever been. I don’t worry about our safety (except when earthquakes happen) and I love my life and my job for the first time in my life.
Moving is not for everyone but if it’s for you, make sure you do your research and prepare for the worst case scenario. Sometimes, the grass really is greener on the other side.