Are you in your teens/twenties and thinking of moving to a new country one day?
As someone who has lived in five countries (and now actively looking for the sixth), I have some advice – just a few friendly suggestions from one long-term nomad to a potential future one.
1. Finish that degree
You may have heard about college drop-outs who became entrepreneurs, or of those who skipped post-secondary education entirely and hustled their way to success. While their stories are impressive, I strongly urge you to think twice before abandoning University.
Let’s be clear – I’m not cheerleading for higher education here. I have my doubts about the real worth of many degrees on offer today, especially when they come packaged with tens of thousands of dollars in student loans (condolences to U.S. readers). And I won’t get into the STEM vs. non-STEM debate in this post.
However, a (full Bachelor’s or equivalent, internationally recognized) degree is an invaluable asset when planning a life abroad. For example:
– Thinking of teaching English abroad at one point? A degree is a must these days, even in countries where enforcement has been lax in the past (e.g. China).
– Seeking a temporary assignment abroad with your employer? You’ll need a work visa in the host country, which will almost always require proof of higher education.
– Looking to immigrate as a Skilled Worker? As you’ll see on many foreign immigration websites, a University degree will literally add points to your application (and can make the difference between acceptance and rejection)
In other words, a Bachelor’s degree is useful – try to get one before you leave.
2. Don’t try to time the job market
I had a teacher in High School who often told us that his task is to prepare us for jobs that don’t exist yet. Turns out he wasn’t kidding.
It’s tempting to try and predict the next big thing and “skate where the puck is going.” Now we hear predictions of powerful AI running the world, runaway climate change, genetic enhancements, oceans of nano-bots – and so on. While all of this may happen (and more), it’s not easy to pin down exactly when major changes in our society and industry will take place. Chances are, it won’t perfectly coincide with your graduation year.
My advice is to focus on the essentials:
- Learn to write well. Cut the length of your writing by 25% – whether it’s an essay for school, an email to a coworker, or a text message. Then cut it down again (this is something I’m still working on).
- Learn to communicate effectively. Not only as an effective speaker, but as a good listener. Make it a habit to arrange your thoughts before saying anything.
- If you have the opportunity, learn a second language. It doesn’t have to be Mandarin. Even if you don’t attain a conversational level, the learning process will broaden your mind.
- Become good at problem solving. Get a strong foundation in math and the hard sciences (go online and take a free course from MIT if you have to). These subjects aren’t scary – they are beautiful when taught correctly. Learn to break down problems and solve them in steps. Try at least one course in programming.
- Take an intro course to Economics and Finance. Financial literacy is critical, yet sorely lacking today. Acquire a basic understanding of supply and demand, inflation/deflation, the capital markets, and so on.
The idea is to prepare for anything that the world may throw at you, wherever you choose to go.
Oh yeah, and don’t try to time the stock market, either.
3. Spend some quality time alone
Being alone can be a very productive activity. It’s a chance to relax, breathe, and collect your thoughts in peace. This doesn’t even have to happen regularly – a few sessions are all it takes to see the benefits. My preferred method is the long hike through the woods.
This also happens to be great practice for long-term travel and expatriation. The first year of living abroad can be a genuinely lonely experience, especially if you are immersed in a culture that has fundamentally different values from what you’re used to. It will take time to form friendships that run deeper than surface level – if you know that you can be comfortable alone, it will be that much easier to stay the course.
4. Solve existing problems first
Moving to a new country won’t automatically solve all your personal issues. In fact, unless you take care of all that before departure, it’s likely to uncover new ones.
Don’t like the attitudes and values of those around you? Chances are, you can probably find a more like-minded crowd without even leaving your city, let alone switching countries altogether.
Frustrated with your income level? Unless you have a job lined up (and a signed work contract), moving abroad isn’t guaranteed to make you any more money than you are right now.
Having relationship problems? Address the root cause, or you’ll likely be having similar ones in your host country, too.
Problems with family? This is a personal situation for everyone, but I’ll wager that running far away (e.g. moving abroad) isn’t going to fix the issue, but rather delay the hard but necessary conversations that have to take place.
Note: there will always be cases in which people are left with little choice to but leave – I’m not addressing those here.
5. Work your way up to full expatriation
Your move abroad can be sudden, but it doesn’t have to be unexpected. At the very least, visit your target country for a week or two before making up your mind. I recommend going there alone – get a real sample of what the first few months might feel like.
Similarly, try a place out for a year or two before committing to seek residency (and possibly citizenship). You may find that your enthusiasm wanes significantly, and that the novelty wears off. Alternatively, you may very well confirm that the new (host) country is a far better fit. In any case, trial periods give you options.
6. Be confident in your decision (and ignore the naysayers)
Inevitably, you will run into those who will maintain that this is all “impossible.” That moving abroad, as you are trying to do, can’t be done or won’t work out. That it’s a bad plan, destined to end in tears and a negative credit card balance.
Here’s the thing: even if all that happens, you will regret not trying it out when you have the chance. If you’ve really thought this through, made a plan, and are determined to make all of this work – go for it. You’ll figure it out.
Living abroad, even for a brief time, will open your mind to new ways of thinking. You may even gain a deeper appreciation for your home country, and realize that there was a lot you were taking for granted.
For more advice and expat stories, check out our Recommended Books page.