Start with a dream. And dream big. If you have ever considered moving, usually you know where you want to be. Make this dream personal. Add the most important element to the picture of the place you want to be: yourself. See yourself waking up to your city’s sun (or rain), walking its streets to work, taking its metro, doing groceries and catching the evening lights in a glass of wine on its terraces (or roof tops) after work.
Go where you want to go, not where you think you should. You already do a lot of things you have to do. Don’t add a choice of the place to live to this list. Sure, it doesn’t make sense to pack for Paris if you don’t speak any French (unless you have a plan on how to pay your bills while learning it). However, don’t chose a place with better salaries (cost of living and taxes are likely to be higher as well), better rankings in the list of best cities to live, life expectancy or any other more promising stats over the place you love. No rational considerations can replace the streets of the city that make your heart beat faster. So make sure you chose your goal with your heart. It is also a lot easier to overcome the difficulties of the first time (and some other times) when you genuinely love the place you are working to make your home.
Think papers. The biggest challenge of moving abroad is not documents, it’s the fear of change. Documents come second. Unless you are born with a lucky passport, decide what would be a condition of you being in the place of your dream. It does not have to be a complete solution, but you need a legitimate way to stay where you want to stay for at least six months. You will get more information (sometimes in unexpected places) when you get there.
Prepare to lose. In something, be it a job level, friends, income, commute time or the bagel you used to buy every morning on your way to work. Dreams are measured by what you are willing to let go of to make them happen, and planning for moving abroad is a good way to test your commitment to your goal. How much do you really want to live in this city? Once you have mapped the upcoming losses, embrace them. They will be oh so worth it.
Look for the graduates. If you contemplate the ways to do something, it is likely that someone else already did. They might tell you how. Find people already living your dream and invest in a relationship with them. Forums, as tempting shortcut as they sound, do not yield the best results. For some reason, collective wisdom in case of immigration becomes a collective panic, with often exaggerated tales of perils of every step, bureaucratic or not. People with real success stories are likely enjoying it now and don’t sit in forums to share the recipes of their success with others. So get to know them. And when you do, don’t jump on them with your questions. They probably get a lot of that. Get interested in their life. Find common themes. Buy them coffee. Be genuine. This way you will not only bypass the panic of the forums but can also find some real friends in the place you are going to.
Mind the gap. The city you are dreaming about is not just a setting for your new happy life. It is also home to some thousands (millions) of people, and you need to consider what living among them will be like. They say that in France, everything is great but French people (sometimes I think that French people themselves came up with that). I happily disagree with that, by the way (I love the French, probably because I share their most notorious traits), and one of the reasons for me to chose Paris as my home was the people who live in the city. However, not everyone will have my line of thinking. Cross-check the popular stereotypes: if they were true, would you still like to deal with these people every day?
Don’t expect to be expected. Chances are, no one is waiting for you in the city you are going to (it is true: if you think about it, are you waiting for anyone to come live in your city at this very moment?). Even if you are leaving for someone you love, even if the place you are heading to is full of friends you made before. Nothing gets you a place in the city you have chosen to be your home, you will have to make a place for yourself. It sounds counter intuitive but the city of your dreams won’t open its doors to you just because you have a courage to knock (and bought an airplane ticket). You will need to work harder than the locals to get pretty much anything: apartment, job, friends and doctor’s appointment. That is, until you become one of them.
Be ready to take a detour. You might not always have the means to get straight to the place of your dreams. The company you work for might not have offices there. You might not speak the language at the level to compete at the local labor market. Your passport might not be exactly suitable for geographic experiments. However, it is much more likely that you have an opportunity to move somewhere else, half way between where you are and where you want to be. In this case, do it. Live by Roosevelt’s “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” A step towards your goal, even a small one, is better than standing still gazing at the mountain of obstacles. Mountains don’t melt because of the eye contact. They get left behind because of the steps you take. So make those steps, take a detour, and don’t lose sight of the goal.
Mute those voices of negativity. Of course, there will be people telling you that your moving abroad idea is nonsense. “You will never get a job without a local degree”. “You have a wrong passport”. “It is too late to start another life”, and “Just look at the world’s economy”. Most of these people advocate doing nothing not to you but to themselves. To soothe the discomfort of having never gathered the courage to go for something they really wanted. Listen to yourself instead. You, and you alone will live with the consequences of your decision, whether to move to another country or not to. Believe that you can, and you will be half way there.
Don’t plan too far ahead. While it is good to have some kind of a plan when moving to another country (and to consider some budgeting), too much planning can discourage you from changing at all. There are way too many unknowns in living abroad equation. Where to work. How to find an apartment. Which of your usual foods (medicine, cosmetics or electronics) are available in your new country and which you should take with you. Decide on where you are going to live for the first time, on which papers (visa or residence permit) you will travel and how you will pay for the first six months of your stay. Then go.
P.S. The picture to this post was taken by my business partners in Monaco a long time ago. For them, it is the view from their office, and the only thing deserving a photo shot was a rainbow. For me, it was an every day reminder of where I wanted to be.