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.

13 thoughts on “Living abroad: 10 things to start from

  1. Génial! 🙂 i would like to know your personal opinion on my situation… On the one hand I ve got my new life in paris which I ve dreamed about several years… Finally I ve got it:) And I absolutely happy to live here… and may be first time in my life i m sure that now I m exactly in right place… On the other hand… I starting to see that my career’ abilities is potencially more higher in my home country… And now I face a dilemma… to stay in the city of my dreams (but nebulous perspectives in career (I m afraid that I will need to start everything from the begining)… Or … to return homeland… and to continue career developpment there (but no guarantee it will be sucessful, it’s just my expectation). Sooth to say my feelings chose the first one… But my mind keep the former in case – to return home for couple of years – but at the end turn back here . So breafly, I dont want to return now in my home country at all, but I m afraid of to start my professional life from the begining here (i’m afraid that in 20 years I could regret .. i speak only about professional abilities… nothing else…). What do you think?

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    • I can not give you an advice because this kind of decision is very personal and you will need to live with the consequences of it in any case, whether you stay in Paris or go back. I can however share some facts. First and personal fact: I have already lived in Paris during my exchange studies. At the same time my studies ended, my company was closing as well. Perfect time to start a new life in Paris – but I was not sure what to do (and how), my French was not at the level I wanted it to be etc. So I came back to Helsinki, took a job and then my INSEAD studies allowed my to find a way back to Paris (through Munich). So there is more than one way. Second: in Europe in general and France is no exception to this rule, people study until 26. Then they take a year off to decide who they want to be when they grow up. All that means that careers start much later, and there are not so many great well-paid things you can do at your age here (compared to Russia, for example). It is normal. Third: Russian experience is so unique that it is very, VERY difficult to convert it to a foreign job. Add here a time gap in career start and you see that the longer you stay in Russia, the more difficult it will be for you to come back here and to get a job. However, there is always a possibility to start in a international firm and then get a transfer, easing up your transition. So you see, there are pros and cons of each decision. There is more than one way. Personally, I regret not having stayed in Paris first time and all the zig zagging that followed. However, who knows, maybe then I would have missed on some other essential part of my life.

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  2. I am in love with your writing, please don’t stop! 🙂 After moving several times I know that everything you mentioned is true. I truly hope it can motivate someone who is only thinking of moving to make the first step.

    BUT…. Currently I am pretty happy where I am now. However, there are few other places where I would like to live for some time just because there is only one life and so many amazing cities. It is kinda hard to dream big while being tied in a knot with someone who doesn’t share the same dream. How should I go about that? 🙂

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    • ❤ Friend, all I can tell you is that the only reason I did not want to turn 30 was my dream to live in Rio (and some other places after that, who knows ;)) It is all about balance though: I guess, at some point other life value and goals grow more important than they were at 20s, and then we have to balance. That is, we clearly still travel, we just always come back to the base. In our 30s, at least 😀

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  3. All so true. I had read somewhere before I moved to Morocco that we always lose something as expats. It’s so true. Lost relationships, my physical home (a house I loved 21 years), lots of sleep to stay in touch across time zones… all painful… but I also gained more in following a dream than I ever imagined I would. Just downsizing to make a move takes commitment and the paperwork is painful (I write after 2 days trying to understand what documents I’ll need for the Caribbean), but “Dreams are measured by what you are willing to let go of to make them happen.” And I’ve found, thankfully, the sacrifices were so worth it to live in a place I was drawn to, moving to another dream place will be worth the challenges ahead.

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    • Glad to read that you are enjoying the place you have chosen to be your home! I have conflicting memories from Morocco, some very good and some not so. What matters is that you felt that your place is yours. With this feeling, all the obstacles are much smaller! (And without it, all the perfect places are a drag ;)).

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