I wanted to move abroad for a long time. When I closed my eyes at night I dreamt of Parisian croissants, foreign languages singing through my lips effortlessly, faces of different colors, religions and backgrounds smiling at me, and the vibration of different music occupying my hips. I only wish that it could be that easy. The things your dreams don’t tell you are 1) it’s scary to be cut off from what you know in a new culture on your own and 2) it’s a lot harder to legally become an immigrant than you may have considered.
- Why do you want to move?
The first step is having a serious one-on-one reflection period with yourself. Why do you want to go? What are you expecting out of this? How committed are you? Myself and the people I have met on this journey of becoming an expat has showed me only this one truth; it doesn’t matter if you’re the Ghandi of travel, it is scary, it is hard, it is confusing. Life is life and the monotony of reality doesn’t disappear with new sights and smells. If you are serious about making a new life in a foreign country then you will likely be working and settling into a routine just as you do in your home country. Make sure you are moving for the right reasons. Don’t let this be an escape or an adventure to pursue someone else, let this be about you.
- Save, Save, Save
Secondly, once you have decided to move abroad give yourself a 6-12-month period to prepare. I mean it, you will be so happy you did. Cut costs anywhere you can: rent, clothing, food, entertainment. Create a budget, set up a savings account with automatic payments. Once I decided I was serious about moving abroad, I quit my job and took a temporary job in a field that was not relevant to my career at all. I moved down the totem pole so to speak, but as the workforce so likes to do, I was making $5 more per hour, the contract was temporary and ended 7 days before my flight out. I set up a savings account and funneled nearly 90% of my weekly pay checks into it. After 4 months, it still wasn’t even close to enough. So trust me, save money.
- Weigh Your Options
You need to decide how you are going to do this. Consider your options. If you have a college degree and 2-5 years’ experience, you can try to find positions in your career field in foreign countries. This is usually possible if 1) your current workplace has international locations or 2) you speak more than 1 language, speak English fluently and have a good deal of experience in the field. First and foremost, you must understand that any company abroad is more likely to hire someone eligible to work in that country. Why? They don’t have to sponsor an immigrant for a work visa (which costs a lot) because they can get just as good of talent with someone already legally able to work.
I would recommend reaching out to companies in your field either way, because you never know. However, there are other options available to you for getting your foot in the door. You can consider TEFL or Au Pairing. I don’t know nearly as much about Au Pairing, but I feel that it does not offer as much freedom with the visa as TEFL does. TEFL means Teaching English as a Foreign Language, in other words…becoming an English teacher. The market for English teachers is very high, especially in Asia. I would recommend finding an on-site and accredited intensive TEFL course, as it will prepare you and give you better chances for jobs. If you want freedom in terms of visa, length-of stay and experience abroad you should consider teaching English. It is very common for English teachers to be freelancers, gaining freelance visas and working for more than one school. You also have the option to be hired by one school and have your visa set up by them. This eliminates a lot of the headache on your part, but it also ties your working rights to one company.
- Pick Your Poison
Trust me when I say it is much easier to pull this off if you have an idea of where you are going. Pick a country and then pick a city in that country. This is very important and you will understand why in Number 5. Also, you should know that the easiest places for Americans to get jobs and visas are in the Czech Republic and in Germany, but that doesn’t mean it is impossible in other places.
- Bite The Bullet and Go
If you complete a TEFL program you will eventually finish that program. Then you will be jobless and will need to start the job search. The common theme you will find in responses to job inquiry emails is this:
“Great, we love your interest. When you’re here contact us and we can set up an interview.”
Talk to your instructors and they will say the same thing. Most of the time, it will be nearly impossible to get a job or an interview if you are not in the city. So you have to pick a city and commit. I wasn’t sure how to pick and I’m still not sure if I made the right choice. Do your research and weigh your options logically. I chose Germany because of the economic aspect and the chance that I would get on my feet financially faster with the euro in a rich country. Then I went to Berlin and I found the real estate market prices and I’m not sure if I made the right decision after all. Do your research. Consider the cost of living in the city before you make a choice, but then bite the bullet and go. Email businesses or schools 2-3 weeks before you arrive and try to maintain contact with them until you arrive in the city. Once you arrive, send another email and say that you are there. Be consistent. As my mom always says, the squeaky wheel gets greased.
As I said in Number 4, the Czech Republic and Germany are two of the easiest places for Americans to relocate. However, it is not impossible to go to other places. If you have your heart set on France, email 2-3 weeks before and then show up in person. I had interview opportunities in Portugal, but because I didn’t go there they got swept under the rug. Follow your heart and don’t give up.
I know that is sounds overwhelming. Trust me, I do. I have been in your position and I still am. I am constantly searching the internet for help or advice on how to do this. It’s not easy and there are a lot of hoops you have to jump through and a lot of risks you have to take. I will say this though; the moment you get on a bus or a plane or a train to a city and show up with nothing to your name but determination is a moment you will remember always. If I can do it, you can do it. I will write more blogs about TEFL and about Visa Applications and anything else that may prove to help you in your adventure.
One thing I know about reading these real as f*** blogs about becoming an expat is that it sometimes takes away the magic from the adventure. Don’t be scared by what I’ve said. If anything, be challenged. Let it light a fire under you. Travel is one of the most trying, enriching, enlightening experiences and you won’t regret challenging yourself.