When my brother moved abroad more than thirteen years ago, his life seemed like an Indiana Jones adventure. Unreliable internet access and expensive international calls made communication scarce. Whenever we did make contact, he would engage us in long and winding tales of the people, places, and circumstances he encountered in the deserts of West Africa. At that time, moving abroad seemed unimaginable, unpredictable, and risky. But now, it seems easier to leave your homeland than ever before. Folks are not only crisscrossing borders with greater ease but also blogging, tweeting, and Facebook-ing the entire journey along the way. Everyone from Wanderlust Wendy to Computer Geek Gary has found a place for themselves abroad and you can too, with a few steps of preparation before joining the growing community of expatriates.
With seven continents to choose from, it’s hard to know where to begin your life abroad. There are various languages, cultures, and climates to consider but knowing your personal goal and objective can be a powerful navigator through the sea of choices. A great starting point would be assessing your finances. If financial freedom is your goal, you may want to look at destinations where you can earn big and spend little. Once the “man” is off your back and debt collectors no longer address you on a first name basis, it’s time to look at destinations that have personal or spiritual significance to you. Many a traveler find their expeditions unexpectedly cut short, so try to prioritize the fulfilling and meaningful experiences that memoirs are made of. See those sights, make those pilgrimages, and bask in those precious, unforgettable moments.
The Door of No Return, Goiree Island, Senegal
Half-finished degrees do little to secure a respectable income abroad (if earning is your goal). Once you’ve decided on a course of study, training, or certification, see it through to completion and don’t belittle your accomplishment. Carry the banners of your hard-earned efforts and keep scanned and hard copies readily available. Even first-aid or scuba diving certificates have helped people secure their dream job abroad. Other important documents might include your birth certificate, background checks, recommendation letters, marriage certificates, name change documents, etc. Even with e-tickets and mobile check-in, sometimes a printed itinerary can come in handy.
Flying by the seat of your pants has its place and function but a little planning can save you time and money. A flexible plan that allows for contingencies can help you keep the ball rolling when you run into roadblocks and brick walls. If planning is not your spiritual gift, then consider conditional plans like “I will start here unless…” or “I will do this until…” Sitting back and charting your path will help you move more efficiently and cost-effectively through the land. Even if the wanderers among us could care less about such formalities, it will certainly assure your more grounded family and friends that you haven’t completely lost it.
What you think you possess of patience will not only be tested in your life abroad but also stretched, beaten, and contorted until it sits like a hard-won trophy on your mantle. I really used to think I was patient, but perpetual frustration in my first destination showed me that there was more left to be acquired. Challenges in everything from communication and correspondence to health, wealth, and sanity can leave you perplexed and aggravated. Keep in mind that new experiences are often powerful teachers in the subjects of life, yourself, and your place in this vast world. When the bewilderment really starts to get to you, take the time to pause, quit beating yourself about the past, and let your purpose guide your next step forward.
If landing yourself in prison abroad is on your bucket list, then feel free to ignore this piece of advice but for others, please take heed. Even if sainthood isn’t your aim, a basic sense of good character and upright conduct can be life-saving in the most and stress-saving in the least, as you find your way in a new country. Expats are not above the law and the rights and freedoms you enjoy in your home country may not travel with you. If your lifestyle or personal views are illegal or in conflict with the laws and customs of your location and you feel the need to broadcast, publicize, and express them openly, maybe living in such a country would do more harm than good for you. Drugs, drinking, or delinquency can make ugly turns and blemish not only your record but also your reputation, both socially and professionally. Save risqué behavior for your own turf, and be on your best behavior when you’re in someone else’s home. Also, don’t forget to align yourself with the social and spiritual resources needed to be your best you wherever you go.