Travel Club: Living abroad
Thinking about moving abroad? This will help!
Moving away from your home to somewhere new.
Seeming difficult to deal with.
Confused or perplexed.
In advance (usually for payment).
To suggest a plan or to suggest yourself for a position.
Getting the better of something.
By Susie Shields
Thinking of moving abroad? Feeling terrified and clueless? You’re not the only one! Uprooting your life can be a daunting prospect, but with the right preparation - and a little courage - you can definitely make the dream a reality.
Six years ago, on a cold and miserable January evening, I found myself whizzing through the air on a low-cost flight to Barcelona. With no job, no permanent accommodation and no friends waiting for me at my destination point, I was more than a little jittery. But my wish to live abroad was firm and resolute, and so I kept going. (Plus, airlines don’t really like it if you start screaming “LET ME OUT, I CHANGED MY MIND!”, and try to open the plane doors mid-air to escape).
At midnight I landed in Barcelona. After taking a taxi to my temporary flat, greeting my temporary flatmates and closing the door of my temporary bedroom, I sat down. And panicked. “Where am I?!” “What am I doing?!” “I want to be in my own bed at home!” were just a few of the thoughts racing through my head. I went to sleep that night feeling lost, alone, and a little confused about why my Spanish flatmates were cooking dinner in the middle of the night. (Six years later and I’m still baffled by the late-night culture).
The next morning, I woke up with winter sun streaming through the windows –an alien concept for a Scottish person in January. I was still lost, alone, and confused, but I felt a little better in the light of day. Besides, I had a lot of things to do! I had a new life to create for myself! It was time to get out of bed and make that happen for real. Here’s how I did that, and what I learned from my experience.
When relocating to an unfamiliar destination, my first piece of advice would be to organise temporary accommodation. For example, I rented a room in an apartment for one month, which was a great way to have a little security when I first arrived. Even better, it gave me time to get my bearings and look around for a permanent place. Remember to do some research before you start searching, so you have an idea of the average price of rent and what to expect from a typical flat. And, above all, never pay any money up front without seeing the flat first. A friend of mine paid a “deposit” of several hundred euros for a flat he had only seen in photos advertised online. Needless to say, he never saw the flat or his deposit ever again.
Things like social security, national insurance numbers, health cards and bank accounts are all essential to becoming established in a new country. Moreover, most companies will probably insist that your papers are in order before they hire you, so try to get as much done as possible before moving. There are plenty of resources to help you online, from official government websites to social network groups. For me, the most helpful guides were the people who had gone through a similar experience themselves.
Once you can work legally in your new country, you’ll want to start looking for a job. I found that companies basically ignored my email applications while I was still living at home. However, when I contacted them again to tell them I was now residing in the city, I got a lot more interest and calls for job interviews. My verdict: most companies prefer to recruit candidates who are already settled in the city, so be prepared to hear nothing and then suddenly everything.
So you’ve got your flat, your paperwork, your new job. Then the weekend comes and you realise… your social agenda is emptier than a Spanish office during August! My advice in this situation is to be proactive. Put yourself forward for opportunities to socialise, such as after-work drinks with colleagues, language classes with classmates, or meet-up groups for people with similar interests. Of course, it’s also very possible that you make friends by complete accident. I met my best friend waiting in the queue for the bank, for example. The lesson I learned was: always keep your smile big and your mentality wide open.
Just do it
No, I’m not selling sports gear. My conclusion is that while the points discussed above may seem like a lot of work (because they are), the rewards are totally worth the pain. Nothing can make you feel prouder than laying the foundation of a whole new life for yourself. Over time, as you build upon that base, overcoming challenges will become easier and will provide you with lifelong skills of confidence and self-belief. Remember, there is never a perfect time to make a life-changing act– I moved to a new country in the middle of winter with just £300 in my bank account, for goodness’ sake! But if you want to make it work, you will make it work. Go for it.