How to become an expat

The Great Expat Adventure

If you’re thinking seriously about moving overseas, then that thought has probably been in your head for a long time. Perhaps you have a passion for adventure that’s been brewing since you were a child, perhaps you want to experience more of what the world has to offer, or perhaps you simply want a different job opportunity and find yourself limited in your home country. Whatever your reason, you stand on the brink of making one of the biggest, most complicated – but also most exciting – decisions you’ll ever make.

The good news is there are lots of resources out there to help you plan the specifics and to guide your move step by step. For example, check out Western Union’s How to Become an Expat blog post for some great advice from those who have been there and done it (and to read my own feature on learning languages).

How to make it happen

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the most important considerations for starting out. There are many, many issues to choose from including finding somewhere to live and work, planning your physical transit, learning the local language, avoiding culture shock, managing your finances and creating opportunities for social interaction. I can’t cover them all in detail here although you can find lots more great advice all through this website. And if you want more help in making your decision check out how I can help you.  So, for now, I’ll focus on what I think are the absolute basics.

Find your reason

One of the most common questions I get asked is how to become an expat. This seemed strange at first to someone so used to the lifestyle, but I came to realise that many people want to move but just don’t know what their options are. So, if this you, start with the basics and choose a method that fits with your profession, your ambition or your personality. Most people have one of the following reasons for an overseas adventure…

Study: Find a university that offers something you’d like to pursue and move overseas as an international student.

Secured employment: Many jobs include opportunities for extensive travel. For example, government service, oil industry, mining industry and teaching all have overseas opportunities almost as a standard. Securing a job like this whilst you’re still in your home country will open doors with minimal risks.

New employment: Explore international job boards that are readily available on the internet and apply for jobs in the country of your choice. Applying for, and securing, your job before you move adds a level of security that some people find appealing.

Winging it: This is an option for the brave and the bold – pack up and just go! Work the rest out when you get there!

Apply for a visa

To cover all the different aspects of getting a visa would require an essay of its own. It all depends on what your nationality is, where you want to move, what your work is and many other aspects in between, so for now suffice to say that this is a very important consideration; getting the right type of visa is crucial for you to legally live and work in the country of your choice.

From temporary visitor, employment or study visas, which give you a set amount of time to achieve your goal, to permanent residency visas that may be family or employer sponsored, there is a broad spectrum of choice. It’s worth investing effort in being accurate first time to stay on the right side of international laws. This is covered in more detail by Western Union in their How to Become an Expat article. Be aware too that some countries make it more difficult than others to get a visa – the USA, Canada and Australia are prime examples – so start the process early and make sure you have plenty of time to jump through all the hoops.

Finding a job

As with any job hunt, finding a job overseas starts with getting your paperwork in order and making sire you understand the specific requirements of the country you’re targeting. A great CV and cover letter are essentials for every application, but best practice varies from place to place. For example, in the UK a CV should be limited to 2 pages or less and should not contain a photograph or any personal information because of strict equality laws. In Dubai, your photograph, date of birth, nationality and marital status are required inclusions. If you’re not sure, get online and start asking questions.

Next – network! Let everyone know what you want to achieve and where you want to go. The world is increasingly well connected and you’d be surprised at the number of opportunities that can crop up because somebody knows somebody… Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and even WhatsApp; get yourself connected and start talking. Be brave and put yourself out there to reap the benefits.

Be prepared for interviews. Most employers aren’t going to expect you to travel to them for an interview, they’ll simply use Skype – but that’s not quite as easy as it sounds. Get some practice in first so you’re familiar with any lagging issues (to avoid unnecessary interruptions), ask about language to make sure you’ll be able to communicate, speak clearly, avoid colloquialisms and make sure you dress appropriately for an interview, even if you’re at home on your sofa!

Managing your money

Another complex topic. When you move overseas you need to put certain measures in place to make sure that your funds are easily accessible. You may be paid in a different currency and need to consider conversion rates; you may need to make regular transfers between your home and overseas accounts, settle tax issues or keep up with regular payments in your home country.  Again, more helpful tips and advice can be found at Western Union, but the key to not having a last minute crisis is to be prepared for every eventuality before you leave.

Many people have moved away from their home countries to become expats – and you can too. It requires a fair amount of planning and a lot of research, but the world is pretty much your oyster. You just have to decide where you want to live and how to make it happen. Easy! OK, maybe not quite that easy, but it’s certainly do-able if you put your mind to it and go into expat life with your eyes wide open.

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