The Art & Science of Moving Countries: How to Move to a Foreign Country

Christchurch, New Zealand

Over the last 7 years I’ve taken my life in a radically new direction then the one I was headed in. I moved to 5 different cities around the world and lived on 3 different continents. In that same amount of time, I’ve had people come to me with many of the same questions about the why and more so how I did it. So I thought I’d write up a post covering what I’ve learned, what I did and how you might be able to do it too.

Both times I stuck to my strategy below and started a new chapter of my life in a new foreign country. It’s not easy and it takes some skill, however, if you’re serious about moving abroad then you can do it. Your life won’t be the same and that’s the point; let’s shack up your life and show you a part of yourself you always had inside.

Before you hunt down visa forms, book airplane tickets, leave for that foreign country or even tell anyone you’re leaving. You need to ask yourself two very important questions:

Standing Alone
Can you stand on your own two feet? If you said no, then this journey might not be for you. If you said yes, then please continue reading. You’ll have to deal with government or financial (aka banks) bureaucracy and have no one to lean on but yourself. Being able to solve problems on your own is key to surviving in a new foreign market, especially if you don’t know a single soul. Be prepared for the unexpected.

Transferable Skills/Experience
Are your skills transferable to a new country? This may seem like a no brainier but I can’t tell you how many people have not thought about this before they leave. Not every industry or sector has skills you can just take to a local market. People in the legal industry are a good example of this. Local and national laws are important skills you’ll need and ones you won’t have if you’ve been working in Canada and want to move to England one day. The exception being if your law firm transfers you to a foreign office, which this article wasn’t written for someone moving within their current organization.

Keep these points in mind when deciding where to move too because experience trumps education in this new world market. Now you need to decide where you’re going to move too. I picked Melbourne because I wanted to see Australia since I was a kid and fulfill a life long dream. It wasn’t the most practical choice in some sense but one I never regretted making. London was picked because I had been before, know I could survive and transfer my skills into a local market. Plus it gave me access to the rest of Europe & Asia for travel.

The Language of Love
You’ll notice I picked places I’d not need to learn a new language. This was a deliberate choice, as moving to a foreign country is hard enough without having to learn how to speak a new language. Learning a language can take years to grasp the basics and delay you getting a job in your chosen field.

When does your passport expire? I’d make sure you’ve an updated passport or at least a couple years left on yours before it expires. You don’t want to have to worry about getting it changed after landing in your new country. Plus you’ll need to send it in with your visa application forms to get approved for your visa.

The VISA Debate
This isn’t debatable. You need a visa. No matter what country you plan to move to, you’ll need one to work. Some countries, like Ireland, give you 3 months of leeway before you need a visa to work, but in the end you’ll need a visa to make it and stay long term. Each country is different, but usually their board/immigration website has a list of visas you can research and figure out what applies to you. There is usually a cost of a few hundred dollars, but it’s one of the lowest investments you’ll make in this process. Give yourself 60–90 days to fill out VISA forms and get approved before you want to leave. Longer if you need to give 30+ days notice for the place you live. The sooner you get approved, the cheaper your ticket will be with not having to buy one last minute.

The Job Market
Research and being prepared when you hit the ground in your new home is important. I found talking with recruiters was a great way to learn what the new city is like and whose hiring/firing, growing and what the hot shops are along with pay scale. Both times I emailed a list of recruiters I found with some research about 4–6 weeks before I’d land in each city. I also researched local trade & association sites and publications before I left and started reading those once I got my visa approved. All are a great way to get up to speed on the local market and what makes your new adopted city different from home. Linked In is a great research tool for jobs and companies that might be local or nation and not have a presence outside your adopted country.

Bonus tip, if you’re moving to Toronto, Sydney, Melbourne or London — then check out those links for a list of marketing and PR firms I put together for each city. It’s a great starting point if you plan to call any of them home. I’d HIGHLY recommend moving to Melbourne if you plan to move to Australia.

Bank Account
Do your research on what you need in order to get a full bank account when you land. I researched the top 5 banks based on their yearly revenue.. as they would have the most branches in the city and thus I could easily access my money when I need it. It’s best to get a bank account within your first 4 weeks of landing because your visa helps you secure one faster.

One thing that made the UK different from Australia was that I had to prove I had a job to get a full bank account with debit and credit card privileges. Otherwise, I had a simple bank account that I could only take money out of an ATM. However, in order to get a job, I had to prove I lived somewhere with a tenant agreement and a bank statement from my bank, which meant finding a place to live. This backward bureaucracy was what I was talking about earlier in this post. You’ll need to navigate it any country you move to and it’s a good skill to understand and manage while testing your patiences at every turn.

Cell Phone
Being 2018, most people have a world phone that’s unlocked. If you don’t plan to buy a new phone when you land than I’d research the local cell phone providers and find one that fits within your budget. Most offer a pay as you go (PAYG) option, which is usually the best one to buy until you secure a job and a place to live. The first thing I do after checking into my accommodations is going to the closest store of my new cell phone provider. I used 3 in the UK and had Telstra while in Australia.

Bonus tip: If I’m in a country for 72 hours or more then I’ll pick up a local sim card with a PAGY package to give me access to data and voice minutes. Compared to North America, Europe and Asia offer some of the cheapest PAYG packages I’ve seen around the world.

Cost of living
For the last 14 years I’ve been tracking my spending habits and using a budget tracker to stayed focused on my goals and help me make financial decisions that make me the happiest. The costs of living in your new country will be different than what you’re spending right now. Depending on where you plan to live, look at Craigslist, Gumtree or the local equivalent to research rental costs for a new place. I chose to share a house in both cities to keep my costs downs while also having a local person to ask question about holidays or unique local customs. Working out your costs of living month to month will help you figure out how much local money you’ll need to live on until you find a job.

At this point, you should have your visa & passport back. Your ticket should be booked. Now the real work begins. Say goodbye to your family &friends and start packing up your life into a few bags for your move. It’s normal to be nervous the week leading up to the first move. I questioned a lot of decisions I made and wondered if I should turn back and stay in Toronto. If you’re going to move to a new country, your life will never be the same again.

The Elusive Job
With your VISA in hand, you can get that job. If you followed my advice about research and emailing recruiters before you land in your new city - this should be an easier process for you. Make sure you update your resume and Linked In profile. Use a mix of recruiters; networking and applying directly to job openings that interest you in your chosen field. Personally, I went to a few industry events like Internet Week Europe and had tea with people I meet on Twitter on top of the above.

London is a great city because so many people are from abroad and can relate. Many locals enjoy finding out how I moved to two different countries, especially without a job waiting for me. Never underestimate the power of a connection and being who you are. I feel the above applies whether you want to work client side, agency or freelance. I’ve done all 3 over the last two years and the experiences have been great. As long as you stay flexible about who you work for and the type of work and projects you take on, you’ll be off to an easier start in your new country.

The Fear & Need To Go Home!
At times you’ll feel alone and miss your old life and want to go home. You have to fight that urge and keep on your journey. An astute reader may have noticed that I have used the word journey a few times through out this article and that’s important. Moving to a new country isn’t a destination but a journey of new experiences and cultures that you won’t know or understand until you start settling in your new country and city.

By now you may have left or will be leaving for your new country. Take care, be patient and enjoy yourself. The road ahead is challenging but I’ll leave you with three bonus tips. Heed my advice as you see fit.

Top Personal Tips
1. Believe In Yourself
Just like freelancing, moving to a new country without a job or support network isn’t easy. However, if you said yes to the two initial questions at the start of this post, then you surely believe in yourself 100%. You’ll need to be able to keep your head held high and not get set back when things don’t go according to plan. Not everything will go according to your plan and that’s ok as you keep your eye on the prize. The prize is your new life and opportunities that lay beyond your home. The food you will eat, the new experiences and cultures that you can’t get at home are worth the risk. Traveling and seeing the world is the best prize you can ever win.

2. Time Your Move Date
Every industry has hiring seasons - timing your move to parallel to these time will be helpful. There is nothing worse than moving to a new country only to find out you can’t get a job for 3 or 4 months. I didn’t follow my own advice with London but knew that I’d use the time to adapt to London and get use to the cultural differences between Toronto and London. It was time well spent and ended up being a good idea in the end. I found some flexible temp work my third week in London and that keep me busy until my industry job started just after New Years.

3. Money
When you get your VISA, there will be a minimum amount of money each country asks that you’ve in the bank. This is ONLY a minimum amount and you should have another 30–50% of that amount. This money will be used to live life aboard, which will be more expensive then you anticipate. Some places will want a deposit/bond (usually 1–2 months rent) before you move into your new flat/house. Having that money on hand will help. Next to how you spend your time in your new country, money is your greatest asset. Don’t waste or spend money on items that don’t help you meet your goals and start your life in your adopted country.

That is it for now. If you enjoyed what you read here, check the Take Some Risk blog to run smarter marketing campaigns through research, strategy and execution. Living abroad has made me 10x smarter at running marketing campaigns.