The Truth About Moving Abroad And What It Really Means

Woman enjoying beautiful panoramic view of Paris with cup of coffee.

The Truth About Moving Abroad And What It Really Means

4 Steps To Surviving A Move Overseas—Part I

I gave a presentation for our recent Live and Invest in Europe Virtual Conference; it was my first ever “expat talk,” as we call them. I’d heard plenty of them over the years, but this was the first time I did one myself.

My expat story started very close to the start of my life. I was only 7 years old when we moved from Baltimore to Ireland… and though it’s not your typical expat story, I felt I needed to start at the beginning.

From Ireland, where I had been an involuntary expat, I moved to Paris by my own choice when I was 14, then went to university back in the States (where I felt like an expat all over again), then to Panama for a job, before finally returning to Paris. My goal was always to move back to France as soon as I got the chance. It only took 11 years.

So I could tell that story… and share why I was so hooked by France that I made it my life’s mission to return…

But what would be the point?

What would anyone take away from that story?

Finally, I realized that thanks to all those moves, I could distil what moving to a new place boils down to for me.

It’s four things:

  1. What to take and leave
  2. Adjustment to environment
  3. Adjustment to culture
  4. Appreciating the new

Let me elaborate…

1. What To Take And Leave

Happy senior couple packing cardboard boxes.
iStock/LightFieldStudios

We talk often about what to take with you and leave behind, but I feel we don’t really give the whole shebang its due. It’s a big deal to say goodbye to big chunks of your life—a house you may have lived (and raised a family) in for decades… your book collection… your car… the dishes that you love… the perfectly comfy armchair that took a lifetime to find.

These things become a part of us. Yes, it’s materialistic and we’d all be better off if we could shed all our earthly possessions. But, let’s get real… most of us like our stuff.

It’s an emotional process to sort through a lifetime and make fatal judgments that sentence your beloved treasures to an untimely death. It’s hard and exhausting. I’ve had struggles with downsizing during every move I’ve made.

All that said, I wholeheartedly recommend getting rid of as much as possible. I’ve seen far too many people spend money on shipping things that just ended up making no sense for one reason or another—including my own family and myself… on multiple occasions.

One of the biggest reasons things don’t work in your new home is size. This is especially true in Europe. You bought things that fit the proportion of your current home—likely far, far bigger than any home you might own in Europe. They’ll just look crammed in if you try to bring them over. You need to think through every item, too. Your kitchen cabinets will be smaller, so you might not want to bring over your giant turkey platter either.

Plus, keep style in mind. If you’re living in Florida with a tropical-themed rattan living room set, it’ll feel out of style anywhere but the tropics.

What Should You Keep For Sure?

Anything of sentimental value. And be honest with yourself, because if you get rid of some trinket that you thought you could live without but realize you miss, it’s a regret you won’t be able to shake.

Also keep books or any other language-specific items. Those cost an arm and a leg in foreign countries. Likewise laptops or anything else that uses a typing keyboard—those are language-specific. A Spanish, French, or Italian keyboard is practically useless to an English-speaker.

And, when you’re in the middle of a downsizing session and having trouble being ruthless, remember that anything you don’t take with you, you get to buy anew. Shopping in your new home is not just fun, it’s a great way to get to know the area. You’ll have to shop around, ask folks where to find things, figure out the lay of the land… and you’re guaranteed that whatever is for sale won’t clash with whatever kind of décor theme your new home needs.

2. Adjustment To Environment

Single woman walking on snowy winter road.
iStock/splendens

This is a funny one, because some of its aspects can be harder to acclimate to than cultural ones, yet we lump it all in under “culture shock.”

In Ireland, my mother and I realized a couple years in that we were succumbing to seasonal depression. At the height of winter, we might only see the sun for a few hours a day… if it managed to peek out from behind clouds. In Panama, I could never get used to a mono-season—I so missed a change in temperature. Now back in Paris, I’m struggling to get used to the hours of daylight—far too few in winter and far too many in summer.

These are all environmental factors I’ve had to adjust to in various homes, but similarly forming new habits to meet your new environment can be tough. If you’re used to driving but give up your car in a move, you suddenly need to get used to walking, biking, or reading bus and metro maps. If you’re used to a pretty predictable diet, the local gastronomy might be an upset. Even just moving to a hilly city, or a sandy beach, or a humid mountaintop will be an adjustment if you’re not already used to that kind of terrain.

What Can You Do?

My advice here is to be aware of yourself. You need to recognize that your mood is dipping in the winter, or that your schedule is all out of whack because you’re no longer able to wake up with the sunrise. You need to be able to identify the issue and then figure out a fix. Take a weekend trip to see some sun. Change your schedule to wake up earlier or later and be flexible enough to do so.

Next time, we’ll tackle the next two things on the list—adjustment to culture and appreciating the new.

Meantime, remember, that these are the kind of areas we help prepare you for through our live conferences…

Our 2021 line-up kicks off in January with our Live and Invest in Panama Virtual Conference.

And, we’ll be announcing details soon for our 2021 Live and Invest in Belize Virtual Conference… with lots more to follow.

Stay tuned…

Kat Kalashian

Editor, Live and Invest Overseas Confidential