I have moved across countries four times so far in my life, some were planned ahead and some were more unpredictable. Moving abroad can be stressful because there are a lot of things one needs to do before leaving and prepare for living in the new country. Sometimes the list can be so long that we forget to do some things or we later wish we had done some of the things better.
I learned that having traveled extensively around the world doesn’t teach you about actually moving to a new country. They are two completely different things.
For me, moving abroad has been relatively easy because I’ve never had big attachments to deal with like houses, cars, jobs, and kids, but I have still managed to make mistakes and neglect things that would have made my life easier.
Things I forgot to take care of (or could have done better) before moving abroad:
Mexico – London
This was my first time moving abroad at 19 years old and I was still living at home when it happened, so I didn’t have to take much care of things at home, but more of things to settle in England including getting the right visa, setting up a new bank account, finding a flat to live in, getting a mobile, buying the things I needed for the apartment, and not forgetting to pack my favorite stuffed animal. My friend/roommate took care of finding a flat before we both moved there which was the biggest help.
The one thing I would’ve liked to do before moving was to learn how to cook. As a new college student I lived off frozen dinners for a long time and this isn’t the healthiest nor the most economical. I wish I had taken up an interest in learning from my mom’s delicious cooking and spending more time in the kitchen learning in my hometown before becoming independent.
Mexico – USA
This was a crazy move, it pretty much happened overnight. There was an outside force that led me and gave me the strength to do it, which I call God. One night in 2009 I booked a ticket for the next morning, and the next morning I packed two and a half suitcases for an indefinite move. I followed my surrender to God and my soulmate whom I had met a year ago. During this crazy act and mental fog, I still managed to remember to pack important documents I might need such as a birth certificate, passport copies, and my actual passport and US visa. There wasn’t much to do during this big leap of faith.
The few things I would’ve like to do better for this move were:
1. Said my goodbyes. Given the circumstances I don’t know how I could’ve done this differently but I still hate the way I abruptly left my family and friends even though it was simply something I had to do. I especially regret the way I handled it with my mom as I feel like I broke her heart. I waited a bit too long to let her know that night that I booked the ticket, I just couldn’t get myself to do it and I wish I had. She actually came to me first; I think she felt it in her mother’s intuition.
I visited my dad the next morning to say goodbye and I only let my friends know that I was gone after I had left already. I still dislike thinking about it and how selfish it was of me to have done this, but at the same time I am confident to this day that it had to be done, that God wanted me to do it and it had to be done in that exact moment.
2. Get my local driving license sooner. I had heard that it was okay to use the driving license of your home country in America, but later I found out it is only true if you are a visitor, maybe renting a car, and not really if you are a resident. I used my Mexican driving license in the US for too long because one day I got pulled over by a policeman and since I didn’t have an American license, I was summoned to a court hearing which indicated a deadline for me to get a local driving license. I did manage to get it before the court date and it went smoothly, but it would have been nice to avoid this situation.
USA – India
This move wasn’t as last minute as the previous one but it was also pretty unpredictable. It was only about 4 months between our decision to move and the actual move across seas. (“Our” = previously mentioned soulmate/husband and myself.) The biggest and saddest thing we had to take care of was finding a new home for our two cats because it just wasn’t plausible to bring them with us. We also had to take care of getting rid of most of our things which we did through donations and selling on craigslist and ebay. I would recommend starting this task months before a move, selling used possessions can take a while.
I also started learning Hindi before the move even though English is widely spoken in India. (I highly recommend Pimsleur for learning languages). We ended up moving to the other side of the world permanently (or so we thought) with just two big suitcases, our carry ons and nothing else.
The few things I would’ve like to do better for this move were:
1. Going away party. We had made some good friends during our three years in North Carolina and a proper goodbye would have been nice but not necessary. Throwing a get together to show our appreciation for lots of things these people did for us would’ve been a nice farewell.
2. Cost of phones. One big mistake we did was trust a guy who we met at the perfect timing before our move who said would help us get phones and set up a company in India (one of our plans). He was from in India but lived in NC. He traveled to India and became our middle man for a few things and in the end we realized that he overcharged us for phones and other things. Luckily it wasn’t too late when we decided to cut ties with him. We thought any help to settle in India would help but if we hadn’t jumped at his offer we could’ve saved time and money.
3. More research about the Indian visa. Even though we had both traveled to India over a dozen times, this time we managed to overlook a piece of information that would’ve been really good to know which was that the start date of your visa is not the start date of your trip but the date when it is issued to you. Since we got a 6 month visa and we started the process 3 months before our trip, we only had 3 months in India before we had to renew in India (a nightmare) or get a new one back at home. This was a major setback, but one we positively think it had to happen that way for us.
4. Redirecting mail. If you are expecting any important post, find the best way to redirect it in a way that you can get it. I could have avoided trouble and stress from doing better arrangements of this.
India – USA
This move was not a planned permanent move. We simply traveled back to get new Indian visas and it ended up being a permanent move. For almost a year we kept sending money to pay our rent in India (which was very cheap) but we never went back and eventually cancelled our lease losing things we would’ve liked to have with us.
What I wish I had done better:
Pack favorite or valuable things. Since we thought we were coming back, I didn’t pack some things including my most expensive piece of clothing, a winter jacket (ironically). A year and a half later I still wish I had it with me.
The concise takeaway lessons from my moves for your and my future moves are these:
1. For independent living, learn to cook at least the basics.
2. Say proper goodbyes, maybe have going away parties.
3. At your new home, try to get your local driving license as soon as possible.
4. Do research about the best value for necessities like mobile phones, and don’t trust anyone when you are vulnerable for help.
5. Do thorough research before applying for any needed visas.
6. Don’t leave your most valuable and favorite things behind.
7. Make a checklist of things to do before you move. This is a great one!
And here is a tip of how to feel at home.