Although you may have dreamed of living and working abroad for many years, there is still a lot to consider before you make the decision to become an expat. I’ve teamed up with Allianz Care to discuss some of the unexpected benefits of becoming an expat to help in your decision.
What are your motivations for considering a move right now? You may be in a role where you no longer feel challenged, or you want to experience working abroad so you can move into a more senior role on your return. Perhaps your motivations are personal, sometimes the end of a relationship or a desire to see the world may have you wondering if expat life is for you.
When you are considering such a significant move, there are obvious benefits to expat life that spring to mind like having new experiences, developing a new network or having the opportunity to learn a new language. However, there are also less obvious benefits of expat living to be aware of in advance of making a move.
Getting comfortable being out of your comfort zone
While a contradiction in terms, many expats find they become used to getting out of their comfort zone and begin to see it as a thrill rather than a threat. The experience of setting up a bank account without speaking the local language or finding your way around a bustling city, when you are used to the quiet life in the suburbs, helps new expats realise their true potential, away from the routine of everyday life. I found that even though I moved to a country where I speak the primary language, English, I had much to learn about slang and habits. Like how everyone goes to lunch at one o’clock in Cork!
Being more culturally aware
If you are moving from a multicultural city like Toronto, London or Paris, you are likely to have a lot in common with others in your city. You are familiar with societal norms and ‘how things are done’ in your home country.
When you move abroad, your eyes will be opened to how differently countries operate. You will need to be aware of and possibly adapt to these cultural differences in order to get things done, professionally and personally. It’s important to set aside expectations and observe with awareness and acceptance. This will improve how you work with colleagues when you repatriate.
Learning to be more patient
We are all used to an element of routine in our day to day lives. When we make a move to another country we must start again from scratch. This could involve organising utilities for your new accommodation, enrolling your children in school or working out your new commute. Things are bound to go wrong, there may be miscommunication, misunderstandings or time spent lost in an unfamiliar city. Although this may prove frustrating initially, you will learn to be more patient and allow more time for many things you would consider routine in your home country. I remember when I first moved to Cork, it took me six weeks to reliably locate my butcher. All the little lanes can be so confusing, but I saw it as a chance to explore the city.
Love for city or remote living
Depending on your assignment, you might be moving from the suburbs to live in a busy city or from a busy city to a very remote location. No matter what the change is for you, it may feel intimidating initially but once you settle in, you may develop a love for a fast city life or the relaxed pace of rural living. Having grown up with Washington DC on my doorstep, I was used to city life so I find the slower pace of life in Cork to be a lovely change. Try to make new friends, participate in events, and connect as a local would — not a tourist. On an average day of errands and being around town, I’ll run into at least two people I know!
Better at nurturing and maintaining relationships
There is no doubt, living away from the support of friends and family is challenging. But over your time abroad you may develop ways of maintaining those relationships that makes your relationships stronger. It could be a weekly Skype or morning call where you spend quality time really talking and listening to each other. My best girlfriends and I have a monthly video ‘date’ to catch up face-to-face. It is also key to maintain a connection to your personal traditions and to local news back home so when you return you experience a smoother transition.
If you are seriously considering expat life, don’t forget to look after your health and wellbeing with international health insurance which will allow you to access quality healthcare while working overseas.