Though I’ve had much fun and adventure learning the ins and outs of living overseas, there are a few things I wish someone would have told me a year or two before I left the sunny shores of America. I’m going to share the three that can easily change your move from “Holy crap, what am I going to do?!” into “Whew, I’m glad I read that one blog post because my life over here rocks!”
In January of 2012, my life could only be described as absolutely awesome. I had just received a new promotion at work, bringing my income dangerously close to six figures. For the first time in my life, I was driving a new car. My relationship with my girlfriend was stable, fulfilling, and very rewarding—there was even talk of marriage. One year earlier I had purchased my first home, and in December of 2011 I purchased my first investment property.
For some strange reason, this struck me as the perfect time to sell everything and move overseas. Among the many lessons I’ve learned living in the Mediterranean, here are three that no -one told me about until after I arrived.
Create an income source BEFORE you leave your home country
The concept I see a lot of people carry when they move overseas is that they will find work in the local community, or possibly be an English teacher to locals. If you run a Google search for American Jobs Overseas, you will be bombarded with advertisements for ESL teaching certifications, as though the entire world is hungry for Americans to come over to their country and teach all the locals English. In fact, you might think that when you arrive, they will immediately pick you up, carry you through the streets with a hero’s welcome, take you to your lovely new apartment and school, where the local children will sit at your feet in rapt attention, aching to hear your accent and learn your language.
Doesn’t happen. I know because I tried it. Shortly after arriving in Turkey, I became certified to teach English and got a job. The pay was average, the classrooms were overcrowded, and the students weren’t really that interested. It was very much like teaching a subject back in America, except for the most part my students had no idea what I was asking them to do. On top of that, the office politics associated with education were very prevalent, and after consulting with many ESL teachers from across the globe, I found that the situation is pretty much the same everywhere.
So, if you don’t enjoy teaching as a profession in your current country, you’re probably not going to fall in love with being a teacher in a foreign country, but if you love teaching in America, you will probably love teaching somewhere else. Understand that no matter where you are, it’s going to be a very similar situation.
After a failed term as a teacher, I started following my true professional calling: writing and coaching. With a lot of heartache, fear, sweat, and crying, I’ve managed to replace and outpace my teaching income.
Don’t make the same mistake I did; go overseas with an income source already established. A blog is a great way to start if you enjoy writing and have a particular subject you are wildly passionate about. There are many companies which hire full time work-from-home employees and with a little creativity, you can earn a decent income while living in an area with a very low cost of living. Lastly, if you have a particular service to offer, such as accounting or web design, agencies like Odesk and Elance are a great way to build clients and earn income. Having this very important step taken care of before moving overseas will save you months of frustration and fear.
Plug in to the local community of expats.
This may seem like an obvious statement to some, but for me, I had no idea how or why I would reach out to fellow Americans living in Antalya, Turkey. Having a fiancee from the area, I assumed she would be all I needed. I was very wrong. Many of the headaches around Resident’s permits, having packages delivered from America, and getting help with job-hunting requirements, were beyond the scope of my fiancee’s experience. Having lived in Antalya most of her life, she took some things for granted—like the right to stay in Antalya and having the requirements to get a job.
Let me ask you a question (no Googling): what are the current legal ways an immigrant can stay in America, and how would you go about getting one for an immigrant friend? It might be more difficult than you think, and in some countries the bureaucracy is mind-boggling.
Having contacts from your own country who have already gone through the hoops you’re about to jump through can be a lifesaver. Internations.org and Lonelyplanet.com are great places to get started, though I’ve had better luck in the blogging community. If you Google “(country) + blog” you will find a wealth of bloggers currently living in the country you intend to emigrate to. Leave a few comments and reach out to the blogger, and you will find someone more than happy to help you with your move.
We bloggers are helpful people, after all.
Get a major credit card
All of the Dave Ramsey fans reading this are undoubtedly shaking their heads furiously at my horrible advice. Credit cards are bad, right? Bad debt is what caused our financial crisis and to advise people to get more credit cards is a terrible idea, don’t you think?
The truth is, if you go overseas with only your bank debit card or the idea that you will have money wired to you, you are in for some serious trouble. Most banks have transfer fees and many banks overseas will only allow a foreigner to open an account if he/she deposits a large some of money; say $5000+. On top of that, signing up for a bank account without really understanding the business culture can put you in a very sticky legal situation down the road. Best to avoid getting a local account until you are fully convinced you will be in the country a few years.
How do credit cards factor in to this equation? For starters, many credit card companies will waive any overseas transaction or conversion fees. Case in point, if I use my U.S. Bank debit card here in Turkey, I’m charged a 5% overseas transaction fee. On my Capital One Master Card, there is no transaction fee. Over the past year, that has saved me well over $1000 in fees alone. On top of that, there’s a decent fee to transfer money via Western Union, or to perform an international wire transfer between an American bank and a local one overseas. My credit card allows me to withdraw local currency from almost any local ATM for a measly 3%, so on the occasions I do need to carry local cash, it’s an easy, affordable stop to the nearest ATM of any bank.
The last reason I recommend a credit card is because it can help you manage your budget. I have a $1200 limit on my card and refuse to raise it higher. If I begin spending more than $1200 a month here, I’m doing something wrong. By keeping my spending all on one card, it’s easy for me to manage my budget monthly without being able to go over. And, since I religiously pay off the balance every month, I get all the bonus miles without any interest charges. It works for me; maybe it could work for you.
Those are the three things I wish people would have told me before moving overseas. I hope they will save you from some headaches in the future. If you are planning on moving overseas, please feel free to contact me and I will give you whatever help and advice I am able.
I do have a question for you: what advice would you give someone moving overseas for the first time?