My life got way more interesting, but my taxes got way more complicated.
Ever studied for a test the night before but found relief that it wouldn’t weigh heavily on your final grade? Well, that’s how I felt with my first move overseas.
It was spontaneous.
It was impulsive.
It was the best decision I’ve ever made, but I wish I was more prepared for the emotional rollercoaster of being 8,000 miles away from everything and everyone I had ever known.
My first move abroad came in 2014 when I took a job in Dubai, UAE. I left all the comforts of home for a new city where I didn’t know a soul, working in a new industry, and living in a foreign land with different cultural, religious and social norms that I would have to learn and obey. After two years in Dubai, my next move brought me to Europe, where I chose to end the long distance and relocate to Switzerland to be with my boyfriend; swapping the sand for snow and prayer calls for cowbells. So, with my second international move, I’ve somewhat conquered the art of being the new kid in town.
Moving away from your home country is an eye-opening experience, but it’s not all bubbles and butterflies. This article may wash away some of that bright-eyed optimism, but I hope that it also leaves you with a more realistic blueprint of how your first few months abroad will go. So, take a few deep breaths, this will only hurt a little.
Here are some things I learned during the process that will help you if or when you decide to move across the pond:
How To Speak Another Language
Well… duh! Moving to a country where English isn’t the official language can be a challenge. I would highly recommend taking some classes to become familiar with your new home language before the jump. It will make your transition a LOT easier. From negotiating rental contracts to navigating your new home on public transit to ordering food, it helps to talk the talk.
That Getting Residency And Visas Are NOT Easy And Vary Wildly
Depending on your home passport, the restrictions for working and living abroad can vary wildly. You can find the general visa requirements and processing times on the country’s immigration site. U.S passport holders can apply for working holiday visas (from 3 months to a year) quite easily in the following countries: Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, and Ireland. There are countries that also offer au pair visas. Visas can take days, weeks or even months, but don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear back for a bit longer than suggested. This also means you should wait until after your visa is approved before booking your flight, looking for a job, and searching for an apartment.
How Excited I’d Get To See Another Woman Of Color
Being an African American woman living abroad sometimes it can be so lonely. I never thought that just by seeing another black girl walking down the street, I’d want to run her down and beg her to be my friend. The struggle is real y’all. There’s just something comforting about having a comrade to vent to about natural hair struggles, lack of pigmented cosmetics or the nightmare of trying to make your soul food staples with subpar ingredients.
That Taxes Get Way More Complicated
All U.S. citizens are required to file annual taxes in the United States even if you’re living and working abroad (in addition to your new country), so keep track of your earnings so you’re ready to file. If you’re leaving early in the year and don’t have your W-2 or other tax forms yet, make sure you change your address to someone you trust to collect them for you, like your parents or best friend. There are exemptions you can make to if you live in a country other than the United States for at least 330 days out of a year, but be sure to read up on what applies to you on the IRS website.
How Hard It’d Be To Make IRL (In Real Life) Friends
As we matured, having a group of friends was relatively easy. Chances were that you never had to search for a buddy or two, as you hung out with people you went to school with, lived close by, or had the same interests. But when you move abroad, you must make friends all over again. And trust me, it’s much more awkward than those “will you be my friend?” notes you passed around in kindergarten. As an adult, it takes a conscious effort to meet people and establish close ties. Although social media can mitigate a bit of the awkwardness. Meeting with bloggers you find online, joining local groups, finding a language buddy, or joining expat groups is a great way to meet new people in real life.
That Maintaining Friendships Back Home Takes A Lot Of Effort
In the beginning, everyone will be excited about your new journey, wondering what you’re doing, what you’re eating, who you’re meeting. But the initial period of excitement over your new lifestyle will soon fade. The same things you once cared about aren’t so interesting now. It’s not a bad thing, change is inevitable. Your lives are on very different trajectories and it can be hard for some people to understand what they have never experienced. Ease into this new phase of your life by staying in touch with friends and loved ones back home by using social media, like Facebook, WhatsApp or Skype. Just make sure you have a schedule, a clear understanding of time zones, and a dash of humility.
How Crossing The Street Would Require Unlearning And Relearning
Pedestrian laws were not all created equal. I never thought that in some countries, just crossing the street would be a #YOLO worthy experience. Observe the flow of traffic, notice whether the cars will stop for pedestrians entering the crosswalks or if you must play a complicated game of survival every time. Also, beware of bicyclists and mopeds that seem to act like cars and bicycles at the same time. I can’t tell you how many times I almost lost my life in Amsterdam trying to cross the road.
That FOMO Levels Are Nearly Inexistent
When I was in graduate school, my fear of missing out (FOMO) was at an all-time high. Having to miss out on homecoming, football tailgates, weddings, or music festivals to study for exams or to prep for a presentation would’ve had me like a cartoon character with steam coming out of my ears. Now, being halfway across the world, I could honestly care less about missing out. Living abroad has turned me into introvert and I don’t mind at all.
Although my experience has been amazing, moving abroad isn’t for everyone. I’ve seen many people who can’t handle the stress and strain of living abroad or don’t bother trying to assimilate the local customs. You have to be able to accept change, have an open mind, be willing to try new things and have a positive attitude.
Do you want to live abroad? Do you already live abroad? What do you wish you knew then that you know now? Let us know in the comments below!
Coco Hunter is a travel & lifestyle blogger, who has travelled to 30+ countries. She chronicles her global adventures at CocoGoneGlobal.com. Originally from Oakland, CA, she has lived in Atlanta, Dubai, and now resides in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her writing, musings and wacky adventures on Instagram @cocogoneglobal and Twitter @CocoGoneGlobal.