Do you want to quit your job and live abroad ?
After a recent trip to Asia, where I met with digital nomads, full time expats, and long term travellers, I gained some fresh insights on how to live abroad successfully. I’ve got three ‘rules’ that may help you.
Rule №1: Have an income stream set up before you leave
When I flew to South East Asia in 2017, I set off with some money in my bank account, hoping that I could find an income stream after I arrived. I left almost everything else to chance. Little had I realised that the strength of my home currency, the pound in my case, was not as strong as it was ten years ago (when I last went out) compared to Asian currencies, as well as the US dollar. Going out with money in the bank account and hoping to live off it is never a good fallback. Why?
Because you’ll never have as much as you’ll think. Once you take into account associated ‘start up’ costs, like living in a hotel for the first few weeks or even months, buying working visas, perhaps even living it up a bit, as well as potential emergencies and other ‘hidden’ costs, your bank balance may start to drain faster then you might expect.
If you have an assured line of income, you don’t need to stress. You have money coming in on a regular basis, and that assurance is vital. Either you’re already a freelancer, perhaps with an online business and an established pool of clients in your field. Or you may have a job to go to.
If you’ve got a job waiting for you on arrival, be it teaching, working for an international company or otherwise, you’ll have a source of income waiting for you. You’ll also have a company who’ll (hopefully) help you settle in, and provide a structure to help you feel secure and settled in those first few months, when everything else around you will appear chaotic.
Plans don’t always come good. The job you secured beforehand may not work out, or your freelancer business may be going through a quiet patch. But the point is, you’re preparing yourself, and controlling what you can control. In terms of a percentile of those who move abroad successfully, I’m willing to bet those that have a guaranteed line of income before they arrive in their destination will have a much better success rate then those who don’t.
Rule №2: Research your destination country before you go
I picked Cambodia as my destination country to experiment living abroad for a while. Even though I had travelled in Cambodia a couple of years before, I had no idea what I was in for this time. Funny how things can change. The last time I went, I was there for just two weeks. Enough time to enjoy it without peeling back a layer and seeing the ‘cracks’.
Given I was back for a longer stay this time round, I soon realised the environment I arrived into was not what I had in mind. My idea of returning to an exotic paradise was clearly an illusion; my bubble had been well and truly popped.
There is perhaps truth to the notion that you can only know somewhere by discovering it. And there is also truth to the notion that by discovering places you will discover what you like by trial and error. But that said, the more research you can do on your destination country beforehand, the better.
The truth is, many of us have a sort of ‘halo’ bias. We have this idea that by moving to country X, our problems will be no more, and everything will be rosy. That truly is a thinking pitfall. The more you can objectively research your chosen country, or countries, you can begin to be aware of the realities of life in those destinations, and at least have some kind of idea of what you’re getting into.
Read blogs, internet articles, expat forums, travel forums, books and speak to people who have been. Also, make sure you don’t base your choice on a trip a couple of years ago; I’m speaking from personal experience. The ‘rose tinted glasses’ effect applies here.
Rule 3: look at your reasons for going abroad
Many of us go abroad with this expectation that life will be more exciting five thousand miles away.
It’s not for me to judge as to your reasons for going or what you may be running from. But it could be helpful to take a deep breath and evaluate your own life before going abroad.
Indeed, it can be a short term solution to your problems at home. But sometimes, if not most of the time, the real work can probably be better done at home. It may be going to see a careers coach, or taking some evening courses so you can find a route out of your dead-end office job. Or it could be embarking on a healthier living strategy to simply improve your sleep and energy levels to better be able to function in day to day life.
To put it simply, if you’re not enjoying your life at home much, chances are you aren’t magically going to improve your life abroad.
That said, in my case, I went abroad and realised that I needed to go home to work on my future and create a solid plan for my career path. Sometimes it can take an experience living abroad to get clarity on what your real priorities are.
However, if I was advising a friend considering relocating for an indefinite period, I would suggest taking a shorter, more structured trip instead. Buy a return ticket, go for up to 2–3 months, and have a set plan.
You’ll be surprised by what insights you can gain in a less ambitious time period. You won’t need to save as much money, and you’ll have a return ticket, so you won’t stress about the ambiguity of it all. And dare I say it, you may just be able to enjoy the experience a bit more.