I feel like lately I have been starting off most of my blog posts along similar lines. But seriously, moving countries is by far the hardest thing I have ever done. And I feel like the topic of emigrating from your home country to some place foreign is often romanticized. The cold hard truth is unless someone has done it, no one will really understand what it is you are going through. Since moving over, so many people have contacted me about making the same move. And while I fully support the idea that everyone should experience living in a new country, I do think some people need to remove the rose-tinted glasses and really get real with themselves for a minute. In most cases, it is not as simple as hopping on a plane and everything just working out grand. At least that has not been the case for us, it has not been all smooth sailing. If you have been following my blog for a while now, you know that I am all about keeping it real. So if you really want to move to a new country, let me just drop a couple of truth bombs for you, so you can go in with eyes wide open, and fully prepared for what could lie ahead of you.Looking to move to a new country? Let me drop some truth bombs, so you are prepared. Click To Tweet
The comparison game is real strong.
Thanks to social media and the fact that just about everyone knows someone who has moved overseas, and all of them so successfully – you will think it will be easy. You will see your friends post selfies of all their travels all over the world and you will think it all looks magical, and fantastic, and that they just have life figured out while you are still trying to figure out the correct way to put your trash out on the curb.
There are many roads that you can take that, that will lead you to the same destination (hopefully).
What I mean is that your journey may be hugely different to someone else, but you might end up at the same destination. For example, we came to Ireland with Rob on a South African passport, and me on a Canadian passport – which for living in Ireland means that we are essentially the same. There are of course benefits to being an EU passport holder (even if it is just one of you), but it does mean that your path will be vastly different to the path that Rob and I are currently on. It makes it hard to get advice and help from the few people you meet along the way – because there are so many ways to skin this cat.
Plan for every eventuality.
The reality is that things never go as you plan or as you hope. No matter how much you save, and prepare for the worst, moving countries is expensive. It is important to know the details of your visa requirements, work permit issues, on top of things like finding a place to stay, paying bills, opening bank accounts, and basically trying to live in a foreign land.
You are the foreigner.
No matter how you look at it, you are the outsider. When we decided to move to Ireland, I kinda thought the Irish would be funny and welcoming. I also thought that because we both speak English, that it would be easy to connect here. But it hasn’t been so easy. No matter how good you are at making friends and connecting with people, you will always be the strange one, the one who thinks and acts differently from the rest, the one who is different from the rest. And that is something that is hard for someone who doesn’t like standing out.
Behaviours/ cultures/ attitudes will be different to what you are used to.
I have been told by some Irish that they find South African women aggressive and blunt. We personally have found it very hard to read Irish folk. They come across as very polite, and very relaxed but there is a definite undertone of the right and wrong way to behave here. You might also think that everything is grand, but behind your back they are frustrated that you are just not getting it. There is an awful lot of beating around the bush here (compared to back home where people openly speak their mind, whether you want to hear it or not!) and we have had a few indirectly misleading experiences with communication here.
Things turn very slowly here.
Processes and procedures often come across as a bit backward compared to back in South Africa (for example, you have to make and appointment to open up a bank account and you have to go into the bank to fill out the form – FNB, we miss you!). There is various paperwork you need to submit (again, depending on your visa status) to get a work permit, open up a bank account, set up a tax number, etc. The biggest learning curve I have experienced has been to not have things go as planned, and to just roll with it, sometimes things are out of your control and you just have to go through the paper work and wait for a positive response.
Making friends is hard.
It is harder when you get older, and you aren’t single, partying every night or studying with a class full of potential friends. When you move countries in your mid 30’s as a married couple, but also don’t have kids – you find you fit into quite a selective niche which makes making friends hard. We are also on an extremely tight budget right now, so we can’t go out and join a running club, or head to our local for after-work pints every week. Even going out for lunch mid-week with work colleagues is a no-go on our current budget. The truth is, making friends when you know absolutely no one in a country is hard. We have been here for nearly 8 months and I can still count on my hands the amount of people we actually classify as real friends here.
Finding fellow South Africans is inevitable (and also, irritating).
We have tried very hard to not just hang out with South Africans. Actually nothing drives us more crazy than when our parents make jabs that we only hang out with South Africans. Just because you meet fellow South Africans does not mean you have to be friends with all of them. We have been lucky enough to find people we really connect with – and it is regardless of if they are South African or not.
You will constantly be put out of your comfort zone.
Being an expat requires you to put yourself out there – all. the. time. You need to always be making the first move, getting to know people and making plans.
People will question your motives for leaving your country.
They will ask you about your home, and sometimes you will get annoyed at their small-minded perceptions of your country (or that they have only been to Cape Town – check out my 6 reasons why you need to visit other parts of South Africa). I think it is really important for Rob and I that we are brand ambassadors for South Africa, nothing makes me happier talking about how awesome South Africa is. And nothing annoys me more when fellow South African expats put down home and only list off all the reasons they left. Sure South Africa isn’t perfect, but its home, and we flippen love it. We will always be proud to be South African.
No one will ever understand what it feels like to live in a new country.
Unless they are going through it with you, or have done a stint overseas before – no one will get how emotional and hard it can really be. People look at your life in a new country as either 1) they left us; 2) living in a 1st country has got to be awesome; 3) why aren’t you guys just travelling all the time?
People often forget that we are not on a permanent holiday over here. We have to find jobs, work in a new environment, build new work networks and connections (from scratch, and knowing no one), live and pay bills, save for retirement, go to the doctor, grocery shop – just like everyone else back home. The only difference is that for us, nothing is the same as home. Everything is a learning curve just waiting to be figured out.
You will lose friends.
This truth breaks me a little. We are not new to this concept of moving places, and uplifting our life. On a very small-scale we moved from Durban to Johannesburg first. During this process, we lost friends. Some warned us that it would happen, and others just took us completely by surprise. Life gets busy, and I get that. Whats more frustrating is that on top of continually putting yourself out here in a new country, you also need to keep making an effort to keep connecting with friends back home. What I have learnt is that the effort needs to come from both sides. If you are the only one who is the first to send a text, and first to make contact and remind them that you are still here even if you are far away, eventually you take the hint and stop making the first move. I know that to most it is an unintentional “life gets busy” syndrome, and we all have our own shit to deal with. But honestly, knowing that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with when you lose mates back home. For some, you may lose connections with people who might have had negative hold on you, so I guess that is a good thing if you can let go of those friendships. For me, it’s the friends who have been around through so many of your other challenges in life that drift away the minute you are in a new continent that are a lot harder to accept.
Lastly, when people say “If it’s too hard, you guys can always come back” is a bunch of bullshit.
The fact of the matter is that we sold everything we owned to get over here, and the only way out for us is to get through it. We have to make this work. There can be no going back. And the truth is, even if we were to end up going back sooner than we hoped, in 8 months our lives and minds have completely been shifted by this experience. We will be forever changed whatever happens down the line. This process has branded us, good or bad, we are learning through experiencing it all first hand. We are figuring out how to do life in a new country together and for that we are truly grateful.
Moving to a new country is the biggest life roller-coaster you will ever ride. It is challenging, but I am sure it will be rewarding. We are not quite settled yet, and honestly, we are taking it as it comes – let’s just hope we come out it alive!
FELLOW EXPATS, WHAT IS ONE THING YOU THINK PEOPLE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT BEFORE THEY MOVE TO A NEW COUNTRY?
Unlock the simple life,
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