When moving to a new country, there are plenty of do's to follow and don'ts to avoid. Prepare for your relocation like a pro by avoiding these eight common mistakes that most people make.
1. Buying Real Estate Too Early
When I first started selling real estate in Costa Rica in 2002, I noticed a pattern. Many of my clients would buy a property to retire in, but once they moved, they would change their mind about where, exactly, they wanted to live. It could be as simple as wanting to move to a different neighborhood in the same area, or sometimes to another part of the country.
After that experience, I started helping people rent properties before they bought, to ensure that they landed in a place where they could see themselves living long-term. If you're purchasing real estate abroad as an investment, this isn't an issue. But if you're searching for a place to live forever, it's best to do an exploratory trip first.
2. Moving Without Doing an Exploratory Trip
Speaking of which, a similar mistake that many people make is moving somewhere permanently without visiting, first. An exploratory trip of at least two weeks (up to a few months) in your desired destination can help you narrow down where to live, or even if a country is the right fit for you.
If you're stuck between a few destinations, an exploratory trip to each one can help you decide. There's more of an up-front cost, but it can save you money long-term and give you peace of mind that you made the right decision.
3. Applying For Permanent Residency Too Soon
If you've spent a lot of time traveling in the country that you're moving to, applying for long-term residency or citizenship could be the next step. But, if you haven't been there before, it's better to do an exploratory trip before investing in permanent residency.
Many countries require that you apply for a visa or residency permit from your home country, which can complicate things. But it's better to visit a country, first, to ensure that you want to live there before starting your residency application.
4. Waiting Too Long to Move
Timing when to move abroad can be tricky. In my experience as a relocation consultant, people often wait longer than they need to follow their dreams of living overseas. One common cause is analysis paralysis, as there's so much to think about and plan before an international move. (If you feel like you’ve spent too many hours, months, or years researching your move, you may be able to relate.)
Another thing that causes people to postpone their move, sometimes indefinitely, is the daily reality of a busy life with responsibilities at home. But the most common feedback I hear from my clients is, "I wish I did this sooner." Life is short and nothing is guaranteed. Living abroad is a life-long dream for many, but not everyone reaches their goals. Even if you ultimately decide to return to your home country months or years later, you won't regret the time you spent living in a foreign country either way.
5. Spending Too Much Time With Other Expats
Once you arrive abroad, you'll likely want to immerse yourself in your new surroundings. But it can also be tempting to seek what's familiar and gravitate toward English-speaking expats. It's great to make friends with people from around the world when you're living overseas, as you'll surely have much in common, but make time to stretch your comfort zone. Get involved in your new community, take language classes, and get to know the local people and culture.
6. Being Too Trusting
Wherever you go in the world, you'll find friendly people and locals. But remember to be as vigilant as you would be at home (or more so). I've heard stories of people inviting strangers to their home for dinner, only to be robbed the next day. Be yourself and expect the best of people, but don't lower your guard to the point at which you may become vulnerable to scams.
7. Expecting a Country to Change
After moving to a new country, you'll experience some culture shock and a process of cultural adaptation. This is normal, but frustration can build if things are very different to the way they are back home.
Perhaps you're a punctual person living in a country where it's expected to be fashionably late, or where mañana (tomorrow) might mean next week, next month, or never. Remaining aware of these cultural differences can help you stay flexible and open-minded to change.
For an overview of the cultural differences between your home and destination countries, check out the Hofstede Country Comparison tool.
8. Staying Stuck When You’re Unhappy
Sometimes, you've tried your best but things just aren’t working. If you find yourself in a country that's ultimately not a good fit for you, it's okay to change your mind and move again.
Take the experiences you've had and lessons you've learned and apply them to choosing your next destination. Follow your gut instinct and don't be afraid to go your own way. If you moved to an expat hotspot that everyone seems to love, but you don't, that's okay! Let your intuition and experiences guide you somewhere that's a better fit for you and your family.
For more living abroad tips, subscribe to Kristin’s YouTube channel.
Editor's Note: For 20 years, Kristin Wilson has lived, worked, and traveled abroad in 60 countries. She’s used her unique expertise and on-the-ground insights to help thousands settle into a new, better life overseas.
Now she’s joined our IL team to provide personalized guidance that will help you find your own just-right place on the planet and get there with ease and confidence.