This article was recently published on Stuff.
Moving to a new country can be one of the most stressful things a person can ever do. After moving to a few new countries in the last couple of years, with plans to keep moving around the world, I’ve found following a couple of simple steps makes my move fairly simple and stress free.
Research, research, research – I cannot say this enough. I learnt this lesson the hard way. I turned up in Bangkok by myself for a group tour. My hotel transfer didn’t arrive and I had no idea how to get to my hotel, how much it would cost, or what the conversion from Thai Baht to the New Zealand dollar was. After my scary experience in Thailand, I knew how important extensive research was.
When I decided to move overseas after university I spent hours searching where I might want to move. I Googled tonnes of countries that might be interesting to live in and then researched whether it was possible as a New Zealand citizen. This was how I found out about the J1 visa that allows New Zealanders and Australians to live and work in the US for a year. I did plenty of research on America and where I might want to live.
Then I spoke to people. Everyone I knew who had ever been to the States I got in touch with and asked them about all American cities they had visited. Every single one told me that they had “loved New York”.
Once I made the call on NYC I learnt as much as I could about the city. I knew where I wanted to live and roughly how much I’d have to pay (a lot). I researched things like tipping, taxis and etiquette. I read up on blogs. I tried (tried) to learn degrees Fahrenheit, I switched over to American spelling and even learnt the locations of all 50 states.
However, there is no amount of research that will give you a foolproof idea of what it will be like. There is no substitute for actually living in a place. I learnt this when I moved to Berlin. I did months of research, German learning and talking to people; it didn’t make any difference. My dream of Berlin and actual Berlin were two completely different things. Within a couple of weeks I knew it wasn’t for me and I knew I had to leave and head off to London (where I am currently, (happily), living).
It goes without saying, but once you’ve worked out your visa options for a certain place, you need to go ahead and apply. Visas are generally inconvenient to get, but they are a necessary evil and best to get out of the way as soon as possible. Usually you have to be in your home country, often you have to actually turn up to an embassy and queue for hours – generally visas will require you to have actually booked flights before you get the visa, which leads me to my next point…
The first truly big step in moving to a new country is booking flights. They can also be one of the biggest expenses in moving, so I highly recommend searching around; don’t just go with an airline that you know. There are plenty of sites which do the trawling for you, these are just a few:
Google Flights (my personal favorite)
I will generally spend anywhere from 3-5 hours booking flights depending on the distance I am travelling. It really pays to shop around and it really pays to book as early as possible. At least 8 to 10 weeks prior to travel is a good guide. I personally never use travel guides or booking agents, because they just add unnecessary fees, but if you really want assistance then they can be a good second option.
Booking flights for me always makes a trip official, and this is generally when I begin job searching. I use a combination of researching companies I like and sending them through my CV, to networking with contacts, contacting agencies and generally as a last resort applying for actual listed roles (which are generally swamped with other CV’s).
Networking can be a great way to find a job especially if you use your home country contacts in your new home. In New York, for example, I found my job through the KEA network, a New Zealand organisation that helps New Zealanders overseas. I know plenty of other examples of networks that people have used. Do your research and you might be surprised at what other expats are doing in your new home.
Format your CV
Different places have different expectations in terms of CV’s and Resumes. Make sure yours fits the build. Try and speak to someone in your new home and find out what the layout and aims of the CV are. At the very least do some Google searches on the subject.
Every country has its own set of websites for room listings. Generally websites will be your best bet – although if you can find a room through contacts even better. I found my apartment in New York through my job (after I had spent hours and hours trawling through Craigslist). In Germany I found a temporary place through WG Gesucht and in London I found my place through Spare Room. These are details you’ll be able to pick up from research.
At least 4 weeks before you arrive it’s a good idea to get temporary accommodation sorted. In New York I stayed in both a hostel and an Airbnb until I found more permanent accommodation. In Berlin and London I used Airbnb again and have to say it is often much cheaper and nicer than staying in a hotel or hostel. You tend to get to know your host(s) quite well and get all kinds of tips about the city you are in. They’re usually set up for tourists so they often have maps of the area, advice on where to eat, where to visit etc. They are a perfect contact to use for information about long term accommodation, jobs and general info.
Organise travel insurance, including health insurance for at least the first couple of months of your move.
Set up coffee dates
When I moved to New York I literally knew no one in the whole country. It’s tough to arrive somewhere and be completely alone, so it helps a lot if you can set up meetings with friends of friends, or people you meet through social networks. I arranged coffee catch ups with about five other Australians and New Zealanders that I met through various social networks and it helped me immeasurably in feeling grounded. I’m even still friends with most of them.
How are you going to get from the airport to your temporary accommodation? Often booking a shuttle is a much more cost effective way of getting to your hotel/hostel/Airbnb – it’s usually less than half the cost as long as your willing to take some extra time to arrive. If you’re feeling really game you could work out the public transport system before you arrive, but it can be fairly difficult with multiple bags. I did it in London and arrived with some very sore shoulders, but a big sense of achievement and only £4 pounds down (a taxi from the airport would have cost me between 80-90 pounds!)
Congratulate yourself. You’ve made a huge step that most people will be too afraid to ever make.
Apartment viewings, Job interviews and Coffee Dates
Go on as many of all of these as possible, even if you don’t feel like it. You need to get a good feel for what’s possible for what price.
You need to get yourself to as many employers as possible to try and get your foot in the door. If you have experience and depending on the job you might even have the opportunity to be picky and choose a company that is the best fit for you. Meeting as many people as possible is a good thing. Meeting with multiple recruitment agents is a really good idea too. In some places it is the norm for finding roles.
Even if you’ve arrived with a partner, or friend, or your family it’s still really important to get out there and meet new people. It will help ground you in the new environment. They may become life long friends, they may be occasional acquaintances – it really doesn’t matter. Chances are you’ll be able to glean some local info from them and the best part is – if it’s terrible – you never have to see them again!
Most countries require you to register yourself in some way. Whether you need a social security number, or a National Insurance Number there is probably some kind of registration process that is most likely inconvenient, but best not avoided.
Bank Account & Phone plan
Locals will know the best bank account and phone deals, so ask people what companies they use and don’t be afraid to shop around a little before picking plan. The sooner you have a bank account, the sooner you have access to money without extra charges and the sooner you can get paid once you have a job. You also want to get on a local phone plan as soon as possible to avoid overseas charges. I generally try to do these things within the first day or two of being in a new place (although it’s not always possible).
Make the most of your free time
Before you start work and even after you are working make sure you explore your new city. I spent every single day I had off work exploring new parts of New York. In big cities (and even smaller ones) there are endless activities. Don’t think it has to cost you either. Just wandering around parks, markets and streets can be ways to really get to know an area.
Stay in touch with people at home
This is important even if you never plan to come home again. It’s good to stay in touch with your old friends and keep up with their lives. Remember you’re not more awesome than they are just because you’ve moved country. Their goals of career progression, house buying, marriage and children are just as awesome as your life change, so make sure you stay up to date with the happenings.