Before You Go - thinking about moving abroad
Talking, thinking, dreaming and researching are not the same as actually doing and getting on a plane with your family to build a new life in a foreign country. Getting to the stage where you, and your family, are ready and confident about making the move abroad can be fraught with worry and stress as well as excitement and anticipation.
In the end, the process comes down to which factors are more important to you.
Do the GO factors making you look abroad (such as climate, crime, long commute, taxes, healthcare, quality of life, cost of living, economic opportunity) outweigh the STAY factors that make you want to stay (such as family and friends, fear of economic risk, security, cultural familiarity).
We are not trying to persuade you one way or the other whether moving is a good idea or not. The allure of a better life in a sunny climate, whilst spending more time with your family is a powerful incentive.
What is important is to fully assess the issues that absolutely need to be addressed before you commit to your move. What is one of the great truths of the whole process is that
the better prepared you are, the greater the chance of success
In 2014, of the 640,000 people coming to Britain, one of the largest groups comprised 85,000 British citizens returning to live in the UK. There are no statistics or surveys to suggest why they return but a considerable percentage will be individuals or families who couldn't make the move work on either a personal or financial level or both.
Emigrating is not like moving to another town in Britain. Here in Britain you have all the cultural reference points and a lifetimes worth of information and knowledge to build upon. Often the decision on where to live comes down to proximity to work and schools.
However, finding out what a place abroad is really like is a completely different matter. You may have visited on holiday or you may even have friends or family currently living there (extremely useful but also quite rare). How do you decide whether is place is suitable for you and your family or not? For example, you may be moving to Sydney where there is a large expat community and this will give you confidence that “if they can make it then surely I can”.
To an extent this is true as expats will cluster where opportunity and desirability mix. Sydney is a world-class city with a fantastic climate and outdoor lifestyle. However, if one of the primary reasons you are looking to move is to seek a quieter, more balanced life in a rural idyll, then it is obviously not going to be for you.
You need to be very clear what is making you decide to emigrate. There can be a multitude of different circumstances and reasons for the move.
The young, single, City banker, looking to broaden their horizons and add impetus to their climb up the corporate ladder, may move to New York or Singapore on an attractive expat package but their expectations and motivation will be very different to the family with young children looking to move to rural New Zealand to run a small B&B.
The former can take greater risks in the sense that, if they really don't like the lifestyle, they can either stick it for a year or so and transfer back or look for a different job back home. They have greater flexibility and, more often than not, greater resources to play with.
The latter will need to plan and research to a much greater degree, not only because of the longer time-scale involved in bringing B&B to profit but also because there are children and their needs to be taken account of.
Head vs. Heart
'Itchy feet', 'wanderlust' and 'the grass is always greener' are all used to describe how some people are always looking for something new and exciting in their life to give it meaning and purpose.
It can be boredom with the daily grind or a sense that life is too short and opportunities and experiences have to be taken. Whatever the reason or motivation, the harsh truth is that without a thorough, rational approach to preparing for the move, other clichés such as 'shattered dreams' can become an all too frequent occurrence.
A drunken conversation at the end of a fantastic holiday can conjure up hope for a new lifestyle in the sun but forcing your head rule your heart is the only approach to take.
Nothing that can be done in preparation for a move abroad even approaches a guarantee of success. No one can know for sure whether your new business venture will succeed, whether you will actually tire of living in a hot, or simply more extreme, climate a long way away from family, friends and the local pub.
Emigrating is always a risk but what you can say though, with utter conviction, is that proper preparation is absolutely key to the chances of making your move a success.
Where do you begin? What things do you need to research, plan for and think through? It can appear daunting, even scary to think about what is needed before making the move. The following will help to provide a framework within which difficult and complex decisions can be made.
“Should I stay or should I go”
Brutal honesty - moving abroad will be one of the defining moments in your life. It will change forever your perception of yourself, your family, your native country and the world. It will require stamina, resourcefulness, honesty, perseverance, humour and flexibility.
You will deal with isolation, regret, longing, hope, frustration, envy, cultural dislocation, worry and stress. How you deal with these things will, in large part, determine how successful your move will be. When you multiply that by the number of people in your family moving abroad then it can be a large barrier to overcome because they will all be experiencing similar feelings and emotions.
Being honest about why you are emigrating, what you want to achieve and whether you have the skills (personal and otherwise) to make it work will make the decision much easier to make.
Be clear why you want to move - dissatisfaction with the commute, the weather, boredom at work or feeling stuck in a rut can all be reasons to begin dreaming about moving abroad. Many people lead extremely busy lives and can find it difficult to pause, take stock and reflect. However, it is much easier to analyse and reflect on your current life now before making a commitment to a huge event such as moving abroad.
If you are unhappy, be honest with yourself what the cause is. Is it a relationship problem, lack of career progression, do you suffer from a long commute with low pay; do you spend less time with the kids than you would like to; does the lack of opportunities for them make you want to seek a better life and future for your children?
There will be many reasons, some more relevant than others. In all cases however, ask yourself the question – ‘will moving abroad really help improve my current situation?’
For example, if you and your partner are currently arguing about money, maybe with both of you working whilst still struggling to keep your head above water, will emigrating actually radically change that situation? Arguing about money is a major source of strain in a relationship. Emigration, with all the economic risk involved, is no quick fix for that problem and, indeed, may actually exacerbate the problem.
Deciding To Go
The typical expat rule of thumb is that you should give your move two years to decide whether it has worked out for you or not. Whilst this doesn't particularly relate to the setting up of a business and turning it to a profit, it is also not a bad yardstick to measure the likely success of any new business you set up as well. This is especially true if you have no prior knowledge of the business you are starting.
It also applies with settling in to a new job abroad. Even if you are working in the same language, there can often be many different customs, practices and methods which you will have to adapt to. There may well be different expectations built in about what your role should be, hierarchy’s between colleagues may be difficult to fathom and, perhaps worst of all, you find yourself settling in to exactly the same routines as before except your new work mates no longer go down the pub together!
Are you cut out to be an entrepreneur?
If you have worked all your life in a company, surrounded by colleagues upon whom you can prevail for advice, comfort and collective responsibility (as you go higher up the management tree, whilst the responsibility grows, so does the ability to delegate) it can suddenly be a very intimidating environment having to take responsibility for EVERY aspect of your new business.
Depending on how you plan to support yourself abroad, it is very important to analyse what your current skill-set is and determine whether it will allow you the best chance of success abroad. If you have been self-employed in the UK and plan to use these skills (e.g. plumbing, painting, carpentry) as the basis for your new business abroad, you already have a significant head start.
If you have worked in a busy office in the middle of a big city and now plan to run a B&B in the mountains it will require a wholesale change in your working life.
Learning on the job may be an acceptable, even preferable, way of learning when in the familiar surroundings and supportive atmosphere of a company in the UK and when your family life is stable and settled. When everything is thrown up in the air, with a new language, new tools and skills to learn, making mistakes can be frustrating at best and expensive and even critical at worst.
Couple this with finding somewhere that you can begin to settle in to and call home, sorting schools out and generally settling into a new way of life and the strains can begin to show very quickly.
Setting up and running your own business can be extremely rewarding both personally and financially. Being your own boss has a wonderfully liberating ring to it with no-one to answer to. However, setting up a business from scratch is difficult even in the UK. Here, there are many different resources dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground. If you need advice about any topic it is usually easily to hand and often given free by government organisations.
It will still take incredible energy, patience, determination and luck to be successful though. The 9 to 5 routine is banished forever and the roller-coaster ride begins.
Imagine how hard it will be abroad when you are struggling with bureaucracy and red tape in another country and maybe in another language. Every decision becomes yours, the outcome of which can determine the likely success or failure of your new business.
It sounds obvious but researching what you can whilst still resident in the UK is an absolutely key requirement. Forewarned is forearmed and knowledge is priceless.
On the day you move, if you can say you are approaching your new venture with eyes wide open, and have equipped yourself with the best possible understanding of what your new life will be, then the chances of success are raised exponentially.
Get the family on-board - It is unusual for every member of the family to be prepared to move abroad with the same degree of enthusiasm. The idea usually comes, initially at least, from one partner. How the prospective move is 'sold' to the family can be critical in making a) the likelihood and b) the success of the move greater.
One partner may be ready to give up their career to take a completely different course but asking your partner and children to give their up careers, school life, friends and family can stretch family ties and relationships to the limit. If any member of the family feels coerced, blackmailed or, at the very least, not involved in the planning of the move, it is unlikely they will settle readily and happily. (See the Emigration Store's 'Moving abroad with Kids' for further advice and tips)
This, in turn, leads to additional stress and pressure on the family trying to settle and make a success of the move. Not only is it vital to have the agreement of the family you will be taking with you abroad, it is also important to think about the family you will be leaving behind.
Leaving family behind
Leaving family and friends behind is the single most difficult aspect of moving abroad. It will create tension, regret, heartache, sadness and a sense of loss and how you deal with this will determine, to quite a degree, how successful your move will be or, indeed, if you actually make the move at all.
Despite the fact that the traditional, extended, family unit has largely broken down in the UK, many people are still used to have the support network of parents, grandparents, siblings and uncles and aunts around. Getting the kids picked up from school, babysitting for evenings out and help during the school holidays all seem natural and normal.
How would your life be if that support network no longer existed? How will your parents feel when they no longer have regular access to their grandchildren? How will you feel when your children no longer see their cousins and are no longer part of regular family events? Moving abroad is much easier if you already have distance between you and your family. If you are not used to the daily/weekly/monthly interaction with family then you are, in effect, leaving less behind.
However, even if you are not particularly close to your family, distance and the inability to see them when you want will greatly magnify the sense of loss and isolation. (See the Emigration Store's 'Culture Shock' for how people can struggle when they move abroad)
Moving abroad is one of the most liberating, exciting adventures you can undertake. It can lead to a whole, new wonderful life for you and your family. Generally, though, this doesn’t happen by accident or luck.
Preparation, (mental, physical, financial, emotional) is absolutely vital. Change, when it goes right, can seem wonderful and liberating. When it goes wrong, it can be lonely, depressing and even frightening. Make sure you do your homework before emigrating – make sure that your move is based on positive reasons rather than negative ones and that you have tried to really understand what is making you want to move abroad.