One of the bravest things I ever did in my life is move countries. In 2020, amidst the pandemic and Brexit, I left my job and moved from Spain to the United Kingdom. Everyone thought I was going mad, who would leave a stable income and move abroad in a middle of an international crisis?
But as humans we enjoy comfort but we also crave new experiences, and this is exactly what encouraged me to move. Barcelona is an incredible city, but I felt I wasn’t growing. At the time, I was working as a Communications Manager for a distribution cinema company but after three years I felt stuck.
So I decided to leave. Leaving is such a magical word, but I have a love-hate relationship with it. Leaving means new beginnings and exciting adventures, but at the cost of knowing that you will always miss some aspects of the place, you once called home and its people.
Moving abroad alone has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life and an incredible opportunity to start fresh and challenge myself. It will help you grow into a wiser person and teach you a lot about the world. But since it is not easy, here are 8 tips for moving abroad alone that will allow you to thrive in a new country.
1. Do not expect a new country to make you happy
There’s a saying that goes “Wherever you go, there you are” and this could not be farther from the truth. Some people love to imagine that moving a vast distance will transform them, magically, into better versions of themselves. They expect moving to a new country will solve their problems and help them fight their inner demons.
But setting the expectation that moving abroad alone will be a shortcut to a whole new life is setting you up for disappointment. After living there for a while and when the novelty starts wearing off, you will feel homesick and miss the familiarity of your hometown. And that’s because happiness is something to be found in ourselves, not in a country.
You will need a very strong and resilient mindset to move to a new country and start from scratch, especially if you move alone. Understand that you will have to embrace cultural differences if you want to thrive in this new community.
So work on your inner happiness first before moving to a new country. At the end of the day, I believe that the biggest trip we will ever embark on is the internal one.
2. Prioritize building a new support system
Making friends in a new city can be daunting. But being part of a thriving community is critical to our overall well-being: We are social creatures, and our happiness is undoubtedly linked to our connections. Establishing a new support system will also create a sense of belonging, which will raise your levels of trust and psychological safety.
So be proactive and create new bonds in the country you’re living in. You can create new connections using apps to meet people (like Bumble), join Facebook Groups, bond with your co-workers or neighbors, attend cultural events, sign up for art classes, and join a gym.
Prioritize meeting residents, since it will help you with the integration process. You can practice the local language with them and understand your new country’s culture. Connecting with fellow expats is another option since most likely they’ve gone through similar experiences that you will identify with. But do not make the mistake of only hang-out with expats, since long-term can make you feel excluded from the culture you’re living in.
Stay in touch with friends and family back home too, a call from time to time will keep you balanced. But expect some relationships to drift apart, at the end of the day you’re now living in different countries.
Overall, I would say the key is patience: building relationships takes time. In the end, the right people will come into your life eventually.
3. Enjoy your own company
Being alone isn’t a bad thing. I remember I hated being alone in my teenage years but now I enjoy it so much. In the last few years, I’ve started making videos and dedicated countless hours to my career.
So embrace your free time by discovering a new hobby or trying an activity that you always wanted to do but didn’t have time for. Maybe going for a walk in the park, watching a movie, or visiting an art gallery by yourself makes you cringe. But I can assure you going out of my comfort zone only made me much stronger, self-confident, and independent.
Also, don’t be hard on yourself if you start feeling homesick. It is normal to sometimes wonder if we made the right decision when we’re feeling lonely, it happened to me too. Moving abroad alone is certainly not easy and there will be many bumps and scrapes along the way, so practice kindness and patience with yourself.
4. Get your sh*t together when it comes to personal finances
I still remember the day that I quit my job and signed my resignation letter. I didn’t have any job aligned, I just wanted to move abroad and experience a new culture. But I didn’t leave empty-handed: I did have a financial cushion that allowed me to support myself during the first months. When moving abroad alone, I highly suggest securing a job upfront or preparing to support yourself indefinitely.
If you decide to take the plunge and rely on your savings, research the country’s cost of living and establish how much money you will need to pay your rent, bills, and other costs. If you are not aware of the cost of living in your new country, your savings may not last for the time you think. In my case, the UK’s cost of living was higher compared to Spain.
Opening a bank account in a new country is usually not an easy task, it requires quite a lot of paperwork and could take a few months. I highly recommend opening an international account at the beginning, since you will be able to receive payments in multiple currencies. Choose an independent transfer service to transfer money abroad, the exchange rates will be more favorable and you will avoid hefty bank fees.
5. Learn the local language
Depending on where you’re moving, you may even have to learn a new language. That will take time, effort, and a lot of commitment. Being in a foreign country without speaking the language is a challenge, but it’s the perfect opportunity to learn it. You will be able to speak it daily and practice with locals.
In my case, I was making sure to move to an English-speaking country. Many Spaniards move to the UK to practice their English but in my case, I was practically bilingual when I landed on British territory. I would say that my vocabulary has improved, I learned a lot of slang and complex words that I don’t use daily but make me sound native.
Don’t get overwhelmed and start step by step. Being fluent in a language takes years of study, so in the beginning, just learn some basics so you can simply communicate when you arrive. Study up on letters, numbers, time, directions, and how to ask simple questions.
Learning the local language is a must if you want to integrate into the culture and society of the new country.
6. Be open to saying “yes” to everything
The biggest advice I can give to someone who is moving abroad alone is to say “yes” to everything (at least at the beginning). In your hometown, you can allow yourself to be pickier when it comes to choosing plans. You already have a group of friends and you know every place that there is to visit.
But when you’re moving to a new city there are plenty of new activities to experience and people to meet. And as I mentioned, you must start meeting locals as well as other expats. Staying in your house all day will not help with that. So be ready to say “yes” and do not hesitate to have fun!
Joining salsa classes? Yes! Meeting a stranger you meet on a Facebook Group for a Coffee? Yes! Going on a date with someone you met in the pub yesterday night? Yes! At the end of the day, moving abroad alone should be filled with exciting and thrilling memories.
7. Prepare all your needed documents
For moving abroad alone, you will need to prepare an endless amount of documents. Before arriving, you should also do some research and gather all the documents needed for your visa application. If you are lost during this process, you can consult the Embassy or Consulate or tap the question into expat groups.
Being organized with your documents is a must too. Save all your original documents in a safe place that you will remember because you will need them in the future. You don’t want to go through the struggle of not knowing where they are. And trust me in this one, I speak from personal experience.
You can also make photocopies and have a digital backup in your Google Drive or external hard drive, in case you lose your original copy. I also suggest backing up any important login information, passwords, videos, photos, and anything else you regard as valuable given loss or theft.
8. Keep a light packing
One of the mistakes I’ve made when I moved, and a lot of first-time movers make, is bringing quite a lot of luggage. Try to only bring what you can physically carry, otherwise, you will have to bring a lot of things every time you move houses, flats or rooms. And it’s not a pleasant experience, I can assure you.
Since you’re moving abroad alone, in the first weeks you will have little to no help from anyone. For example, if you’re carrying four suitcases, you will go through the struggle of carrying them from the airport to a taxi to your rental car. Or if you rented a flat on the top floor with no elevator, you will have to carry the luggage upstairs.
Light packing has become a preference of mine in the last few months. I’ve understood that material things are not important and I embrace minimalism. And in case you need something, you can always buy it. In the UK (and in every country) there are a lot of second-hand stores where you can buy cute outfits that look brand new at a cheap cost. So, don’t make my mistake and keep it light!
Moving abroad alone takes a lot of courage. So if you are willing to overcome your fears and continue with this exciting journey, be proud of yourself! In the beginning, you will experience the hardship of loneliness. But with time and patience, I can assure you that you will create a new life in the country you’ve moved in.
Personally, moving abroad alone changed me and I grew stronger. The experience provided me with a valuable skillset applicable in a lot of areas in my life. From how to overcome new challenges, gain new life skills and expand my mindset. Plus, in the last two years, I lived more life-changing experiences than in my whole life. So, what are you waiting for?