Living Abroad: Actually Doing The Thing

Living Abroad: Actually Doing The Thing

November 19, 2018 - Jess

The hardest part of living abroad is seemingly the easiest: saying yes. Once the decision is made, the rest is logistics. While this seems so simple, actually committing to the trip (and the work associated with it) is the first, and scariest thing. When we decided to do it, we picked a date (fall of the next year) and started planning. Setting a departure date gives you a time frame to work with - else you will continue to plan, dream, and think about the trip but never actually make the jump.

#justDoIt: Making the decision

Before saying yes, do some reading and ask yourself if this is something you really want and are you willing to take on the hardships for the rewards. Living abroad includes saying goodby (for the time being) to your routines, friends, family, and potentially work opportunities. It means even the day to day things like getting coffee or grocery shopping will be more challenging. You will constantly be pushed into uncomfortable situations, be alone, and not know what you should be doing. If you’re not used to remote work, it can be a challenging transition. Are you OK with the trade off of these things?

If you are still motivated to travel and explore then set the date and start getting your ducks in a row! Step 1: determine your financial needs. This will be different for each person so be truthful with yourself on what kind of lifestyle you want to live during your trip.

Finances: Hard Talk

OK you have a general date and are starting to get ready to pick your first location. Now you need to take a good hard look at your financial situation and think critically about what needs you have vs. what compromises you can make. Personally I would suggest having a rainy day savings fund if you lose your job, get sick, or need to fly home unexpectedly.

Seth and I knew we did not want to rough it like we would have in our early 20’s - so that means staying in nicer Airbnb’s or co-living spaces. We both have some experience working from home and value getting out of the house so wanted to wrap a co-working space into our budget. We also love going out to nice restaurants. So when evaluating our budgets we wanted to have enough money to be comfortable - this brought us to the conclusion that we wanted to continue to be employed full time. Other folks with a lower cost of living might enjoy freelancing or part time work, to give them more time and flexibility. For us, financial security was important so full time employment was a must.

Looking out a door to a pool over the ocean
It's not all beaches... OK it's some beaches

Having full time remote jobs meant Seth would need to find new employment which was its own challenge. Read about his experience finding remote work here. My manager was open to me moving to a full time remote employee so I was able to keep my existing job. Try talking to your current employer about remote possibilities - however be aware, they may try to change your status (w2 to 1099) or pay you less - start this process early so you know the financial ground you stand on.

Since we lived in Washington DC before the trip, we were used to a high cost of living so many places we will travel are much cheaper. Don’t underestimate your extra travel costs when getting excited about a lower cost of living!

Locations: A Whole New World

Ok so you’ve picked a date, you had a real conversation with yourself about your financial needs - now it’s time to pick your first location! For us, we had to keep in mind that for work we needed reliable internet, we wanted to stay in temperate or warm climates for less packing, and wanted relatively safe cities. Generally places are safer than US media may have you think. Do some reading from sources from locals and follow general large city safety rules.

Websites such as the Nomad List can help when making a decision. Use Numbeo for help with general cost of living. Wikitravel is a good source of information about individual countries and Reddit can help with getting a sense of the local vibes.

We knew we wanted to experience places we had not been before and so we talked to well traveled friends and decided on our general itinerary: Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Berlin, Kiev, Nairobi, Cape Town, and Tokyo are all on our list. We book only one city at a time to give ourselves flexibility. This is the fun part! Live all your daydreams!

Details: Making a list, checking it x(n) times

Choosing a date at least 6-8 months before you depart (we started planning over a year in advance!) will give you plenty of time to think about all the details that go into moving abroad. Here is a short list of things to consider:

  • International Health Insurance: We use SafetyWing for emergency medical coverage and general travel insurance.
  • Vaccinations: See a travel clinic and have a general idea of where you will visit
  • Prescriptions & health: If you take medications, talk to your doctor to create a plan of how to get them while abroad. Do full physical and dental checks and get any little items done before leaving
  • Address: Will you have a US based address? Will someone be checking the mail for you? (we do, it’s my mother’s house!)
  • Taxes: Consider getting someone to do your taxes or have a plan on how to handle them. If your 1099 you will need to make quarterly estimates, if your a freelancer read up on your specific needs. Look into the foreign earned income exemption as well!
  • Voting: Make a plan to vote!!
  • Banking: Find a bank that doesn’t have international transaction fees (we use Capital One)
  • Global Entry: So far this has been 1000% worth the hassle - pre-check, easy customs clearing.
  • Stuff: Will you keep your things? Sell them? We decided to keep a small (5x5) storage with some important mementos, but sold the majority of our things. It’s incredibly freeing to not have a lot of ‘stuff’ holding you down!

As you get closer to you leave date - then you start to think about packing - which is a WHOLE other article. Stay tuned for Seth and my packing lists!

Stay tuned to read about packing lists and life abroad!

Looking out a door to a pool over the ocean
© 2019 Seth Puckett & Jessica Bell