As fun as it is to blindly move somewhere with absolutely zero planning, and sometimes it is, if you’re planning on making a smart move, meaning one where you don’t have to come home immediately because you might die if you eat another package of expired, shrimp flavored ramen, here are some considerations when moving abroad.
Considerations When Moving Abroad
What is the legal situation of you living in that country?
In Costa Rica, for example, you are allowed to enter the country as long as you also have a ticket out of the country within 90 days. That doesn’t mean that you have to buy an expensive plane ticket back to your home country every 3 months. This can mean buying a $12 bus ticket to Nicaragua or Panama for the day, both options that gringos in this country seem to use frequently in order to live here without establishing residency, which is apparently a lengthy and difficult process.
Regardless of where you move, make sure you look into this and know the deal. There’s nothing like buying an expensive, one way plane ticket only to be deported or forced to buy another expensive plane ticket once you land.
If you’re not legally allowed to live there long term, what are your chances of being caught and how can you avoid them?
It could be that authorities don’t care enough to stop it, or maybe they don’t have the resources or staff to keep it under control, but crossing the closest border and coming back into Costa Rica every 90 days isn’t exactly a legal way to stay in the country. Border authorities know that people do this regularly in order to avoid the hassle of becoming legal residents, or because they don’t qualify to do so, and yet nobody we know has had an issue with this.
That being said, it is likely, at least in the town we live in, that immigration officers will stop in local businesses and establishments on occasion to make sure employers aren’t knowingly hiring foreigners for work. Peter was employed by the largest and most well known scuba dive shop in town, and even the owners, who have been here for around a decade, have not gotten their full legal residency established and still have to watch out for immigration. It’s a tricky process.
A good rule of thumb, no matter where you decide to move, and especially if it’s not exactly legal for you to stay there long term, is to mind your own business and don’t draw unnecessary attention to yourself. I’m all for making new friends, but make sure your new friends don’t happen to work for the local immigration office.
Is there a possibility of finding an employer who will provide a legal work permit or temporary residency?
If you are planning on teaching English abroad (requirements are usually a Bachelors Degree and TEFL/TESOL certification), you can find a teaching job fairly easily in countries that have a high demand for those types of positions, such as China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Lots of times your best bet is to find a teaching position before you move, that way the school you’ll be working for has time to get your visa and housing settled before you arrive.
If you’re qualified in a specialty position, like Peter, who is a Master Scuba Diver Instructor, some employers will hire you beforehand in order to make sure you’re not suddenly kicked out of the country and they’re left without a qualified employee to run tours. While this isn’t the case in most places, and certainly not in Costa Rica, he did manage to find a legal job in Bermuda this way.
What is there to do for fun?
You may like to lay on the beach and do nothing on vacation, but what about when you live by the beach and still do nothing? Will you love it just the same or will you be bored out of your mind after the first ten days and get stir crazy? Think about this and research what there is to do in the area. It would be a shame to make it all the way to paradise just to find out you hate sand and hot weather makes you want to die.
Also think about simple things, like shopping, cooking, watching movies, eating out, riding your bike. If these are things you like to do on your off time and can’t do them wherever you’re going, be prepared to try something new or move somewhere else.
How will you get around?
Will you need a car? Is there a good form of public transportation? Will you have to ride a bike or walk everywhere? These things can drastically change how much you need to save before you move and how much you plan on spending while you’re there.
We currently spend $0 on transportation, besides a one time $30 bike purchase, and mainly walk everywhere we go. No car, no insurance, no gas, no repairs. However, lots of people in Playas Del Coco end up renting golf carts by the month because they don’t want to walk a mile or two in the awful heat just to go grocery shopping. Understandable. However, golf carts here cost around $350/month. Yikes! That’s more than most car payments would be back home, but then again, it runs on a battery and you don’t need insurance.
Also make sure you know the standard rate to get to most places in a cab. I learned that the hard way after paying the equivalent of $50 in Czech Crowns for a ten minute cab ride in Prague. Oops.
What’s the banking situation?
Different banks have different policies and fees for taking out money oversees. Ha! That rhymed. But seriously, talk to your bank before you leave and know their ATM fees and policy on depositing money you make in another country. I would personally suggest Bank of America because they refund all foreign ATM fees. Chase, on the other hand, charges me $6 per month simply because I don’t use my card that often and doesn’t refund anything. Lame. Also remember to double check that they know you’re traveling and/or moving so they don’t think your card has been stolen and put a hold on your account.
What are the cultural differences?
I wish I could live like a Costa Rican. I really do. They are absolutely happy with what they have, and what they have is not much. Lots of houses don’t have windows, air conditioning or real flooring, and given the chance to move into a three story mansion, I honestly don’t think most of them would. People here are not motivated by money and things, and that’s pretty damn cool, and also pretty damn hard to remember sometimes. They ride two people to a bike, make brooms out of sticks and leaves, and use a machete for just about everything else.
Another difference is that prostitution is legal here, which creates a whole different view of the local women and gringo men that come down here specifically for that reason. I see these women on a daily basis, and while I don’t personally have a problem with it, at the same time it can be a little… what’s the word… icky. I’ve been told that many men come down here lonely and bored and end up broke and a father. Be warned.
And while these obviously aren’t all the considerations when moving abroad, maybe these are ones you haven’t thought much about and can help you decide between one place or the next. I would recommend joining some online groups for local expats since those are the people most likely to know the answers to any specific questions that come up along the way. The internet is a wonderful place. Ask and (almost always) you shall receive.