Five more things to think about when deciding on a location for your overseas move.
(Missed the first part of this post? Catch up here.)
Degree of Adventure
This one is pretty straightforward – how far off the beaten track do you want to go? I like to think of this one in terms of beginner, intermediate and advanced categories. If this is your first time traveling abroad, or are just generally uncomfortable taking risks until you’ve gotten your feet wet, a low degree of adventure is appropriate. Pick a place where you can easily get around with your native language, and where cultural barriers are relatively low. Your traditions may be similar, and the comforts of home easier to find.
Intermediate adventure locations might require you to use a second language on a daily basis, and will occasionally have you saying, “I wonder what’s in this?” at meal times. You will see celebrations that are beautiful but confounding, and will probably be guilty of a few cultural faux pas before long. But there will be plenty of other travelers and expats around, and your degree of integration will really depend on how involved you want to get in the community. In my opinion, Thailand falls into this category.
The advanced category is what it sounds like – for those looking to see and experience things they’ve never thought they would. Expect serious culture shock, but don’t be scared off by having to learn a new language and set of customs. For this category in particular, remember that you may be one of only a few foreign visitors, especially in developing areas. You are a representative of all of us, so be genuine in your desire to learn, be accepting of new things, and be ready for the adventure of a lifetime.
Concentration of Other Foreigners
As I’ve written about before, Chiang Mai is a major destination for backpackers, ESL teachers, and retirees. It also attracts creepy older men looking for young Thai “girlfriends”… but that’s a different story. Anyway, there are tons of other foreigners in our apartment building and neighborhood, and on days when we’re feeling a little homesick or overwhelmed it can be nice to have a little reminder of home around.
However, this concentration of Anglophones can be a major obstacle if you are looking forward to making friends with locals or trying to practice a new language. In my experience, having an expat community to lean on makes you socially lazy; it’s something I encountered studying abroad, and we struggle with it in Thailand as well. If you’re thinking of moving somewhere that’s a landmark for visitors, make sure you give yourself plenty of opportunities to get outside the expat bubble.
Cost of Living and Value of Currency
Especially when you’re young and not rolling in dough, making your dollar (or pound or euro or whatever it is) go as far as it can is a top consideration. This is part of what makes Thailand a popular choice for such a diverse group of people; you can live on nearly nothing if you’re budgeting, or you can live like a king if you’ve got a bit more financial elbow room. You can generally find the cost of renting an apartment in a decent sized city online, and guidebooks will give you an idea of what you’ll spend on meals and other necessities. Another great resource is CouchSurfing; check out profiles for the city you have in mind and message people who seem to have a similar lifestyle to what you’re looking to achieve. They can easily give you a ballpark figure of what they spend in a month, and you might make a new friend!
Be certain to research the stability of the currency in your chosen destination – can you count on the conversion rate staying relatively the same while you’re there? Are you going to have any difficulties changing money from the local currency back into your home currency?
Ability to Work or Volunteer
Some countries make it much more difficult than others for foreigners to work or volunteer legally. Thailand, for instance, has very restrictive visa policies; unless you are working full time as an English teacher or studying Thai, it is nearly impossible to get a long-stay visa. Of course, many people flaunt the rules, making frequent visa runs to the border or spending nearly $1,000 each year for Thai classes they never attend in return for an education visa. There is no such thing as a volunteer visa here, so people who want to come work temporarily with nonprofits often must do so illegally with tourist visas (not that the government ever checks into this practice or does anything to discourage it). Voluntourism is a pretty contentious subject among nonprofits, so think about what you want your role to be and the possible positive or negative impacts of your work as you research organizations to approach.
If you want to work overseas, do your research first. Check into whether you need to secure a visa that will allow for employment before you leave your home country, or whether you can look for work and convert a tourist visa after you arrive. You can often find information on a consulate’s website about their restrictions, and if in doubt you can always call to talk to someone about the specifics of your plan.
Ability to Do What You Love
Kyle, more than me, has about a million hobbies. They keep him busy, and more importantly they keep him happy, balanced, and give him purpose. It’s one thing to be excited about jumping into new things, but it’s another to know that you will be unable to continue a hobby you love because the necessary facilities aren’t available. Do some research into what kind of teams, studios, and classes exist in the cities you’re considering. Will you have to take supplies and equipment with you, or can you restock overseas? Is there already a community practicing your sport or craft, or will you be comfortable going it alone (or teaching others)?
Coming up in Uprooting: A How-To Series – When To Go (Seasons and Reasons)