Vacation? Or Shopping for a New Life?
How many times do you find yourself on vacation thinking, “I could see myself living here…” or, “what if I just ‘miss’ my flight home?”
If these are common thought-processes as your trip nears an end, you may be a closet expat, and getting away for a couple of weeks each year just isn’t cutting it anymore. Instead, you’re dreaming of living in the heart of a colonial city, waking up to ocean air blowing into your bedroom or running your own business in a little town, barely on the map.
You aren’t the only one that feels this way; the only difference is that millions of North Americans are already doing it… and this number is increasing every year, at exponential rates. In 2006, there were approximately 6.6 million Americans living as expats. And those are the ‘official’ numbers… that doesn’t include all those folks out there living under the radar.
Think you’re ready to make the step from vacationer to expat? Here are a few tips to consider:
Chances are, if you’ve thought of moving to a specific location in a country you’ve visited it once or twice. If you really love it, prove it and stick around for a while. Rent an apartment or a room in a long-term hotel. To know if it’s a good fit for you, you need to feel the vibe of the area… running from place to place doesn’t give you a real sense of the everyday feel. And although you may have loved it when you first got there, if you don’t still love it after a month or so of staying put, it may not be the place for you.
Participate in the Everyday
Skip the guided tours and visiting the ruins… instead, get a haircut, do laundry or pick-up groceries and cook dinner. Or, mingle within the community and attend a church service or local charity/fundraising event.
Don’t speak the local language and find these activities daunting or difficult? This will give you a ‘real’ idea of what living here will be like and a good indication of whether you can cut it or not.
Document the Mundane
It’s easy to forget the ‘regular’ stuff when you get home from a trip. You take pictures and videos of all the fun and interesting stuff you did while away, and the more you look at them – and show friends and family – the more you forget about everything that would have an impact on your life if you lived there… road conditions, grocery stores and markets, line-ups, cleanliness of streets and beaches and the candid looks on the local’s faces (are they smiling? Scowling? Interacting?) Looking at these shots once you’re back in your comfort zone will help remind you of what you liked, or didn’t like.
Find a spot where you can sit and watch the world go by – perhaps grab a beverage and magazine, so it doesn’t ‘look’ like you’re observing…
And simply pay attention; do shops shut down for lunch or an afternoon ‘siesta’? What is the main demographic of people out and about – men, women, families? Old? Young? Making note of the goings on during week-day, daytime hours will help you feel the ‘vibe’ we spoke about earlier and give you a good idea of whether you’ll fit in.
‘Interview’ Existing Expats
They’re usually pretty easy to spot… shopping in the market and at the local bar. Chat them up, ask them about their experiences, how long they’ve been there and what they like and don’t like about living there. The majority of expats will enjoy imparting their experiences onto you, and are usually very honest. Just be mindful of what they’re saying, and try not to let your own excitement take over, muting any of their negative feedback.
The bottom line… next time you take a vacation, and start to get that feeling that you could live there, consider some of these points and give some non-vacation activities a spin. It’s possible that you’ll head home ready to make the move ASAP, or, you may find you have a whole new appreciation for your native country.
Want to see if you’re ready to become an expat? Visit on a Discovery Weekend to see if you can live in a new country and enjoy a new pace of life!