I have lived in 4 countries: Portugal, France, the UK, and Hungary. Moving to a new country is one of the most exciting, rewarding experiences you can have in life. It pushes your boundaries, it forces you to grow, and it turns you into a much richer person.
But, let’s be honest, it can also be hard. Leaving behind your comfort, your home, your people, is something only the brave do. But even the brave ones can use a little help when making such a move. Here are my tips to ease the transition to a new life, coming from personal experience.
1. Get Informed Before Making the Move
In the 50s and 60s, thousands of Portuguese men and women crossed borders illegally, trying to reach France, where they heard life was much better. For some of them, life in the new country corresponded to their imagination. For others, the dream fell short.
But we live in the 21st century, you can do much better than just having a vague idea of the place you are moving to.
Go online and read about it. Type on Google “moving to Berlin”, or wherever you’re going, and you will find a gazillion pages with useful tips. Take a step further and join Facebook groups of expats in your destination city.
Don’t be afraid to interact and ask questions. I have received some messages from people moving to places where I lived, and I always answer their questions in detail. I know how important this is for them because I was in their shoes once. Most people will know this too, reach out to them.
Renting is an entirely country-specific situation. Depending on where you move to, it might be a nightmare, or a dream come true.
My sister lived in France, where she worked as a 3D artist, with a one-year contract. This is unacceptable to most landlords! They demand stable jobs and high incomes to even start thinking about letting someone near their property.
In contrast, when I moved to Hungary I had no job, was about to start a course at a non-official school, and I managed to rent a nice apartment in the city center in a matter of days. All they required from me was my ID — no work contract, no bank statement, nothing.
There are a few things to consider when renting a place in a new country:
- In some countries, landlords require documents you don’t have if you just moved, like your last 3 payslips in that country. If this is the case for you, consider moving to a room first, while you establish yourself in the country. Then, once you’re ready, you can make the move to an apartment of your own.
- Look within your community — as I mentioned, renting in France is hard if you don’t meet all the requirements. This was my case when I moved to Paris in 2015. Luckily, there is about 1 million Portuguese living in the city. I turned to my own community and soon found a Portuguese landlord who rented me a studio apartment without all the guarantees he would have demand from other people.
- Pay attention to foreign-ripping schemes —there is a version of every city for the locals and one for the tourists. While you are not a tourist when you move to a new place, locals will treat you like one if you let them. When I moved to Hungary, I searched for apartments in English-speaking Facebook groups. Then, a local friend told me to search in the Hungarian groups. Not surprisingly, prices were up to 50% lower in the local language groups. Don’t be fooled. If necessary, get a local friend to help you with this.
Find a Community
This will take time but it will transform your whole experience for the better. A place is about the life you live in it, and life is better with friends.
When I lived in the UK, I overlooked the power of community. I focused on my relationship at the time and had very few friends outside that circle.
But now, living in Budapest, I created my own circles. I have Portuguese friends for when I miss speaking my language. I have Hungarian friends who introduce me to the culture and help me learn Hungarian. And I have my expat friends, who share the feeling of being a foreigner in Hungary.
One of the scariest feelings you can have in a foreign country is to think that, if you get sick, there is nobody to help you. Create strong relationships with some people, so you feel the constant support if you need it. It will make a world of difference.
Give Yourself Time to Adjust
Even if you do all the necessary preparation, you still need to give yourself time to adjust to the new reality. In the first few months, you will feel overwhelmed with all the tasks you need to do. Take care of bureaucracy, fix things up in your new apartment, find a good shop nearby…
Everything will take longer too. When I moved to Hungary, going to the supermarket was a tiring adventure. Many products were different from other countries where I had lived, the labels were written in languages I didn’t speak, and the currency was new to me, so I had to do a mental calculation in my head for each item I wanted to buy.
This is all part of the deal though. Be patient and try to look at it as a holiday. The feeling you have on a trip, where everything is new and exciting, is one of the things that make holidays memorable. Treat these first few months in the new life as a long holiday.
Always be kind to yourself. Don’t expect to feel at home immediately, don’t get mad because you can’t sort out everything alone, and don’t push yourself when you get homesick. Everything will get better, sooner or later.
Moving to a new country is something you should at least once in your lifetime. It opens up your mind and spirit in ways you never even realized were possible, and it transforms your views on life and the world.
It’s a deeply personal journey, but it is also an experience shared by millions of other people who have switched their home countries for a life across the border. Follow their footsteps whenever you get lost, for a better chance to find your own path. Happy move for you!