You’ve always dreamed of moving to a foreign country or a sunny Caribbean island, and now you want to know how to make it happen. As someone who lived as an Expat, my advice is first to figure out why you want to do it and what you hope to get out of it. Do you need a temporary geographical fix or are you considering a life change? Do you plan to spend a year abroad and then go back to your old life, or are you ready to go off on an adventure to see where it leads? Understand what is driving you to make the move, and this will help you make a smart choice.
After 15 years as a TV news reporter, I knew I needed a change, and the Caribbean beckoned. An avid scuba diver, I decided to find work on an island to pursue my passion, but also to use my background as a journalist to find the right job for me. I landed a job in Grand Cayman doing public relations and tourism marketing. Perfect.
For almost 12 years, I was a busy and happy member of Cayman’s tourism industry where I learned a whole new set of professional skills. This second career has also allowed me to start my PR company now that I’m back in the U.S.
During my time the Cayman Islands visitors often asked me questions: What is it was like to live in Paradise? How did I make it happen? How could I give up a career to go off on an unknown adventure? I always encouraged those interested in moving overseas to take a chance and do it, but I also advised them to have the right expectations. The perceived romance of life in an exotic land is sometimes far from the reality.
If you're serious about making a big move, start by asking yourself the following questions.
How will I find a job or can I start a company?
There are plenty of recruitment firms that help place job-seekers with overseas positions. Depending on your skill sets, you should search online for the right company to help you. If you want to explore on your own, local newspapers post job openings on their online sites. If you arrive in a foreign country with a visitor’s visa, and you hope to find a job while there, you might run into a problem depending on the country. Some nations strictly enforce the time limit on visitor visas to prevent this. My advice is, have a job lined up when you move. Word of mouth is a great referral tool in the tourism industry worldwide. Tourism employees tell their friends back home about living and working in paradise, and soon their friends want to join the fun.
Alternatively, if you are an entrepreneur you may wish to explore options on owning a business. Many countries dictate that you must have a local partner that owns a majority shareholding in the business. Weigh up the pros and cons and do your research before making a move and ensure you are versed on the laws of the country as far as businesses ownership. You may consider checking out Cayman Enterprise City which is a Special Economic Zone located in Grand Cayman. It was specifically set up to attract foreign investment and encourage international entrepreneurs and business owners to establish a business in the Cayman Islands.
Companies setting up in the zone can undertake international business and do not need to have a local partner. They can own 100% of the business, set up within 3-4 weeks and get renewable 5 year work/residency visas in 5 days, so it’s a great option to consider.
Are you moving overseas alone or with a spouse and children?
Going off on an international adventure is easier when you are traveling alone, but if you have a family, you need to consider their needs and comfort. You should also think about schools, recreation, medical care and other things.
Will your family be comfortable in your new home? Is it safe?
As a single, you can probably take a room or temporary residence until you get to know the country, but with a family, you need a comfortable house or apartment in advance. You also have to consider the safety of your neighborhood and access to schools.
Is your new home country English speaking? Will you struggle to learn to communicate with the locals? Will you need Language classes?
The adjustment should be easy if English is the primary language in your newly-adopted country, but if not, you’ll struggle to communicate with the locals. You may have to take language classes to speed up the learning curve.
What about a work visa?
Make sure you understand what the visa requirements are when you apply for a job in a foreign country. Most countries have immigration laws that limit work permits or work visas for foreign nationals. Local job applicants are usually given preference for positions when they have the right qualifications. If you do find a job, then you will need to submit paperwork for the visa application, and this often includes a medical form and police clearance. Before you are allowed to move into a new country, they need to know you’re healthy and not wanted by the police.
Do you have enough money to keep you going for at least six months?
Expenses can quickly add up when you are settling into a new country, and this can cut into your budget. Hopefully, you will have researched cost of living in your new country to get a good idea of costs for rents, groceries, and other items. Don’t forget; you’ll need to have transportation. Do you have enough to buy and license a car?
What happens then?
After the initial excitement of the move, you settle into your new life and find out if being an expat is all you hoped it would be. Join the local expat community to make friends who can answer all your questions as you begin exploring your new home. Enjoy the commute to your new job. I can’t speak about large international city commutes, but I enjoyed my daily drive to work in the Cayman Islands, especially after years of dealing with terrible traffic in Houston. The views of the brilliant blue Caribbean Sea always took my breath away and reminded me daily why I had chosen to move to this island paradise. Don’t set yourself unrealistic expectations and be prepared for a few ‘challenges’ in your new home country.
Can I learn to fit into my new home?
Have respect for the local culture and people, and never forget that you are living in their country. All nations have their way of doing things, so try to appreciate local traditions and history, enjoy it as much as you can. I loved learning about the seafaring history of the Cayman Islands, especially from older Caymanians who shared their stories. The women told me about old-time island recipes using provisions available at the time: Bull Rush Plant Pudding, Christmas beef, Sorrel Drink, Turtle Stew and much more. I developed lasting admiration for the early settlers who hacked out a living on these remote coral islands when resources were scarce.
Understand that as an expat, you are living in someone else’s country. You don’t have a voice in what happens locally on the political scene, so think carefully before getting involved in local politics which can get heated at election time. Policies are determined by the people of your adopted country, but this doesn't mean you shouldn’t care what happens.
So you have something to think about as you look at your options and make up your mind about making a life change. Being an expat enriched my life greatly, and I'm so glad I took the chance. Even when in the early days, I had to do without eggs or milk because a storm kept the supply ship from docking, I didn't mind; it was part of the adventure!
No matter where you end up, be ready for it.