13 Things to Know Before Moving Abroad Alone
Moving anywhere can be daunting, let alone when it’s to a foreign country, with no one else to help you lug your bags around. To help put your mind at ease, we've created a list of the need-to-know things for moving abroad alone – which will hopefully make you feel a little more comfortable about the big move.
This guide will be separated into two phases: essential things to prepare you practically, and things which will help you settle in when you’re there. This way, not only will you get to your destination efficiently and safely, but you’ll also have some tips about how to make the most of your time in a new country. Let’s get started.
Essential things to know
1. What's your budget?
The most important thing – and often the most stressful – is budgeting your move. Moving abroad can be extremely expensive, even if you’re not moving all the way across the globe. You’ll need to account for a number of different things, from small expenses like tickets to the airport, through to bigger costs like shipping. It all mounts up.
Depending on your destination, the amount you’ll need to save up will fluctuate. If you’re moving across the world, the flights and shipping are likely to take a large chunk of your savings. On the other hand, if you’re moving to France, the flights and shipping will only cost a fraction, but the cost of living might be higher.
It all depends on your circumstances – but there are a multitude of online calculators that can give you a rough estimate of how much it will cost you overall.
2. Location, location, location
In an ideal world, we would all live in our favourite sunny holiday destination – but is this really practical? When moving abroad, whether alone or with someone, you need to consider the practicality of the location, as well as all the lovely luxuries and quirks of where you’ve chosen. We’ve compiled a list of the key features that you should be ticking off when searching for your new home:
- Language – Are you comfortable with being immersed in a non-English speaking country? For many people, moving to a foreign country that doesn’t speak English can often put people off.
- On the flip side, moving to a foreign country can be the best way to pick up a language – so this might be the perfect time to abandon the English way, and learn a new language! This could also be a great opportunity to make new friends at language schools, which can help you settle into your area even better.
- Infrastructure – This is something that should be high on your list. Scout out your area to see whether its educational facilities and job opportunities are sufficient. Does your desired country have healthcare plans? Are there good transport links? These are all things that can have a huge impact on your experience in your new home.
- Can you afford it? – Each country, city, and neighbourhood varies in price, naturally – whether or not you can afford the area you’d like to move to, only you can judge. If you’re moving to a city, consider whether it’s cheaper to live in the city centre, without any travel costs, or whether a cheaper property on the outskirts outweighs the travel costs. Living in the city centre is usually the best option for someone moving abroad alone – this way you have more social opportunities to get involved with, and the added bonus of not having to pay for travel.
- Safety – Feeling a bit nervous about the safety of your new home? Fear not, all you have to do is make sure to research the crime rates in the area you’re planning to move to. It's worth also having a look at the different travel options available for nighttime adventures. Although this will be a good indicator as to whether or not the area is safe, bear in mind that larger cities are likely to have higher crime rates than smaller towns, so don't let this put you off. It’s all about perspective.
- The culture and lifestyle – On holiday, this is what usually gets us thinking ‘I could really get used to this way of living’ – but is it really what you’d like long term? While looking for your new home, try to think about whether you’d like a more relaxed, slower pace of life, or whether the high speed, commuting mode is what you’re after. This is also a chance for you to consider any extreme cultural differences that might restrict you in anyway. For example, you're not allowed to move to Dubai unless you're married, so this one might be off the table.
- Travelling to work – Speaking of commuting, 58% of expats move abroad for work – if you’re in this majority, you should consider your commute. What is the average commute time in your new home, and are you okay with it? To put this into perspective, the average commute time in London is 74 minutes, with an average cost of £132 a month, compared to Nice in France, at a commute time of 40 minutes, and an average monthly cost of £26.56.
- Climate – No more complaining about the dreary, drizzly British rain. You get to choose what climate you’re after: sun or snow. It’s good to keep in mind that there are usually more social opportunities in areas that have better weather.
- Proximity to family and friends – For some this won’t be an issue, but for many, homesickness can make or break a move abroad. If this sounds a bit familiar, you might consider moving somewhere just a short flight away, rather than across the globe, in case of any surprise bouts of homesickness.
- Politics – We hate to bring politics into this, but unfortunately, it’s something you need to keep an eye on. In a world filled with Brexit dramas, and an ever-increasing divide between left and right-wing voters, you might want to pick an area that shares the same political beliefs as you.
We know, we know – it's not the most exciting subject, but this section will simplify the whole process for you. Gathering all of the necessary documents can be a tricky business – what do you need to bring? Do you need copies or originals? How many copies do you need to bring?
When moving abroad alone, these questions can seem 10 times more daunting than if you were moving with someone else. Check out the list of documents you’re likely to need when moving to a new country:
- Passport (spoiler alert, you need this to get there)
- Visa (if you're moving for work, they might be able to help you out with this)
- Birth certificate
- National Insurance Number
- Biometrics card
- Medical records
- Driving licence
- Qualifications for job / work permit
- Social security cards
Although this might weigh down your suitcase a smidge, we recommend you bring both originals and copies of each document – preferably multiple copies. Depending on where you’re planning on flying off to, this list may grow, but think of it as a good starting point.
4. Organising the big move
If you have a passion for lists, folders, and pros and cons lists,this section will be second nature to you. For the rest of us, the organisation part of moving abroad can leave you wanting to jump ship, and abandon the whole idea. As well as remembering to organise all of the documents in the point above, there are a few other things you need to get sorted before settling in:
- Applying for your visa – If you’re moving outside of the European Union, this will be the number one thing on your list – without this, your trip will be at a standstill.
- Closing bank accounts / moving money abroad – If you’re planning on moving abroad for a longer period of time (or even permanently) it’s time to put your foot down and close your bank account, no matter how much they protest. Before you do this, you’ll want to transfer your savings abroad to a new account.
- Insure everything – Okay, maybe not everything, but definitely insure any expensive valuables you have, and get some health insurance. This way, you can save yourself having to fork out more of your savings if something goes wrong.
- Ending contracts – You’ll want to cancel any phone or entertainment contracts before moving, as they won’t be necessary in your new home.
5. Shipping your items
Packing your whole life into a few boxes can be daunting, but it actually isn’t as hard as it seems. It’s best to start off by selling any bulky belongings you don’t need, as this will push down your shipping costs. Prioritise what you’d like to bring by judging whether it’s necessary – home comforts are at the top of our list, naturally. And finally, get started on shipping everything to your new home!
To help you with this, we’ve calculated the average international shipping rates for some of our most popular journeys. These rates are sourced from WorldFreightRates.com, and are based on the port-to-port transportation of a 20ft container of used furniture worth £40,000 – the typical value of the contents of a three-bedroom house (according to Admiral Insurance).
|London, UK||Los Angeles, USA||£1,502 - £1,660|
|London, UK||Sydney, AUS||£1,191 - £1,316|
|London, UK||Montreal, CAN||£1,662 - £1,837|
|London, UK||Le Havre, France||£661 - £730|
Please note: these container shipping costs exclude typical add-ons such as door-to-door delivery, professional packing/unpacking, and basic insurance cover. Our shipping suppliers normally incorporate these services into their prices, so expect some discrepancy between the rates given here and the quotes you receive. These estimates should be used as an indication only.
6. Visit where you’re planning to move first!
You’d be surprised how many people decide to move to a different country without visiting – and although this can work for some people, often it can lead to you expecting something different to the reality.
When we say visit, we mean more than just a few days. This way, you can really get to grips with the best areas to live, the best transport links, and most importantly, you can scout out the best food places.
7. Have somewhere booked to stay the first couple of weeks
We’ll give you two rules to live by during your move: never rent somewhere before visiting the property, and never buy property before visiting the area. The reasons for this are pretty obvious, but let’s dig in.
Renting a property is less of a commitment, but many people rush into this option without even seeing the property first. Big mistake. This can leave you with a shabby little room in a dingy area of the neighbourhood. The same goes for buying a property within visiting the area – you never know what nasty surprises might arise.
How can you overcome this? Simply book a cheap hotel or Airbnb for a week or two, so you can get a first-hand experience of the property and lifestyle in the area. If you have any friends or relatives in the area, perhaps you can even occupy their sofa for the first week.
Things to help you settle in
8. Get out of your comfort zone
If you’re moving abroad on your own, we’re guessing this is something you’re accustomed to – and if not, now’s the time to revel in the unknown. Scary, we know, but pushing yourself out of your comfort zone will be a vital part of this adventure.
If you’re in the majority of solo expats, you will be planning to move for work, so getting out of your comfort zone could be as simple as suggesting after work drinks to get to know everyone. Us Brits love to bond over a pint.
Another great way to get out of your comfort zone and make new friends is to start a new hobby – for instance, you could join sports clubs. There will always be people in your area with similar interests as you – and what better way to bond than over things you’re passionate about?
9. Prepare for the common stages of leaving
Everyone experiences solo travel differently, and moving abroad will affect one person more than the next. Despite this, there are typically four different stages that people go through on the run-up to the big move. Here’s what you can expect:
- Excitement – So, you’ve made a brief outline for where you want to go, what you want to do – who cares about all the little details? You’re going on an adventure!
- Affirmation – You’ll need a lot of this from your family and friends. It’s important to have that support, especially during the next phase too.
- Regret – Doubt is a funny thing. It creeps up on you in the final few days and makes you think about all the ‘what ifs’ – ignore the doubt, keep plodding on until you’re on that plane.
- Denial – This is right at the end of the journey, and we’ve all been here before: you’re on the plane, ready to take off to go on your big adventure, and yet it still doesn’t feel real. That’s denial, my friend.
But it doesn’t end there. Once you’re all settled in at your new home, this is where the excitement kicks in again. You will feel more confident in your decisions than ever before, and you can look forward to a new sense of freedom. It’s time to explore!
10. Join social groups in your area
This might all seem scary, intimidating, and perhaps a bit too much to process at the moment, but don’t worry – you’ll likely be surrounded by people in the same boat. In fact, it’s estimated that roughly five million Brits are currently living abroad. If you’re worried about feeling alone during your time abroad, there are a few things you can do.
Now that we live in a technology-based world, for any worry you’re having, you can be assured that there’s an app or social group to help you. Some of the commonly shared worries about moving abroad alone are being lonely, having no one to talk to, and having no friends to experience this new life of yours. Enter, social media.
There are endless social media groups in hundreds of countries around the world. They come in all shapes and sizes, but are ultimately created to bring people together.
Despite stereotypes of retiring Brits moving abroad to catch some rays in their twilight years, 74% of Brits abroad are actually aged 65 or under – so you can be sure that there will be people of all ages to socialise with on these groups.
11. Expat apps
We are all well and truly immersed in the world of technology now, aren’t we? Nowadays, there’s an app for literally anything – including how to make your solo expat experience as incredible as possible! We’ve compiled a list of the apps that will benefit you the most:
Meetup – This app is all about finding or creating local communities with people who have shared interests. This means that no matter what you’re interested in, you’ll be able to find other people to connect with – whether it’s music, sports, tech-based socials, or career talks.
Doctoralia – Getting sick abroad, on your own, without anyone to run out to the shops and get you all the comforting essentials you need, is not a situation anyone wants to be in. Doctoralia will help you scout out the best doctors who are just a stone’s throw away.
Travello – If you hadn’t guessed from the name, this app is for travellers, but can also work for those of your moving abroad alone, and is used in over 180 countries. It’s essentially a social media app that’s condensed down for people travelling in the area. It even rewards you for your interactions with other people, by giving you points you can then use to save money on the things you love doing. This app could help you settle in the area and make new friends.
Duolingo – Planning to move to a non-English speaking country? Duolingo can help you pick up the local language swiftly by creating personalised learning methods, providing helpful grading and feedback, and presenting you with rewards once you achieve a result. It will make life much smoother on your travels.
Skype – We’ve all heard of, if not used, Skype before – so why are we popping it on our list? Well, for those of you who find yourselves getting homesick during your time away, this is just a little reminder that you can pick up your phone and be with your family (virtually) any time of the day.
With all these wonderful tools helping you along the way,solo travel is much less of a challenge.
12. Undecided on where to move?
Need a bit of guidance on where in the world you’d like to move? If you’d like to follow the trend, 33% of British expats end up moving to Australia or New Zealand. This is closely followed by 28% moving to America or Canada, with Europe trailing behind on 26%.
If you find yourself wanting to be closer to home, and being a part of that 26% in Europe, you can find a concentrated amount of Brits in certain areas – 69% of Brits residing in Europe are located in Spain, France, or Germany.
Looking for recommendations right from the horse’s mouth? Well, apparently Switzerland was voted the best place to work in by expats – so if you like beautiful views, countless mountains and lakes, lots of annual leave, and a good salary, this could be your next destination.
13. Any unanswered questions?
If you come across any questions along the way, head over to these top three expat forums – someone will always be there to help you:
Sometimes when you’re having a bit of a wobble, it feels like no one’s experienced the problems you’re facing. You can guarantee someone on these forums will have come across the same issues.
So even though you’re moving abroad alone, you don’t have to deal with everything on your own.
Feel ready for the big move?
So, when you feel like you’re ready to take the plunge and hop on that plane, remember to absorb all of the above, and you’ll do just fine!
Don’t let nerves get the better of you – moving abroad alone can be daunting, but just remember how rewarding, exciting, and fun it will be!
Whether you’re moving to enhance your career, meet new friends, or just experience a new way of life, you have a lot to look forward to on your next solo adventure.