Living abroad was one of the biggest decisions we’d ever made, and man have we learned a lot since being here! In case you’re new around these parts (welcome, friend!) my husband Zach and I picked up our entire lives in Seattle earlier this year and began the process of moving abroad to Barcelona, you can check out more about how we made it happen, right here.
I still have to pinch myself typing that, because it’s been something we’ve dreamt about for ages! Moving abroad is the best decision we’ve ever made but boyyy have we learned a lot along the way (and yes, there have been tears both good and bad…)
If I’m being honest, I’m truly just now starting to feel settled after moving abroad to Barcelona, and we’ve been here for about six months. I’ve read and learned from other expats that this is about average time it takes until you really feel truly settled. I’ve written a bit before about what I wish I knew before moving abroad (you can check that out, right here!) but I wanted to really write some tangible takeaways for anyone who’s ever thought about moving abroad, because I get asked this question really frequently.
Visit the place before living there
This might sound like a no brainer, but the more I’ve connected with the expat community both here in Barcelona and worldwide, it’s shocking to me how many people up and thought about moving abroad without visiting the place beforehand. While in theory this might seem very spontaneous and fun, in reality if it’s a place to want to make your home for a significant amount of time, you should 100% visit it beforehand.
Go into it with the mindset of “could I actually see myself living here?” There’s a big difference between vacationing somewhere, and really living somewhere. Visiting your future home ahead of time with this mindset will be hugely beneficial in the long run, and could save you from some serious movers remorse! You know, like buyers remorse, but with moving 😉
Downsize your stuff
This is one of my biggest pieces of advice for anyone thinking of moving abroad. I have to admit, this was really, really hard to do. We got rid of SO much stuff prior to moving, but now looking back I realize that’s all it was–“stuff”. We sold seriously sooo much before moving (including our beloved Subaru) and at the time it felt like I was getting rid of my life, but now I’m so happy we were able to declutter and downsize before moving abroad. It was like a weight had been lifted. We do have a storage unit with some couldn’t get rid of items in it (mostly big furniture pieces) but that’s about it. Clothes, knick knacks, and all the rest got kicked to the curb (or to ya know, Craigslist).
Seriously, they’ll have most of the stuff you need in your new home country. If they don’t have the exact item, odds are, they’ll have something very similar! This will also make you realize the difference between things you really need, and things that are kind of just that–“things”. Many apartments come furnished, which is incredible! Things to for sure leave at home: furniture, bedding, pillows, home decor, pots & pans, and the list goes on. These are all things you’ll be able to get in your new home!
It’s time to get your Marie Kondo on and get rid of the things that don’t bring you joy! 😉
Ensure you’re prepped for your Visa appointment
The night before our visa appointment prior to moving to Barcelona, Zach and I were sitting in a teeny tiny little hotel room in San Francisco, organizing the seriously massive stacks of papers on the hotel room bed and were a complete mix of nerves and excitement.
When I say massive stack, that’s not an exaggeration. The amount of paperwork and loopholes to jump through when moving abroad is intense, and varies for everyone depending on what kind of visa you’re on or applying for.
One of the common misconceptions about moving abroad is that you can pick up and just go, which is sorely not true. In Europe, the longest you can stay is 90 days on a Schengen Visa (which is relatively simple to get) but if you need something more long term than that, you have to go through a much more in depth process. We’re talking FBI background checks, translations of every document you could ever imagine (signed and stamped by the Secretary of State in your home state) and the list goes on. All of this information will be available on the country you are hoping to move to’s website.
The other thing to keep in mind, is that Visa appointments need to happen in person, and not every state has a consulate for the country you’re hoping to move to. For example, the nearest Spanish Consulate for us was in San Francisco, so it required securing an appointment (that you need to do months in advance, they fill up quickly!) and then making sure you have every document they ask for prior to going.
Try before you buy…or rent
So you guys know I’m a big fan of Airbnb (big fan over here, for real!) and one of my biggest suggestions if you’re thinking about moving abroad is to stay in an Airbnb before you rent a place.
Airbnb actually has long term rentals (score!) so you can stay in places for 30 days plus for waaaay cheaper than staying at a hotel, all while being able to check out what neighborhoods you like and don’t like before committing to a place for an extended period of time. It will let you really settle on a place that feels like “home” rather than just hopping into the very first apartment you see.
Other piece of advice: try to find a furnished apartment! Like I mentioned previously, so many apartments come furnished and it will make your life so much easier to not have to replace every single thing you own.
Bring a piece of home with you
While everything I said above is still true, I would recommend bringing a small piece of home with you. Whether it’s a picture, or a photo album or, your favorite coffee mug, or something that’s extra special to you, having it with you in your new home will make you feel a little less far away.
You’ll appreciate it more as the months go by, especially if you start to feel a little homesick.
Have copies (and more copies) of everything
When you move abroad, you’ll need approximately 25,000 copies of everything. And that’s only a slight exaggeration.
Not only do you need copies of all of your visa information for your own records, but you’ll likely need it to register with your new country to get a residence card, for your bank accounts, for your cell phone, for your new home, for a job, for school, and the list seriously goes on and on. It was wild how many people needed a translated copy of our marriage certificate when we moved abroad, and I’m very thankful we had so many copies!
With that being said, always keep the originals for your own files so you’re able to make copies for anything you might need. And then laminate them and put them in a water and fire resistant container that Monica Gellar would be proud of. Just kidding about that last one…sort of.
Save more than you think you’ll need
If I could repeat this 1,000 times, I would. Moving abroad is expensive AF, I’m not going to skirt around that. If you’re not in a city that has a consulate, you’ll have to make a trip to see one for your visa appointment. Before you even move you’ll have to fly or drive (if you’re lucky) to go visit said consulate, pay the application fee, along with all of the required documents. And then cross your fingers you only have to do this once.
The actual cost of moving as you put deposits down also adds up very quickly. So my biggest piece of advice? Save while you can! Before we moved, we said no to a lot of things we normally would have said yes to in order to get a healthy savings in place. This is not only a comfort to you, but it will allow you to get settled right away without the immediate need to start worrying about your finances.
Take advantage of traveling while living abroad
To be honest, this was the number one reason Zach and I wanted to move abroad to begin with. We both have an insatiable desire to see the world, and we’re firm believers that you don’t need to wait until you’re retired to begin to chase your dreams, whatever those might be!
Depending on where you’re going, I highly recommend taking advantage of traveling. In Europe especially, it’s just so incredibly affordable to get around, it still blows our mind a bit. I can’t believe how quickly our time here is flying by, and we’re trying to soak up every single moment of living here and the opportunity to travel. My favorite app for this is Skyscanner (I go on and on about my love for them right here) because it makes it super easy to find the best deals anytime you want to travel.
Have you ever thought about moving abroad? Do you live abroad and have any tips? Share them with me, below!