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5 Things No One Tells You about Moving Abroad

Things No One Tells You about Moving Abroad

If moving abroad were easy, everyone would be doing it, right?

With only about 35% of the American populace holding passports, I think it’s safe to say that most of our knowledge of the big wide world comes from the idiot box and the internet, not from firsthand experience.

Personally, I cannot STAND it when people make incorrect assumptions about other countries. It’s one of my biggest pet peeves. I have made it my life mission to encourage and help as many people, especially young people and women, to travel the world and move abroad. Hence this massive, rather long-winded blog.

Whether it’s from movies, books or TV, I feel like the image of “the rest of the world” and “moving abroad” has become so idealized and misconstrued in American media today that it’s no longer relevant to the actual experience.

Things No One Tells You about Moving Abroad

Whenever I tell people I lived in Spain or I’m moving abroad (big announcement soon guys!) I generally get the half-assed “Oh that’s so nice! You’re so lucky; you’re going to have the time of your life, and maybe you’ll fall in love” response. Ok, have you met me? I’m a walking-talking disaster! No one in their right mind would call me lucky and the day I have a successful international relationship is the day pigs fly.

And secondly, the next person who tells me I’m going to fall in love abroad is going to get smacked, family members included. What makes people think that going abroad is equal to a young woman searching for love, and what makes you think it’s socially acceptable to say that to my face? Hey, what about me?! Can’t I just go abroad for myself? I’m only 24 damnit! All I want is to see the world, maybe make out with some cute boys, sleep under the stars, drink whiskey with cool people and have adventures and write about it later. Is that asking too much?

Things No One Tells You about Moving Abroad

We get so caught up in the “American Dream” of finding the perfect 9 to 5 job, the perfect husband, the perfect house with a white picket fence, two cars and 2.5 kids that we forget that there is an entire WORLD out there to explore! For all you young’uns out there, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You only have one chance to be young, don’t throw it away.

I don’t know anyone who has regretted moving abroad but I know plenty who have regretted staying behind.

But I’ve waxed poetic enough about why I think everyone and their mother should move abroad right this instant. This post is about myths and breaking down the facts about living overseas for you guys, something I’m painfully good at.

Things No One Tells You about Moving Abroad

1. The movies got it all wrong

From watching the Olsen twins frolic around Paris on VHS to Diane Lane getting romanced after buying a villa in Tuscany, my generation was raised on glamorized half-truths and idealized travel experiences. No matter how many times I’ve been to Rome, I have never met my pop start doppelganger and been invited to sing on stage in the Coliseum like Lizzy McGuire. Damn you Disney!

Moving abroad is hard; it’s challenging, and you don’t always find what you are looking for. Modern media has romanticized traveling and living overseas, making it seem both effortless and easy, when in reality, it can be the biggest pain in the ass. The movies rarely talk about the hard times, and they make it look so effortless when the reality is far from rainbows and unicorns.

Things No One Tells You about Moving Abroad

Things No One Tells You about Moving Abroad

From sorting out residency papers and visas (the bane of my existence in Spain) to negotiating rent and setting up a bank account, nothing is simple, easy or familiar while transitioning abroad. While these daily occurrences are glossed over on film, they are all part of the experience and make it all the sweeter. I always likened them to personal challenges. Liz – 1, Spanish post office worker – 0, winning.

So for all the people who think moving abroad is a piece of cake or a long-term vacation, you couldn’t be more wrong. It’s a daily battle that almost always leaves you questioning – is this what I really want? while crying on the Madrid metro and stuff your depressed face with Kinder Bueno bars.

But if it is, then all the challenges that go into moving abroad make the experience all the more rewarding and memorable. There is not a movie out there that can truly capture just how amazing it is to have that experience under your belt because, it’s one of those “you really have to be there” moments.

These are the best moments you can have while traveling, spending the day with new local friends and laughing, getting invited to a family dinner, becoming part of your new community. Moving abroad is so much more than a new country, a place to tick off of a bucket list. It’s about the experiences you have and the people you meet. Don’t forget that getting caught up in the glamor of it all.

Things No One Tells You about Moving Abroad

2. Get rid of all your crap

I’m totally serious – you’ll thank me later; burn it, sell it, or throw it in storage, but whatever you do, try to keep the stuff you bring with you to a minimum. It took me several years, and several international moves abroad to realize that less really is more.

With hundreds of books in my collection and a penchant for high heels, if I can travel light, by god anyone can. A huge part of moving abroad is about integrating. You can buy clothes and bath products in your new country, don’t waste all your luggage space on 10 pairs of jeans and hair products.

Things No One Tells You about Moving Abroad

Do you really need to pack everything you own? Do you need to bring a pillow with you? Can you not buy shampoo wherever you’re going?

One of my favorite things about Spain was the shopping! They have great stuff for so much cheaper than the US. I always had more problems going home, trying to bring home all the stuff I bought during sales and smuggle in cheap wine and Spanish ham, than when I moved over in the first place.

Whether you are moving abroad for six months or six years, the less shit you bring with you, the better. Trust me on this one.

Things No One Tells You about Moving Abroad

3. Learning another language is not easy

Before I moved to Spain, I thought I knew Spanish. What a joke!

Aside from the fact that America has just about the worst teaching foreign language methodology I’ve ever experienced, no two ways about it, you won’t become fluent until you move abroad.

Things No One Tells You about Moving Abroad

Even that isn’t enough. I’ve known plenty of Americans in Spain who get by speaking English and put in zero effort to learning Spanish. You have to try, really try; commit to it and make it a priority and it will happen. Live with locals, join a club, go out frequently, make a fool of yourself with locals. You will never learn to speak a language well from a book, you will only learn by practicing. Drink a beer first; it helps.

When I first moved to Spain in 2007, I was so shy. It took half a year for me to come out of my shell, and look at me now! I can’t shut up – in English or Spanish! The day I won an argument with my Spanish roommates in April 2011 about kitchen duties was a sweet, sweet day for me.

But don’t delude yourself. You have to make the effort if you want to learn another language when moving abroad. Don’t just think it’ll happen.

Things No One Tells You about Moving Abroad

4. It’s ok to hate your adopted country

Don’t shoot the messenger! God knows I will never hear the end of writing a negative post about Spain. I’ve been called many nasty things in my 3 years blogging, but one of the worst ones was somehow being “ungrateful” for Spain.

Really? Have you read my blog?

Let me fill you in on another little secret; you are allowed to get mad, pissed and even hate your new country now and then. It’s like a relationship really. Don’t bottle in your feelings, otherwise they will boil over and explode, and that just never ends well. Ever.

You are allowed to have a complex range of emotions when you straddle two different worlds. That’s a normal part of moving abroad – there are even studies on it! For me, the hardest part of living abroad was feeling like I belonged neither here nor there. I would get mad at Spain and I would get mad the US, and I felt like I was in limbo.

Things No One Tells You about Moving Abroad

Sometimes shit happens when you live abroad. Sometimes nothing happens for a long time and you are really happy, and then suddenly it all sneaks up on you at once and attacks you. From fighting with the immigration officers, to my coworkers, to even doctor’s office, Spain always tested my patience. Hell, I am STILL fighting with them now! In December, my best friend mailed me home all my favorite books from Spain, and well, they lost them and have no idea where they are. And not only did they lose them, they are making my friend go through a rat race in Spain trying to even talk with the right person who can help! And I can’t do anything since I’m in the US and the Spanish post office phone number is a paid line unrecognized by Skype. Really Spain?

Deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. I love Spain, I really do. At the end of the day, I would go through hell and back to live there. And that’s how I know I can complain about it here and there; it’s like venting to a friend. It’s when your hate for a country bubbles up so much that you become negative and bitter is when you should start thinking about moving home. I didn’t even think about moving home til I was warned by a lawyer that I could be forcibly deported and banned from Europe if I didn’t leave.

Now that’s love.

Things No One Tells You about Moving Abroad

5. Travel changes you

People always talk about “finding yourself” or “going on a journey to self-discovery” as a reason for traveling, and as much as I think it’s way overplayed nowadays, I can understand where people are coming from. After all, Eat, Pray, Love was popular for a reason.

People  usually say that traveling or living abroad was the best time of their life and you should go too, Listen.

Things No One Tells You about Moving Abroad

Travel does change you, for better or worse. Moving abroad was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and it has helped shaped and continues to shape who I am today. It has taught me many lessons and has encouraged me to be independent, responsible, have respect, and above all, APPRECIATE the people and the world around me. Struggling to learn another language, to adapt to a different culture with a different set of rules and learning the difference between fiction and reality – those are the lessons that stay with you, that shape you, that change you.

Have you ever lived abroad? For you, what is something no one ever told you about moving abroad?

Things No One Tells You about Moving Abroad

310 Responses to 5 Things No One Tells You about Moving Abroad

  1. Hannah Wasielewski April 30, 2014 at 5:30 am #

    This is so true! I’ve been living in Brazil for about 10 months now and I cant say the transition process is easy. even today, although I’m fluent in portuguese, I still have lots of problems! I think the hardest part is learning the language, and you sometimes seriously hate the new country. I realized for a while I was complaining too much and I cant compare the first world to the third world. once I had this realization, my life got better.

  2. Grace April 30, 2014 at 3:37 pm #

    I am 16 and am currently studying abroad alone in Mexico. I can relate to this a lot and makes me hopeful for my future. You are right learning Spanish is very hard and when I came here I knew absolutely nothing. However I have learned a lot even if the challenge is overwhelming at times. Thanks for some great advice!

  3. Rob F April 30, 2014 at 11:54 pm #

    Really well written. Thanks. Cant wait to feel all these when I get out to New Zealand. :)

  4. Gillian May 1, 2014 at 4:18 pm #

    Hey there! i just stumbled on your blog a few minutes ago, and am really impressed so far! i am moving abroad (SF to UK and beyond) in a couple of weeks, and this is basically reiterating all of the things that have been running through my brain! i will definitely be following your blog.. and probably coming to NZ because of your beautiful photos! keep it up :)

    • Jess July 9, 2014 at 3:21 pm #

      Hey, I am wanting to move to the UK in the next couple of years…I’m from North Carolina and I am so confused with the process. Was wonderin if you had some tips on how to get the process started. From what I’ve read online it says it’s very hard for an American to move to the UK.

  5. Nashi May 7, 2014 at 7:35 pm #

    Oh I loved this post. I think about moving abroad (even temporarily) all the time, and a lot of people get so freaked out about it, like it’s a ridiculous idea. Really liked how you spoke about the positives and negatives about it!

  6. travelingexplorer May 9, 2014 at 1:43 am #

    Great post! I loved your intro and could completely relate. When I moved abroad 5 years ago, everyone kept telling me I was going to fall in love with a good looking German guy! I did fall in love (not with a German) and moved to Hanoi and now they joke I’ll end adopting a Vietnamese baby. I’m a teacher and family and friends think I don’t work, but just play all day, which can get really frustrating to try correcting them. It’s really great to live abroad for all the reasons that you said, but yes, it’s hard sometimes too. I feel like unless they’ve tried living abroad, it’s really hard for people to understand why you need/want to live somewhere else instead of following the traditional graduate/work/get married/start a family path. They also don’t understand what it’s really like. Which then makes me feel like an alien who doesn’t really fit in anywhere. Not 100% here nor 100% there.

    Keep blogging though. It’s a good way to get the word out that it’s a great, but very different and sometimes challenging, way of life.

    Enjoy NZ. Was there at Christmas and loved it!

    • Dan June 11, 2014 at 2:36 am #

      Great post! I went traveling around India this year for about 8 weeks, it’s crazy how different the country is in different places. Luckily most people in India speak at least abit of English. Since then I’ve been wondering what the implications of moving abroad would actually be, I managed to find this

      So far it’s really helped me in my preparations, I’m thinking about moving to south America at some point next year. I may even start a blog of my own!

      Keep on blogging and educating, enjoy reading your posts!

  7. Lor. Tsikalas May 21, 2014 at 9:11 am #

    Do you know of anyone in northern Spain who wants to adopt a 74 yr. old grandmother ?

  8. May 25, 2014 at 3:56 pm #

    It is appropriate time to make some plans for the future and it’s time to be happy. I’ve read this post and if I could I desire to suggest you few interesting things or advice. Perhaps you could write next articles referring to this article. I want to read more things about it!

  9. Financial Assistance May 28, 2014 at 9:53 pm #

    Useful information. Fortunate me I found your site accidentally, and I’m surprised why this accident didn’t came about earlier! I bookmarked it.

  10. Sabrina June 12, 2014 at 11:09 am #

    I’m an exchange student in Sweden currently, have lived here for almost 11 months. I completely agree with all of these points! I’m so inspired by your blog. I’m 17 and have an interest in also starting a travel blog, I’ve blogged throughout my whole entire exchange year. It’s given me a great feel for the blogging and I love doing it. And I just happen to be moving back to Europe (to Budapest) in the fall, so hopefully I can find a way to share my adventures similar to you!

    Keep up the great work!

  11. Taylor June 13, 2014 at 9:25 am #

    I loved this article! You speak from such a simple and true place. I will be moving to Barcelona at the end of this month, and one of the first things people say when they hear I am leaving is “Oh, you’ll meet your Spanish husband over there!” What you had to say about that is hilarious :D

    Good luck in all your travels!


  12. MLeh June 20, 2014 at 4:48 am #

    Omg! I came across this as I was searching the web for information or tips about moving overseas. I am moving to Australia in 10 months or so and this is so helpful!! I knew all these things, but to hear someone say it makes me feel so much better. Thankfully I have a friend and her family when I move that that can help me somewhat transition, but I know it will still be a struggle. Thanks for the input! :) Xx

  13. Meredith July 3, 2014 at 6:11 am #

    I am so happy I read this! I am possibly moving to Germany next month with my husband next month. I have been so nervous and excited. Thanks for your tips on what to travel with. Deciding what clothes I am going to take has been nearly impossible but thanks to site like poshmark I am motivated to sell my clothes so I have more money for shopping when I get there. (Best deal I have ever made with my husband to date; what ever money I make from selling my clothes I get to keep) Also I have been trying to learn German, key word is trying. It is by far one of the hardest things ever, and I still can’t get it. It’s good to know that it’s normal to be upset with your ‘new’ country and that not everything is going to go swimmingly.


  14. Leslie Martinez July 9, 2014 at 5:52 am #

    I stumbled into your blog while doing some research. I am about to be 22 next month, I have a 3 year old daughter and my bf. I have always wanted to move to the UK. After reading your blog it makes me want to even more. How did you go about finding a place and job? Were young still living life, more him, im more of a serious person wanting to save money, give my daughter a betrer life, etc… help, advice, tips please.

  15. Maddie July 11, 2014 at 2:29 am #


    just a little thank you for your blog – all in all, I’ve been abroad for 2 years now. I know exactly what you mean! I thought I’m the only one with those travel experiences/feelings. :)Thanks a lot!

  16. Cathy July 17, 2014 at 2:28 am #

    Moving abroad is a great experience. It is completely life changing but so fulfilling. It really does make you appreciate other cultures and countries, and how they can be so different to what you imagined, like you said. It’s so much fun to experience a new way of life and having to learn the rules and norms of a different culture. It can be challenging, but the benefits are so worth it!

  17. Maximilien July 20, 2014 at 4:02 pm #

    Hey there, I think that what you are saying is very very true. I really like your point of view and think that you have a very positive attitude even about less positive things that may happen in your travels. Everything ends up building you and being an essential part of the experience.

    I am, myself, crossing the ocean for the first time in a few weeks and put a lot on my plate. But all in all will be moving to Munich for close to a year. Hopefully your post will give me bits of perspective and wisdom on my travels.

    Good luck on your next adventures, I will be following your blog from now on :)

  18. Hannah Rankine July 22, 2014 at 10:15 pm #

    Whether it is because it has been romanticised so much, as you so rightly say, or because it is in my DNA, I have always dreamt of moving abroad at some point. For me I want to go back to where my mum left, Australia. But having seen my mum do it, and my big brother (who moved to Botswana), I have also witnessed the pain endured from leaving your family behind. How did you find this?
    I wrote a blog post about the pros and cons, the aspects that are enticing and those that can prevent you from living abroad.
    What was your experience with this?

    – Hannah xx

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  21. Phil Cole August 16, 2014 at 2:55 pm #

    I loved your article. I am living in Belize right now. I came to the country for 6 months to “try it out and see if I liked it”, I love so many things about it. But, there are also those little things that drive me nuts, like power outages, slow Internet, red tape at immigrations, etc… I am one that is up for the challenges and I hope to win more in the future.

  22. Karoline August 18, 2014 at 10:32 am #

    I lived in Belgium when I was younger, and while my parents took care of all the tough stuff back then (Hurray for no responsibilities), I can definetely identify with this post. Especially now, when I’m only days from moving to Argentina!
    I remember having times where I hated living abroad, and I right now I have moments where I seriously doubt my decision to go to South America. But today, years after our stay in Belgium, I catch myself thinking back on how great it was for me and my sister to have those years in another country.

    Also, I love your blog. I’m definetely going to travel a lot when I get older, and your blog has been really inspiring and non-pretentious about life abroad!

  23. Rebecca August 25, 2014 at 12:32 pm #

    Wonderful post. I’m 38 and my son is off to college in a week. I’m researching what the next chapter of my life looks like and living abroad is #1 right now. Any advice on ways to connect with Expats in the country (s) I’m interested in to begin friendships and maybe someone to be a resource when I arrive?

  24. Brigid August 28, 2014 at 7:02 pm #

    I’m moving to Ireland in two days (omigod…so much stress) and this is an absolutely fantastic article. I’m grappling with how much stuff to bring and what to leave behind. I swear, I feel like I need to bring everything!

    Anyways, I love your blog. It has the most beautiful candid writing I have ever read for travel blogging. Honestly, you are very talented. Wish me luck, both in moving and starting out in the blogging world! Feel free to check out my blog too :) I would love feedback.


  25. Aria September 7, 2014 at 9:33 am #

    I’m moving to Australia in 2 months from the states and I’m freaking out about my packing situation. Clearly I’m the cliché New Yorker that’s too materialistic. I’m trying to sell as much as possible since I can use the extra money.

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  28. Dana @ Wanted Adventure September 17, 2014 at 1:14 am #

    yes, Yes, YES!! Loved reading this. Along those same lines as the Olsen twins and lizzie mcguire–don’t forget Amanda Bynes in What a Girl Wants :D

  29. Taralin September 24, 2014 at 4:55 am #

    Thsi was awesome~ I am currently on a mission to fall back in love with myself and I have considered moving abroad to achieve this. There is nothing more soothing then being alone with your thoughts and emtions only to realize that relying on yourself is the best way to feel the true feelings ad emotions you are capable of having. Question how much money woudl you say one should set aside for a move – also how about finding a job?

  30. Michelle July 22, 2013 at 10:12 am #


  31. Luciano July 23, 2013 at 12:57 am #

    Wake up!

  32. Kar August 14, 2013 at 9:03 am #


  33. NM August 19, 2013 at 6:21 am #

    Any luck yet


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