Friday, December 8, 2017

Ultimate Guide to Moving Abroad: Conclusion

That’s it. I know it feels huge to consider moving away from your home country, but I’m here to tell you it’s pretty easy.

Get rid of stuff. Pack your bags. Research your immigration situation. Figure out your money and then get on a plane. Find a house. Try to fit in.

Aside from immigration details, these are the same things you need to consider if you are moving across town.

So that’s it.

That’s how you move abroad.

Or at least that’s how I move abroad.

Everybody has their reasons for moving to a new country. Whatever the practical reason, I am a big believer in the process. It's good for us not to get stuck. Moving abroad has exposed me to amazing things and has certainly taught me not to get too comfortable in one place. I am a more adaptable person thanks to my experiences. I think it keeps my mind sharp.

living in Thailand meant I could go on fantastic 2-day island vacations for cheap

enjoying Southern Thai food after a quick vacation to Koh Ngai in the Andaman Sea

Can everyone do it as easily as I have? Nah. I am aware of my privilege. I’m 33, college-educated, carry a US passport, and I’m what they call a ลูกครึ่ง in Thai--a halfling. I’m a Latina with a white parent so I’m white-passing for most of the world. This all makes things easier on me. Everybody will have their own unique challenges.

I’ve had a few lucky breaks and a few disasters affect my life abroad. I’ve snuck out a few back doors to avoid run-ins with the police. I’ve received a deportation letter. I’ve had my pocket picked. I’ve made some stupid decisions and I’ve had to learn some hard lessons.

That said, it’s all possible.

where will you move to? this is Lago Titicaca in Peru

Your Partner

Having a significant other will notably HELP or HURT your chances of moving abroad successfully. You've heard that couples shouldn't work together, right? Well moving abroad requires serious teamwork.

I’ve recently discovered how much easier things are when you are with the right person. If you’ve got somebody who shares your attitude and goals, making your way through these five steps can be a breeze.

I’ve got an amazing girlfriend who has made moving abroad 9,000x easier than I previously thought possible. We do all the research together and we make decisions using each other as a sounding board. We trust each other’s ability to read people and to think on our feet in sticky situations. With somebody like that, everything just goes smoothly. As my tías said after spending a week with us: we are two peas in a pod, two halves of an orange. If you move abroad and your partner is not the other half to your orange, you will find out soon enough 😝

Last week I followed these exact instructions and made another international move. After 4 years in Thailand, my girlfriend Stacy and I picked up and moved temporarily to Cambodia.

our short-term home in Siem Reap, Cambodia

We are on the road for awhile around Asia and plan to settle in Eastern Europe next summer.

For now, we are enjoying the slow life in the countryside. We spend our days riding cruisers, speaking broken Khmer, and drinking amazing coffee.

riding bikes in downtown Siem Reap

Final Thoughts

I don't pretend to be an expert. There are plenty of people out there who have better advice--people who are doing this better than I am. Jetsetters who do it with style and migrant workers who make it happen on much less. I just want people to know they are capable.

Where I grew up, there isn't a strong tradition of exploring the world. In the United States, less than 5% of the population travels out of the country each year. If you are considering a move abroad, you probably aren’t hearing a lot of encouragement. Family and friends might even tell you how impossible it is. My own mother immigrated to the United States and was completely against my move to Spain way back in 2004.

I just want to add my voice to all the others you are hearing and let you know it’s doable.

In fact, my mantra is “There are idiots who do this all the time.”

Once I got out of the country, I ran into all kinds of bozos who are doing exactly what I used to stress about. They didn’t plan it out and they didn’t analyze all the things that could go wrong. They just went. It's laughable how many of them are building successful lives in foreign places while ‘smarter’ people stay home in hesitation and fear. The clueless expats are the ones that give me the most positive reinforcement. If they are doing it, a decently capable person like myself is going to be just fine.

So that’s all I’ve got--a million questions to ask yourself, some vague suggestions about research, and a push towards the door.

Wherever you want to go, you can make it happen. Now go!
Ultimate Guide to Moving Abroad

If you want to review the series, here are the topics I’ve included in my Ultimate Guide to Moving Abroad:

Did this blog series help you to actually pick up and go? Do you have suggestions about things I’ve overlooked? Contact me, I’d love to hear your comments.

Ultimate Guide to Moving Abroad Part V: Lifestyle

How quickly you settle into your new country depends a lot on your lifestyle.

Your individual comforts and the type of daily life that makes you happy is important to consider so that you feel “at home” as soon as possible.

I am a city person. I like to live within walking distance of local shops and I like to have lots of options when it comes to cafes, dining, and nightlife. I don't like to drive a car much.

I’m decently active, but I’m not crazy about nature or roughing it. Bike rides and picnics are my idea of the great outdoors. I like to exercise indoors in a gym.

fitness, Thai style

I am also social. I like to meet lots of different kinds of people.

Taking all this into account, it should be clear that if I were to move to the countryside of any country for an extended length of time, I would be miserable. Moving to a new place means you have to be reasonably aware of yourself.

Remember that things are subjective. Before moving to Thailand I hated shopping malls. In Thailand though, malls are not merely consumerist meccas for rich teenagers. Malls are giant, centrally-located, air-conditioned meeting places. They are the only place you can walk in the daytime that is out of the relentless Thailand heat. Giant fashion malls are where families spend their Sundays and where local indie bands play night concerts.

students hanging out at Siam Paragon, one of the fancy malls in downtown Bangkok

Malls also have some of the cheapest and best Thai “street food” available in the city. So even though I was never a fan, I often find myself at the mall in Bangkok. I had to adjust my expectations to fit the local culture.

There is nowhere in the world that you can move that will be exactly like your home. You need to be willing to try new things, revisit old things, and build your life in a completely new setting.

Not everything is adaptable either. If your whole life revolves around surfing and it’s the only lifestyle that makes you happy, you can go lots of places in the world like Bali or Australia or California--but you cannot move to Slovakia and expect to be happy. Simple as.

You need to explore your new home and find things to love about it. Build your life.

Social Life

Meeting people. The concept of building a social life in a new place is a difficult concept that I don't know how to give advice on.

friends + food = a good mix. meet your friendly neighborhood restaurant owners 😂

Social life just happens. If you are good at making friends, you can make them anywhere. If you are bad at making friends, moving to a new country is probably your worst nightmare.

The best you can do is to make parallels and see if there is some way for you to get involved in activities that are similar to what you enjoyed back home. If you play volleyball, give takraw the Southeast Asian kickball game a try. If you are a gamer, try out the local video game cafes.

First off, you’ve got language barriers. When I moved to Thailand, I couldn't communicate the simplest of ideas, much less make a friend using the Thai language. I didn’t get to make Thai friends until a little later when my fluency was better and most of them speak great English.

attending post-grad presentations in Thai--I understood less than 70%. still cool.

Second, you have cultural differences to go up against. The local hobbies will be totally different.

The only way you will be happy in your new home is to get involved in something, get out of the house, and start mixing with people. Loneliness is inevitable at first, but it’s something you can work against.

For me, it takes a solid 4-6 months to make friends that I like. You know exactly what I mean.

At first, you will meet other foreigners and that will be a safe way to socialize and build community right off the bat. Naturally you will find it easy to connect with other expats and trade stories about being an outsider in your new home.

My suggestion is to try to your best to meet local people as well. You are living in their country and they are the experts on what it’s like to live there. They have rich knowledge about history and societal intricacies. They hold the key to all the stuff that makes living in another country worthwhile. They can explain the new things that drive you up the wall and they will put a human face on all the culture shock you are up against.

Start with your local shop people. The lady the runs the mini-mart, the noodle shop guy, the security guard at your apartment. Be their friends. They'll talk to you. Some of them have to--it's their job!

the neighborhood shop lady that spoke Thai + traded candy with us for 4 years

Not only will they offer valuable help when you are stuck, but perhaps one day you can return the favor by helping them visit your country too.


Personally, I am committed to learning the local language. If you plan on staying more than 1 month, learn the language. To the extent that you can, you should put forth the effort.

Daily life becomes much less daunting, prices go down, and people get nicer as soon as you start speaking the language. All of a sudden you can speak with regular people, not just the tourist touts. You also gain access to local culture, customs, and a whole different group of friends.

On a much less selfish note, learning the language is the respectful thing to do. You are living in their country and you should be learning about their culture and ways of life. Isn’t that part of why you moved across the globe?

studying Khmer, the language of Cambodia

If you never learn the language, you will be ignorant of things going on around you. You wont know how to be respectful of the place where you live. The attitudes and the culture of a community are often evident in the way they speak. It's called linguistic anthropology. Sometimes learning how to say simple phrases can teach you more about people than they can even explain themselves.

You may not be fluent but you should end up with all the basic capabilities that we expect children to grow into as they mature: You should be able to politely order food, direct a taxi cab to and from your home, and introduce yourself to new people that don't speak English. Maybe even read basic signage and traffic signals.

I strongly believe that if you can't be bothered to learn the language of the country that you live in, you should stick to countries that speak your language.

Is it possible to move abroad and not learn the local language? Sure. In major cities, people do it all the time. The downside is that it limits your exposure to people and parts of town and keeps you somewhat handicapped in new situations.

For your sake, for the sake of your country’s reputation abroad, and for the sake of the people who are hosting you in their country--just do it.

Click here to read the last part in the Ultimate Guide to Moving Abroad series.

Ultimate Guide to Moving Abroad Part IV: Shelter

If you've gotten this far, it means you have probably bought your tickets already. Since you only need the first 3 parts of this blog series to take action, you are basically ready to get on a plane.

The final two aspects of moving abroad (Shelter and Lifestyle) are things that you mainly have to figure out after you arrive. With a little research and some well-managed expectations, you can start your new life off on the right foot.

When you move to a new country long-term, it’s important to make it feel like home. For that, you need an actual home to live in.

I like to tell people that finding a place to live in a new country is no different than finding a new place in your home town.

First, take stock of your lifestyle. What kind of home do you like to live in? Do you have a partner or a family that you should consider? What kind of things do you need to be near--is there a certain type of neighborhood that suits your lifestyle? Will you be attending a university? Do your kids need to attend school? 

vans + taxis lined up for commuters at Bangkok's Chatujak Park

Now, take a look at your new city. Where do people like you live? Some people like to be near nightlife, restaurants, and bars. Some people like the safety of the suburbs. Some people like the outdoors and want to live near a park. Others like the solitude of the countryside.

What about transportation? Will you have a vehicle or will you use public transportation? What is your budget for daily transportation? Do you prefer to walk or drive places?

commute times can add up! here is Bangkok's BTS Skytrain

Whatever your preference, do some research about the neighborhoods in your new city. Consider safety and check forums for statistics. Lonely Planet has a Neighborhoods feature for most major cities that profiles the residents and feel of different areas.

Starting Out

Book yourself some temporary housing in one of the areas that sounds appealing. I’ve found that hostels work if you aren’t too picky. Private rooms are cheap and hostels usually have large storage closets to lock up your big bags until you find a house.

Hotels are great too, if you can afford an extended stay. Nowadays, we have Airbnb so there are plenty of options.

Heck, book yourself a week in every single neighborhood you like. Why not get a serious feel for things?

Look Around the Neighborhood

I don't think it’s possible to get a true feeling for a place without physically going there.

Imagine paying a year’s lease and hating your neighborhood? Some countries are legally strict about breaking leases so I’d advise against long-term housing sight unseen.

walk the streets! this is Sukhumvit Soi 38 in Bangkok, Thailand with lots of street food

I like to show up and literally walk around. This can take a couple of days or weeks, depending on how big the city is. 3-4 weeks in a new city is a decent amount of time to spend before choosing a neighborhood.

Look around. Where are the grocery stores? Where is there to eat? What kind of shops are nearby? How many people are out on the street? What does the neighborhood look like after dark? What kind of housing do you see?

Remember that as an immigrant/expat, you will stick out in a new place. Do you plan on learning the language quickly or do you need to look for English language signs everywhere? Do you plan on mixing with the local people or do you want to socialize mostly with other international folks?

When you figure out what neighborhood(s) you like best, start viewing apartments.

Sometimes walking around and asking questions is best. Other times you can get an agent that will take you to see places for rent. Sometimes you have to pay a fee and sometimes the landlord pays for this service. Every country has their different rental customs.

If you are lucky, your country will have a healthy internet culture and post listings online. Find out what website locals use. On the other hand, maybe there is zero updated information online and you have to hit the pavement.

Once you tell people your budget, you can narrow down your choices pretty quickly.

Have a list of your must-haves for daily life to make your search easy. Do you need a kitchen? A balcony? An open floor plan? A security guard? What kind of bathroom (toilet!) do you want?

For me, cleanliness is key and I like to run the water in the bathroom to check water pressure because a weak shower will get on my nerves. I prefer not to live long-term with a 'squatty potty'. Otherwise I’m not too picky.

Be Flexible

Consider the local lifestyle. I originally listed a full kitchen with an oven as a “must-have” in Thailand. Hey, I love to cook. I soon saw that my choices were severely limited. My agent made the comment that it’s so hot in Thailand, people don't often have ovens in the home. Oh! Once I removed the oven from my list, things opened up.

Also, keep an open mind about the local real estate quirks. In Bangkok, I was staying at a quiet hostel near a night food market. The neighborhood was far from the inexpensive areas that I was originally looking. The building next door to the hostel looked like it was way out of my budget--every night I saw a Lamborghini drive into the parking lot. It had a rooftop pool and a free gym. So I wrote it off.

I never considered that in Bangkok, having a city view is a big deal. Since I wasn’t interested in a view, all of a sudden the lower floors (below the 10th) dropped in price drastically.

As it turns out, they had units within my price range and I got a fantastic place upstairs from the food market and less than a minute’s walk from the sky train. I may not be able to afford a building like this in many cities in the world, but I got lucky in Bangkok.

So keep an open mind and you will find your dream place in no time.

my dream home in Bangkok, 5 mins from the BTS #homesweethighrise

beautiful lobby & w/ great building maintenance staff

49 sqm 1 BR furnished condo

fitness room (small gym) + a rooftop pool!

modern bathroom--no squatting for me!

the "undesirable" balcony with a blocked view that brought my rent down

Click here to read the next part in the Ultimate Guide to Moving Abroad series.

Ultimate Guide to Moving Abroad Part III: Money

Whether you are moving abroad or not, we all need money. Period.

Cambodian Riels KHR 4,060 = USD 1 so this is about $2.75

You don't need a ton for the move itself, but you do need money to settle into a new place and enough to live. So figure out your money situation.

What is your starting point? Are you currently financially stable? Do you have an income? Do you have savings? Do you have debt?

Check out numbeo to see what you can expect for the cost of living in your new city.

I’ll be the first to tell you that broke foreigners mooching around countries where a large part of the population is actually poor is NOT a good look. Despite popular rumors, your embassy will not fly you home for free. If you don't have enough to make a new home, hold off and save up.

“Settling Down” Money

Next, think about your transition window. How long can you spend setting up a new living situation before you need to start working again? How will you deal with health insurance?

Budget for this time. Plus some. This budget will be highly dependent on your lifestyle, so be honest with yourself. If you aren’t a barefoot minimalist backpacker, don't expect to live like one.

managed a restaurant for a year and a half
perks of the job--want some tacos?

What kind of work will you be doing in your new home country? Are foreigners banned from any industries? How much does it pay? What if things fall through?

Back in 2010 I moved to Ireland planning on an office job at an NGO. I had a job offer within a few months. Then, the Irish economy tanked, the immigration guidelines changed, and the government began denying work permits to non-EU citizens. My job was revoked after I started orientation.

What would you do in that situation? Give up? Or just rearrange your expectations and get on with your new life...

Have a Back-Up Plan

Over the years, I’ve come up with more than a few fall-backs for work. Make sure you have something up your sleeve.

me with coworkers, unknown job, unknown place 💀

Though I have a career in NGO work, I’ve been in the restaurant business since I was 17. That means that depending on the day, I can be a professional chef, a restaurant manager, a bookkeeper, a bartender, or a marketing plan consultant. I can pick up content writing jobs. If worse comes to worst, as a native-speaker and I can be hired to teach English.

(Teaching English is not a bad job--in fact it’s a well-paid and respected career in plenty of countries. I am just not personally cut out for teaching.)

What are your options?

In no way am I recommending that you work under the table. Does it happens all over the world and bring in quick cash in a pinch until you get your situation straightened out? Sure, but I would always advise you to work legally and with all the proper paperwork no matter where you go--which is exactly what I have done if anybody official is reading this.

Lining Up Work

This is a controversial one, but I’m a firm believer that you do NOT need to have a job before you move.

In fact, unless your current employer is transferring you overseas, it’s nearly impossible to get a job lined up from overseas.

Would you ever hire somebody without meeting them in person? A few industries can handle virtual interviews, but for the most part this is not a reality. 

me at my writing job in 2017

I know it’s scary for some people to imagine moving without a job in mind, but I have done it plenty of times. Bottom line: If you are employable, you will find a job. If you are not employable, you're going to have a hard time. It’s no different in another country, there’s just more riding on it.

Know which industry you will be targeting, maybe even line up some meetings, but there is absolutely no requirement about having a job in the bag before moving.

Figure out your budget, have your work plan, have your backup plans, and it’s time to make things happen.

Did you catch that? If you have the first three things taken care of in this blog series (Stuff, Immigration, and Money) I am happy to tell you that you are ready to actually get on a plane. Make the leap and buy those tickets already!

Click here to read the next part in the Ultimate Guide to Moving Abroad series.

Ultimate Guide to Moving Abroad Part II: Immigration

Before moving abroad, immigration policy and government activity is where you need to do your extensive research. 

my first Thai visa - a triple entry tourist visa from the Thai Embassy in the USA

Your visa (or lack thereof) will dictate how long you can legally stay in a country and any financial requirements/penalties along the way. In some countries, you can get thrown in jail for minor visa infractions like overstaying a few days. So pay attention.

If you like to travel, you want to keep your passport as clean as possible. Do your best to follow all the laws and obtain the proper visas as you enter and exit new countries.

Visa Basics

Every country gives visas differently. This is why you need to do your research.

Visas typically depend heavily on the international relationship between your home country and your destination country. Some countries have very few options (visa exempt, tourist visa, or long-term visa) while other countries have extensive hoops to jump through. To get into the United States for example, foreigners have to meet strict requirements for one of more than 36+ detailed visa options.

8:00 AM line at Division 1 Immigration--an unpopular place for expats in Bangkok, Thailand

Some people are lucky and are born in a country with rights to roam the world freely. Some people are born in countries that, due to politics beyond their control, are not allowed to travel many places at all.

Here are some tools that can help you decipher where you can move to most easily:
  • Travelscope a world map that shows the power of a country’s passport using visual graphics
  • Passport Index a dynamic list that lets you compare passports from various countries

Helpful hint: if your country has been involved in armed conflict in the recent past (👋 imperialists) or if your country is involved in economic sanctions against a foreign country, these countries will have especially stringent visa requirements for you, if you are allowed in at all.

Find out before going to the airport if you are visa exempt, if you can get a visa on arrival, how much it costs, how long you can stay as a tourist, and how to obtain another type of visa once you are there.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to the airport in Bangkok and seen United States citizens fighting with the airline ticket agent because they didn’t realize they need a visa to step on a plane to Vietnam.

While you are checking on your visa, find out about money. Some countries do take US Dollars, but most don’t. Some places give you change at the immigration counter, most don’t.

Again, I’ve seen plenty of fellow Americans pleading with immigration officers to accept their US Dollars in a foreign country that has its own currency. Don't be that person. Your currency is not universal. Get it together beforehand.

Working in a Foreign Country

The other key aspect of immigration is your work status. Your visa will strictly regulate how much or how little you are allowed to legally work. For example, in Ireland a student with a US passport can work freely up to 20 hours per week during the school year and more during summer break. The spouse of that student, however, is not allowed to work at all.

By contrast, a student with a US passport in Thailand is prohibited from working whatsoever. In Thailand you cannot quit your job without losing the visa and work permit immediately and being forced to leave the country within 7 days. Know the laws of your new country. Google it.

on a trip to Vientiane, Laos to apply for my work permit--which cannot be done from inside of Thailand

this is what a Thai work permit looks like

Note to digital nomads: Lots of countries consider working online illegal. You can’t work within their borders without a work permit. Even though your work is for an employer outside the country, it’s technically not allowed. Same goes for volunteer work--you usually cannot get a work permit for this stuff. Be sure to keep your story consistent: You are on a tourist holiday and you shouldn’t mention work to any officials.

Life Isn’t Fair

Remember, not all countries have stable immigration laws or ethical oversight. In the 4 years I lived in Thailand, laws concerning my personal immigration status changed every 6 months. This is the gamble. 

the line for visa extensions in Jang Wattana, Thailand takes between 1 and 7 hours 😇

Not all countries function according to the written law. Sometimes you have to hope your immigration officer is having a good day.

On a bad day, you can be denied entry to a place that you should legally be able to enter. Some immigration officers make things up as they go along. Welcome to reality. You cannot convince a foreign authority that just because the website says XYZ, they have to honor it. Getting angry or indignant will make things worse. Trust.

The more research you do ahead of time, the more familiar you will be with typical issues. You will be able to cope in these circumstances without spoiling your plans.

More importantly, you will be happy knowing that a bad stroke of luck isn’t your fault . You can roll with the punches when you’ve done your homework.

Immigration is probably the #1 area where your research can make--or break--your future in your new home.

Click here to read the next part in the Ultimate Guide to Moving Abroad series.

Ultimate Guide to Moving Abroad Part I: Stuff

Let’s talk about how much stuff you own.

total baggage for 2 people leaving Thailand 2017

Without a doubt, you own more stuff than you can comfortably take with you on an airplane.

That means it’s time to pare down.

This is difficult. I watch a lot of Hoarders: Buried Alive and people have an unhealthy attachments to things.

I’m also from the United States. People in the USA own a lot of sh...stuff. US home sizes are huge compared to other countries--twice as big as in the UK and almost 4x the size of the average Chinese home. We tend to fill up whatever space we have.

Before you can move abroad, you have got to get control over the amount of things you own. Unless your company (lucky you) or your parents (ugh) are paying to ship your belongings across the globe, you will need to physically carry everything you own. So the only way to start is by owning a lot less.

So how do you get things down to a manageable size?

Get Rid of Your Stuff

Detach. Read a book on minimalism. Meditate about how meaningless stuff is. Do whatever you have to, but emotionally detach yourself from your stuff so you can get rid of it.

Stacy, packed for a 1 month in Peru 2015--including a 4-day hike + a wedding

Are you motivated by money? Sell everything. 

It takes a good month using local sale sites to unload everything and make a decent amount of cash. This job falls to people who are responsive to messages and extremely patient with people. Buyers have some whackadoo requests (“Can you write me a receipt for this second-hand desktop computer?”) and you have to deal with them if you want their cash.

Whatever is left when your patience with the public runs out, give it away to a friend that will find it worthwhile.

My favorite vintage barstools found a new home at my local Indian restaurant in Oakland. My treasured bike from Bangkok went to a friendly coworker.

Put it out on the curb. Drop it all at a charity shop. Whatever makes you feel better. Bit by bit or all at once--get rid of your stuff by any means possible.

Digitize Everything

Don't simply toss things. Save it digitally. Scan photo albums, documents, and everything onto a cloud storage system. Turn it into thin air. Then throw it out. This feels AMAZING.

Cull everything until it starts to hurt.

Once you have felt the sting of regret for getting rid of a little too much (OOPS I needed those flip-flops!)...that’s how you know you are finally ready to pack.

Should I store it?

I’ve moved from city to city more than 10 times. It’s taken a few tries, but I’ve learned that it’s best not to leave anything behind. I can tell you from experience, it’s just not worth it. A few things happen when somebody is storing your stuff.

First, your stuff becomes a burden to them.

Second, your stuff can lose value while you are away. Furniture warps, clothing degrades, and records break.

Third, your leftover stuff can cause you some sticky situations in the future. True story: I left my ex-husband shortly after an international move. I had things stored in his parents’ (my ex-in-laws) basement. Long after we had ceased being friendly, I had to fly across the country and sift through it all with him. Talk about awkward.

Listen, anything you want can be purchased again and does not need to be carried around the globe. If you really love having a guitar, you’ll buy one in another country. Will it be as nice as the one you love and have had since you were sixteen? No. But you’ll use it and you wont leave one to rot in somebody’s basement.

Stuff Worth Storing

If you are 100% sure that you will return soon-ish, it’s fair to store the following items IF they are sentimental or expensive enough to bother with:
  • Treasured Collections that are impossible to replace: family Christmas ornaments, a lifetime record collection, heirloom jewelry, etc.
  • Expensive Hobby Equipment: musical instruments, sports equipment, etc. 

Disclaimer: if you love your new home country, it could be years before you go home. When push comes to shove, your generous friend should be able to abandon it all without causing a rift in your relationship.

Take It With You

When I moved to Ireland I had a huge backpack and 2 more checked suitcases. When I moved to Thailand I got smarter and packed 2 large bags and 2 carry-ons. This time I left for Cambodia with 1 rollie, 1 carry-on, and my purse. As my bags get smaller, I have learned to be precise.

total baggage for 2 people on the road for 5 months. ok so 3 are mine 😅

So what do you actually bring?

Though you may be tempted to save space and leave important things in the safety of your home country, do not leave these items behind:
  • Personal Documentation: Birth certificate, legal paperwork (probate, divorce, taxes), high school/college transcripts, diplomas, medical information, dental records, insurance information, etc. You will need original documentation in your hand for various travel and job applications. You will usually have less than a week to produce them and sometimes your visa is riding on it, so FedEx is out of the question. Take it with you and be responsible for it.
  • Extreme Weather Clothing: Assuming you have nice clothes that you like, keep 1 of each of your most expensive items to avoid having to shop for a new one. As a Latina woman with boobs and hips, clothing options are sparse here in Asia. So take a swimsuit to Antarctica and take a winter coat to Vietnam. Maybe Antarctica has fabulous indoor heated pools! Maybe you’ll visit the snow in Japan! You will be traveling more than usual. Having the 1 item will buy you time.
  • All Occasion Clothing: Be prepared for anything. Have one outfit nice enough for a wedding or a job interview. Have sandals that you can wear in a flood, at the beach, or as slippers. The same floor-length dress comes in handy when you get invited to a funeral or if you go motorbiking around ancient temples--you get the idea. No need to go overboard. I hiked to Machu Picchu for 4 days through snow and mud in old tennis shoes. I’m not talking about trekking poles--just the absolute basics.

After that, your luggage space is yours to fill however you choose.

you don't need a yoga mat or lulu-lemons to practice in the Andes!

Leave It Behind

This one is hard. It goes against every instinct we have as we prepare to do something unfamiliar, but do not pack FOR your new country. I know you’ve spent weeks reading up on the local weather patterns, but you need you to trust me on this one.

It’s a waste of space and energy to haul things that you won't end up using. Start off by admitting that you know nothing (!) about your new home, the standards of dress, or the accoutrement of your living space and you cannot possibly pack well for it.

You can't trust what the internet tells you either. Most bloggers are tourists and have no handle on local customs. As an example of the blind leading the blind, see every single “How to Dress in Southeast Asia” blog and then read the local papers that shame Western tourists for how they dress.

cant get into Thailand if you are dressed like a hippie! SoThai

As for gear, the country you are moving to has quality products more suited to that environment than what you can get at home. Don’t carry a winter coat from California only to discover it doesn’t keep you warm in the harsh Mongolian winter. Don't bring a raincoat to Thailand when it’s too hot to wear long sleeves in the rain. Whatever clothing you may need, you can buy in your new country shortly after arrival. Save yourself the trouble and bring as little as possible.

Assume where you are going is civilized. This one is for anyone headed to developing countries for the first time. Assume the country you are going to has a large number of totally normal, completely modern human beings living there. Privileged Americans and Europeans think that Latin America, Asia, and Africa are remote jungle locations. They think they won't be able to find basics like bug spray, aspirin, pencils and paper, or clean water. I guess they imagine people live in pajama pants and tank tops and drink muddy water from a gas can.

You will be happy to know that anywhere you are likely to touch down is a capital city of the world. It has all the modern conveniences of your home country--including first aid items, toiletries, and bottled water galore. There is really no need to bring that water filtration system.

don't pack alpaca snacks! they like home-grown Peruvian grass 

Specialized items can be less popular in some cultures (where my moon cup ladies at?) so do your research and bring your favorites but there is no need to stock up. If foreigners have gone before you, they have created a market for these things long ago.

Every country has online expat forums where you can read questions from foreigners who have moved to that country already. For example, I used these two forums to find everything from the best pizza shop in Bangkok to where I was supposed to do my 90-day immigration check-ins:
There is almost no need to ask questions to the group--just search the group posting history and you will find your answers. Each country and decent-sized city will have its own online forums where you can mine information from thousands of people who have already asked.

Bottom Line

Take the essentials of your life with you, but in such small quantities that you can supplement it later with the real deal, local items that suit that environment perfectly.

Remember to use your head as you travel. With the world at your doorstep, all of a sudden you are a global consumer. Buy your umbrella in London. Buy your winter coat in Moscow. Buy your bikini in Rio. And never, ever buy your prescription drugs in the United States of America again!

Click here to read the next part in the Ultimate Guide to Moving Abroad series.

Ultimate Guide to Moving Abroad: Intro

Every so often I get a call out of the blue from an old friend. They just got a big job offer/divorce/new boyfriend/fed up with life and they need to know how hard it is to move to a new country.

My friends know I’ve moved around a bunch. From the US to Spain, Ireland, Thailand, and now Cambodia. After four international moves, I’m not an expert, but I have learned some things. I hope what I’ve learned can help you too.

It sounds daunting. Moving across town is an undertaking, so moving to a whole new country must be overwhelming, right?


If you are considering it yourself, first you need to understand how simple the concept is.

The truth is that moving countries is not hard. You can do it tomorrow--all you need is a passport. You can literally pack a bag, fly around the globe, step off the plane, and simply just stay there forever.

Let that sink in for a moment. It is super doable.

You just...go.

There is a Thai saying: อย่าคิดมาก or “Don't think too much.” If you don't over-analyze moving to a new country, it can be surprisingly easy--easier than moving across town even!

Once you understand that it’s easy, the real question is about how to do it well.

Making it Stick

Moving to a new country AND doing it well simply means avoiding pitfalls.

Whatever your plan is in your new country--that’s what you need to make happen. If your idea of your new life doesn’t turn out as planned, you will turn around, and go home.

Why? Because going home is always an easy way to end the misery of a bad move.

Going home is a lot of people’s Plan B. There are plenty of blogs out there about people who “moved to a new country” and then returned home within 6 months or less. I’ll leave those stories to other bloggers.

double rainbow over the Amazon means you can do it!

I want to help you get it right. With a little planning, you can slide “going home” down to Plan G/Plan H territory, and your move will stick.

There are details--I swear they are just details!--about moving abroad that require planning. If you do your research, things will turn out fine.

Based on my experience, there are 5 things to consider when you move to a new country. Once you have those 5 things figured out, you are golden. If you are reading this because you are contemplating a big move, I hope these posts help you to make it happen and I wish you the best with your plans.
Let’s get started!

Click here to read the next part in the Ultimate Guide to Moving Abroad series.