Moving abroad, Moving Abroad: What to Expect for Your Bucket List

Moving Abroad: What to Expect for Your Bucket List

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You might travel around with all of your spare time. Or you might backpack for months. Or maybe you travel for work. But nothing quite compares to packing up your entire life and moving abroad to a different country. 

Welcome to Traveling Level: Expert! 

Although this is 100% more work and stress than a normal trip, it is also 100% more rewarding! 

Before we start, this isn’t going to be some factual and impersonal guide:

I first moved abroad when I just turned 18 years old. If you are wondering, that translates into I had no clue what I was doing. I barely knew how to adult or who I was, let alone move around the world.

I went through many struggles and have had several chats with people asking about my experiences and what I wish I had known.

So let’s chat about everything I learned about moving abroad so that you don’t have to learn the hard way like I did. 

Just for reference, I moved to Cambridge, England for my undergraduate degree full time. I had a visa for Italy then decided to switch to Budapest, Hungary for medical school. 

Moving abroad, Moving Abroad: What to Expect for Your Bucket List
A joke my British friends and I set up of me trying to learn British slang.

My Bucket List Review of Moving Abroad

Who Needs to Add This to Their Bucket List?Die hard adventurers who
crave the ultimate travel challenge
Best Time to GoAnytime
Traveling DifficultyDifficult
Physical DifficultyDepends on the country
Popularity RatingDepends on the country
Group Tour RequiredNo, but there are some companies
that can help you
Budget$$$$ (depends on country)
Wheelchair AccessibleDepends on the country, but
mostly yes

If you need more information about the categories of this table, please check out the Bucket List Reviews guide.

Watch the Full YouTube Video

Before Moving Abroad

So you’ve got the itch to live somewhere else? Perfect! The hard part is over…kinda! Now for the logistics! 

Figure out What Your Plan is and How it Can Help You Live There

Both times I have moved abroad, it has been for school. This is a really good way to get your foot in the door and have little to no trouble with visas! 

If you are working and trying to get a job in the country of your choice, then things get a little more tricky. 

You might have to find a job or sponsorship first.

This can be very difficult to find from scratch, but it is not impossible. Don’t give up! If you have a job currently, I would ask your company if they offer any positions at offices abroad. 

If you are going on a tourist visa, this limits your time significantly. The duration of these visas ranges depending on the country and the passport you have. For example, an American citizen can stay 90 days within a 180-day period in the European Union. 

Moving abroad, Moving Abroad: What to Expect for Your Bucket List
Posing in front of my dissertation presentation in my final year studying in Cambridge, England.

Figure out How to Get a Visa in the Country

Although I briefly touched on it before, there are different types of visas that will allow you to stay in different countries. 

Once you have figured out which type of visa you are going to have (ex. Student, work, family, tourist, and more), then it is time to do some research. 

I would recommend going directly to your local embassy, the embassy in the country, and the organization (your work, school) for info. 

I would avoid going to YouTube or personal internet pages for formal advice because there is always a chance that there could be wrong/incorrect information.

When it comes to visas, ALWAYS read the fine print and follow the government’s directions to a T. This was very hard, especially for me, but it is always worth it!

Now I am going to go on a mini rant…I am going to need to write a full article on visas and my personal experiences because visas and I have never gotten along (particularly in Italy)! Getting a visa is not easy…at least in my experience. 

Government offices are not exactly responsive and when they do respond they are very vague and confusing. Something almost always goes wrong and when it doesn’t, there are a lot of bureaucratic tiny necessities to weed through.

My biggest advice would be to STAY ORGANIZED, keep everything in one place, seek help from the organization/school/work/sponsorship and if you do need to contact the visa authorities, do so in a clear and concise manner. Allow more than you think for the response.

Moving abroad, Moving Abroad: What to Expect for Your Bucket List
Wandering around Cambridge, England while studying abroad.

Telling Your Friends and Family

Telling the people that you love may not always be a fun time. There was certainly a time when my entire family thought I was wild. 

What helped me was creating a speech in which I would tell everyone why I wanted to do this and the benefits to myself and my career. Some people might not get it and that is okay.

At the end of the day, it is your life and your dreams. The people who support you will, and the people who don’t support you won’t, especially if they secretly want to travel and are just jealous. 

If moving abroad is something that you need to do, run with it

Packing for the First Flight Out when Moving Abroad

Ahhh…another stressful situation. Sure–you can pack for a two-week trip, but what about moving abroad where you can’t take all of your stuff? 

I would recommend one of the following options…

Sell everything you own and rebuy it all there.

This may be a little extreme but sometimes you don’t have a choice. 

The other reason I like this is that when you run out of something (e.g. food, shampoo, clothes), it is easier to know where you like to replace them instead of trying to replace the exact item from your country.

I found new places to buy beauty products, food, and other necessities very quickly in the new countries. This might be easier to do if you start off with all new items.

Rent a Truck

If it is within driving distance (aka it isn’t over an ocean), you could rent a truck and drive all of your things. 

This is obviously ideal, but most of the time you won’t have this luxury. When I moved to Hungary, I fit everything I owned into two checked bags, a carry-on bag, and a cat carrier!

Rent a Storage Unit

Rent a storage unit or put everything in someone’s basement.

Since I was going to school, I kept most of my things at my parent’s house and only took the essentials.

I bought what I could in the country and when I came back to the US to visit, I would swap out clothes and take another round to the UK

This is an amazing option because you can only take what you need but don’t have to get rid of or sell everything that you own back in your home country.

Moving abroad, Moving Abroad: What to Expect for Your Bucket List
My close Norwegian friend visiting me while studying in London.

Bring Extra Checked Bags

Bring a ton of checked bags. If you are flying, it might be worth the extra baggage fee to bring a few checked bags.

As I said before, I managed to fit everything into 2 checked bags. Not gonna lie…it felt squishy and I had to buy a lot of items when I arrived, but I survived!

Just make sure that you have transportation once you arrive at your destination or someone to help you so that you can avoid public transportation by yourself with 5 bags. 

*Quick disclaimer: Don’t forget to check on airline regulations and local customs to make sure everything is legal and customs is a breeze! 

Moving abroad, Moving Abroad: What to Expect for Your Bucket List
Moving abroad to Budapest, Hungary for medical school.

What to Bring in your Carry-On When Moving Abroad

Everyone is different about what they prefer to bring with them on the plane, but here is everything you need to have on you at all times

  • Passport
  • Copy of your passport
  • Another ID if you have it (driver’s license, etc) 
  • EVERYTHING the visa office gave you
  • Copies of everything the visa office gave you
    • Just some general documents:
      • Proof of travel 
      • Proof of lodging/letter from property owner
      • Proof of funds or a bank statement
      • Insurance Card/Policy Number
      • Certificates backing the visa (ex. Italy wanted my high school diploma that was notarized)
  • Proof of Employment, Studies, or Other
  • Copy of the proof of what you are doing (I am sensing a trend here…)
  • Language Certificate (if needed)
  • Anything else that your embassy/organization tells you to have
  • Bonus: I actually moved to Budapest with my kitten, Moshie. I also had to have specific APHIS and USDA documents along with all of his veterinary records with me to present to customs. This entire thing was an experience in itself! 

If you don’t think that you need it or you are riding the fence, bring it. It is better to be safe than be standing at border control panicking. 

What to Expect at the Border 

This is largely dependent on the country and I am not going to go into this heavily for security reasons. However, I would recommend doing the following once you get to the border:

  • Have all of your documents out and ready to go before you reach border control. 
  • Present only what they ask for.
  • Answer all questions they ask honestly and to the best of your ability. 
  • I personally like to be quiet and only speak to them when they ask me a question just to let them do their jobs. 
  • Be respectful and courteous at all times. I know that it can be frustrating and you are exhausted from your flight but they are people too and they take verbal abuse very seriously. 
  • Be honest when/if you have to fill out a form and go through customs if you need to.
    • Declare all monetary, food, or anything that is required via the country’s laws. 
    • Make sure that everything on the form, if applicable, is correct! 
Moving abroad, Moving Abroad: What to Expect for Your Bucket List
Loving my life living in Budapest, Hungary.

During Your Move Abroad

So, now the hard part is over! Now let’s chat about what to expect and tips for during your moving abroad experience. 

Dealing with Homesickness

For me, this was the hardest part. This was especially hard during my UK journey because I was only 18 and had never lived on my own. 

While my friends were complaining about not being able to travel down from Boulder to do laundry at their parent’s house, I was crying in a studio apartment with nothing but a roll of toilet paper and my visa documents.

I’m not going to lie…it was rough for the first month or two but I feel so much stronger now and I am very proud of myself for pushing through!

It can be a little hard because of the time difference, but just because you are somewhere else does not mean you can’t have contact! Even two years in, I would still talk to my mum almost every day (no shame!). 

Just know that it is hard but it is going to get better!

You will settle into life, make new friends, and create a new routine. Even when you are settled, you still might get homesick sometimes and that is completely normal! 

Moving abroad, Moving Abroad: What to Expect for Your Bucket List
Posing with my lovely flatmates in Cambridge, England.

Settling In 

Since you are not traveling around and it is a more permanent situation…there are certain things that you might not have thought about doing. 

Here are a few just to name some…

  • Getting a bank account.
  • Changing your phone number. 
  • Finding your go-to supermarket. 
  • Finding the nearest hospital and learning the country’s emergency number
    • Quick cheat sheet!
      • USA: 911
      • UK: 999
      • EU: 112
      • Check your country, but most use one of those three. 
  • Registering with the police (depends on your visa)
  • Picking up your residence permit (again, depends on your visa)
  • Exploring your area to see what is around! 
Moving abroad, Moving Abroad: What to Expect for Your Bucket List
Going on a day trip to London when moving abroad in Cambridge.

Making Friends when Moving Abroad

I do believe that making friends comes naturally over time. However, if you are really struggling (and that is perfectly normal!), this is what I would recommend: 

Talk to People doing the same thing

For example, people who you are working or studying with. 

One caveat to this is that they will most likely be your nationality. For example, the time when I met most Americans in the UK were in the Erasmus program and they all stuck together.

You can meet some incredible friends this way and you should…but try to branch out and meet someone new!

Having friends from different cultures is beyond rewarding and will stay with you even after you are gone.

Join a Facebook Group

This can be around your interests or just general. For example, I joined a local diving group in Cambridge where we would meet at pubs and plan diving trips or talk about diving. 

Enroll in a Class

Enroll in a fun class during your free time to develop a skill and make conversation with your classmates. 

Find a Language Pal

Odds are that if you are leaving home, there is a good chance that the reciprocating country has another official language.

Learning the language can be an amazing tool to not just enhance your time there, but also make friends.

My favorite app for this is Tandem. This allows you to be an online pen pal. You can help them with English and they help you with their language. As always, use common sense and appropriate safety procedures when talking to people on the internet.

See more on learning the local language later!

Take a tour

Take a tour of the city and ask the guides where the locals prefer to hang out or what other activities to do. 

Get to know your neighbors

If you are studying and staying in accommodation, try to get to know your neighbors or flatmates! Sometimes you live with them or the accommodation organizes events for you to get to know each other.

If you are staying on your own, it might be more difficult, but you could try to hang out in common spaces or talk to anybody that you see who might live there and be friendly.

Moving abroad, Moving Abroad: What to Expect for Your Bucket List
Enjoying a normal day in Cambridge, England when moving abroad.

Learning the Local Language

If your country speaks a different language, then it would be silly to not take advantage of the situation. Not only is it more respectful to the locals, but your brain learns the best when it is immersed. 

It deepens your brain’s memory and listening skills, makes you more marketable for jobs, and all-around a better person.

Every situation is different, but I would highly suggest getting a basic foundation of the language before you go. This way you aren’t learning from scratch and it is easy to build upon.

Learning a Language Online

You can either do this online, through an app, or take a local class. If you are using an app, my favorites are Duolingo, Busuu, and Tandem.

Learning a Language Through Immersion

Although online might seem more convenient, I have found that the most effective way is through a local teacher and immersion.

This can be uncomfortable and awkward (I still hate speaking French with locals because I am embarrassed), but at the end of the day, it is the most helpful route to learning a language. 

Pushing Yourself to Speak the Local Language when Moving Abroad

Whatever route you go, I would really push yourself to use it daily out on the town.

You might not have a choice but if the location speaks English, it is easy to get lazy. Really go into each day and start thinking and speaking in that language. 

And even if you get stuck or don’t know a word, still try to get to the same endpoint using the language, and don’t switch to your native language. 

Learning a language can be such a beautiful and rewarding experience that everyone should do it! If you are in another country and have that opportunity, then why not?!

Moving abroad, Moving Abroad: What to Expect for Your Bucket List
Exploring England after I moved abroad there for my university degree.

After Moving Abroad

If your time living in another country has officially come to an end, that’s okay! It just means that you are ready for your next adventure! 

There are some things that I have noticed personally when I moved back to my hometown after living for months or years abroad.

Even though it may be different for you, I will write what I have experienced. 

You enter a weird limbo of not being fully satisfied. 

Living abroad is funky in the sense that you love being there but you also miss your home. Often, I would be in a strange state of mind where when I was abroad I would miss home. Then I would visit home and do nothing but miss being abroad. 

When you end a journey of living abroad, you might feel relieved to be home: to have your family, friends, familiar streets, comfort food, and your own language. 

But similar to how you were homesick when you left home, you might find yourself missing your previous living situation: the people, the food, the culture. 

I am all about authenticity at The Bucket List Mermaid and I am not going to sugarcoat it–this feeling kinda sucks.

It is a unique feeling of never quite feeling satisfied with where you are. Although this is something that I am still working on, I am trying to embrace both feelings, live in the moment, and be grateful for where I am at that moment. 

Reverse Culture Shock is a Very Real Thing

When arriving in a new location, some of us experience what is known as ‘culture shock’. It might be intriguing, fascinating, or even alarming to see how other parts of the world live. 

I have experienced this firsthand many times and I believe it is truly eye-opening and wonderful. What most people don’t talk about, however, is the reverse culture shock that you get when you go back home.  

This is especially heightened if you have been living in a new location for a long time period or if it is the first time you are leaving your country.

The first time I came home for Christmas after moving abroad, it was a very strange sensation. It was like I was home but I was seeing it through different eyes. 

It isn’t like one is superior to the other–they are just different! And that is part of what makes this experience so unique and why I recommend that everyone should get out of their “bubble” and live abroad. 

Moving abroad, Moving Abroad: What to Expect for Your Bucket List
My friends I met abroad hanging out in a park in Cambridge.

Take Your Experiences and Refresh Your Perspective

Moving to another country is not easy. Being away from the comforts of your home country can be frustrating, even scary! However, it provides an amazing opportunity to gain a new perspective on the world, other cultures, or maybe even your own culture and who you are. 

When you move back home or to another destination, I would encourage you to reflect on your experiences.

What have you learned about the world? What have you learned about other people? What have you learned about yourself? 

I have found that journaling (even if it is just a few sentences) and meditation (even just for a minute) help me relax my mind and think about how blessed I am to have these opportunities and what they have done for me. 

Once you have reflected on these things, I hope that you don’t lose them and that you put your new view on life into action for the future. 

Living abroad was one of the hardest yet most rewarding things I have ever done. It is one thing that I hope every single person gets to experience in their lifetime! 

Traveling to England or Hungary and looking for bucket list ideas from somebody who lived there? Don’t forget to check out my England Bucket List and Hungarian Bucket List.

Moving abroad, Moving Abroad: What to Expect for Your Bucket List
Loving exploring Hungary after moving there.

Are you planning on moving abroad soon? Have you lived abroad and have insight that you would like to share with others? Don’t forget to join The Bucket List Mermaid’s Facebook community where we talk about all of our personal experiences tackling our bucket list! You could have all of your questions answered and/or be the inspiration for someone else! 

Adventure Bucket List Resources

I am here to help your travel adventures go as smoothly as possible! That way you can check off that bucket list with minimal complications and spending!

AIRFARE – It is no surprise that like many travelers, I have found that Hopper is one of the best resources to use when finding cheap flights. 

ACCOMMODATION – My two favorites are Booking.Com for hotels and VRBO for rentals. 

GUIDED TOURS –  If you are looking for quick and easy tours, check out GetYourGuide and Viator

MULTI-DAY TOURS –  For more in-depth tours that span several days, TourHub has many great options with reputable travel companies. Use my code (ALEXANDRA1GURU) for up to 5% off your next bucket list adventure. 

TRANSPORTATION –  You can either rent a car yourself with Discover Cars or do a guided bus tours like Big Bus Tours

CREDIT CARD –  I always use my Chase Freedom Unlimited card for all of my purchases. There is no annual fee and you get 1.5% cash back and 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel. 

SIM CARDS –  Avoid expensive roaming charges with an eSim card with Airalo.

TRAVELER’S INSURANCE –  Check out VisitorsCoverage for affordable insurance plans.

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Moving abroad, Moving Abroad: What to Expect for Your Bucket List

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