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Learning the Language When Moving Abroad

in Learning the Language/Moving Abroad by

“Remember that life is a lot more stressful if you cannot communicate.”

One of the most common questions people ask before they make the move abroad is whether they should learn the local language, and to what degree. As you probably know, commonality in language has a large impact on the ability to integrate locally.

However, if you are considering moving somewhere that your native tongue is not the local language, you will have the decision to make – learn the language or not.

While each situation is different, being able to communicate effectively can have a significant effect on the quality of life someone experiences, whether they live at home or abroad.

However, before you start, there are a few things to consider.

First, you need to consider you own circumstances. When people move abroad, there are often three reasons for doing so:

  • Long term/permanent: when you’re searching for a better life
  • Short to midterm: Maybe for your career, or you simply need a change
  • Short term: Travelling or work related

The length of your stay and the perception of your new location will shift significantly if you feel comfortable. Many locations will have an expat community where the local language will undoubtedly be English (the common language). However, when people move abroad, even if it’s intended to be a permanent move, remaining in these expat circles can often become less fulfilling and the desire to move may increase with time.

The common excuses for not learning the local language include “I can’t possibly learn them all”, “people speak English anyway” or event “they want to learn English, and they can do that if I speak English”.

The benefits of learning the local language

The benefits of learning the local language are incredibly significant and include:

  • Understanding the basic customs and being courteous
  • Being able to socialize and increase your circle of friends
  • Increase the propensity to study/work
  • Increase your career prospects
  • Being able to communicate in an emergency
  • Being accepted by the community

Even if you cannot speak the language perfectly, simply making an effort is often greatly received, and it actually increases your chances of improving your language skills, without you even being aware.

Why wouldn’t you learn?

The most common reason for not learning is laziness, for many, learning a new language later in life is a tricky thing to do. However, it is not impossible.

Many will also drum out the excuse that they can get by in English while covering up a fear of failure or of looking stupid by getting something wrong.  I usually feel worse when I don’t know any of their language, but even in developing countries they are able to speak at least some English so what does that say about me?

When should you start to learn?

Our belief is that once you have decided on your destination, the sooner you start to learn the better. There is a common approach that “I’ll start once I arrive”. However, it’s highly likely that from the moment you land you will need to understand at least some common elements, and even be able to strike up a small conversation.  However, you do pick it up more quickly when you’re actually speaking it on a daily basis.

Always remember that understanding signs, asking for directions and getting assistance are more easily and effectively communicated in the local language as it is unlikely that English will be used in each of these. And in the cases that it is, quite often the correct information can be miscommunicated.

However, it’s never too late to begin learning. If you have limited time before your move, or maybe the move has arisen through unexpected circumstances, you can always begin once you arrive in your destination.

It’s likely that there will be some sort of language exchange, especially coupled with self-help so you can continue to practice. Sometimes approaching a new language with both feet in can reap excellent rewards.

Just remember that life is a lot more stressful if you cannot communicate.

How do you go about learning?

30 years ago, the only ways to learn were to either read, submerse yourself in the language or get lessons. While these approaches definitely stand the test of time, having lessons can be an expensive approach. Today there are many resources to help you get going, and even become fluent.

Self help

The rise of resources such as self-help apps and software such as Rosetta Stone can be done in your spare time. They use a variety of techniques ranging from memory tricks and pure repetition. If you often find yourself with time available, maybe you travel extensively, this is a great time to try to pick up a new language.

Many of these resources now include online tutorage which allow you to speak to people directly, increasing your exposure to the language, allowing you real time improvement.

Government websites

Government websites will often have an immigration section which also includes useful resources to help you learn the language. While not fully extensive, they will certainly help you learn the basics to get by, as well as offer guides on the key information to know and understand about local culture.


Of course, the tried and tested approach is to take lessons. While lessons will often be more expensive than the other methods, it can also be the most cost effective as you will actively be corrected and therefore learn the correct way, including pronunciation.  I actually have a language teacher in another country who I Skype with for lessons three times per week.  I only pay $8.50 USD/hour.  Happy to share her info if you’re learning Spanish.

So, should you learn the local language?

Whether you’re moving for a month, year or the rest of your life, it is always a good idea to learn the local language where you live. Doing so will help you get more out of your new expat life, and also will help reduce unnecessary stress which could arise from being isolated.

Moving Overseas and Settling into a Long-Term Home

in Accommodation/Moving Abroad by

I went to Medellin, Colombia a few times before deciding to make the move abroad.  When looking for short-term housing, I asked around to other expats to get their thoughts on the best places to live for an expat in that city.  I rented for two weeks in one area, then another, then a week in another then the bulk of my stay in the place that I ultimately decided was the best place for me.  By staying for the three months, I was able to hone in on exactly where I was comfortable living long term.  I had been told that the hardest thing about living overseas would be finding a job, but in my opinion, that was the easy part. In fact, I had several before I even left home. What no one had told me was how difficult it would be to find a place to live in Medellin as in many cities across the world. I guess I should have assumed because it would be difficult.  I mean even in Los Angeles, I found finding my perfect place was quite a chore, but people do it all the time, so there is always hope for the creative and resourceful.

Plan Your Apartment Search Ahead and Be Creative

Months before I left home, I started looking around in the expat groups, apartment rental websites, and asking around to other local expats. I found many places that may be a good fit, but it’s difficult to decide on a place sight unseen.  What I ultimately decided was a book a temporary Airbnb for the first few days of my return then I moved into accommodations provided by a program that allows me to work for them in exchange for free housing and meals. (I’ll discuss this in another post)  This way, I’ll have at least 3-6 months or more to find a place that I love and not feel pressured to move somewhere simply because I need a place.  Also, since this place is free of charge, it will allow me to save money for a new place, and I won’t be spending money on temporary rentals since the prices are usually more expensive than long-term rentals.

Be Willing to Take a Chance

I did find some places that were open, but they were open for a reason. There were no windows. They were in areas of town so run-down that I would have to carry mace with me even during the day. Or they were just too expensive or too far away. I finally found a place I could live in, but it took a while. I found it by exhausting every possible resource. I called listings from places I walked by each day during my commute. I placed ads, followed up on ads I had found and also relied on friends.  Their advice was usually nothing specific, but it gave me somewhere to start.

Make Full Use of the Web

The best help I found was through the web. It took some time, but figuring out where to look made all the difference. Twice a day, I checked several expat websites with forums aimed at international travelers. I found new sites each day and followed their links to more links. This was what I needed. The people who advertised on these sites were usually fellow travelers who just wanted someone to share the burden of the rent. They knew what I was likely expecting to pay and were more flexible as to how long I would rent the place. They might even have a luxury villa or beach house.  In some areas like Medellin, web resources aren’t as helpful, but I still checked daily just in case something met my standards.

You Will Need Luck

In the end, I lucked out. I had stayed in contact with one of the people who had responded to my first ad—the one whose rental was filled—and I found out that he had an opening. The place was nice and fit my budget.

Overall, the process of finding an apartment to live in can be frustrating and time-consuming. Be prepared to pay for a hostel or guesthouse for up to a few months. In places like Asia, where the cost of living is low for Western travelers, this might be the best option anyway. However, in Europe, where your home currency may be worth less than your new currency, you should make the best use of your time.

For more info on rentals abroad check the below.

  • Airbnb
  • Pet & Housesitting sites
  • More to come…


Prepare Yourself for your big move!

in Checklist/Moving Abroad by

Before even considering what shirts to pack, you must prepare yourself first. That entails preparing your attitude, your mindset, and answering the most basic questions.

Here are the Top 5 Must-Dos that will make or break your experience abroad.

  • Kill Debt.
    Or at least seriously knock it down.
    If you have overwhelming debt before you leave, then odds are good you’ll have even more debt when you return.
    For example, if you can’t sell your old house, make sure a tenant’s rent will cover most if not all expenses.
  • Be Healthy.
    Starting an adventure like this can be tough on the body and soul at first. Maybe the best preparation is starting with good health, physical and mental.
  • Smile. Go with the Flow
    Packing your toothbrush is important. But not as important as packing a sense of humor. It really goes a long, long way when sharing someone else’s country.  Just remember, no place is perfect so don’t expect moving to a new place will erase all of life’s woes.  You’ll leave one set of problems just to pick up a new set.  The test is what set of issues are you able to handle.
  • Avoid Analysis Paralysis.
    Don’t get bogged down in every detail. Sure, plan, but paralyze yourself from doing. For example, learn an overview of the neighborhoods in your target city, but don’t bother judging between streets. Some things are just better discovered when you arrive, listen and learn.
  • Prepare for the Unexpected.
    This goes back to the thing above, about having a sense of humor. As an expat, there are so many times when you just think “What are they thinking?” or even “What the hell?!?”
    Prepare to be surprised, even shocked occasionally. (It is called culture shock, after all)
    Just understand that ahead of time, it will happen. No big deal.

Or, skip everything above and just go for it by just jumping in head first.

Learning a Language
I can highly recommend one service for learning languages. That’s Duolingo or Memrise.  I also use a personal tutor via Skype for a very cheap rate.

Confused? Still have questions? Let Me Help You
I’m happy to help if you e-mail me so we can work one-on-one immediately.

Moving Abroad Checklist

in Checklist/Moving Abroad by
90 days before departure
Book your air tickets and hotels if they are required.
Inform your children’s school that you will be moving abroad and ask for transfer certificates and any information which will be relevant when you move.
Check quarantine requirements in your destination country and arrange pet relocation.
Inquire about professional moving companies and ask for their quotes.
Create a folder with all hard copies and paperwork of the important documents and create a file on your computer for all of your saved files. Check the documentation requirements for the country you are moving to. Many countries require that official paperwork is certified before it can be accepted. See the individual city guide for more information.
Make a checklist of all packing boxes and what will go in each one.
Create a tax and finance folder with any information which can be claimed back on tax. If you are getting your expenses paid for you, put all receipts in this folder.
Make sure you and your family have valid passports; you will not be travelling anywhere without them.
Find out about international drivers licenses. Most countries will not accept your home country’s license. If you can take the test before you leave, do so. It will save time and hassle when you arrive at your new destination.
Once you find the best quote, organize a date for them to come. Ask them to provide details of any property or belongings that you will not be permitted to move to the new country.
Find out if you, your family and your pets need to have any vaccinations and when you need to have them by. Book appointments at the doctors and vets and be sure to have an international vaccination record booklet.
Print out change of address cards to hand to friends and family and Let everyone important know about your departure and change of address-the post office, the magazines you subscribe to, credit card companies, family and friends.
If you are renting out your house and do not have any tenants yet, contact local rental agencies for their help.
Start packing items which you do not need in the next three months such as ornaments, books, photos, jewellery and out of season clothes. Label all boxes.
If you are selling your house, put it on the market.
If your national driving license needs renewing, do so before you leave.
60 days before departure
Ask your doctors, vet and dentist for copies of yours, your families and your pets’ medical records. While you are at it, schedule a final check up for you, your family and your pets.
If you are selling anything such as a car or any household equipment, put everything on the market.
Check all insurance policies and secure your visas if you need to.
Organize going away parties for yourself and your children.
Contact the post office to set up their mail forwarding service.
Prepare a power of attorney. Make sure you have certified copies of all important documents ready to hand over to the person you will be leaving in charge of your affairs while you are away.
Contact your bank and explain that you are moving abroad. If you already have your new address, give them this otherwise change the address to a friend or family member for the short-term. If they are unable to offer a global account you will need to find one that will.
Set up direct debits with your bank for any bill payments which you will still be making while you are away. These can include: mortgage payments, loan repayments, pension payments and savings.
Find out what the local names and equivalents are for any prescription medication you or your family are on. Make sure that it will be available in your destination country. If not you will need to arrange to take a supply with you, together with proof of your need for the medication for customs and excise purposes.
Set up internet banking – as you will need to manage your money online while you are away. If your bank does not have internet banking facilities you should consider changing banks (you will find most banks now have internet banking facilities).
Have a garage sale of all the things you want to sell.
If you are renting out your house, get all minor repairs completed.
Schedule the cancellation of all magazine and newspaper subscriptions or regular deliveries you receive on the day you will be leaving.
30 days to go
Change your address on anything which requires it
Make sure you have paid all outstanding bills. Leave a small amount of money with a friend or relative to settle any that you may have missed.
Contact the various utilities departments and ask them to discontinue your supply of gas, electricity, water, cable TV and telephone or if you are renting your house out, change the name on the bills.
Get all paperwork and information required for the shipping company.
Organize the cancellation of your car & homeowner’s insurance, phone plan, gym membership or any other memberships you will no longer need.  This should all be scheduled to end on the day you will be leaving. Note: If you are not selling your car, do not cancel your car insurance, juts change it to storage insurance since you won’t be driving it. That should only cost around $60 USD/year.  If you know you aren’t coming back you should sell your car as they only depreciate.
If you are renting your house out, make sure it is in good rental condition and make an inventory list of everything which will be left behind.
Start to pack up the house, leaving the essentials that you need for the next month.
Make sure everyone who needs it has your forwarding address.
Moving day
If you are shipping items, be sure to get a rough delivery date.
Remember to savor the moment as you step on the plane, it is a very important milestone in your life afterall.
Make sure you have left nothing behind in your house – check all cupboards and all rooms.
Say your final goodbyes.
Make sure you have the essentials in your suitcase. You will be living out of these cases for the immediate future until your shipment arrives.
Verify all delivery plans with the company and go through the inventory list.
  • Make a mental note to do your Federal and State taxes the following year. You can do them for free on or you can use H&R Block’s expat services for Americans living outside the US.  Prices start at 200 bucks, and the person assigned to you will help you know what to deduct like internet bill, classes, computer software, whatever business expenses you have. You may have to mail them your receipts for the deduction to count- so KEEP YOUR BILLS!
  • Don’t forget travel insurance!!!  I recommend AIG Travel Guard.

Moving overseas can be stressful and daunting, but follow all the steps in our moving checklist template and you can manage your move abroad like a pro.

How do I budget for living overseas?

in Budget-friendly Countries/Moving Abroad by

In order to budget for a move abroad, you have to first know yourself.  Do you typically live a life of luxury?  Are you on a budget?  What are your non-negotiables?  Once you’ve made that conclusion, looking into countries that can provide what you need on your budget.

Some places are super cheap so you can live a life of luxury on a small budget, but some countries are very expensive if you want to live in the most metropolitan areas. Since we are a global society, you can enjoy any standard of living for the most part anywhere on earth, if you can afford it.

There are some places that are super cheap, and you can survive on a small budget such as Ecuador, India, and Thailand (outside Bangkok). In these places, your cost of living is artificially low because, frankly, there isn’t much for you to spend your money on. This is not to say that, in these places, you couldn’t enjoy a comfortable, interesting, exotic, even fun, exciting, and adventure-filled life. But you’d be living simply, because you’d have no option. The only life in these places is the simple life.

If cost of living is your primary motivation for thinking about moving to another country, we recommend you focus on these choices. If you’re not looking to move on a super-fixed income (of, say, US$1,200 a month or less), you have many good options, and here’s what we strongly suggest:

Other than cost of living, you also need to consider some other important things. Most important, your cost of living almost anywhere is controllable. It will not be the same as our cost of living in that same place or, necessarily, the cost of living in that place for anyone else you might speak with.

Most expense items–everything from housing to health care, from travel to entertainment, from your monthly grocery bill to your phone/cable/Internet–are hugely variable and can be managed.

You can live in the U.S. on a budget of $800/mo.  It just depends on where you live and what amenities you’re willing to live without.  If you can control your expenses effectively, you can make it anywhere on a small budget.  Ultimately, it comes down to personal requirements.  Some people are spending 5 times that to live in the same city.


Second, cost of living is a forever in flux, especially if you’re living in a country whose currency differs from the currency in which you derive your income.

The real point is that you can control your cost of living, within parameters, almost anywhere in the world.

So, while I can’t tell you how much it will cost you to live, I can help you build parameters and find something that can meet your budget.  I can also connect you with people already living in these places and give you broad and general guidelines for reference as a starting point.

One more thing before you get to the numbers. Just as a one-size-fits-all budget for living in any country is next-to-meaningless, so is any budget that claims to represent the cost of living in any country overall.


Find the Best Country for your Budget

in Moving Abroad by

If you’re looking to become an expat and live a relaxed life, moving somewhere inexpensive is a necessity. I was able to quit my job and become an expat so that I can travel the world.  I am living the life of my dreams, and I’m here to advise future expats on where to move in order to live a good life that’s also light on the wallet.

I have laid out a list of beautiful, interesting, welcoming and adventure-rich places that are single-friendly and really affordable.  As you all know, I’m a living witness about how amazing and inexpensive it can be as a resident of #2 on the list.

street scene in Carvoeiro, Portugal

1. Carvoeiro, Algarve, Portugal

  • Beautiful views from the rocky coast
  • Constant sunshine
  • Perfect weather year round
  • Great food and wine and lots of history
  • Great place for single women to start a business and a life

Total monthly budget: $1,150 per person  

Rent: $727

Transportation: $42

Gas: 0

Electricity: $100

Water: 0

Telephone/Internet/Cable TV: $78

Entertainment: $108

Groceries: $140

2. El Poblado, Medellín, Colombia

  • Great exchange rate between USD and COP
  • Great tourism and investment opportunities
  • Well dress, well mannered and welcoming people
  • Comfortable, tranquil and Idyllic way of life for a super affordable price


Total monthly budget: $1,650 per person  

Rent: $993

Transportation: $50

Gas: $99

Electricity: 0

Water: 0

Telephone/Internet/Cable TV: $99

Entertainment: $136

Groceries: $199

Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic

3. Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic

  • Established community of French expats
  • Improving infrastructure
  • Establishing residency is easy
  • Cost of living is a huge bargain
  • Very strong economy
  • Crime is falling


Total monthly budget: $1,250 per person  

Rent: $770

Transportation: $14.50

Gas: $7.40

Electricity: $58

Water: $4.85

Telephone/Internet/Cable TV: $47

Entertainment: $142

Groceries: $190

Cayo, Belize

4.  Santa Familia, Cayo, Belize

  • Wide-open spaces
  • Fresh air
  • Warm weather
  • Fertile land
  • World’s best place to disconnect and unplug
  • Small town atmosphere


Total monthly budget: $1,200 per person 

Rent: $600

Transportation: $95

Gas: $12.50

Electricity: $88

Water: $6.25

Telephone: $50

Internet: $50

Cable TV: $23

Entertainment: $88

Groceries: $100

A quiet street in Chiang Mai, Thailand. (Photo courtesy of Andrea Schaffer/Flickr)

5. Chiang Mai, Thailand

  • Super low cost of living
  • Great weather
  • Rich history
  • Distinct culture
  • Mega-malls
  • Huge multi-national grocery & departments stores


Total monthly budget: $1,000 per person  

Rent: $736

Transportation: $12

Gas: $9

Electricity: $60

Water: $6

Telephone: $18

Internet: $30

Cable TV: $32

Entertainment: $38

Groceries: $133

6. Barcelona, Spain

  • Vibrant, colorful, proud city
  • Strong energy
  • Very affordable to live
  • Compact & well laid out
  • Opportunities for diversion, entertainment and discovery
  • City of galleries, museums, monuments, theaters, restaurants and shopping

Total monthly budget: $1,600 per person  

Rent: $1,000

Transportation: $45

Gas: $90

Electricity: $67

Water: $23

Telephone: $50

Internet: 0

Cable TV: $23

Entertainment: $171

Groceries: $224

7. Granada, Nicaragua

  • Cost of living and real estate is really cheap
  • Busy and lively city
  • Attracts record numbers of tourists and expats
  • City is like a fairytale


Total monthly budget: $1,225 per person  

Rent: $762

Transportation: $17

Gas: $10

Electricity: $118

Water: $9.50

Telephone: $5

Internet/Cable TV: $33

Entertainment: $82

Groceries: $163

8. Kota Kinabalu, Malaysian Borneo

  • Laid-back & quiet
  • Low cost of living
  • High standard and low cost of health care
  • Life revolves around water and outdoors
  • Emerging expat community
  • Mix of adventure and exotic
  • Serene, close to nature lifestyle
  • Global bargain


Total monthly budget: $850 per person  

Rent: $583

Transportation: $23

Gas: $7

Electricity: $47

Water: $5

Telephone: $12

Internet: MYR60

Cable TV: $16

Entertainment: $59

Groceries: $128

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