Expat Regrets: 5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Moving Overseas

I’ve been gathering documents this week for the final stage in my quest to finally stop giving my hard-earned money to Immigration: dual citizenship! Many thousands of dollars and about a half dozen police checks later, I’m finally going to be done with the anxiety of not having security in Australia. M. is in the same boat, with only his swearing-in ceremony left to go.

This doesn’t mean that we’ve decided to stay here forever (who knows what they’re going to be doing forever, anyway?) but it does make me reflect on the last 5.5 years in this sunburned country.

What I have I learned? Lots of positive things, for sure. But I’m going to start with a few regrets in hopes that others can learn from my mistakes.

  1. You can’t always guarantee when you’ll get back… or if you’ll get back

It’s such a killjoy thing to mention when someone is excitedly planning a big move, but this is the first piece of advice I give people thinking of heading overseas. It’s slightly more diplomatic than the advice my mom got from a friend whose daughter had also moved to Australia and ended up with an Aussie husband and daughter (“Don’t let her go!!” was the sage wisdom offered), but it’s no less grounded in truth.

I set off for Australia for some adventure, time to travel and some opportunities to get experience in my field. Then, slowly but surely, temporary work led to a short-term contract, which led to a longer-term contract, which led to permanent residence, and here I am today. It sounds cliché but it really did kind of sneak up on me. I went from “should I really stay? when should I go?” to “welp, guess I’m here for awhile…” in the blink of an eye.

Would that have changed my decision to move? Probably not. But I do occasionally (rarely, but still) feel like I’m living a life my 23-year-old self picked a bit blindly. I think I might feel a bit better about living so far away from my family now if I’d gone into it knowing that my time away might turn into longer-term than just a year. Don’t jinx yourself, but be aware that it’s a real possibility you might decide to build a life in a different country.

 

2. You won’t have the same budget as your friends

You’ll definitely want to have a sizeable nest egg with you when you move overseas to give you peace of mind, but it doesn’t matter what you do; you’ll always have expenses that your local friends just don’t have to deal with.

For us, of course, the biggest costs connected with living as expats in Australia are the steep prices to travel home (usually between $2000-3000 for the ticket alone) and the even steeper work visa costs (our permanent residence costs totalled over $5000 each). Even if you live in a cheaper or closer country, these costs add up.

On top of that, you won’t have the benefit of hand-me-down cars or furniture and you probably won’t be able to rely on cash infusions from the Bank of Mom and Dad because they don’t have the same currency.

To send gifts or care packages to friends and family will cost extra money, too; you’ll become an expert in the lightest possible presents that can be sent overseas.

My friends do send the greatest care packages, though.

My friends do send the greatest care packages, though.

And to add one more thing to the pile of bills: we’re now at the point in our lives where some of our friends are starting to think about having babies. Many people in Australia rely on their parents or extended family to provide babysitting and often even full-time child-care. Even though that’s waaaaayyyy in the future for us, it’s yet another money-saver we just won’t have access to.

 

3. You’ll miss some big milestones back in your own country

At first, I tried to plan trips home to coincide with weddings and big birthdays. I actually took an unpaid week of leave and spent a whirlwind 10 days in Canada to attend the wedding of two close friends who’d gotten engaged before I’d left for Australia two years before. After a few years, though, you just can’t afford to keep going back. I missed four weddings of people I love in this summer alone, and while I send gifts for every invite I get, it’s not the same.

It’s great when people keep you in the loop via Skype and photos on social media, but you’ll have a bit of a tug on your heart on the days you know people are celebrating without you back home.

 

4. You should try to balance keeping in touch with friends overseas and spending time with friends in your current location

When I first came to Australia, I decided that my introvert tendencies needed to be curtailed to make sure I actually managed to find some friends in my new country. Since I planned to be here for 6-12 months maximum, I made a rule for myself that I would never forfeit time out with new friends for time in Skyping or messaging old friends. After all, the old friends would still be there when I came back, right?

Watching the horse races at Stakes Day with Aussie friends.

Watching the horse races at Stakes Day with Aussie friends.

Well, yes, because they’re wonderful people. But also no, not in the same way they were when I left. Of course, you can send 20 emails per day every single day and your friendships with people an ocean away will still change. But I do regret not keeping in better touch with many of my friends while I was carpe-diem-ing with Aussies all the time.

 

5. You should bring and buy the bare minimum

I came to Melbourne with one huge backpack, a big suitcase, and a smaller daypack; everything I needed for about a year was in those bags. Fewer than 5 years later and I got rid of 17 (SEVENTEEN!) large garbage bags of stuff I had purchased over those short years and definitely didn’t need.

At first, I tried to live minimally because I knew I only lived here temporarily. But I heard the siren call of Kmart (seriously, it’s amazing here) and I eventually started acquiring more and more.

Everything you see in this photo except the stove and the human was purchased at Kmart.

Everything you see in this photo except the stove and the human was purchased at Kmart.

Yes, I’m settled here now and yes, I do need more than just three cases’ full of stuff. But I ended up eventually getting rid of most of what I left at home and most of what I’d bought here. Just buy less stuff– you’ll have more money to spend on your visa application fees.

This is an average view of the sky from the parking lot at work. Not too shabby.

This is an average view of the sky from the parking lot at work. Not too shabby.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love living in Australia, I don’t feel forced to stay here, and I’ve done a pretty good job making a great life for myself here. If I had to go back in time, I probably wouldn’t do a single thing differently because it’s gotten me to who I am today (cheese alert).

I do think, though, that if you’re at all on the fence about whether or not to make a huge move to another country, you need to go into it with your eyes wide open. If this list of regrets hasn’t terrified you– or has terrified you in a good way– then I think that might be a sign to go for it.

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4 comments

  1. I just left Australia for Sri Lanka 6 months ago and I’m definately struggling with the balance between keeping in touch with old friends and living in the moment here.

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