Whether you’re a millennial with a thirst for adventure or are looking to retire to sunnier climes, it’s never felt easier to pack up and try life somewhere new. With the world at our fingertips, the question isn’t if we should try living abroad, but where to go first. And then where to go after that...
The younger generation is paving the way when it comes to the travel-heavy “experience economy” (in lieu of splashing out on material possessions), and no adventure can compete with the thrill of moving to a new country, be it to explore somewhere new for a few months after studying or to relocate somewhere longer-term for work or family obligations.
Living in a new country is an educational experience like no other, where every day brings new discoveries: food, culture, people, places, customs.
It’s also really hard work - and that’s true without even trying to negotiate any language barriers. When you move abroad, you’re learning to work, live and make friends in a strange new world, while also desperately missing - and trying your best to stay in touch with - your friends and family back home.
Thankfully, today’s technology can make you feel close to your global connections even when you’re oceans apart. So you can show them your new pad in Paris on video chat... or have them bail you out of a financial scrape while you scramble to sort out life admin.
We’ve gathered up the advice, experiences and wisdom of people who moved away from their homelands and settled somewhere new. One thing these expats, immigrants, adventurers, explorers, émigrés and global citizens can all agree on? Their time abroad was the experience of a lifetime - and they are so grateful for it.
"Keeping in touch with friends and family has been the hardest part because of the time difference."
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Katerina, 33, moved from Greece to Singapore two years ago so she and her boyfriend (who had been doing the long-distance thing) could start their lives together in a new city.
"Moving abroad is very exciting and you barely realise how quickly the first six months/year fly by. You are constantly out exploring new places in your new city: bars, restaurants and activities. You are also very keen to meet new people and you make the extra effort to go out more," she explains.
For Katerina, there was definitely an element of culture shock going from Greece to Singapore - just take the Singlish dialect everyone speaks there. "Honestly, for the first six months I had no idea what the locals said when they talked to me!"
Staying in touch with friends and family has been hard with Singapore five hours ahead of Greece - but vitally important.
"You have to make the effort and make sure you text and Skype as often as possible. Also, after a year abroad, flying back home to spend quality time with friends and family became the top priority for me. I would happily sacrifice a trip somewhere in the region to see my loved ones and catch up," Katerina explains.
"I was constantly questioning whether I had made the right decision or not."
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38-year-old Ian left Blighty for Hong Kong in 2009 after his company offered him a job overseas.
"At first I wanted to set a deadline of a couple of years before returning. I missed London, friends and family," he explains. Skype and Facebook have been lifesavers for keeping in touch with people back home and Hong Kong's strong British legacy (English is widely spoken and there is a large expat community there) made the transition feel more comfortable.
"A person can live a life as if one had never left the UK," Ian says. "However, I struggle to see the point of moving if people are going to stay in their comfort zone. The sharp contrast with the UK is in the dynamism of Hong Kong. It has a massive energy with business moving 24-7 and the streets constantly packed. People really have an entrepreneurial spirit."
When it comes to moving abroad, he urges people to give it time - and to make sure not to hang out exclusively with other expats.
"It's funny: the UK is similar enough to Canada that differences are actually magnified, in a way."
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Some people think moving from one English-speaking country to another isn't as dramatic a transition as going someplace with an entirely different language and customs, but 27-year-old Madeline, originally from Ontario, Canada, found plenty of new things to discover when she moved to Oxford nearly five years ago.
"Getting my head around the difference in how people speak - their vocabulary, but also syntax - was challenging. Getting accustomed to pub etiquette and knowing how to navigate a roundabout, were a few small hurdles as well," she says.
Madeline's found that the way things are done back home doesn't really matter now she's here - no one cares, including her.
"I have found that people appreciate when you try and absorb their way of doing things: observe and then imitate," she concludes.
"It is normal to feel scared or alone when you move somewhere new."
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30-year-old Tamara was born in Lebanon and had three big moves abroad in her life: relocating to Jeddah, Saudia Arabia, as a child for her father's work; moving to New York to get her MFA from Parsons School of Design; then going abroad to London to be with her British husband.
"When I moved to London I was sad to be leaving New York, a city which I grew to love and where I was working. I was also stressed to be moving to London where I needed to find a job. However, I was also very happy because I wasn’t going to be alone and I was moving to be with the love of my life and now the father of my son, my husband. I was starting a new chapter and had a lot to look forward to," she explains.
Staying in touch with family (and having family around) has kept her grounded in each new country: WhatsApp, Skype and social media have been essential for keeping up contact with friends and family in different time zones.
"When in Rome, do as the Romans do..."
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35-year-old Japan native Yukiko felt a mix of excitement and nervousness after her husband's job transferred them to London in 2010, but took comfort in the fact they were only meant to stay abroad for a year. Eight years and two children later, she finally feels much more at home in her adopted home.
The language, culture and food were dramatic differences between the UK and life in Japan. So was all that time she spent waiting for an Underground train.
"I grew up in a country where everything is in order. The quality of customer service is also very different. I was surprised with the transportation delays, deliveries getting a full day's slot - in Japan, you would get an hour slot."
Her parents visit them twice a year, and Skype and Facetime allow for video chats with family back home. But that couldn't completely quell the homesickness Yukiko felt in her first few years in London.
"The first three years were hard for me. I was very lonely and isolated. I always felt I wanted to go back to Japan. I went to school and made some friends but wasn't feeling right and was longing for the life I used to have. Giving birth to my daughter was a big change for me. I finally started connecting to the community and feeling like there wasn't so much of a language barrier, either. I find London very child-friendly. There are lots of parks and I think it is a very good environment for raising children," she enthuses.
"Give it time - most people will tell you it takes two years before you know a place and can settle."
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Susan left her home in South Africa to work as an au pair in the USA for a couple of years before moving to London to travel and get her British passport.
"Both times I was pretty nervous to leave. When I went to America, it was my first time away from family or close friends and it was a scary thing to go live with a family I had only spoken to a few times on the phone and exchanged a couple of emails with. Moving to the UK was also scary: I had my brother to live with until I got on my feet but I was leaving a good job with a bright future and coming to a new country with very little money and no job. In both places, once I got to know the areas, I loved them."
For Susan, the US never really felt like a home from home - but perhaps it wasn't supposed to since she always knew that it would be a short-term destination.
In the UK, thanks to her boyfriend, friends and favourite local haunts, it feels more like home. Her best advice for would-be expats?
"Put yourself out there and try new things so that you meet new and interesting people."
"I was so excited to be away from my family home. For the first time, I felt free."
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30-year-old Eniko moved from Romania to England - it was the first time she'd lived anywhere else or been apart from her family.
"I only started feeling homesick after four months. Most of the things were very different: the food, even meal time. We have a proper two to three course lunch and something light for dinner; here, everything was the other way around."
Finding friends in London that felt like family played a big role in making London feel like home. Also key? Not trying to compare everything to what it would be like back in Romania.
"I stopped looking for things back home – I just accepted everything as it was in this country and found some new things that make me happy. I think if you decide to move to a different country, you have to face a lot of changes and you have to be willing to let many things go to make it work."