Carillon Concert Masthead

Considering a move overseas? Questions to ask and answer

Josephine Walsh

Apparently, there are over one million Australians living and working overseas at any given time.

I’m currently one of them. But it took me about five years to actually pluck up the courage to pack my bags, say goodbye to my comfortable life and move halfway around the world to live in Canada (in the dead of winter, what was I thinking?!)

Why did it take so long, especially when it had been a dream I’d nurtured since I was a teenager? I’d always dreamed that one day I would live and work in the UK. I even had the chance to follow my then-boyfriend-now-husband to London in 2012. But I always found myself rationalising that now wasn’t the right time, I couldn’t professionally afford to leave my current job just yet, that life was good enough.

Several years passed. I feathered my Canberra nest with great friendships, satisfying work and the reassurance that I still had plenty of time to move overseas. But gradually I started to feel that I’d missed the boat. The longer I stayed in my secure job, close to my favourite coffee shop and surrounded myself with my network of close friends and family, the harder it was to rationalise leaving.

Which is when I realised that it was exactly the right time to pick up and go.

Moving overseas is one of the most exhilarating and challenging things I’ve ever done. I’ve experienced life in other cultures, which have given me renewed perspectives on life in Australia. I’ve made new friends from scratch for the first time in years. I’ve travelled to places I never thought I’d experience. I’m feeling more professionally confident and open to career opportunities. All of which were exactly what I needed.

Taking part in the beautiful twilight evening yoga class on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

I appreciate that for many, moving overseas is simply par for the course when you (or maybe your family or partner) work in certain industries and that many people are completely comfortable with picking up their lives and relocating on the regular. But personally, making the decision to move overseas was an exciting idea that I was terrified of actually putting into practice.

Here are some important questions to ask and answer if you’re considering taking an international leap.

What are the main reasons behind your decision?

Whether you’ve always nurtured a desire to take a working holiday in South America, long to experience the rush of living in New York City, or realise you just need a fresh perspective on life, it’s important to take a hard look at your motivations for moving away. Give yourself time to sift through your thoughts and feelings, and work out what you want to get out of the experience.

Taking in the Carbide Wilson Ruins in Gatineau National Park, Quebec.

I decided that I was going to use my year in Canada to experience living in a different country, travel extensively and take time out from work to focus on some creative pursuits and plan my next professional steps. No, it wasn’t London, but I have never been one to pass down an opportunity to experience a different culture. My husband has been my biggest supporter and champion in all of these efforts, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

I’m not sure why, but I was so worried that people would judge me for following my husband abroad (he’d been living in Canada for 12 months at the time I made my decision, including our entire engagement and after we got married). We’ve played both the interstate and international long-distance game several times during our relationship. Although it was hard, we both had the chance to invest deeply in our careers, and we are stronger as people and as a couple as a result. It turned out that I was the only one actually worried about that, as anyone I talked to was fully supportive of my husband and I actually living in the same country/household.

If your significant other’s career is prompting your move, make sure you’re both on the same page before you get on that plane. Be upfront about questions or concerns you have about your own work prospects, shared finances and how your shared work-life balance (if you have it, I salute you!) are likely to change.

Factors like a bad break-up, going through a relationship rough patch, or feeling stuck a career rut are all legitimate reasons to consider moving overseas. I am in no way saying that you shouldn’t pull an Eat Pray Love. But, if you’re dealing with underlying insecurities, professional challenges or emotional frustrations, assuming those issues will be resolved by relocating somewhere overseas isn’t realistic. Don’t confuse an international move with running away from your problems—they’ll be waiting along with the rest of your baggage in the arrivals hall.

How long do you plan to be away for?

Having an idea of how long you’ll be away, even if it’s just an estimate, will help you decide on some important practicalities. Logistical considerations like which visas and employment opportunities you’re eligible for, whether you store or sell your possessions, or if leasing a furnished apartment is more practical than basically buying shares in IKEA to kit out your new digs, mostly depend on how long you intend to be away.

If you’re considering a relatively short stint abroad, and hope to return to your job, start that discussion early with your employer so you both know exactly where you stand. If you want to be overseas for a longer (or indefinitely), do some professional soul-searching about what you really want. If you genuinely see yourself returning to your job, explain to your boss how the time away equip you with valuable skills that you’re keen to bring back to the workplace. If you’re not planning on coming back, take the plunge and resign.

Although it was terrifying leaving a secure job that I loved, I worried that if I took an offer of leave without pay I’d be tempted to return to my safety net if my first year abroad was too challenging. Not feeling tied to a job back in Australia has given me the complete freedom to explore the type of career I want to build.

Broadly speaking, what’s your plan?

I don’t mean an action-packed strategy outlining your daily routine and how you’re going to fulfil all of your lifelong-ambitions during this time away (I tried this approach and hint: it will stress you to the max and won’t work how you planned anyway). I mean more of a general blueprint about what you want to get out of this experience. Do you want to work? If you’re planning to travel, how does that fit in with the work scenario? Maybe you’re keen to volunteer? Great. Take steps to find out what the requirements are to work in your chosen field, whether you need to meet any prerequisites to volunteer or how much you’ll need to save in order to travel.

View from Masada, Israel, which I highly recommend!

I’m not saying that you can’t leave a lot of things to chance. Wonderful moments can come from unplanned experiences. What I am saying is don’t leave it until you’re fresh off the boat in your new home to discover that what you had your heart set on doing isn’t available or viable. And if the reason you’re relocating is because of your partner’s work, don’t expect them to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to making new friends and finding your niche. Be proactive when it comes to making friends, and find activities that you find fulfilling and enriching.

In March 2018, we’re finally moving to London. I’m actively looking for work in the UK cultural sector. Sure, it’s taken several years and some pretty big steps outside comfort zone to get to this point. Maybe it won’t be what I imagined, or our forever home. But this year abroad, I’ve proven to myself that I can make this bucket-list item a reality and that I certainly haven’t missed the boat.

All images the author’s own

user

Josephine Walsh

Jose Walsh is a digital communications specialist who also runs her own blog, mapleandmabel.com. She has a passion for museums and the arts, a deep love of travel and more shoes than sense. Having worked in museums for the past seven years, she loves finding new ways to connect people with their cultural institutions. She loves meeting new people, hunting for a decent espresso, and planning her next adventure.

More about the Author

ANU Cass V2 Leaderboard