Master Guide to Moving Abroad

These past few months have felt like one long, disorienting deja vu experience. The process of moving abroad has become part of my DNA. The to-do lists, the closet sorting, apartment research, apprehension, excitement – it’s familiar – and strange in its familiarity. I know the process, and yet it surprises me every time.

Given how many times I’ve undergone the process, you’d think I’d be better at it by now.

But as I sorted through my life’s belongings once again, I was reminded of my high school locker.

Okay, hear me out.

My friends used to peer into it, apprehension and mild disgust on their faces, uncertain of how I managed to function. I kept it so stuffed with miscellaneous papers and pens, I’m surprised I survived. I wasn’t a bad student though. On the contrary, I never turned in a late assignment, and worked really hard to do well. My messiness suited me.

I’ve managed to survive my cluttered life so far, though not without a few hiccups, especially when it comes to moving abroad.

Whether you’re a pro or you’ve never seen an airplane in your life (in which case it’s time to come out from beneath your rock), we all make mistakes, and we all learn when embarking on drastic changes. Moving abroad is one of those changes.

Maybe you know exactly where you’re going and why. Maybe you’re a bit like me circa January 2013 – overwhelmed by a need to move, but without a clue as to where or how.

The most "I don't know what I'm doing with my life" picture of me I could find
The most “I don’t know what I’m doing with my life” picture of me I could find

Either way, I hope everything I’ve done right – and completely screwed up – helps you as you move forward!

Your Options

Some people care more about the “where,” others care more about the “how.”

Back in 2013, I pictured myself eating croissants on the coast of France, exploring the beaches of Thailand, and working on a Masters in Scotland.

Beautiful Scotland
Beautiful Scotland

Location didn’t matter – I just needed to travel.

In my mild desperation, I compiled a list of possible means to make this dream happen.

1. Teaching English Abroad

Perhaps the most popular option, teaching English abroad often seems like an easy means to end. Get paid to live abroad, right?

However, the market has become more saturated, and thus, more effort is required. People used to be able to stop in various countries throughout Southeastern Asia, hand in a resume, and begin their English lessons days later.

Now, most schools require TEFL/TESL certificates.

First, choose a credited TEFL program. Ensure that they offer support in finding a job, and that they have positive reviews because I’ve encountered plenty of spam companies.

Teaching English in France

During the What Am I Doing With My Life Crisis of 2013, I stumbled upon the TAPIF program, and it ended up being the perfect solution for me.

If you want to teach English in France, apply for the TAPIF program. Admittedly, they have their share of mismanagement and organizational issues, but they’ll procure a visa for you, assign you to a school, provide teacher resources, etc..

kids at school
One of my favorite days teaching

Unless you already have European or British citizenship, applying for a teaching job in France – or nearly anywhere in Europe – will be pointless if you’re not part of a program. Employers won’t hire you without a visa, nor will they sponsor you.

Some poor girl in my TESL school moved to France after receiving her teaching certificate, searched for a job for a month, and returned home a month later, defeated. The program somehow “forgot” to inform her that no matter how many certificates she had – no matter how well she scored on her tests, she had a 1% chance of being hired without a visa.

Apply for a program!

Just know that you won’t have complete control with this option.

For the TAPIF program, you can rank your preferred regions, as well as if you’d rather live in a city, mid-sized area, or rural town.

I picked mid-sized, preferably on the west coast.

And was subsequently placed in Paris.

notre dame

My best friend had the same experience, and we were both infinitely lucky to have been placed in la ville lumière, but it’s all a game of chance.

Teach English in Spain: BEDA

Teach English in Austria: USTA Program

*These are the programs I’m aware of; do your research and I’m sure you’ll find more!

Teach English in Korea: You’ll get paid infinitely more in Korea than nearly everywhere else.

Be sure to apply to a proper, well-known TEFL school, and they’ll be able to help you with questions about specific countries and job placements. Good luck!

2. Freelance Work Abroad

When I moved to Scotland, I worked in cafes around Edinburgh, running websites and social media accounts for a few different clients.

Work space for the day
Work space for the day

Now, I write articles on London and Paris for an amazing company. The work is still remote, though it’s more in line with my career aspirations, and steadier than sending articles off to nameless editors every month, hoping someone reads my email.

If you’re interested in the freelance route, know that it takes a long, long time of networking, applying, reapplying, and luck. It can work, and it can pay off, but it isn’t easy or steady, and most people will look at you like you’ve grown an extra head when you describe your future plans.

The real caveat, of course, is that freelance work doesn’t necessarily grant you a visa.

Americans can stay in the UK for up to six months without a visa, and the Schengen Zone for three months.

You could travel around for a while – 6 months in the UK, 3 months in the Shengen Zone, flip flopping around to “technically” obey the rules, but I’d highly suggest against this.

Border control is becoming stricter and stricter, and I have heard multiple stories of people being stopped and told to leave for no particular reason.

Luckily, there IS a way to apply for European residency, which Christine Gilbert of Almost Fearless wrote about in her free ebook here.

3. Working visa in either New Zealand or Australia

If you’re American, Canadian, or British, I know for certain that you’ll be able to move to the other hemisphere on a working visa. If you’re of another nationality, all your visa options will be listed on your embassy pages.

4. BUNAC visa to Ireland

By the time I discovered the Bunac Ireland visa, I had surpassed the time limit – you must have graduated from your university within the past 12 months. However, I would have considered it back during the “What Am I Doing With My Life Crisis of 2013.” It’s worth checking out! 

Bunac actually has a bunch of different options for a variety of nationalities, none of which I’ve personally experienced, but have seriously considered over the past couple of years. If I hadn’t decided to work on my Masters this year, I most likely would have applied for the Bunac New Zealand program.

5. Pray someone will sponsor you to work in the UK

I wouldn’t hinge your hopes on a work sponsorship, but the UK does offer a visa for Americans that allows them to work in this lovely (albeit cloudy) isle.

Cloudy Scotland
Cloudy Scotland

However, you must have a job lined up before you apply – and employers aren’t likely to hire you unless you have a visa.

It’s a bit of a catch 22.

Sponsoring people for visas in an expensive, arduous process, which companies won’t likely endure unless they already feel compelled to keep you on their team.

Normally people procure these visas through connections: maybe you’re incredibly skilled at your current job and are offered a chance to work in London for the company.

Or perhaps a family friend owns a company with job positions available in London and is willing to sponsor you.

I’ve also heard of people who moved to the UK for school, found a job while living here, and then had their companies sponsor them for work visas once their student visas expired. Either way, this tactic generally requires some form of previously established connection.

But it’s worth it for these views…


Worth it for these views

6. Stay with family

This wasn’t an option for me but if you do have family abroad, that could be a great starting point.

7. Get married

I have been drunkenly offered marriage for citizenship but it admittedly seemed a tad irrational.

Moving on…

8. School

Student visas are some of the easiest to procure. If you’re American, I don’t need to tell you how expensive our school system is.

Even with the pound to dollar conversion PLUS the increased tuition rates for foreigners, my two-year Masters program in London still costs less than what I would pay for one year at a similar US institution.

I desperately wanted to attend school in the UK for my undergrad and just never went for it. For a long time, I wasn’t certain a Masters degree was right for me, and I still can’t say for certain if it is considering classes haven’t started yet, but I’m glad I finally made the leap.

9. Au Pair

Au pair positions exist all over the country. Your options are essentially limitless. For more information, Ashley Abroad, a former au pair, posts a multitude of articles written by former au pairs.

10. Volunteer 

There are programs all over the world designed to help people find volunteer placements. My friend just recently joined one through her church and is now living in Rwanda. There’s always the Peace Corps, but I’d suggest researching and maybe even applying to multiple programs before you make a decision.

Where do you want to stay?

Research visa options for your country

If you’ve already chosen your perfect apartment in your perfect place, research, research, research your visa options. Every country is different.

For example, the Young Adventuress applied for – and received – a talent visa to live in New Zealand. I had never heard of it before – from my understanding, it’s a bit like the unicorn of visas – but it worked for her!

So remember to research – you never know what you’ll find.

Resources Recap: 

Teaching English in France: TAPIF

Teaching English in Spain: Auxiliares and BEDA

Teaching English in Austria: USTA program

Residency in Europe: Almost Fearless ebook

New Zealand/Australia/Ireland/Canada work visas: BUNAC

New Zealand: Talent Visa

Living in Paris: Advice on moving to Paris and a guide to where you should live in Paris

**Keep an eye out for an upcoming follow-up post on some practical lessons I’ve learned on moving abroad, as well as a guide to moving to London!

What about you? Have you ever moved abroad? Are you interested in moving abroad? Where? I’d love hear your thoughts! 

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