I was born and raised in Portugal but in the past 10 years, I have lived and worked in France, the UK, and Hungary. Each move came with a set of challenges and adventures, but also with lessons learnt, and there is nothing I would recommend more to anyone than to move, at least, once in their lives.
After 6 cities in 4 countries, this is what I learnt.
People Are The Same Everywhere
But you fit in better in some countries than others.
Surprisingly, I feel more comfortable living in a Hungarian environment than within my own culture, in Portugal. Sure, I have only lived in European countries, but each one has little cultural twists that make a difference.
For example, Hungarians start their days earlier, respect people’s time more, and have a certain work culture that fits my personality better. In Portugal, even though it’s my home country, I spend my days annoyed with the fact that everyone arrives late to every appointment. It doesn’t seem to bother most people. But it bothers me.
Each country and each culture have their own specificities. You might live in a place that is foreign but it might align perfectly with your way of life and be great in the matters you value the most.
When I lived in the UK, my salary was double of what I get in Hungary. But I couldn’t stand the commute in and out of London every day. For someone who values money, moving from the UK to Hungary would be a ridiculous move. But I value quality of life, so it was the perfect decision.
Ask yourself what matters to you, and you will find the perfect country to live in. Sometimes, the least expected one.
Moving Is Way Easier Than People Imagine
It’s just boring to take care of the paperwork.
Try moving abroad once.
People will tell you how much they admire your courage.
Do it again.
People will tell you they wish they had your courage.
Do it once more.
People stop caring.
And so do you.
The first time might feel scary, but as you do it over and over again, you realize there is nothing to be scared about. We live in a world where there are planes, trains, and cars. Where there is the Internet, phones, and video chatting. Where there are very few “original” places that haven’t been touched by globalization. The place you will move to will not be that much different from home. You will not spend years without talking to your loved ones, or even seeing them in person. You will not be isolated — unless you want to. Moving to a new country is not that different from moving to another city within your own country. And people do that all the time.
Sure, you will have to deal with bureaucracy. And that is, hands down, the worst part of moving anywhere. But it is not scary. It’s just boring. And, especially if you are a privileged EU citizen like me, it’s easy. Way more than people think. Get yourself a bank account, a phone number, a social security registry, and a place to live. Boom, you’re set.
The Place Doesn’t Matter That Much.
Many times, we move because we want to escape from something. But the truth is that, often, you can’t really start over. You don’t change just because your location changes.
In 2015, I moved from Paris, France to Bournemouth, UK. In France, I was struggling with personal issues and I wanted to start fresh in the UK. But that didn’t happen. After the initial excitement worn out, I continued seeing life with the same grey eyes as before. Everything sucked in Bournemouth, like it had sucked in Paris.
We often fantasize about new places but the truth is: they are just places, like almost anywhere else. A place is what you make of it. And what you make of it depends, almost entirely, on your attitude towards life and the circumstances around you.
You Can Feel At Home in a Foreign Country
But it takes time.
Whether you like the idea or not, you need time to adapt to your new life. You won’t be able to enjoy the place that much during the first months because you will have things to sort out, practically and emotionally. Everything is a little bit overwhelming.
You might meet new people, and find a crew of your own, if you’re lucky. But these will be fresh relationships, that probably will not last that long if you don’t keep nurturing them.
I lived in Bournemouth for 9 months and for another 9 months in London, and came back from the UK with almost no friends. Now, I have been living in Hungary for 1.5 years and I finally feel that I have built something.
I have my people, my places, my routines, my life.
And there are very few feelings in life like the one that you managed to make a foreign place feel like home!
It Helps if You Know People in the New Country
Or have a significant other living there.
Did you know that in the UK you need to pay Council Tax for the apartment you rent? I didn’t until I moved there.
Did you know that in France (as in many countries) you need an official address when you open a bank account? I did, and luckily, when I moved, I could register with my sister’s address, who was already living in France.
I’ve lived in 6 cities in 4 countries and, every time, I already knew someone at the place when I moved. It helps a great deal. For the tips, for the practical things like bureaucracy, and for emotional support. Sure, you will make friends. But there is nothing like a familiar face in a place where you don’t know anybody else.
Granted, this is not a must. A lot of people move to places where they don’t know anybody. There are Facebook groups for expats, meet-ups, and even friendly locals who are willing to help. So, if you don’t know anybody at your dream location, don’t let this stop you. You will be just fine.
It Helps If You Speak the Local Language
But people will help you if you don’t.
When I moved to France and the UK, I already spoke French and English. It made my life much easier in many aspects.
But when I moved to Hungary, I knew 3 words in Hungarian: “thank you”, “cheers” and “yes”. Not that useful when you need to sort out your social security number, for example.
I still don’t speak Hungarian fluently — although I speak a lot more than when I moved. But I couldn’t have waited until I’m fluent to sort out Internet at home, right? I had a lot of help. From my partner at the time, from my landlady, from my colleagues — literally, anyone I crossed paths with helped me with language-related issues whenever I asked. They still do, and I am forever grateful.
Like I mention in a previous article, you can easily live in a country and not speak the local language. But things get easier — and more interesting! — if you do. As you learn the language, you are able to dive deeper into the culture, and that is essential to making you feel at home in your new country.
I don’t think there is anything as thrilling as moving to a new country and starting a life from scratch. It is an opportunity to discover new places, new friends, new horizons, new challenges, new ideas. An opportunity to create a new you. A richer, wiser, more tolerant, more open new you. Cheers to your next move!