Julia Roberts made it look so easy in Eat, Pray, Love. One day, she puts all of her belongings into storage. And the next, she’s zipping through Rome on the back of a Vespa.
My expat status is only two weeks old. And I can already tell you it doesn’t work that way.
I have new gray hairs from the 12-hour-days of packing, the 10+ trips to storage, the 5 days of driving to the Great White North in January, the hundreds of dollars in international transaction fees, and a slew of other stresses I can’t recall at the moment.
It’s the most panic-inducing move that I’ve ever made. Before you let your imagination run wild all over that quaint European village, consider these five factors:
Five things to consider before you expat:
1. Your visa: Your best bet is to secure a job or be married to someone who has a work visa. Calculate your salary, the exchange rate, the taxes, healthcare, and the cost of living before you do anything else. Then double it. Just to be sure. Or better yet, use the Expatulator.
Questions: Are you willing to marry a stranger? Are you willing to take a job as a ghost walk tour guide, a bra fitter, or a poodle stylist? How afraid are you of foreign prison and deportation?
2. Pets: Luckily, Canada is pretty dog-friendly and allowed us to bring our pup Elwood with just proof of his rabies shots. Many countries require long, expensive quarantines. Do your research before you get into the later planning stages.
Questions: Will your pet survive a marathon flight? Are you willing to leave your beloved Fido with your parents who will no doubt spoil and/or rename the animal? Will your pet fit in a false-bottom suitcase?
3. How deep are those roots? The more deeply rooted you are in your current location, the more difficult it will be for you to get up and go. We don’t have kids or a mortgage or really anything besides one extra car and a gym membership. So we went.
Questions: Are you ready to drain your bank account in just one move? Are you willing to rent your palatial home to a gaggle of rowdy twenty-somethings?
4. Housing differences: Everything is bigger in America, as we found out soon after entering our new home. Pluses: the toilet has two flush speeds, a baby elephant could fit in our shower, and our apartment walls are stone. Minuses: there’s no dishwasher, one small sink, no in-unit washer/dryer, and one minuscule closet. Expect to bid adieu to conveniences like elevators, laundry rooms, Target, and SUVs.
Questions: Are you willing to squeeze your brood into a three-room flat? How much closet space do you need for your growing collection of Juicy Couture sweat suits?
5. The language: In the weeks before the Great Move, some people felt the need to point out that it was “just Canada” as if I were moving to the next town over. It’s New France! Complete with a spectrum of cultural nuances and a different language. And ketchup chips.
Questions: Are you ready to make a fool of yourself for a year or longer? Are you willing to attend a foreign language class labeled as the “spoiled American.”
Eat, Pray, Love should be retitled Eat, Pray, Agonize. If you’re anything like me, you can expect a few painfully awkward moments until you get settled in.