Straight Talk about Moving out of the Country

October 26, 2016 Katja Presnal

Hey, let’s have a talk about emigration.

There are several reasons why I think you should read this post.

1. Those who are not considering living outside your own country will get some insight to people who do, and especially to those who have moved to live in your country.
2. Those who regularly joke about “moving to Canada” – let’s have a talk what you really are joking about.
3. Those who are planning on moving will get a reality check that comes with solid experience of close to 20 years of nomadic living.
4. And those who have done it already — come and comment with your experience!

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I wish I got a loonie every time I hear someone to say “If…. I’m gonna move to Canada”… I’d be closer to financing my next international move :)

Google tells us the search queries for “moving to Canada” are up (thanks to US elections and also Brexit in the UK), and I have also gotten increasing number of messages from online friends asking about living aboard. I absolutely think if you have a chance to live aboard – DO IT.

(For those who don’t know: I am from Finland, and I immigrated to the USA 18 years ago. I have lived in five countries, in three of them as an expat, and seven states in the USA. In the past two years we have moved from Sweden to New York, USA, and from New York to Nova Scotia, Canada).

Loonie - Canadian one dollar

You are about to read some harsh realities about emigration.

I am leaving refuges out of this conversation because I can not talk about things I don’t know enough about. I know you (most likely you are more like me: rich and privileged in terms of global economy) probably feel you can not relate to them either.

Yes, there are political reasons and people seeking for refuge and to avoid conflict, violence or suppression in their own countries. Moving to another country is difficult enough, I can not even imagine what leaving my country for any of these reasons is like. My grandparents were refugees, and had to leave their homes when Russia took over Karelia part of Finland in 1940. I grew up listening to my grandmother’s stories, and learned to be grateful for those who open their homes (and countries) for refugees (and immigrants), and at the same time learned to understand that being a refugee isn’t something anyone would ever choose for themselves.

But let’s look at emigration in terms when things are good in your country, when you have money in your bank account and when you are not experiencing horrors like what people in Syria are experiencing.

If you have immigrant or expat friends/neighbors/co-workers living in your country, or your friends have moved out of your country, give them some goddamn slack. If you have problem with immigrants in your country, what makes you think that when you move out of your country, people would welcome you with open arms?

Many people who live or have lived outside their own country can feel isolation regardless of in which country they are. Being an immigrant is not easy, regardless of your economical or social status.

In the new country you are always seen as the foreigner, but you don’t quite adjust well back at home anymore either – now when your actual home is somewhere else.

I have been called a “dirty foreigner” while living in the USA, and many of my views are seen as “too Scandinavian.” My accent has been laughed at, and yet… even most of my friends can’t pronounce my name right.

And when I am back in Finland, I have been criticized for being “so Americanized,” and not caring enough about my country. Even my citizenship has been questioned because of my now foreign surname, and my Finnish passport thought to be forged because it was given in the embassy in New York.

I am not complaining about my life – I’m privileged educated white woman, and I know my life is easy.

It can go also two-ways. When living in Sweden we saw people who hated Americans and what American culture represented, but also parents at our kids’ schools bluntly said becoming friends would be mutually beneficial. Having American friends would have looked good for them in their “circles” and it would look good for us too to be friends with locals who “had influence.” (We said no to this kind of “friends”). Same way as I remember being the chic European friend to an officer’s wife – only to realize the friendship wasn’t real as I was never spoken to anymore when she was told foreigners were not that chic as friends. I went out of fashion.

I personally have enjoyed living in Sweden, Germany and Canada, and feel equally “at home” in the USA as in Finland, but my personal feelings rarely matter to other people’s opinions about me. It can be tempting to put immigrants, expats, nomads and well, any category of people in a neat box and generalize, but you simply can not do it. If there is one thing I have learned from our nomadic life is that there are good people and bad people everywhere in the world.

There isn’t one answer to question why people want to emigrate

I have hundreds of friends, and Skimbaco Lifestyle has thousands of readers who have left their home countries, and you can not generalize the reason why someone emigrates. There are multiple personal, economic, social, political or environmental reasons why people move. And I can assure you, most of the time it is not an easy choice.

We try to avoid political discussion here, so let’s talk about the many other reoccurring themes why people emigrate. They vary from romantic international love stories (like ours) to more practical financial reasons. Often people don’t move for the country – they move for people. And believe it or not, several people I spoke with mention weather as one of the reasons!

I came to the United States 21 years ago when I came here as an au pair. My husband is an American, and this country has felt like home to me too for several years now. If I’d ever leave Minnesota, it would be towards south! We are planning on buying a vacation home in Florida for the retirement days, but otherwise we are happy raising our children in Minnesota.

Sanni Wurst

Never ending bureaucracy preventing entrepreneurs to start a business, lots of corruption and really high rates of unemployment would eventually make me want to leave Spain. Indeed Canada would be among my favorites as I have already worked there in the past and loved everything. From the welcoming and open minded Canadians to all the landscape awesomeness, this country rocks!

Inma Gregorio, aworldtotravel.com

I recently moved to France instead of returning to the US when my husband’s military overseas assignment was finished. There were a number of reasons for my decision to move to France. It is less expensive than living in one of the cities I would have considered returning to in the US. Less expensive monthly rent and utilities and no need for a car payment and car insurance since I have excellent public transportation were a huge factor. As a resident, I also have access to socialized healthcare. Additionally, I just prefer the lifestyle in France over that of the US. The people are always happy, in good spirits and friendly. It’s easy to see they enjoy life.

Jennifer Dombrowski, luxeadventuretraveler.com

Love living in Toronto, Canada I moved from Norway 10 years ago with my husband and a baby. Toronto is one of the most multicultural cities in the world, makes it easy to move to the city from another country.

Kari Marie Svenneby, activekidsclub.com/

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Many people leave their countries as expatriates for a limited time, and like their new country so much that they never return. For many the first overseas move is just the beginning of series of moves, and opens up the entire world.

Left England to live in Ireland for 7 years. Then left Ireland to live in Canada. Been here three years and love it. Our moves were driven by a desire to design the life we really wanted, the adventures we wanted to experience and to live our dreams. A key driver for me was my philosophy that I would rather give something a go, even if it doesn’t work out, than spend the rest of my life wondering what might have been.

Ali Davies, alidavies.com

“I considered moving to Finland (albeit only for a hot second) after all the wonderful things you talk about there! If I was an only child with no family here, maybe!”

Tonia L. Clark, whynotmom.com

demographics in Silicon Valley

Jobs and economic situation are significant reasons why people move. If you are thinking about moving to another country, I recommend learning a technical or specialized skill that is difficult to attain. My husband is a helicopter maintenance test pilot, and he has held multiple specialized positions around the world, in Europe, Asia and North America. Most countries welcome employees that the country might not have a surplus of. Bad thing about having a highly specialized technical skill is that the number of available jobs isn’t high. What can you learn in your own home country that can be highly sought after in other countries?

Sometimes you just want to travel… and that’s fine too. Creating a location independent way of living is also a great way to make your international move(s) happen. I have been building my online business for ten years, and last year started building a Young Living business. So far I have been able to do my Young Living business in two countries, and hope that there will be many to come! They are currently in about 60 countries, so I have a lot to choose from!

Before you consider moving out of the country… answer these SIX tough questions.

definition of wanderlust
I get it, you got a case of wanderlust, and perhaps you are tired of the politics in your country. Let see how serious you are about leaving your country.

1. How much have you traveled (outside your country)?

Are you a globetrotter who has seen greener pastures, exotic locations, work opportunities or the dream landscape? I completely get wanting to move and experience living somewhere new after you have gotten bit by the travel bug.

But honestly, when I hear the “I’m going to move to Canada”-type of comments from people who have never even owned a passport (or been to Canada), I can’t help but ask: realistically, what do you expect? Canada is great, and I admire your enthusiasm, and optimistic attitude, but I highly recommend: get a passport and just book a trip or two first. Your own country might seem quite wonderful after experiencing another one. Or the opposite: you might get the final push to truly know you are ready for the move.

It can be an enlightening experience just to travel to the other side of the town, state or your own country, just to see that there is much more than what you seen in your corner of the woods or ‘burbs. Read my 15 tips how to travel more. Sometimes you don’t have to travel far to get a new cultural experience.

I highly recommend living in another country, but I have met so many people whose first experience of being aboard was when they’ve moved there. The culture shock has been too much to handle, and they’ve hated the experience – only mainly because they had unrealistic expectations, and no real view how life aboard would look like. Everyone gets homesick every now and then, but there is no point of moving to another country if you can not enjoy the experience at all.

definition of globetrotter

2. How well do you handle stress?

According to research moving can be more stressful than divorce or loss of a job for many people. For most people moving to the other side of the town is a big deal. Try moving to another country – and your stress level sky rockets and you need ninja-level stress management skills. Moving is easier if you have a team of people working and helping you, for example if you move because of a military or work assignment. And frankly, after you have done it a few times, moving isn’t too bad, so I don’t really know what these research results tell anyways :)

I wrote a post what to know about relocation packages a few years ago to help to negotiate if you are considering an expat contract with a company from your own country or relocation package is part of the deal when you get a job in a new country. In the post you can find a long list of things to consider when moving to another country. Not trying to add your stress, but help you by providing a few starting points when you start planning your move. The list is by far not all inclusive, but a starting point.

nomadic definition

3. Got patience and time? You can’t just rush to the border.

My dear American friends who say “I will wait until the election and then start planning a move” – do you know it can take months or years to plan your international move?

Don’t plan on packing up your stuff in a car and trying to cross the border to Canada illegally. (By the way, they will not let you in the country if you have guns.) You will realize you don’t just “move” to another country because you feel like it. This is not how any of this works, folks.

If you are interested in moving to Canada, one of the ways to do it is by applying the Express Entry, in which candidates will be awarded points for a job offer, and/or a nomination from a province or territory, and/or skills and experience factors. Then you might get an invitation to apply a work permit. Also all of the other countries will require an application process for obtaining a work/residency permit/visa. In most cases you will need either a job, be self-employed and have stream of income already established or have family ties.

I have lived as a legal resident in a few countries, and some normal everyday things like renting a house, or getting a bank account and cell phone can be extremely difficult if you haven’t stayed in the country for long (usually over a year). Many things that we take for granted in our home country, can be much more difficult to accomplish for immigrants (regardless of the country).

Since time is money, make sure you have monetary means to solve the problems that only can be solved by time. For example, we have lived in hotels or vacation rentals anywhere from a couple of weeks to four months at the time as part of our international moves. With three kids and a dog- that required a lot of patience… and money too.

4. What are you running from?

Be very clear what you are running away from, and what you want changed in your life, and if moving to another country will solve it for you.

If you have marriage problems – your marriage will not be fixed just by moving to an exotic new location. If you have depression, or anxiety, also those won’t be cured just by moving locations. Traveling and moving can give you other things to stress about than your actual issues, and moving can be a short term solution for even getting excitement in your life, but you can not run away from all of your problems just by changing the scenery. Trust me on this one.

I get that sometimes you want to “run away” from your job, from your spouse, from your house, from your town, and yes, from your country. But make sure you understand that you are literally running away from almost everything when you move out of your country. Life events like weddings, funerals, and birthdays become more difficult to attend. Some people will feel you abandoned them. List goes on.

When I was in my early twenties, I had an abusive ex-boyfriend, and I originally moved out of the country to get over the relationship that had ended, and to focus on myself, and to figure out the path for my life without any outside influence. Yes, I was able to eliminate many distractions and negative things in my life, but I also lost a lot.

I am not saying people are always running away from something when they move — often they are running towards the new experiences, and there is tremendous pull to live somewhere else.

Fernweh definition

I would move in theory to expose my kids to different environments and cultures. I wouldn’t choose Canada, though, because it feels too much like the United States to meet the goal. Plus it’s close enough to easily visit. And I can’t imagine a permanent move, although I suppose it’s possible we would fall in love with a different place once we were there. In reality, my husband would never even think of moving and I’d have a very hard time being far away from my family.

Christy Matte, quirkyfusion.com/

5. How’s the weather? And other everyday things.

Surprisingly, many of my friends who have moved around the world mention weather as one of their reasons to move or to stay somewhere. The snowbirds move from north to south, and ski bums migrate towards the snow. The seasonal moving is a real deal, and so is immigrating somewhere just to get the temperature right for you.

snowbird definition

Weather is just one of those things that is part of your everyday life. And everyday lives around the world can be very similar. You wake up, go to work, have family time, eat, shop for food, have some hobbies. Sure, maybe you will do a few touristy things at first when you move, perhaps pick up a new hobby, make new friends and enjoy new culinary delights. Your life can be enriched and changed in multiple ways when you move. But your life will still consist of many similar things that you did back at home.

Wanderlust expert and travel blogger Andrea Fellman of Wanderlust Living wrote an excellent article in our latest magazine issue about her family’s move from Costa Rica to Barcelona, Spain. One of the examples she tells is how the school drop-off for the family’s two children has changed. Simple everyday thing that you might not think matters that much. But oh, it does.

It is often also small everyday things that make you get tired of a place, or absolutely love the place. You can tolerate things you hated back in your country, just because you live in your dream house in an exotic location now. You see other people doing things certain way, and you adapt to the new culture. Suddenly you realize that the “exotic smells” turned into “scents of home.” You will realize that changing places and your everyday life… changes you.

Living outside of my home country (3 years in Spain) changed my perspective on the value and importance of culture – both mine and that of my adoptive home. I believe it made me a better, more empathetic person, someone who takes the time to at least try and see things from both (if not several) sides. My love of country changed as well, I value the good things about America while at the same time knowing that there is much room for improvement and that no one way of life is inherently THE best way.

Lara DiPaola, chickennuggetsofwisdom.com

You can learn about diversity and different outlooks on life. I’ve moved for love and that was a great reason. Would have probably not done it otherwise. It taught me the most important lessons about the need to respect everyone equally and what damage racism does to a person. Before the move from Finland to first Minneapolis and then to NYC, I did a student exchange in Malaysia which prepared me for the move to the US by giving me courage. I also think that anyone that has the chance and courage, often when a person is young, should move somewhere to learn more about life.

Henni Ahvenlampi, piggybaggy.com/en

definition of immigrant

6. Most important question: will you regret if you won’t do it?

The most important question you should ask yourself is: will I regret if I won’t live aboard?
If the answer is “yes” – you must do it. Regret is a disease that can make you an old bitter witch.

Experiencing another country as a local is a gift that you will have the rest of your life, even if you decide to go back home. It is living life to the fullest, living out of your comfort zone, and growing as a human being. It is opening your mind, and opening your eyes and heart. And if you won’t love it – you will find your way back home and love home in a way you never did before.

Hey!! You can always go back home!!

You can not become a citizen to most countries without living in the country for several years. So even if you fall in love with your new country, you can’t just give up your old passport and become a citizen in the new country just like that. You will have years to think about it, and consider several things involved.

For those who have lived aboard for a while, and are now ready to go back home… be warned about the reverse culture shock. Things have changed in your home country while you were gone, and some things you were looking forward going back to, might not be there anymore. It might take some time to readjust back in your own country, and it is perfectly normal.

Definition of reverse culture shock

Selling the dream

Several people are “selling” the living aboard dream and I admit, that we do it here at Skimbaco Lifestyle too. I am forever grateful for the amazing journey I have been on and the experiences I have had in multiple countries, and I do wish that those who dream about it, will have the guts to make it happen. But I don’t think I would be doing any favors by only telling you how amazing this lifestyle is. Reality check isn’t that great always – but often needed.

More reading:
Inma’s post: Reasons why it might be time to pack up and move.
Andrea’s post: Moving to Spain – it’s not Rosé all day!
My posts from last year: Nomadic lifestyle gone wrong: we went after global adventures and ended up with American dream – that we didn’t like – so we moved again to Canada

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Katja Presnal

Katja Presnal shows how to live globally inspired life to the fullest and plan your dream life. Katja owns Presnal5 strategic marketing intelligence agency and wants to help marketing professionals to combine a dream career and dream life via freelance work.Katja is an award-winning marketing strategist, and a well-known speaker. Katja has lived in five different countries, and seven states in the USA. Her three children were all born in different countries within three years. When not working or jet-setting the world, Katja is at home cooking big family dinners.She has been featured in NY Times, Glamour, Redbook, Fodor's, Forbes and Woman's Day magazines among many other national and international publications and written for MTV3 and Lifetime TV networks.

Comments (5)

  1. Sad to read, I want to share my story with all of you, But still in doubt what to do? Can Anyone help me, please?

  2. This is a fantastic post! A must read for anyone thinking about moving abroad. It’s not as easy as some might think and getting to your dream takes hard work, you don’t just get to wake up there! I specifically love the section about “What are you running from?” so spot on and I have thought about writing an article about just that subject.

  3. Elena Bjerre

    Lived three years in Toronto, Canada, back in native Copenhagen, Denmark since 2010 – I still miss Canada and the Canadian way of doing things. We prepared for the reversed culture shock, but the transition was tough and on some days, we still wonder why we didn’t stay.

    • Enjoy Life Oils

      Thank you for commenting Elena! I have been out of Finland for 19 years, and never thought I’d go back, but after living in Sweden for three years and loving it, I think I am ready to think of moving back to Finland. I am much more nervous about moving back to Finland, than moving to any other country, so I get it! I hope you will feel more adjusted soon, and if not — maybe you just have to move back to Canada! Wishing you all the best.

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