Preparing to Move Abroad

Hudgins FamilyNot all career breakers dream of traveling around the world during their break away. Many prefer to utilize their time, no matter how long, based in one place, much like Abby Tegnelia did in Costa Rica. But unlike Abby, where a planned one-month stay turned into 12 months, the idea of moving abroad, even temporarily, can create some anxiety.

Coley Hudgins understands this after making the decision to move his family to Panama. Here he offers 5 risk-free strategies to get out of the “Inertia Zone” and on the move.

For many of us anxiety breeds inertia. When we’re outside our comfort zone, productivity stops. We surf the Internet, read, sit on the couch in our underwear eating cheese doodles, anything to avoid pushing through the anxiety.

And what could be more anxiety-inducing than quitting or taking an extended break from your comfie job and catapulting yourself into a foreign country where you don’t know anyone, don’t know the customs, and where you may not even speak the language?

For families, the inertia zone is even more profound. It’s one thing to be single and make the decision to move abroad, but it’s something else entirely to make that decision when you have a job, a house, a mortgage and little mouths to feed.

If your dream is to get out of the rat race (temporarily or permanently) but you can’t seem to get out of the inertia zone, here’s a big secret: You can trick yourself into action by taking small, manageable steps that you should be taking anyway, regardless of whether or not you ultimately decide to make the move. The 5 strategies below worked for me because I had a specific landing spot in mind. If your plan is to wander the globe, obviously not all of these will apply.

Get your family documents in order

Does everyone in your family have a passport? Are they up-to-date? Other documents you should keep handy include original birth certificates, FBI criminal background clearances, bank letters of reference, 3 years of notarized or official tax returns, marriage certificates, Social Security cards and drivers licenses. Having these docs handy will allow you to open a bank account, get a mortgage, or a driver’s license more easily in your new country.

Open a foreign bank account

Regardless of whether you ultimately make the move, a foreign bank account in the country you’re considering is a good thing to have. It’s also a smart hedge against economic and currency risk. With skyrocketing deficits, record national debt, and growing inflation (at least in the U.S.), opening a foreign bank account — or even a foreign currency account in an offshore bank — and parking a little money there should be part of your investment strategy regardless of whether you make the move.

San Blas, Panama

Start learning the language

In today’s world, everyone should have familiarity with a second language anyway right? What worked best for me was to broadly “diversify” my language study: Skype language courses, reading Spanish newspapers, watching English movies with Spanish subtitles… and most importantly, conversing with native Spanish speakers. Don’t worry about making mistakes. I’ve made plenty. While mountain biking some years back, I had a conversation with a Panamanian about how much I enjoyed swimming (nadando) with my mountain bike. I meant riding (montando). On another occasion, I expressed my embarrassment about mangling a Spanish phrase to a group of Panamanian women by announcing I was pregnant (embarazada).

Take a “recon” vacation

Before you make the big decision, take a vacation to the country you’re considering…but this is a “vacation” in name only. The real purpose is to get “boots on the ground” intel about your future home. How is the phone and Internet service? What’s the local real estate market like? Where do you want to live? The goal here is to get a general sense of whether or not this is a country you’d actually enjoy living in. There will be plenty of time to swing lazily in a hammock on the beach drinking Pina Coladas after you make the move.

Kuna Yala, Panama

Time for the “big talk” with your employer

If all checks out so far, you’re probably chomping at the bit to get going. The last step is the dreaded talk with your employer about your plans. And don’t think it’s an all or nothing proposition. You’d be surprised how many companies these days are flexible about employees taking extended breaks, working from abroad, or even continuing to work from overseas on a consulting basis. Think about it from their point of view: Full-time employees equal huge overhead — insurance, benefits, matching 401K contributions, etc. Employers are increasingly finding it more cost-effective to outsource labor to consultants. See if you can be one of those consultants. You might be pleasantly surprised by the answer.

Remember, all five of these strategies are things you should be doing regardless of whether you ultimately decide to pull the trigger and move abroad. But each one also sets a strong foundation for making the move. If you want out of the rat race, get started today. You’ll be surprised how quickly inertia turns into momentum.

Coley Hudgins is a professional wanderer who enjoys surfing, mountain biking, playing guitar and exploring Panama’s many waterfalls and rain forests. His hobbies include some consulting and other business stuff. Coley lives in Panama with his wife and 2 (soon to be 3) offspring. He blogs about Panama’s best top secret travel spots at Panama Vacation Tips.

Other comments

6 Comments on "Preparing to Move Abroad"

  1. Connie on Mon, 2nd May 2011 9:10 am 

    Great tips, definitely very helpful for anyone considering a move abroad! I did the same prior to moving to Istanbul in 2009 and had an amazing experience there!

  2. Dawn McNary on Mon, 2nd May 2011 10:12 am 

    Great Tips…will be sharing this with my teenager so he can know there are options to what everyone will tell him through life..get a job, settle down, do the same ole same ole forever, then retire…b-o-r-i-n-g!!!! Love your zest for life and experiences!!

  3. Sarah Lavender Smith on Mon, 2nd May 2011 11:41 am 

    Excellent advice even if you’re just considering the big move abroad. I’d add a couple more pieces of advice, which we did in the months before our extended RTW family trip — and which I wish I had done months earlier: Streamline all bill paying and get everything electronic. Also, in addition to the important documents you cite above, also do a household inventory (including photos/video) and copies of all insurance docs, and put these in safe keeping such as in a safe deposit box or with a trusted relative, in case anything happens to your house and possessions while you’re away.

  4. Marina K. Villatoro on Mon, 2nd May 2011 11:49 am 

    Hey! Great to see another Costa Rica Expat. We lived there for 7 years and now in Guatemala.

    I moved to CR without kids, it’s a whole different ball game when you move to another country with kids:)

    Great info! I get a lot of questions about this and will send this link

  5. Coley Hudgins on Mon, 2nd May 2011 12:03 pm 

    Sarah, Great advice on the online banking front. Like you, we also learned this the hard way and had to streamline all bill paying and move to online bank accounts AFTER the move. A royal pain in the butt.

  6. Bluegreen Kirk on Tue, 17th May 2011 11:50 am 

    Very helpful tips especially getting all your docs for the ENTIRE family in order. There are things you mentioned that I would have never thought about. Great list!

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