The Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson said that ‘There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.’ This idea subverts the conventional perception that another country is necessarily foreign simply because it is not the one in which you were born. As Stevenson implies, everywhere is home to someone. If you travel to the other side of the planet and discover a culture that has completely different frames of reference, you will have found a group of people who are at home. The fact that you are not familiar with their practices, customs, and traditions does not mean that they are not perfectly normal. It is just a different perspective. However, this paradigm is one that you have to deal with if you are planning to relocate and become an expatriate. Going on holiday is one thing. If you are just going to a built-up tourist resort that is designed to meet your every need, you are not likely to worry about the culture of the place that you’re visiting. However, if you are going for a city break and intend to check out museums and art galleries, and you want to know how the locals live, it is almost like an anthropological study. You will never become part of that culture, because you will always stand outside it, observing. Moving to a place and setting up your life there is different. It requires a willingness to acquiesce a lot of what you know.
However, it can be a lot of fun. Humanity is so diverse that people who stay in the country in which they happen to have been born can seem rather unadventurous sometimes. On the other hand, it is a big decision to make, and it takes a lot of preparation. Before you think about anything else, you need to figure out where you are going to move. You may be asking yourself questions like: is France still expat friendly at all? or is the United States of America a good choice considering its political situation? These are valid questions because you will need to consider all sorts of metrics, politics being just one. If you think that you will not be received as warmly as you might hope, you may want to think about going somewhere else. There is also the issue of legality. Acquiring a visa to visit the US for a holiday is difficult enough sometimes but moving there and achieving permanent citizenship is altogether more difficult. If you are moving because of work, you will get a work visa, but if you do not update it, you could find yourself being deported. In the case of moving for professional reasons, you should think about whether it is worth investing too much in your new home. Jobs can change, and if you settle down, by buying a house for instance, you could find yourself having to sell it again, having wasted both time and money.
There are lots of other things that you need to think about as well though. For instance, if you are leaving a place like the UK or France, you will have become used to not paying for your healthcare at the point of contact. You’ll quickly find that it can be incredibly expensive in other parts of the world. Factoring in that cost to your projected finances is important because you do not want to get there and find that you cannot afford to live. Since you will be subject to a different government, you will also be subject to different taxes. If you intend to work, you should find out how much you can expect to pay in income tax in the other country before you go. If it is more than you can afford, you should reconsider. Property taxes are another thing to think about because if you are buying a home, you may have to pay more than you’re used to. If you are thinking of retiring and moving away, your pension may not be as accessible to you as you’d hope. Besides, if the exchange rate between the two currencies takes a turn for the worse, you could easily find that you’ll lose a sizeable fraction of your wealth without having done anything.
Finally, perhaps the most obvious thing, besides the legal and financial considerations, is how you’ll get along socially. If you do not know the language of the place you’re moving to, you will pick it up through immersion pretty quickly, but until then you may be rather lonely. The TV and radio will not be much use to you and newspapers and street signs, menus, and online information just about everywhere will be unintelligible to you. Culture shock is a real thing that you have to be careful about.