Have you ever dreamed about living in a foreign country or being overseas? It’s a romantic thought and the idea of sitting on a beach front café sipping espresso or bicycling through narrow, old stone streets and historic buildings opens up the imagination. There is also the sense of adventure and the unknown and being able to say to your friends and loved ones that you did it, that you made a life for yourself overseas.
However, when this romantic dream starts to become a reality, it can be quickly realized that there are a lot of challenges to living and surviving in a foreign country.
1) You will need to live there legally, unless you become a professional traveler, staying each place before your 90 day travel rights expire.
2) You will need to find a place to live.
3) Unless you inherited a large sum of money or are already independently wealthy, you will need to find a way to support yourself.
4) Most basic of all, but perhaps most difficult, is communication. If you are planning on going to a country where you don’t speak the language, you will need to learn that. If you are sincere about living in the country and absorbing the culture, not learning the language is unacceptable. Take a vacation for 2 weeks if you’re not interested in learning the language, don’t live with the concept “everyone understands English”. This doesn’t fly for two reasons. First, it’s simply not true. Many people, especially the older generations, don’t understand English and don’t care to learn. Secondly, you will always be on the outside looking in. If you want to know people, you need to communicate with them in the way they feel comfortable. A person’s native language most accurately expresses their heart. Additionally, you want to be seen as a foreigner who admires and appreciates their culture, not someone who expects everyone to conform to them.
So, let’s see, how do we accomplish this goal.
1) Pick a country. Go to the website of that country’s consulate or embassy and find out what you need to do to immigrate there. Remember, American passports only give you the right to visit, not to stay. Also, many countries require you to have a visa even to visit. This process can be challenging as it will likely involve first getting a visa to go to the country and then beginning the process, upon arrival, of getting a residence permit or green card. In many places, including the United States, this process is bureaucracy at its finest. Be patient and have strong nerves and just keep ticking of the boxes and gathering the required paperwork. Many places are likely to require you to have your own health insurance, so please keep this in mind as well. Also, you will probably need to do a police or FBI check of your criminal record. A felony offense on your criminal record is likely to make it impossible for you to gain a visa.
2) You will need to find a place to stay before arriving if you want to be safe. You can go to a website called hostelworld.com and find cheap hotels and hostels to stay in throughout the world. After taking 24-48 hours to get settled, start hitting the streets for a place to live. Many times signs will be hanging in the streets advertising for rentals. They also have shops where homes are rented. You can check the classifieds of a paper as well. You will likely be able to move into many places immediately. Sometimes you can even find furnished apartments geared toward students. Of course, if you have contacts who live in the country that you have targeted, work through them and ask for their help before you go.
3) Being fluent in English can be a real bonus if you need to support yourself financially. If you have a bachelor’s degree and in some cases even if you don’t you can walk in off the street to a number of language schools. If you are well spoken they may hire you very quickly. However, having a teaching certificate in English as a Second or Foreign language can really open doors. You do not need a fancy, expensive program, just something that expresses that you have taken English pedagogy courses. Websites like i to I offer such certificates. They are not expensive and give you the basics of teaching as well as a certificate to boost your credentials. You can also make business cards and signs if you want to try and teach private lessons. These are more lucrative, but you will also need to find students and have a place appropriate to teach them. Additionally, students can be unreliable, whereas in a class you will be paid by the school.
4) Learning the language is essential if you want to be a part of the culture and look at the country as something more than a living museum. You can pick up some basic instruction books and cds before you go, but this will not be sufficient if you really want to learn. Many foreign cities have large universities that offer language courses to foreigners. You can check in about enrolling in one of these programs. This will also be an opportunity to socialize and get to know people, as it can be a lonely experience in a foreign country where no one speaks your language or understands your culture. Don’t be embarrassed about trying out your limited language skills, either. Try to get to know shop keepers and restaurant owners in your neighborhood. They will like talking to you. Be friendly and smile when you pass by. Eventually a moment will come for you to talk with each other. Try to speak the language with them. They will be likely to want to try out their English on you. Throw them a bone every once and a while, but don’t make a habit of speaking with them in your language. A basic rule to follow is this: speak your native language with those who also have that language as their native language. With everyone else, speak the language of the country where you are. This rule will take you far and will help you to speak the language instinctively.
So, these are some basics of how to live in a foreign country. If you keep your lifestyle simple, you will not need a lot of money. Enjoy the adventure of being in a new and different place. Everything around you will become a learning experience.