Moving abroad is tough. We love giving you our point of view but we thought it would be better to give you a some different perspectives from 10 other inspiring travel couples coming from different parts of the globe with their unique difficulties moving abroad together. Our hope is to shine a light on what it’s really like for couples to move abroad together to help them with what they can expect. It’s not all ice-cream and puppies.
From the stresses of moving in general, saying goodbye to friends and loved ones, adjusting to a new environment and culture, there are plenty of ways for tensions or hardships to arise. Each couple had there own different setbacks and in some cases the couples didn’t last.
Here’s some advice from 10 couples on moving abroad together.
Hanani & TaylorMy name is Hanani and I’m from Malaysia; my fiancé (Taylor) is from the USA. We have been together for slightly over 3 years. Taylor moved to Bangkok, Thailand in 2014 and I joined him for three months at the end of 2015 before we moved to Daejeon, South Korea last March, where he is currently teaching.
Don’t Expect Things to be Like Home
Expect some things that you are used to having won’t be there. Look for local treasures that you can’t find anywhere else. Be a minimalist. Pair down your belongings as much as possible. If you really love your entertainment system, get a powerful laptop and hi-fi headphones. Research how to go about setting things up. Start pricing things like apartments and phone service before you get there. You will be busy settling in, anything you can do beforehand to make things easier will help. Embrace the differences. No one wants to hear about how much you miss gluten- free pasta. If you find that you are missing something in your life, find something to replace it.
Have Extra Money for Settling In
We didn’t expect the move to be so financially tough. The key payment (deposit) in Korea was KRW 3,000,000 (almost $ 3,000). Add on another few thousand for shipping and flights. The first month was tough because we were living off what’s left in our savings but we both chipped in – and at the end of the day, it was worth it. Wouldn’t trade the fact of us being in the same country for anything else (we were mostly in LDR prior to Daejeon).
Roxy & DaleHi everyone! I’m Roxy (CityGirl) and I’m married to a handsome Farmboy (aka Dale). Dale and I met at university and first moved to Korea in 2010 after only a few months of dating. After a year we moved back to South Africa, got married on Dale’s family dairy farm, and then returned to Korea in 2013. We’ve been here ever since. We are soon heading back home to South Africa with big plans and dreams for our future (although we haven’t ruled out the possibility of a third trip back here to Korea). We moved to Korea to travel and explore while building a nest egg for our future.
Expect the unexpected! Nothing can fully prepare you for a new country and a new culture. Be open to change. Find something that keeps you grounded (journaling, photography, exercise) and aim to do this a few times a week. Get into a routine of good sleep, good exercise and downtime early on in your new environment as this will help you manage the harder parts of moving abroad.
Pack an open mind! Sometimes I’m left gobsmacked at how culturally different people can be, and how people treat those they don’t understand. Be open to your new home, and be willing to adjust quickly. I have found that a warm smile and a positive attitude always goes a long way, no matter the country I am in. Plus, you get to experience all these weird and wonderful alongside the person you love; what could be better!
Dealing with Loss of a Loved one
One of the hardest parts of moving abroad is the family you leave behind. While being here on Korea for the past 3 years, both Dale and myself have lost a grandparent. It was really tough being so far away, and not being able to spend those precious last few days/weeks with them, not to mention not being able to be there to support the rest of your family.
It was a hard time for both of us, but I remember my Grandfather telling me before we left for Korea in 2013 that if something happened to him, he didn’t want me to waste money on a plane ticket just to be there for a funeral. He reminded me that no amount of money would be able to bring him back if it was his time to go. He wanted me to rather remember the good times we had together, and focus on enjoying every moment of every day, traveling. And that is what we have done and plan to do in the future.
Valery & JamesJames and I have known each other for almost 6 years now and have been dating for a little over 4 of them. We started off as really good friends that became something more which has made for a great relationship while we travel. We’re both originally from Montreal, Canada and moved to Cambridge, UK in September 2015 so that I could work as a teacher here. The idea was that it would be easy for me to find work and we could travel to as many European destinations as possible. So far it’s worked out because we’ve visited at least one new country every month since we’ve been here.
Plan & Prepare
Our advice for couples moving abroad is to plan, plan, and plan some more. There are obviously things that will be out of your control, but moving across the world with someone can be very stressful and the more prepared you are the easier it will be.
Be sure to have a financial back up plan. When we thought we had saved way more money than we would need when we moved to England only to burn through our savings in one month because of unexpected apartment fees. Thankfully, we started working, but it would have been a lot more stressful had we not saved up that little extra. We know how badly you want to go once the decision is made, but sometimes it’s worth waiting just a little longer.
Expect Some Tension in a New Enviroment
If we’re being completely honest, we bickered a lot when we first arrived. It’s a stressful situation and you no longer have your support group around to help with that stress. It was like moving in together all over again! Since then, our communication has gotten much better. Talking through our stresses, fears, and concerns is what ultimately brought us closer together. We have seen a lot of couples move abroad together and people either came out of it much stronger or it broke them. Either way, moving abroad with the person you love is a once in a lifetime opportunity that we hope everyone will get to experience at least once in their lives.
Stephanie & RyanHi! We are Ryan and Stephanie! We are both from small towns in Oklahoma. We met each other while in college and immediately were inseparable. We have been together for eight years, and have been married for five of those. After graduating college and getting married we were both feeling the need to make an epic change in scenery and fulfill dreams of traveling and living abroad. So, in 2013 we sold all of our things and headed to South Korea where we have lived for the past three years.
Learn the Culture & Find Inspiration
Culture shock, homesickness, or just plain getting overwhelmed is an unavoidable reality for anyone about to make a big move abroad. Culture shock will definitely happen, but you can help it by preparing a bit beforehand. Our advice? Learn some of the local language and history. Having a better understanding of the culture of a place before your move will help you understand cultural differences. The vast majority of the time these differences are exciting or at the very least charming.
Also, take some time to browse photos online and check out bloggers and photographers living in the area. Follow people on Instagram, YouTube, and Pinterest who post pictures, and information about daily expat life. Before we moved to Korea, we got pumped for our move by sitting down every day and watching videos by other bloggers living in Seoul. Their energy and excitement for Korea definitely rubbed off on us and got us ready for our move abroad.
Your family and friends may also bring you down, not on purpose, but simply because they don’t want to see you go. Encourage them to check out the place you will be moving so they will feel more at ease about your safety. Don’t forget to set up multiple ways of staying in touch. Get Skype set up and make sure they know how to use it properly. Find out your new address so you can exchange fun care packages and letters. Just don’t forget to keep your family and friends involved in your big move and new life abroad.
Sebastiaan & AlexYo! We’re Alex and Sebastiaan, an American and a Dutchie that have been together for four years. We’ve recently moved abroad… or should we say we are moving abroad. This year, we sold all of our stuff and quit our jobs in the Netherlands to go backpacking throughout Eurasia. Part of the motivation was to see the world (…duh), and the other part was to escape the cold, wet Netherlands. As appealing as perpetual rainfall sounds, we prefer climates of a toastier nature.
Dealing with Family & Friends
Dealing with family and friends back home is one of the trickiest parts of going abroad. You’re leaving them behind, and they feel like they’re being forced to give you up. It’s not easy.
In our opinion, it’s best to be straight and firm. Our parents were (secretly) proud of our decision, but others might be staunchly opposed. When you tell them of your decision, make sure to press home that this is what you want, and that the decision is final. Anything but support will not be appreciated.
Your family is bound to warm up to the idea eventually, once they see the excitement in your eyes, and the happiness the move will bring. What parent doesn’t want to see their child happy? If they’re being stubborn, butter them up a bit by showing the photos of all the cool places they could visit in your new home.
Once moved, make sure to message/ Skype your family on the reg. We send out families approximately a billion Whatsapps and photos a week, and they seem to be appeased. For now.
Friends are usually easier to deal with. True friends will understand, and they usually don’t require as much maintenance as family. Just make sure to send them a message every once in a while, and make sure there’s always a place for them on your couch if they ever want to come and visit!
Sometimes You Pack Wrong
Our biggest (and most painful) problem? Not packing properly.
We were lazy about researching Georgia, our first destination, before taking off. Someone had off-handedly told us that the country was level with the Mediterranean, so we naively assumed it would be balmy and pleasant in March. Sure, if you consider waist-deep snow “balmy and pleasant”. Armed with only lightweight fall clothes, we proceeded to freeze our asses off on a daily basis.
We can’t honestly say that we ever resolved the problem, being the cheapskates budget backpackers that we are. But, on the bright side, mutually dying from hypothermia brings a couple closer together. Cuddling can be more than just a way to show affection!
Vicki & GavinHi! We’re Vicki & Gavin and we have been together for almost 8 years. I’m a Brit and he’s a Aussie and we met in France at a company training course for the 2008-09 ski season. Not only did we meet abroad, but we have since moved to the UK, Switzerland and Austria before we made a decision to permanently move to Melbourne, Australia. For each of the moves in Europe we moved from resort to resort with work, spending 5-6 months in each location before moving to the next country/hotel.
Immerse yourself in the culture
We think adjusting to a new environment is all about immersing yourself in the culture. Get out there, speak to the locals, try and pick up a few local phrases and make an effort to try and converse with people in their own language. I’m not suggesting you’ll be fluent quickly – or even if all (if you’re like me – my language skills suck no matter how much I try!). Other than that, just keep an open mind, and be mindful of local customs and traditions. You showing respect will always go a long way and will make your transition into ‘their world’ a lot easier.
Living out of a bag isn’t always easy
When you move from place to place it makes sense to only have as much stuff as you can carry – but I like stuff, and I like my stuff! My partner on the other hand, loves only having a backpack. When we arrived in Rio on our first RTW trip, our bags didn’t arrive with us and he was ecstatic – he said he felt a sense of freedom and that he wasn’t bothered if they never showed up. I could have killed him – and whoever had my bag! (but they did turn up two days later so all was well with the world!)
I guess I got over it over time – and I found a few ways around it, like shipping stuff home so it didn’t affect our bag weight limit and luckily we had friends throughout the UK and Europe where I could store an extra basics pack – things like deodorant/hairdryer/shampoo etc – so I didn’t have to worry about carrying those kinds of things on each trip.
Izzy & TimI’m Izzy and he’s Tim, we’re two Leos in love from the USA. I’m a fast paced Bostonian, he’s a laid-back Cali boy. We met in Korea while both teaching English abroad. The two of us had an adversarial start, you know ‘I hate you, you suck’ – that sort of thing. But just like the stuff Korean dramas are made of, we fell in love (unintentionally). The year and a half we’ve been together has included a seven-month backpacking trip around Asia and a move to Vietnam from Korea for a change of pace. The next somewhere is to be determined…
Have an Open Mind
For couples moving abroad, a lack of expectations is essential when adjusting to a new environment. Tim and I had to gently remind each other that by comparing and contrasting our new surroundings with the lifestyles we were accustomed to, we’d be severely disappointed. It’s good to have someone at your side who has your best interests at heart and will comfort you in times of need, but is also someone who will give you a reality check when you’re acting out of line. One instance that was a much-needed lesson for me was when I was offered a position as editor of a local magazine. It’s been a dream of mine to pursue my creative passions professionally so I was stoked. But the job’s pay didn’t look all that promising and I nearly passed up the offer. Tim saved the day – he pointed out that for someone with no editorial experience, I was being given the opportunity of a lifetime. This would be a stepping-stone for my career in the long run and with his support, I shifted my attitude. On the plus side, for Vietnam, I was still making out with a decent paycheck.
Dealing with Racism
One issue we faced when moving to Vietnam was unexpected racism towards other Asians in the education industry. Both Tim and I are of Asian descent (I’m Filipino, he’s half-Korean, half-Caucasian) and I know its silly to say, but when we’re together, I tend to amplify his Asian-ness. Anyways, We interviewed together at this language center and after an impressive on-the-spot demo, the interviewer asked us to voice our desired salaries. I don’t think our salary expectations were outlandish but the woman honestly laughed us off and said bluntly, “You need to lower your standards. Parents don’t want people with faces like yours.” And right on cue a white employee walked by and she pointed to him, “You’re not real Americans like him.” We stared at her mouths opened, picked up our real “American” passports, and instead of storming out, we gave her a lesson on what the real America looks like nowadays (ps, it looks like us). We then politely excused ourselves but she was literally begging us to rethink the offer by grabbing my arm on our way out the door. It was appalling but Tim and I were on the same page throughout the conversation which was empowering!
Akhil & ShwetaWe are Akhil and Shweta and we are from the very diverse, very vibrant, and very crowded but incredible India. Believe it or not, we met through a matrimonial website and decided to get married after meeting twice. We’ve been happily married for almost 7 years. We have been traveling through Western Europe since we left our hometown for the very first time in 2010 to travel to Germany. We spent 4 years in the historic Bavarian city of Nürnberg before moving to Berlin 2 years ago. Moving to Germany was not only a great career opportunity for but also a chance at traveling, seeing some of the world, experiencing a different culture. None of which would have been possible on our Indian salaries. Back then we were newlyweds, so a perfect chance to spend time together. So we grabbed the opportunity when it came.
Have Patience Waiting For Yourself to Fall into Place
Moving to a new city is not easy, let alone a new country! No matter how excited you are, leaving everything that is familiar and comfortable is not easy. So you’ve arrived at the place you are going to call home for the next few months/years. Have a place to stay already? Great! If not, then understand that looking for an apartment or house and actually finding one that suits your needs could be challenging. Unpacking, setting up your new home may seem like a task and is definitely exhausting. Your neighbours may not seem friendly. Were you the life of a party back home? You may not make friends right away or may feel shy! Feeling lonely? Homesick? You may not be able to phone your family or best friend right away (assuming you are in different time zones). Language barriers can be unnerving and frustrating. Know that it will take a while to figure out things like cultural differences, banking, shopping, grocery stores, restaurants etc. Things may not feel as awesome as you’d thought they would be. Remember the saying ‘the best laid plans of mice and men can go awry’? Yeah. True. But guess what? This is all part of that new adventure you’ve been craving!
Don’t Let Language Barriers Knock You Down
Language barriers are real. Little things like talking to a hairdresser, dry cleaners, grocery store, or talking to the doctor have seemed like an enormous task. Absolutely everything is in German. On my first evening in Germany, a couple teenagers standing behind me in a queue at the grocery store asked me what time it was and I simply stared. I didn’t understand them. This incident made me nervous. I realized then, why learning basic German (Level 1) was a criterion for visa application (dependent spouse visa and the rules have changed since.). I’d scored well and thought I was prepared. I’d never been more wrong. It didn’t help that our friends spoke in English too! I think I found it difficult to follow the German accent. I went to language school. We started watching the local news, sports and a cooking show on TV, reading German newspapers and small conversations with neighbours. Language translator apps are a big help too. It’s been easier in Berlin (big cosmopolitan city). Six years later, we are still not fluent in German but we know enough to get by. It takes time. We did fine and so will you!
You can follow Akhil and Shweta on their blog, Yet Another Tourist!
Laura & JamesI’m from Pennsylvania, USA, and James is from England. We spent the first year and a half of our relationship living in Seoul, Korea, if that counts. We left our jobs in March and have been traveling Southeast Asia, slowly making our way down to New Zealand. We don’t have an exact end date in sight, but we’re thinking we’ll be in Auckland at some point this August. We were both ready to leave Korea for different reasons but wanted to stay together. Since neither of us wants to return to our respective countries (thus having to apply for complicated visas) and wanted to take a break from ESL teaching, we explored our options and settled upon New Zealand. This gives us the opportunity to stay abroad while saving money as well as replenish what we’ve spent on our recent travels. We haven’t heard one single negative thing about New Zealand, so we’re really looking forward to seeing what it has to offer.
Understand Eachother’s Differences
I think my biggest advice is to understand that you are both different people, therefore will have totally different experiences in some aspect. While we were in Korea, professionally speaking, James and I led totally different lives in a way; he worked at a public school and I worked at a private academy. Both types of schooling are administered in totally different ways, so we saw two different aspects of Korea. Know that men will get preferential treatment in some countries, where as women may in others. It’s all about learning about the culture, understanding that it will be different and continuously growing together. Also, be patient and remember to be one another’s #1 fans!
MarkMy wife at the time and I were dating for about a year when I got a job offer in Austin, TX and moved there late ´94. We are both from Curitiba, Brazil. So I moved alone and spent a year working and living there by myself. She visited a couple times and about a year later I came back, we got married and we both returned together to live in Austin for three more years.
Don’t Expect to Adapt Perfectly
I think it all depends on the phase the couple is in their lives, if they have kids or not and how old they are, but one thing that really impacted us the most was the fact that only I had a work permit and so it was a real challenge for her to find an occupation during the times I was working or traveling. This was back in `95, when there was no internet as we know it today and communication costs were very high. To make matters worse, it took her awhile to establish a social life without the support of her friends and family.
After three years we moved to Buenos Aires and things were a bit better. Eventually we came back to Curitiba early ´00 and we got divorced about a year later.
VISA’s Can Be A Real Nightmare
Here’s a reason to laugh. We faced a real problem right after we got married. Some of you may not know or remember, but there was a US Federal Government Shutdown that started on December 16th, 1995 (the Saturday we got married in Brazil!)
Unaware, we went to the US Consulate in São Paulo the following Monday to get our visas changed (the process had been previously approved by the INS). Due to the shut down, the Consulate was closed! Since we both had valid visas and since we had our honeymoon planned for a few days later in Jamaica, I gave it no second thought and took the flight to return to Austin the following day.
I had all my paperwork and assumed I had all bases covered.
How naïve I was… after a quick interview with the immigration officer in Atlanta, he lit a little red light and another officer escorted us to a room where two other officers stated that we were coming back in the same airplane because we had the wrong visas.
A heated discussion ensued (today I would probably be arrested for that!) After about an hour defending my case, out of the blue I mentioned our honeymoon in the next few days. The two officers looked at eachother, excused themselves and left. About an hour later they came back saying they found a judge who was willing to allow our entry for two days based on “humanitarian grounds”, so we could go to Austin, pick our stuff and head to Jamaica.
The story goes on and on, filled with other really tense moments, only to be finished two travels to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico later and a delayed honeymoon.
Megan & ScottWe’re Megan & Scott and I am originally from Ohio while Scott is California. We were set up by close friends in Califorina and the rest has been history! After a few months of dating, Scott was on his way to Korea while I just got offered a new job that I had been working my butt off to get! After doing long distance and not enjoying my job, I decided to quit and join him in Korea.
Set Goals & Communicate
Communication in our opinion is the most critical because you have just isolated yourself. Moving, making friends, and learning a new culture is exhaustingly difficult. If you aren’t talking about your fears, how you feel, or what you need it’s easy to see everything as a negative. This is a poison for any relationship and needs to be nipped in the butt especially in the early days by just talking with each-other. Make a date night every week where at the bare minimum you two just talk about how you are feeling in your new environment.
For us communication is made a bit easier by setting goals. We recommend setting goals together. Write down a list of things you want to achieve, see, or do in your new location and start tackling those right away. It is really important to be the biggest cheerleader for your partner because you’re all they got in this new world. This is a great exercise for communication as well and can improve your odds of adjusting to your new country and start having fun sooner rather than later.
Not moving abroad? Well these tips can work for traveling couples as well! We also have separate tips for traveling couples here! Check it out!
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