How to Move Abroad on a Whim (And Not Regret It)

There are a lot of variations on the idea that if you sit around waiting for everything to be perfect, or waiting for the right time, or even waiting for Mr. Right, you could wind up waiting forever. Don’t get stuck on waiting to move abroad if that’s what you really want. The truth is that things will probably never suit our idea of the “the perfect time” since life rarely cooperates, and the best we can hope for is a felicitous series of make it work moments that actually work.

Taking all of that into consideration, I’ve been thinking about a few guidelines to smooth the path for such a large transition as a move abroad. These are based on my own experiences and countless conversations with others who have successfully made the transition and lived to not regret it. They are very general and could be applied to a move to just about any country, in my opinion, but you may need to make some changes. (Visa requirements of other countries might make this list very different, for example.)

For reference, I personally decided to move to Mexico in mid- to late-December 2016, remotely signed my lease and put a deposit down on my apartment on January 1, and landed in Puerto Vallarta on February 10, 2017. So…being generous we’ll say it was a two month turn around. This may not be enough time for many, but for others who maintain relatively light existences, I believe this is adequate.

So, based on these factors my best advice for successfully Running Away to Mexico follows.

BYOJ (Bring your own job)

This is the number one thing that makes picking up and moving abroad possible. I always pause when people ask about what the job market is like around here because, honestly, I don’t know and it really shouldn’t matter. If you aren’t bringing a skill set that can’t be filled by a local or filling some other in-demand niche in the local work force, I kind of feel it’s unethical to head to another country and take work away from someone who’s already there that needs it.

Furthermore, in Mexico specifically it creates a lot of other problems for picking up and relocating on a whim. For example, instead of coming in on a tourist visa you’ll need a temporary residential visa, which requires considerably more time and paperwork, or you’ll need to locate an employer who will sponsor you and they can only do so if you fit the description I list above. (IE; nobody in the local work force can do the job you’re being hired for.) It is possible to find work under the table here, but again—ethics.

There are tons of options available for working remotely and finding your niche. Developing a career online totally frees you up from all of these pesky legal considerations and enables you to be much more mobile with virtually no cap to your salary.

Find a Launch Pad

Everyone has a different vision of paradise when imagining their ideal new home abroad, but I’d recommend suspending nirvana in favor of necessity for a moment. Your perfect paradise might be in some remote place with little to no “expat” community because, after all, you aren’t moving to another country to spend all your time with folks from home, but there are a lot of reasons to start off in a city or town with strong immigrant infrastructure, regardless of where you ultimately want to live.

Doing just that has been easy for me to get the hang of things here and feel comfortable because the local immigrant community has been extremely supportive in helping me learn the ropes. Furthermore, my clumsy Spanish is not a total roadblock in daily interactions (but I still have plenty of opportunities to practice,) it was relatively easy to find housing, and because of good public transportation I have had all the access to mobility that I need. All of these factors are important to help make a comfortable transition and keep you from feeling like you made a mistake and they are things that aren’t readily available in many smaller towns with fewer or no immigrants.

It might also be prudent to consider that if you are not yet ready to establish a residency visa, that you will need easy access to an affordable way to exit the country every six months. For me, Puerto Vallarta was perfect because they have affordable and fairly direct flights to most of the places I want to travel to in the U.S.

Divest Yourself of Earthly Belongings

Ok, that was cheesy but it’s totally true. Getting rid of all your stuff can be really hard and I’ve written entire posts on the subject before, but there is a certain sense of freedom that comes with owning very few things that you just can’t beat.

People are always asking what they should bring with them when they move here. I get it. You feel like a pioneer, you are heading into the unknown and you want all of your known creature comforts to accompany you. But the reality is that you probably don’t really need most of the stuff filling your house and your life, and those things that you do need be acquired here.

So get rid of everything that doesn’t fit into your suitcase allowance. Or, if you can afford it, put all of that stuff you just can’t quite let go of into storage and revisit it when you make a visa run in six months. If you’ve found yourself missing anything in particular, bring it back with you, but get rid of everything you haven’t needed or missed or already replaced.

People most often seem to ask about their kitchen stuff. For some reason folks are especially attached to kitchen stuff. Even I went so far as to mostly fill one of my totes with kitchen things, and I look back now and realize how silly it was. The only two items I brought that couldn’t be replaced here for a few pesos were my stovetop espresso maker and my cast iron skillet. Everything else was a waste of space. (Granted, I generally abhor small appliances but even if you’re a fan, you can probably find replacements here.)

Realistically, in order to make a big move like this and enjoy it you’re going to have to find some way to detach from all of the stuff we tend to accumulate. This is more than a physical process, it’s a mental one, too. It’s going to take some work to let go, and how much varies from person to person, but the better you accomplish this the more freedom you will have and the fewer regrets you will harbor.

The Nuts & Bolts

  • Forget the residency visa. For Americans and Canadians traveling to Mexico specifically, plan on coming in on a tourist visa and leaving for a vacation or a visit home in six months. This requires no additional paperwork before your trip, relieves the pressure of commitment, and gives you time to consider your options as well as time to emotionally separate from whatever you may have left at home. For U.S. citizens considering other countries, here is the list of visa requirements around the world.
  • Find your launch pad. Don’t be a stranger to Facebook. It has been the single best tool I can recommend for connecting with the immigrant and expat communities abroad. Search for groups for expats an immigrants in the town you are considering and make friends. This is helpful in every possible way, and if you get in there and ask questions and interact you might just be lucky enough to have a solid network of friends waiting for you when you land. You can also inquire about housing in the Facebook groups as offerings on AirBnB and Craigslist can be slim and overpriced.
  • Get rid of your stuff. When I moved out of my house and into my friend’s house in Anchorage, I grouped all of my belongings into very broad categories. Stuff to donate, stuff to trash, stuff to keep, and stuff to sell. I hate dealing with a lot of people and abhor hosting garage sales, so the “stuff to sell” wound up in two or three different lots on Facebook buy-sell-trade groups. They were auctioned off to the highest bidder, winner MUST take all, and if the winner didn’t show at the designated time with help to load and cash in hand, I was prepared to go to the next person on the list. This didn’t net the largest profit, but it resulted in the least amount of headache. After donating and trashing the rest, I found my “stuff to keep” pile getting smaller and smaller as well. Something about getting rid of stuff is addictive, and once you bite the bullet and start the process it gets much easier to whittle your belongings down to, say, a couple of suitcases and a couple of Rubbermade totes. (Which is what I brought, and later realized was far too much.)
  • Work remotely. This is a daunting topic because there is absolutely a glut of information out there. My best advice would be to consider your skill set and think about how that translates to the online economy. Many industries are now beginning to offer full- or part-time remote employment in everything from teaching to customer service and your usual coding and data entry, etc. Others have found that working for themselves is a better route and they choose to freelance as writers, designers, coders, marketers, and more. If you’ve somehow managed to get to this point without any skills at all that translate to online work (doubtful!) then the world is your oyster and I’d recommend looking into starting from scratch to learn coding or some other marketable skill that appeals your own interests. This is definitely a topic that deserves further and more detailed exploration, so I’ll be working on a piece about that in the coming weeks and update here as soon as it’s done.

A Few Personal Notes

Things that made it possible to drop everything and move quickly:

  • I had already divested of a large portion of my belongs and was renting a furnished room.
  • Not married and no kids.
  • I already had a couple of online marketing accounts to start me off for a steady source of remote income.
  • I had a very good bartending gig which allowed me to save a chunk of money in a short amount of time after I identified a goal.

Things that proved to be challenges:

  • Finding a place and traveling with my dog in cargo in February from Alaska to Mexico was nerve wracking.
  • I still had a lot of stuff to get rid of, including my truck, and other things I needed to put into storage.
  • I had managed to misplace my passport and with such a short amount of time and the rush on the passport offices at the time, I was worried about this. (Proved not to be a problem as I got my replacement back in less than a week with expediting it.)

Always remember that there truly is no time like the present. I don’t want to get all “inspirational poster” about things up in here, but if you have the privilege of being from a place like the U.S. or Canada, can wrap your head around working online and living light, and know how to play nice and make friends—the world is your oyster. Dropping everything and moving abroad doesn’t have to be a unachievable dream, even if you have a family. It just takes a little motivation and knowing where to start.

Good luck!

41 thoughts on “How to Move Abroad on a Whim (And Not Regret It)

  1. I wish I could have done something like this. Married and a child now, too many factors (can’t even move out of the state let alone the country), but these are spot on. I used alot of these when I moved across the country when I was younger.

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  2. Wow. There are times where we think about just picking up and moving. With a young kid we have more variables, but I was a teacher and we could probably work something out. At least when he is older/we are done having more children. I appreciate the detail. There were factors I had never even considered.

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  3. As someone who has dropped everything and moved across the country, I agree with this list! I packed everything up in two suitcases and a carry-on and the only thing I missed was my fancy bed with all it’s comforts but I was able to replace it to a better one within a few months. This is so helpful and more people can do this!

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  4. My husband’s dream is to live in the UK for one year. Your advice is priceless. He has a great network engineer job and I’m a blogger.. so it’s a start. My choice would also be Mexico. Cheers.

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  5. Wow, you have really hit the nail on the head with this. We spent almost two years researching our future and downsizing. We retired at the end of March and on April 1st crossed into Mexico from San Antonio, TX with only a couple of suitcases and a computer bag each – all that we have in the world now fits into our Prius and we have so far traveled over 5,000 miles around Mexico going through Saltillo, Durango, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, Puerto Escondido, Zihuatanijo, Acapulco, Coatzcoalcos, Campeche, Playa del Carmen, Chetumal (border run), Palenque and we are currently in an Airbnb in San Cristobal de las Casas thinking about where to go next. We are thinking that maybe the central highlands towns of San Luis Potosi and around that area or more down towards Ajijic and Chapala (for the starting off in a strong expat area to ease the transition) are going to be our longer term stopping points.
    http://pattynoverlandtravels.blogspot.com/
    Like you, we had to work hard at getting rid of all our “stuff” and getting going so if anyone is interested, here is the blog that I started before we began our travels, the planning etc. can be seen way at the beginning if you scroll down to the early posts.

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  6. Wow, a 2 month turnaround almost gave me chills! Talk about making a decision and going for it! I love the “BYOJ” comment. I have a job right now that ties me to a current location (actually, I own a business that I have to be present at least occasionally for!), but my husband recently made the move to an online-based job. I love the spontaneity that a mobile job allows for.

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  7. Really good post! I like your thinking! I always like to read the part about remote working and what are the options there. That’s usually the most challenging part of the world travel. But at the same time it’s interesting to expolre the options and sometimes find out new ways how to work and get things done. Thanks for the interesting read 🙂

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  8. Ah, you are living my dream right now! I really do think I’m making the move seem harder than if actually is, but when you’re ready it’s easier to do what you need to in order to make the move. Thank you for sharing the visa tip, that is the most challenging part about figuring where to move.

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  9. Oh no! I have just returned home after nearly two years of travel and now you’ve got the wheels in my brain turning! I plan on finding a new job at home, but hmmmmmmmm! Great post, I’m inspired!

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  10. great blog! Reminds me when I got rid of my possessions and moved to Vermilion Cliffs. All I really needed was my dog, camera, and laptop. I also like the idea of bringing your own job!

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  11. I moved from Michigan to Arizona in a little less than 2 months and what a whirlwind – I can’t imagine another country! So awesome for you though. I think everyone needs to experience the lifestyle change. I love the BYOJ to go to another country!!

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  12. Our dog (and my family) are the one thing keeping us from moving abroad again. My husband lived in Europe for four years and me for two and we dream about someday owning a house in Portugal! The way the politics in the States are headed right now, that might be sooner rather than later…

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    1. Portugal was my first choice but I wound up in Mexico for a variety of reasons. So far I’m really glad I did! I see spending a couple of years here, at least, before my next move. Maybe I’ll finally make it across the pond then!

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  13. Some great inspiration and good pieces of advice to go along with it! I toy with this idea every once in awhile, but you’re absolutely right, there is no right time. I love your *prepared spontaneity*!!

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  14. Two months! Wow! When I decided to move to Italy, it took the better part of a year before I actually made the move. It’s such a stressful process!

    All of your tips are definitely useful, but the one about getting rid of excess stuff totally resonates with me – that was probably the single most challenging and frustrating part of the lead-up to my move. At the end I was able to get everything into two massive suitcases, but selling furniture, a car, etc was not fun!

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  15. This is a great post! I moved abroad in 2015 kind of on a whim, and I’m so happy that I did! I wasn’t happy at my job in NYC so decided to apply for a working holiday visa for Australia, and a few months later I was boarding a one-way flight! Then when that year was up, I wasn’t ready to go back to the US so I am now on working holiday in New Zealand. I would highly recommend working holidays to anyone hoping to move abroad because you can work full time and save for your travels.
    It’s my dream to be able to make a living through work online and be able to live abroad and travel while still working 🙂

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    1. Great advice! I think I first became comfortable with the concept of dropping everything and moving when I worked my first summer in Denali in Alaska. It was a great “get your feet wet” experience that was enough to put me out of my comfort zone without worrying about the details of visas and passports and housing and work and language barriers. There are similar opportunities outside of the US, too, and some might be able to find something on coolworks.com

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  16. Great tips! I am lucky in that I am a teacher so moving abroad and switching places every year or two has been easy for me. There are international schools in pretty much every country and always jobs available somewhere 🙂 And since you need to be qualified/certified english speaking teacher, I am never taking jobs from locals. I am on my 5th country (including my own) and I still haven’t got the downsizing part yet, since I have boxes of stuff back home in Canada, but I am working on it.

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    1. Yes I imagine that final purge would be much more complicated if you didn’t HAVE to return home and deal with it! Do you speak any other languages? I know so many teacher friends in the US that are so tired of being jerked around!

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  17. It’s amazing how much the economy has changed over the past few years. When I started working remotely in 2010, I was one of few bloggers attempting to do so. Now look at the world. Great details in your post!

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    1. So true! The game has changed sooooo much from when I had my first blog in 2001. It’s absolutely bewildering, but I’m slowly but surely getting the hang of it again. (I hope.)

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  18. Very interesting post and great tips! You’re right, there’s never a “perfect” time for a big upheaval but if you keep making excuses, you’ll never get anything done. And if you always do what you’ve always done, nothing will ever change.

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  19. Good article and helpful advice!
    Mexico is such an amazing place, I moved here to on a whim (almost 1 year ago) and haven’t regret it yet for a minute!
    What made you choose Puerto Vallarta? 🙂

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    1. I chose Vallarta because of the connections I was making online, the fact that I found a great spot for the right price, and the accessibility of the airport and public transportation. It all just kind of came together. There’s a super supportive expat community here, but there’s also a large population of local people who have lived here all their lives and are completely unconnected with the tourism industry, so it’s a good balance.

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  20. Some great advice on here, particularly with regard to getting rid of stuff. I also really like your comment about finding a “launch pad”, which I wouldn’t have thought of but makes a lot of sense. Great post!

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    1. It really does make ALL the difference in the world, and it makes it even easier to find that perfect spot in your dream location if you’re any good at networking. (And you should learn that skill if it’s not one you’re naturally inclined towards!)

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    1. Ah! Jealous. I’ll be visiting in September and scoping some spots out. So far I know I love Portugal, so I’m looking forward to checking out the other side of the Iberian Peninsula!

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  21. those are some great tips! I’m moving to London in August and will definitely need to be downsizing A LOT. especially since my flat there is TINY compared to where I live in LA. Bringing a job with you that’s definitely helpful. I’m trying to do that too but the taxes get a little confusing

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    1. Eh, I just continue to file all of my taxes in the US since all of my clients are there, my bank account is there, and all of my funds are in USD. It’s basically like I’m working in the US, but from a very far away office!

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  22. We definitely underestimate Facebook in situations like this. I love your unique style of writing ❤ I am not moving but I need to get rid of my stuff before starting a long travel.

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