For the past 1,5 years I have been thinking a lot about how to choose a country to live in. And maybe that’s something on your mind as well.
Since many big things are coming to an end for me in Denmark (in a full circle kind of way), the big question on my mind has been – which country should I move to next – or should I move at all?
Although I have made no firm decisions just yet, I wanted to share my process of how I go about thinking about moving abroad (once again) as I work my way through the different options. So keep your eyes peeled for future updates!
For now, continue reading for my step-by-step guide on how to choose a country to live in. I’ve also created a handy checklist that can help you find clarity in your decision-making process.
Why it’s often difficult to choose a country to live in
I know from conversations with other expats that deciding where to live abroad is far from an easy decision, no matter why you want to move or where you’re thinking of moving to. And that’s because…
1. MOVING ABROAD IS DESTABILIZING
The decision to move abroad is equally as complex when it’s your first time moving abroad as it is when it’s your 4th or 7th time.
People love to feel comfortable and safe, expats included. So even as we may not be 100% happy with where we live now, the evil that we know is better than the devil that we don’t know. And so it’s not all that easy to pack up and leave our comfort zone, no matter how frustrated we are with our lives otherwise.
It’s all the more difficult to leave your comfort zone if you’re actually really happy with your life. But then, the opportunity of a lifetime comes along and there’s a part of you that’s afraid that you’d be missing out if you didn’t make the leap.
2. YOU NEED TO KNOW WHAT YOU WANT (AND ALIGN WITH A PARTNER)
Although moving to another country alone is also infinitely more straightforward to decide on compared to being in a relationship, both are equally as anxiety-inducing.
First of all, it’s hard to be clear about what you want and whether you can realize your goals or dream lifestyle in another country without having tried it out before in that specific country.
But when you’re one half of a couple, the number of variables, potentially divergent interests and different career tracks to take into consideration skyrocket.
In any case, moving abroad is much more about taking a risk and being prepared to make things work along the way.
Unless you’re a professional adrenaline junkie, deciding to jump off a cliff and hoping that you’ll make it out alive is probably not something you’re used to doing.
That’s where planning and thinking ahead comes into play and I’m here to help you with that.
Questions to ask when moving abroad
When I was travelling solo for many years, I was a bit of a wild card, I must admit (with the wisdom of hindsight!). I literally didn’t do any homework about my destination countries.
If there was at least two or three things interesting or appealing about the destination country, it was enough for me to decide to move there (and I can tell you, they were as superficial as ‘they have great chocolate there’… ahh, youthful folly!).
I never had a job lined up nor a place to live. I just made things work through sheer stubborness. But that sort of approach can wear anyone down pretty fast.
Hence, at this point in my life, I’m making sure that I do my homework in order to choose a country to live in. But I’m discovering only now that it’s a terrible anxiety-inducing process.
In addition to this, this time around I would not be moving abroad alone but together with my boyfriend. This means that we have to take each other’s interests into account as well.
So here are the steps we have taken to help us decide where to live abroad, but you can just as well apply the same thought process when you’re thinking of moving abroad alone.
1. FIGURE OUT THE CRITERIA FOR THE LIFESTYLE THAT YOU WANT
We came up with a list of questions that helped us define the most important criteria for a happy life. For instance:
- City or small town?
- Any particular region or climate?
- What kind of job?
- Live close to work or commuting?
- Opportunities to pursue hobbies?
- Lots of entertainment activities to choose from?
- Plenty of places around to visit?
In the free worksheet that I’ve created for you, there are 25 questions which help you tease out your true preferences and dream lifestyle.
2. NARROW DOWN YOUR DESTINATION OPTIONS
After discussing our answers to these questions we realized that an ideal place for us to move abroad as a next stop would have the following four criteria:
- A multinational city in Europe
- Easy access to rest of Europe
- A coastal country and/or close to nature
- A language that doesn’t make my ears bleed (sorry, Danish!)
Once we’d settled on the basic criteria, we narrowed down our selection to a sizeable number of countries in Europe.
However, since we both have our own biases against one or another country, we went through a further round of eliminating the ‘I wouldn’t live there even if you paid me’-options. In the end, we were left with just three potential countries – the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland (my old love!).
3. GO VISIT THE DESTINATION CITY OR COUNTRY
Since we are not in a rush to go through with this move to another country, we decided to invest our time and money in visiting the biggest cities in those countries before making any sort of decision.
For instance, by the time this post has gone live, we’ve been to the Netherlands and checked out Rotterdam (as a potential alternative to Amsterdam, which we both already know).
I must admit that visiting a country that you’re thinking of moving to is a completely different way of traveling. I wasn’t the least bit interested in any museums or tourist attractions.
Instead, I was extra focused on real estate prices, neighborhoods, options for cultural activities, job opportunities and public transportation.
After exploring the nooks and crannies of Rotterdam (of which there were actually not that many!), I didn’t just crash on the hotel bed to relax at the end of the day.
Nope. Instead I opened my laptop and started digging through the internet – forums and expat blogs about the Netherlands, rental sites, job ads, you name it.
Although I could have done a lot of it also from my home in Denmark, there is just something different about being in the destination country/city and really trying to imagine living a life there.
Perhaps I’m a particularly intuitive person, but it either feels right somewhere, somewhat right or the feeling simply isn’t there at all. I’ve learned it the hard way that I’m better off listening to my gut feeling rather than trying to rationalize my way out of what it’s trying to tell me (or, let’s be honest, yell at me).
So if it’s an option for you at all, do try to go to the destination country before you make a commitment. Alternatively, and thankfully, there is a lot of information online in blogs, expat groups and on YouTube that can help you with all of your most urgent questions and concerns.
4. WRITE DOWN A PROS AND CONS LIST
At the end of the trip, when our impressions were still fresh, we came up with a pros and cons list on moving to Rotterdam and/or Netherlands. I’ve replicated this list below in a handwriting that’s actually legible:
At first we wrote down anything and everything that sprung to mind and put those things either in the pros or cons column.
We then went through the list again and underlined the factors that hold considerable weight for us for a happy life. Because it’s one thing to come up with a list of things, but it’s a completely different thing to hold those criteria up against the harsh light of reality.
Just by looking at the list, as compared to our original list of criteria, the amount of items we underlined in the cons list made it very clear to us that Rotterdam is not a winner.
I’m so glad we did this exercise in writing because having it in black and white made our preferences and feelings so obvious. Otherwise we would have gone in circles for days, when in fact, the truth was staring us in the face.
In conclusion, we striked off Rotterdam from our list and went to back to the drawing board to figure out a next city to try on for size. Check back for future updates on how we’re choosing a country to live in.
And if you’re in the process of thinking about moving to a new country, download this handy checklist that will help you find clarity in your thoughts.
How do you choose a country to live in? What has helped you in this process? Share your experience in the comments below – they might just come in handy for me too.