Moving abroad is a big leap, physically and metaphorically. I have had “Live in Europe for at least one year” on my bucket list for decades. It was always a “someday” dream, along with learning how to ride a motorcycle and getting a sailboat. (I’ve already jumped out of an airplane, thank you. Twice.)
This year, in the middle of a global pandemic, I picked up and moved. Or so it seemed to many of my friends. But I realize that I have been positioning myself towards this for years. Here’s how:
1. I work for myself
Working for myself means that I don’t have to show up to an office every day. I don’t have to ask for time off, whether I am sick, or vacationing, or just plain lazy. It also means that I am totally dependent on providing for myself. If I don’t work, I don’t make money, I don’t eat, I end up living under a bridge. I’ve learned how to find clients and get my work done without having a boss standing over me. I’ve been in my current business for over 15 years, which gives me some credibility when government agencies look skeptically at the ticked “self-employed” box. Moving abroad hasn’t changed my work life very much. I structure my days, writing in the early mornings, doing client work once the US starts waking up. My company is US based. I am physically in Europe, but I am still working in the States.
2. 95% of my business is conducted over the internet
This is what allows me to work from anywhere in the world with a wifi connection. In truth, I can work with all of my clients remotely; it just happens that a few of them were local to me in Florida. If we need to talk, I set up a Zoom meeting or I call them using Google voice, which is a free service. I also have Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, and wifi calling through T-Mobile. I can now be reached in more ways than I ever used in the States. Live speaking gigs have been off the table for a year now. I still do podcast interviews and Zoom talks. Moving abroad didn’t affect that only because Covid already did.
If you’re working a regular job or if your work is geographically limited, you may need to start a side hustle that will grow into your main business or start moving your business online. The pandemic has shown employers that their people can be productive from home. I think remote work will be a lot more prevalent in the new normal. People have learned to unmute themselves on Zoom (for the most part). Experiment with how much of your current business you can shift online. The transition may be easier than you think.
#3. I have no romantic entanglements, real estate, pets, or plants
When I moved, I had a long distance relationship that became longer distance. I had sold all my real estate back in the crash and I’ve been a happy renter for years. (Much better than being a landlord; not as good as being a homeowner in some respects.) I didn’t have a pet or plants. So there was nothing tying me to one location. That being said, it’s a very difficult thing to leave friends and family behind, not sure if you’ll ever see them again. The pandemic and quarantine actually made it a little easier—I couldn’t visit with my most of my friends and family anyway. We were already doing Zoom calls to keep in touch. The only thing that has changed is that the Zoom calls need to be held a little earlier in the day. The downside is if someone gets sick, I can’t get to them as easily as I once could. But it can still be done.
If you’re in a relationship, this definitely has to be a joint decision. You might try it out for a shorter period of time or jump in feet first. Don’t let having kids stop you. Lots of expats have kids who flourish in an international environment. If you have real estate, I would recommend renting it out, using a competent property management company. Do your homework on this—good property managers are hard to find. You can always sell (or keep renting) the house if you decide you’re not coming back.
Most countries will allow your pets to come with. You just need to have their shots up to date and they may have to quarantine for a short period of time. If you have more than three pets, this is going to be tougher, just because of numbers. As to plants, give them away. Let them cheer up someone else.
#4. The Real Question
The question people want to ask but are too polite to is, “How could you afford to move to Portugal?”
My back up reserves for financing this were small. However, I still work and I do have income which covers my ongoing expenses. The biggest expense was prepaying for six months of accommodations in Portugal, which I discuss in my post on the Portugal visa process. That prepaid rent also made the transition easier—I didn’t have to worry about earning money while I was settling in.
I have spent the past few years whittling down my debts and getting rid of expenses. If you have a $100 a month payment, you need to earn $130 – $150 to pay it. That’s not counting any interest you’re being charged; that’s just income taxes. So, getting rid of payments nets you more money than most people realize.
To attain residency in Portugal, you need to show steady income, somewhere above €750 a month (around $900 US). For most retirees on Social Security, that’s easy; it’s a small amount by US standards. Every country has a different threshold, of course. When someone works for themselves, the money doesn’t always come in even monthly streams. In that case, you need to show that you are earning that much on a yearly basis. Or at least that’s what I am surmising.
Am I anxious about money? A little. But the truth is my expenses here are just about the same as in the States. Right now, they’re actually a little less because I no longer have car insurance payments and things like electricity and wifi are included in my Airbnb rates. In fact, my Airbnbs are slightly less than my rent was back in the States.
I have made major moves before. I moved from Massachusetts to Georgia to Florida, back to Georgia, to San Francisco, then Hawaii and back to Florida. When I was debating moving to Portugal, I thought back to my biggest move: San Francisco to Hawaii, way back in 1989. I knew one person in Hawaii; I don’t know anyone in Portugal. I made the jump because “Live in Hawaii” had been on my bucket list (it wasn’t called a bucket list back then) for almost a decade.
Then I remembered how I financed it. Or in truth, how I didn’t have the finances to make the move. If I had a better grasp of reality at the time, I probably wouldn’t have made the jump. I prepaid for a week in a hotel with the idea that I would find a cheap place to live—which I did. I may have had $2,500 cash in total after shipping belongings, airline ticket (one way), and the hotel. I had the (maybe) promise of a job and when my money started getting low, I signed on with a temp agency. The job came through about five months later. I didn’t starve. I didn’t die. I had a lot of fun.
The Deciding Factor
What was the deciding factor? What overcame my inertia? Mortality. I am getting older and less mobile. Yeah, I’m not old and frail, but another ten years of sitting on the couch would have sidelined me. It was a do it now or never do it at all situation.
Mostly I just got mad because I was lying to myself. I gave myself a thorough chewing out: How can you say you want to do this but not do it? Either you really want to move to Europe or you need to take it off the list and never go. Basically, I kicked my own ass.
Moving abroad doesn’t have to be just a someday dream. You can organize your life to make the leap to becoming an expat. Everyone’s situation is different and I was in a better position than most just because of the work I do. If you truly want to give living abroad a try, start organizing your life with that goal in mind. It may take a year or more, but it can be done. You just have to decide to do it.
What’s on your bucket list? Where do you want to go? Let me know in the comments.