Today marks my second anniversary of relocation to Germany. I can't believe it has been already two years since I left the City of Saints to go live abroad. For the occasion, I thought I would write a post to share some lessons learned from my Expat Life. This might help you shed some light on a few elements of your relocation you would not have anticipated.
1. preparation won't be enough
When I took the decision to leave Montreal and relocate to another country, everything happened so fast that I saw myself caught up into a storm of information. Little did I know, I had to remember all of these vital tips in order to allow a smooth transition to my new country of adoption. There is only so much preparation you can make while relocating to a new country. Evidently, some information will necessarily slip through your fingers.
Although the relocation agent that was appointed to me was very knowledgeable (as far as the fundamentals of relocation), there are a few elements you won't manage to remember. On top of that, your agent will most probably forget to mention a thing or two as well. Remember, this person knows the country you are relocating into, but not the one you came from. Therefore, it will be very unlikely that all the differences between both locations will be clearly highlighted. Of course, you will have to deal with many different parties, which will bring complexity to a whole knew level. Between the Relocation Company, Tax Consultant from the country of origin, Tax Consultant from the new country, Travel Agency, HR Department and your new Hiring Manager... It's pretty much like trying to untie a whole bowl of spaghetti!
My advice: Keep a detailed log of ALL the information shared with you from the beginning!
2. Renew your passport
While relocating to a new country, your residence permit has to be issued before your first day of work. The authority of issuance will match the expiration date of your residence permit with the one from your passport. So if you want to avoid having to deal with a bunch of paper renewals every year, just renew your passport right before moving. Then, you will be all set for the next 10 years when it comes to working in the country, but also for obtaining visas for Business Travel which often requires a minimum validity period for your identification documents. For example,The Peoples' Republic of China requires a validity of your passport and residency of six (6) months at the moment of application for a visa.
My advice: Renew your passport before moving. You will avoid all sorts of stressful paperwork in between travels for the next ten years.
3. Secure housing prior to your arrival
It will definitely sound comforting when your Relocation Agent tells you that accommodation will be covered for the first month of relocation. When they shared that information with me, I automatically though: "One month! I got plenty of time to find a dream apartment!" Turns out I forgot to factor the cultural differences between Canada and Germany. In a country where you have to give three months notice to your landlord before moving out, plus all the challenges I already shared in my posts on my hunt for an apartment, things don't go as smoothly as in Montreal. So if you have the chance to do so, I strongly encourage you to start searching for an apartment before leaving your home country: get acquainted with the most popular accommodation search websites, send emails, book appointments, understand how things work from your remote location before getting on the field. Go out there on the Web and start working the market!
You are moving to a new country! Yes, you have plenty of administrative tasks to complete. But, your apartment will be the one thing you will have to carry over day in day out. It will make the difference between being uncomfortable or feeling right at home. If you can kill this task before moving, well then that's one huge task less to stress about.
My advice: Invest time in researching accommodation prior to relocating.
4. Your driving experience resets
If you come from a country where the driving licence is considered at least equivalent to the one in your host country, the authorities should switch yours to a local one without having to pass any exam. This was my situation. However, what my shitty Relocation Agent omitted to tell me was that the authorities would keep my initial driving licence. Not that it matters... but, it would have been nice to have the full picture before taking a decision. Most importantly, what I did not know is that the driving licence is transferred, but not your record. This means that you will become an inexperienced driver overnight. Consequently, when the day comes to rent a car, your request might be rejected for lack of driving experience. In Canada, I had over 12 years of driving experience with a clean record. When I came to Germany, my whole record was unfortunately reset as if I was a 16 year-old youngster who just passed his exam a few days ago.
My advice: Get a copy of your driving record and try to transfer it to the automotive authorities from your relocation country (or at least show it to the rental company so you can still rent the car you needed).
5. Women will suddenly manifest their interest
I assume it is common knowledge that women are attracted to successful men. A confident and ambitious man who dresses well, knows how to cook, does a lot of sports, enjoys travelling and has a particular taste for refined things in general (I think I just heard my name) can definitely attract the female gender. What is so funny about this is that these manifestations of interest will occur from people you thought were friends or simple acquaintances. In fact, these women had a thing for you this whole time you lived in your hometown, but never said anything. So, what has changed by moving away. You are not accessible anymore! That's what changed! You would not believe the amount of messages I got from different ladies admitting they secretly wanted something to happen between us back when I was in living in Montreal. Seriously, that amount is astonishing!
They probably took you for granted since you were kilometers away. And now that you find yourself in a totally different continent, they have suddenly realized how awesome you are and how they have missed out on a great opportunity to secure their future with an Alpha Male. That will teach them to classify us - Alpha Males - in the Friend Zone! This one is for you, bro's! In the meantime, I am still waiting on that one special person who will make me want to put her in front of my ambition. But, I'm not holding my breath, as I'm still making the most out of my defining decade.
My advice: Stay polite and keep your distance. No relationship will result out of these impromptu manifestations of interest, especially not a distance relationship.
6. Your entourage will divide into tiers
This one is definitely the saddest of all things you should know while relocating. Time will definitely be counted every time you visit your hometown. Therefore, you will have to manage your availability like the Prime Minister in order to spend time with your family and friends (Seriously, I'm that close from hiring a PA!). Those people you really enjoyed spending time with will have to understand that seeing everyone within a slim two-week vacation will be very difficult. Therefore, a sort of natural selection will happen which will force you to cruelly choose between two people to spend your free hour with. As much as you would like to mash up those potential meetings into one single mega get-together (which I always try to do), Murphy's Law will act in such a way that about 20% of your friends won't be available on that day. To those people I truly cherish, I would like to say I am terribly sorry to the bottom of my heart not having enough time to see you all. I would love to be home for a few months and have the luxury to spend more time than required with each and every single one of you... but, it's just impossible. Just know that I still carry you in my heart every day and I hope you don't take this unfortunate reality as personal. However, note that my door is always open for those who are passing through Europe. We can either meet in Nuremberg so I can show you my new environment, or I can even hop on a low cost flight to spend an awesome weekend full of adventures together! Some of you did already! I hope more of you will do so in a near future!
My advice: Try and foster your friendships as much as you can. But, at some point, you just have to accept that some friendships require more focus than others
7. You will miss important events
The flip side of this sort of natural selection of friendship is that it goes both ways. It simply won't be possible to attend all of your friends' milestone events. Only two years away from my friends and I have missed countless amounts of weddings, first child births, Big 30's, etc. It sucks. But, that's just how it is. I have to admit that I am no stranger to such reality. My parents and siblings are the only members of our extended family living Canada. Therefore, we missed out on pretty much every event from our family in Morocco. Every time we went there on holiday, we would find out about a new baby born or yet another cousin who got married. I guess it's the same now that I am away from my circles.
My advice: All you can do really is to try and be present through different communication channels. It is easier nowadays with the technology that is available. Although you were not there in person to witness those events, you can still highlight them by sending a message or a gift along with your wishes.
8. Time will run out fast
It's a known cultural characteristic that North Americans like to move fast. We only have 10 days of vacation per year on average; we only need to give two weeks notice to terminate employment; and we always plan on visiting 10 cities in one week while travelling in Europe. I guess it's in our culture to be effective... or at least to make the most out of our invested time. However, if I could do it all over again, I would have probably allowed myself a longer unpaid vacation to enjoy some real quality time with my loved ones.
While interviewing for a job, we often commit to a very early start date for various reasons: the fear of losing your chances of employment; the excitement to start a new challenge; to reduce the financial impact of this transition, etc. But, what is a few paydays when it comes to spending time among your loved ones? It does not happen very often over a lifespan that we get the opportunity to have free time that is not negotiated with your Line Manager. The day you finally leave your home country, you will miss each and every single person like hell! Just remember that your flight ticket has no return. To that effect, make time! Free it up! Do it! It's priceless!
My advice: Allow a significant amount of time to really enjoy your last moments with your loved ones.
9. Rebuilding takes time
As you are starting a new life in a new environment, you will soon notice that you're on your own for literally everything. Whether it's inviting people over; going out; celebrating your birthday; commuting to work; purchasing furniture, learning the local language; finding an apartment; having a deep conversation while eating quesadillas and cheesecake (in that order), you will soon notice that 'relocating' also meant 'hitting the reset button of friendship'. I know I still have my friends and our mutual friendship is still alive, but there is only so many meaningful friendships you can keep from a distance. Unfortunately, others will most likely drift away. Even some you honestly considered as close friends - with whom I have shared sweat and tears on the pitch - won't manifest themselves anymore (unless it's to comment on my hairdue from a picture posted on social medias). I guess it's just the way it is. Two (2) years later, I barely managed to build a solid core - in the center of my new life - which is composed of (a little shy of) a handful of happy campers which I can really trust. By relocating, I guess I just managed to free-up some time to work on my blog for your benefit, dear readers (wink-wink!).
My advice: Your friends from back home became friends by building trust over a significant amount of time. Same rule applies now that you relocated. Just take your time and it will come. In the meantime, keep connecting with people through different activities and enjoy every moment!
10. It will all be worth it
I know I may have sounded like quite the depressive guy in this post. But, (believe me!) every day I wake up, there was never one single day that passed where I did not feel like the happiest man on earth to be living my dream to the fullest. There is not one single day that I don't walk to the office at think: "I cannot believe I am here! I can't believe this is my life!" I left an old life where I felt miserable - in my tiny grey cubicle - wearing my three-piece suit. Most of my posts of that time are definite witnesses of my state of mind at that time. I now wear a three-striped jacket in a company that grants me with the professional fulfillment I worked so hard to obtain, and I'm enjoying every single second of it! So if you hesitate to jump into the Expat Life after having read this, just remember the following post some of you might recognize from a few months back:
"Never settle for less than your true potential! Open as many doors as possible so you have the luxury of choosing your own destiny. And as long as you can go higher, further... DO IT! There is no excuse for settling down or getting comfortable. The whole world is yours to grab and no one is going to hand it to you. You have to take it! Don't think about what you are giving up. It's not about what you walk away from, it's about what you walk away with! As much as it can sometimes be vertiginous to go higher, you will be fine! Just remember that the lowest you can fall to is the previous step. Besides, one can only feel dizzy by looking down. So, keep your chin up and aim for the summit! NOTHING LESS!"
My advice: Outside of your comfort zone is where the magic happens!