What Will It Take For You To Become An Expat?

Yes, I’m Talking to You. Dammit, Pay Attention!

Pull your seat a little closer, sit up straight, close your gaping mouth and listen.

Really. Focus. Pay attention…

You’re sitting there, behind your desk, in front of your computer screen.

Maybe it’s Tuesday today, but that isn’t important. It could be Monday, it could be Wednesday, it could be any work day of the week.

This week, next week, next month. It’s all the same.

Same desk, same PC. Same Tuesday. Same, same, same.

Wouldn’t you like a little change in your life?
Couldn’t you use a little change in your life?

I received a comment today. Some guy asking about getting a Czech driving license on my Czech driving license post.
Then it hit me – I haven’t received a comment in a long while.

No one asking “But what about…?” or “How would I…?
Well, what about you? Why haven’t You written that question?

Am I writing this for my health? No. Sure, writing this blog gives me a smile.
But more importantly, it should be giving you ideas, motivation, the “ah-ha” moment to start a plan, screaming “By God, I’m going to Do It!”.


Before I dive into creating some all-encompassing how-to guide…let me ask some beginner questions:
1. Do you have a passport?
May seem simple, but it’s important, so I’ll repeat it. Get a passport. Caution: when you hold it in your hand, you may experience a little tingle. It’s normal.

2. Do you have your shit in order?
I mean, no $30,000 credit card debt, no summons in the mailbox, no parole officer hassling you… If none apply, you’re good to go.

3. Are you generally a happy person?
The answer is likely yes. However, if you feel like slicing your wrists after watching a sad TV commercial, then culture shock may not sit well with you. If you are a generally happy person, then you’re good to go.

Can You Do It? – Yes!
Deciding to just pack it all up and experience life elsewhere ….it’s not a hard decision.
It’s a very easy one. The hard part is in doing it.

They did it.
But it can be done. Most recently, just this past weekend, a couple I know (through this blog) did it. (Damn, I can almost hear the Dora the Explorer end theme song: “We Did It – Hooray!”)

Just a few months ago, I got a “What if…?” question from a sweet, young couple from Arizona. Now they live and are teaching in Prague, Czech Republic.
They did it. And so can You.

So, are you ready? If so, I guarantee I will move you overseas.

I look forward to hearing from you.


Published by


An American who likes to move around. I now live on the eastern Canadian seaboard. My job? A stay-at-home dad for two cute but demanding bosses. My wife? Also cute; not so demanding. My wife and I both love travel. We met in South Korea, travelled across Australia, India, Europe and beyond. We lived in Czech Republic for four years. Many stories to tell and experience to share. If you let me, I will help you travel as we do. Enjoy.

29 thoughts on “What Will It Take For You To Become An Expat?”

  1. Jeff, thanks for the kick in the pants 🙂 I’m definitely working on it, got #1 and #3 covered, but it’s that pesky #2 that is holding me back right now. I need a few more months of saving – can’t put my family at risk until I have a bit more cushion to handle the unexpected.

  2. Mike, you rock. Thanks for commenting.

    Great to hear you’re a happy passport holder. Those are two, very important steps.

    But as for stinky #2 (…got shit together?), let me give a quick disclaimer (disclaimer in a good way): living abroad can be much cheaper than living in the States. I don’t know your situ, but when you say couple more months’ savings, do you mean as if you’re living there? – Or say, Thailand, Panama, Bali, -because there, you need less than half to be super comfortable.

    Just food for thought.

    God, I gotta get my own ‘shit together’ and collect some thoughts. I think what folks need is a concise, practical book or something to set some facts straight.

    Til later, hope to hear more from ya, -Jeff

  3. Jeff, thanks for the encouragement. As you say, living abroad can indeed be much less expensive. My situation is that I’m married to a Filipina and intend to expat/relocate to the Philippines, but I provide housing to my elderly parents so I need to have enough saved up to meet their housing needs and to get us initially established there. I figure we can definitely live nicely for 30-50% of our US living expenses even if we allow enough for a trip or two per year back to the US to see family. There really aren’t any jobs available there, so I have to either find a telecommute type gig or get my own business going. It’s a challenge, but I’m up for it 🙂

    There are a ton of great people blogging about living abroad including yourself. I make the rounds to keep myself inspired as I work through building enough reserve to pull off the move.

    I’m sure there’s room for a guidebook – I know the folks at http://locationindependentprofessionals.com/ have done well with their info products, so I’d take that as an indication that there’s definitely interest and a market out there for that sort of information. Your experiences are enough different from theirs that I’m sure you could offer a unique perspective.

    1. Excellent link Mike, I wrote to Lea and her husband shortly after seeing their site.

      For now, I thought I’d offer you this ebook: InfoBook for Foreigners (right-click and save the PDF to your computer)
      It’s a 96 page PDF file for expats coming to Prague. While providing answers for Prague, it may help you think of more information to get about the Philippines.

      All the best,

  4. It’s #2 for me as well. My wife finishes her PhD in 2012. After that, she may choose to get a second one, which she would finish in 2016. Either way, once she’s done with school, we’re outta here. Not sure to where yet – currently our requirements are: 1) big city, 2) good public transportation, 3) opportunity for immersion in a language other than English, 4) at least one of us needs to be able to find a job. Mountains and/or ocean would be nice, too. So that could be Milan, Seoul, or anywhere.

    I find myself taking that into account more and more when considering purchases. My car may be about to die, but I’m thinking it wouldn’t be worthwhile to replace it with a brand new car. The coffee table’s legs fell off the other day – if I were staying in the US indefinitely I would have paid someone to weld it back together, or run to the store to buy a new one. Instead, I just brought a table from the spare room into the main room, and now our spare room just doesn’t have a table anymore. I find it’s better to do that, than to buy something new that I’ll just have to sell at a huge loss at a yard sale in not too long.

    Jeff, I hope all goes well with your upcoming transition!

    1. Great to hear Jon!

      I especially like how already you’re minimizing what you accumulate. That’s really great.
      Most people don’t ‘get’ it until years after they’ve moved to a country where consumerism isn’t so pushed.
      Hmmm, with a PhD in the family, consider that a stronger asset in some countries than in others. German for example. And you got (very cold) coast and mountains. 🙂

      Thanks for the well wishes and I look forward to hearing more from you.

      1. Update:
        My wife’s Ph.D. has been delayed until 5/2013. She applied for the second doctorate at her preferred school, and was not accepted. So, our options include:
        1. She finds a job internationally, and my boss lets me telecommute from there. He told me in 2011 that he would not allow this in 2012, but would allow it in 2016. So…2013? Hmm.
        2. We both find jobs internationally in the same city.
        3. She is considering applying for the second doctorate at an international university, but in an English-speaking country. This would partially satisfy the expat itch, but not completely, so we’d still want option #1 or #2 afterwards. This school is in a small community where I would not be likely to find work in my field, so I would have to either telecommute (if my boss allows it) or switch industries for a while.
        4. I didn’t think this was possible, but I recently saw a (domestic) job listing that was so perfect for me, it would make me be willing to delay the expat thing for a while if I could get it. I sent an application last week. We’ll see.

        1. hey Jon,

          Awesome – thanks for the update!

          I’m left a bit puzzled, looking at this from a few steps back….

          Options #3 and #4 are the ones you’re actively working toward. (thus, the most likely to happen)

          But you mention the wanderlust factor will leave you “still wanting option #1 or #2 afterwards.”

          So, I’m left puzzled and wondering if you’re working toward options #1 & #2?

          All told, you and your wife rock. It’s great to hear this update, and I heartily thank you for sharing with us all.

          Best to you both,

        2. I’m a bit hesitant to give all the details in a publicly-visible forum, and I am strongly considering a phone call with you once we know a bit more about what we want, so we could talk more about it then.

          But basically:

          Re #3: She really wants the second doctorate, and feels that she’d need to get it at an institution where the courses are taught in English, i.e. that it would be too difficult/time-consuming to learn the new language to that degree of scientific proficiency while/before getting the degree. She’s definitely on board for the living abroad idea, but to be honest, it’s my goal that she’s willing to go along with.

          Re #4: A couple of factors here. I’m not sure if telecommuting to my current job from an international location would be allowed. I spoke to 2 other managers in my company about switching to their groups, and they said that was a dealbreaker for them. So I suspect that if I will be allowed to do it, I’d need to stay in my current position at the company. I’m kind of ready for a change of scenery, so that’s a negative, but one I’d be willing to live with if I were allowed to telecommute from abroad. But there’s still no guarantee that would be allowed. My annual review should be in a month or so, and I’ll ask then. If it’s not allowed, I figure I’d need to either a) work in another company’s office in another country, or b) find another US-based company, put in some time domestically, and then transfer to one of their int’l offices. This company that I applied to is the undisputed king of my industry, with locations all over the world. This is where I was already wanting to work after the expat adventure ends (if it does) until my retirement. Plus the particular job that opened up exactly fits my background. But it’s probably moot, since they haven’t responded to my resume. So I guess it’s likely back to telecommuting in my current position or finding a foreign employer, which is fine.
          The part I glossed over above is that I’m still nervous about applying to a foreign company, in terms of my ability to get the job (and, as an employee who would be learning the local language…*keep* the job). But, I’ll never know until I try 🙂

          1. hey Jon,
            First of all, I’m proud to say, in order to reply, I had to go into my blog’s settings and increase the number of nested comments allowed. 🙂

            So, your wife wants to finish her doctorate in English (at a uni abroad). So? Has she looked into that? Is there any doubt she could find an advisor/professor fluent in English? I should think there are more than a handful of such profs in desirable universities that would be pleased to accommodate this (post-doc) doctoral student. More likely the trouble is, she may need you (or someone) to do the initial research, to make a short-list of universities.

            As for you, I’d not worry about the 2nd language bit. I also worried about that when working for a major corp in Prague. Turns out, they company boasted some 35-40% “foreigners” so English was the official “working” language.
            And consider your current “undisputed king of industry” as a big plus on your CV.
            Lastly, FOLLOW UP on your sent resume. Remember this: the hiring manager who wrote the job description is very RARELY the person who first filters resumes. That’s HR. So, it stands to reason that, even despite the job exactly fitting your background (as per the job description), your resume wasn’t exactly compared to it. Follow up on it – insist on talking to the hiring manager to demonstrate how well you’re suited for the job. Mention your recent achievements that would obviously benefit this position. Act.

            I understand you not wanting to give much more detail online. I’ll help as much as you permit (and I’m confident I could share some helpful stories).


            1. Hi, Jeff. I keep thinking that I owe you a response, but there’s really no news to tell.

              I followed up on the resume with the “undisputed king of my industry” but still no response. The position for which I applied and which I still feel would be the best fit for me professionally, is in Boston. But they do have many other positions worldwide.

              My wife is chugging away at her dissertation, and now plans to finish in August. It’s hard for her to find time to search for a job or a school for the second doctorate (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine) while writing the dissertation, but she’s working on it.

              I have a new boss in my current position who says I can telecommute whenever I want, which is awesome. Though I haven’t specifically asked if that includes outside N. America yet.

              I would still like to do a phone call with you. I think it would be best to wait until my wife’s dissertation defense date has passed, but please do let me know if you disagree with that.


              1. Jon,
                No, I don’t disagree – you both are ahead of the curve, in my opinion.

                Best news of all from your new boss. That must be a huge relief to you both.

                I wish your wife the best of success with her dissertation. When she’s done writing it / defending it, give me a shout.

                By the way, I’m smiling that I had to alter my blog’s settings to allow this (and a future) comment. Normally, I allowed only up to 6 nested replies. 🙂 This just goes to show how interactive the blog has become with you and others’ feedback.

                Keep up the attitude and motivation!


                1. Hi, Jeff. I know it’s been a while, but I just submitted the PayPal form to schedule a call with you. I’m looking forward to it!

  5. Any advice for those of us who will be burdened with student loan debt for the rest of our lives? My husband & I have both 1 & 3, but #2 is never going away. That being said, we don’t have ANY other debts besides $60,000+ in student loans. Our car is paid for, we rent a townhome, we don’t have cable tv, we barely go out, and save, save, save all that we can while paying huge monthly payments to loans. We love to travel, but it takes us years to save up for a single trip. Is there any hope of us ever being able to make this expat transistion with this student loan debt?

    1. Sarah, it depends on your skillsets. If you and/or your husband have skills that are in demand, then you may actually be able to improve your situation by becoming an expat. If you go to an area with high wages and/or lower taxes, you may be able to take home significantly more.

      In my case, even though I am working in a third world country (Philippines), I was able to negotiate an increase based on my US salary because they were unable to staff the position with a local. The increased salary combined with a flat 15% income tax and around $700 per YEAR in medical insurance costs pushed up my take home quite a bit.

      If I were you I’d look into going somewhere like Dubai where there are no income taxes and high wages. You may find that if you’re willing to continue your minimal lifestyle that you’re able to knock out that 60k faster than you ever thought. I’m planning to be completely out of debt of any kind by the first of next year. And I can hardly wait.

      1. Thanks for responding. I have a BFA in photography, which often isn’t exactly a high demand skill set. I have been working as an executive assistant for about 10 years now to pay the bills. My husband does SEO (Search Engine Optimization) currently. We aren’t doctors or lawyers, just some creative people who want to start a family and make a change. I should also mention that we are both in our early thirties. We do want to continue to live simple lives. I don’t have the desire to own fancy things or spend lots of money. I just want to be able to work a job that I don’t hate, grow some of my own vegetables in a garden and well live la dolce vita. But somehow, in the U.S., that seems like to much to ask. I have started thinking that forming an internet business will be the only way for me to live wherever I want, now I just need to make that happen. I am not sure how I feel about moving to Dubai. My brother was in the military and spent some time there. He came back with stories that don’t exactly make me feel warm & fuzzy inside. Any other location suggestions? I love Scotland & Italy, but I am also aware that those would not be easy or cheap transistions. Costa Rica? Argentina? Croatia?

    2. Hi Sarah,

      Mike beat me! 🙂

      Yes, as Mike said, you might find a better life abroad.

      If you or the husband have experience in finance, IT, nursing for example, there is strong demand in many countries, particularly for native English speakers.

      Bear in mind you will not pay US income tax on salary earned abroad on the first ~92k earned. That income, after covering expenses abroad could be used toward the loans. As Mike suggested, working in the mid-east can be pretty lucrative (e.g. high salary, room & board paid for, paid annual trips home).

      Also, look into loan deferment. It’s not very likely, but worth a call to your lender. They might offer, while outside the country, i.e. earning below a threshold in the US, you could put the loan payments on pause. I know that’s the case if say, you went back to being a student.

      That all said, I’m highly against carrying debt abroad, whether on pause or not. And in my opinion, $60k is too great to carry with you. Unless you both are super high earners, my suggestion is to knock it down to a more manageable level, like ….zero.

      From your remark about saving for trips, I’d say $60k is as significant to you as it would be to me.

      I applaud you both for the (very) uncommon sacrifices you’re making to pay it down. You both could launch a class on that as “case studies.” Honestly, you two are doing well. Yes, you have debt, but I’m guessing that once it’s paid off, you two are on a fast track to being wealthy.

      “Any hope of us ever being able to make this expat transition?” – YES! Look how un-rooted you are. No mortgage, no cars, good budgeting, committed to the transition. Yes, you two are both willing and able. But I’d just strongly recommend getting the debt down further. Keep up the great payments.

      Here’s an off-the-wall suggestion. Make a reasonable date for yourselves, say one year out. Continue to slam the student loan down. Then, when it’s time to honour your dream, have an amenable payment plan for whatever balance remains. Perhaps you could easily continue to pay off the loans with a much less monthly payment (possible through refinancing?) while abroad. The time abroad is your reward.

      But I know from experience (from others mostly), coming back to debt can make anyone’s return very bittersweet. So, just plan a couple steps ahead, and you should be at peace with the decisions you make.

      Sorry if that seems long-winded. Hope it was helpful.

      Best to you and the hubby,

  6. Hello Jeff! This is about my third entry into your blog. I’m a young adult and have thought multiple times over the past two years, “I kind of want to move out of the country”. Today is the first day I thought, “I do, actually, I do want to move out of the country, it’s time.” and posted that on my facebook, where someone brought to my attention the term “expat” and google brought me here.
    I haven’t read much yet, but so far I see a lot of family and couple relations with your posts, which discourages me a bit because I am a young single female that only really has connections to my family, relationship wise. Any tips or blog topics you can direct me to that address Independent Ex-patting? I feel like this is important because it is different when done alone, or I could imagine it is.

    1. Krys,

      Thank you much for commenting — an excellent question, too!

      You’re asking about independent (single) people going off to travel… and if they have the same opportunities or chances as a couple or family, right?

      Absolutely!!! I would say, all of my blog applies as much to single people traveling with no dependents as it does to a couple or family. In fact, for single travellers, it’s all the easier.

      I highlight this when talking about packing and shipping things. I emphasize this in my “saying goodbye” post. I especially mean it when motivating someone to go for it.

      Being single means you answer to no one but yourself. Easiest way to travel and offers absolute flexibility. No worries about young ones’ beds that night, or how tired you’ll be at the end of the day.

      Krys, don’t let a lack of “traveling as a single female” perspective discourage you. I speak from my experiences, not everyone’s. BUT, I do try hard to encourage everyone’s potential, not just mine.


  7. I have been wanting to move out of the country for years!!! It has not happened yet. I have a partner and 2 kids. Partner doesn’t want to go anywhere without some security. I’m ready to jump.
    He’s got a trade but no documentation. We have been looking at australia and new zealand but they seem really hard to get into.
    Just want a good quality of life, clean air, food and water. Slow pace of life, ahhhh. good. We have all the steps in order. Why is it taking so long?

    1. hey there “ms me,” thanks for your comment.

      It sounds like you and your partner are in a tough spot. I recommend you talk about what *exactly* it will take for both of you to go. If it’s money, a backup plan, return tickets or one of a dozen other things, figure out exactly what it is. Then get that, then go. Pardon the phrase, but it’s “shit or get off the pot” right?

      Best of luck,

      p.s. If you both would prefer, I can walk you through that within one hour together on a phone call.

  8. So my husband and I have always talked about a desire to “expat” ourselves and our family. Currently he is the only one working (he has a degree in political science but works for a community college). I am a stay at home mom to our two boys (2 & 3). I don’t have a degree, but should finish my degree in accounting in the next 2 years.
    We live on one income (a low one) now, rent, no credit card or other consumer debt, however we have a SIGNIFICANT amount of student loan debt (probably over 90K). There is absolutely no way we will be able to pay this down anytime soon (I would say not even in 20 years). Is there any hope for us to move overseas?

    1. hey Bri. Thanks much for writing.

      I’ll be honest, you had me super excited for you right up to the point of the $90k in student loans. You probably guessed as much already?

      Unless you can defer it somehow, I can only recommend to continue paying it off. Thanks to recent legislation, student loan debt stays with us longer than credit card debt, including no option for bankruptcy.

      That said, there’s still the option of getting a job (abroad) first, to be able to continue paying off the loan.

      Set your timeline for what you’re comfortable with (2+ years?). Do your research leading up to it. Make solid contacts and frankly, believe you will go.

      And you will go.


  9. Hey Jon,

    Just stumbled across your blog as I was Googling “Expat Tips” as I myself and looking to become an expat! I haven’t looked through all your articles yet though I’m assuming I’ll find some great info here.

    I am a person who always wants to push my boundaries, expand and grow as a person and I think living overseas is a great way to do that. I’m Canadian and looking to move to Ireland. Unfortunately I do not have a EU passport (sigh) but can get a 2-year working Visa which I think it a good start.

    I’m in my early-30’s and single and while some of my friends are doing the partner-house-kids thing, it just doesn’t seem like that is happening for me (nor do I necessarily want the stereotypical/traditional way of life). I’ve spent my late-20’s getting myself established in my career and I now have a good job that I’ve been in for 5 years, a great apartment and good friends living in a great city. But…things just feel a bit flat.

    So, after much humming and hawing and a few anxiety-ridden nights, I’ve decided to move to Ireland (which I’ve been to 5 times due to my fascination with the country! No idea where it came from, been there since I was young). I am lucky to have a very close friend there and some other friends/aquaintences I’ve met along the way.

    I have some concerns about finding good work in my field (event planning) but at the same time I kinda feel like that will work out.

    Since apartments come fully furnished there and I don’t want to bring/ship much stuff I’m thinking of selling everything (as opposed to paying for storage), however I’m a bit concerned that if I decide to come back to Canada, I’ll be left to start completely over again buying new things (bed/couch etc.) which would most likely put me in debt (for a bit). Any ideas/thoughts regarding that?


  10. Hey jeff, my fiance and i are both nurses with very little debt (student loans for her) and are trying to make the move abroad to southeast asia. We were thinking of teaching english for awhile but i wanted to ask, why is it so difficult to work in medicine abroad? Also whats a rough figure youd recommend to save to make the transition comfortable in case after a year or two we have to return?

    1. Dayton, you’re competing with a surplus of nurses from Philippines in SE Asia. Nursing is perceived as one of the best careers to enable a Filipino to work abroad. Thus there is a huge overpopulation there. Some hospitals actually require fresh graduates to pay the hospital for the privilege of working so that they can get enough experience to work abroad.

      The best thing you can do in SE Asia is bring your own income from abroad via businesses that you can operate or work for remotely. Even a very modest income can go a long way if you don’t have a high end lifestyle. When I worked as an expat in Malaysia I spent around $3k/month for a family of four with private school. Manila actually cost a bit more.

      Savings needed to return could vary widely according to what you are willing to live with when you get back. I generally figure around 10k USD for myself.

  11. Hi Jeff- my husband and I have wanted to spend a year abroad for a long time now- and finally feel like we may be in the right place to do it. We have some questions- thinking we will probably end up on a phone call with you soon- but would love some pointing in the right direction.
    We would like to secure jobs, preferably in Germany, before we move- but have been having difficulty finding options/applications, etc. I am a speech language pathologist and my husband is a writer.
    We also are wondering about education- would it be possible for my husband to earn a masters degree at a public university while abroad? We have heard that the cost for education there is significantly less than in the US.
    Finally- when it comes to health care, do we need to establish citizenship to get coverage? How does that work?
    Thanks! Looking forward to your reply!

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