Jonny Hicks didn’t find love next door, but instead halfway around the world in Sweden. So when he decided to become a fulltime fiancé as opposed to a long-distance beau, he quickly figured out how to move abroad. And he must have done it right since he’s now happily lived in Sweden for two years.
“I moved to Stockholm, Sweden to be with my fiancé, Laura, who is Finnish,” Hicks said. “You can find a lot of English-speaking expats in cafes and stores all the time. It’s like a secret club we don’t know about but appreciate in passing.”
Hicks did his research before packing only what he could carry and booking a one-way ticket to a new world.
He and other experts shared their knowledge with us, and their tips here are ideal for anyone navigating an international move.
Research Visa Requirements and Apply Early
Before you commit to living in another country, you’ll need to make sure it will accept you as a resident.
“Never (underestimate) the time, money, and effort it could require to a get a visa – especially in regards to paperwork,” said Malte Zeeck, founder of InterNations, an online community for expats in 390 countries.
The InterNations website has useful guides that detail visa restrictions and regulations for specific countries, but travel agent Zach Mendelsohn said it’s not a bad idea to also reach out to consulates.
“I would contact the local U.S. Embassy and ask them if there are any laws, rules or limitations to moving or relocating to the country,” Mendelsohn of TravelZeeky said. “They can also give you a really great, on-the-ground understanding of the country, as many of them are expats themselves.”
In Sweden, Hicks and his fiancé applied for a Sambo visa, a residency visa for a foreigner to live with their significant Swedish other in the country.
“We had to fill out a form to prove our relationship status and pay a small processing fee,” he said. “After that point, we waited to have someone look at it, which was about 11 months, and after that we were approved within a day.”
Wait to Sign a Lease Until After You’ve Landed
Avoid the risk of living in a neighborhood you don’t love – or sending money to a landlord for an apartment that doesn’t exist. Instead, look for long-term housing once you arrive. Consider staying in low-cost hostels or hotels until you’ve roamed around the new city and become more familiar with the area.
“Be prepared to stay in (probably overpriced) short-term accommodations for a while and tell everyone that you are looking,” said Zeeck. “And by everyone, I mean everyone: your new co-workers, your current roommates (if you live in a shared apartment), your business contacts, your online friends…your hairdresser, the barista at your local coffee shop – everyone.”
Also remember that not all countries use online sites to post rentals, Zeeck added. Some foreign landlords still prefer to post housing ads in newspapers and on grocery store pin boards.
Hicks and his fiancé Laura recently found a new, retro apartment in Stockholm that they love, and he hopes to open his own coffee shop in the near future!
Learn the Language – At Least the Basics
While English speakers have the advantage of being fluent in the international business language, there’s a chance expats may find themselves in situations with no English speakers around, so it’s important to at least know important phrases before committing to a new address.
“If you move to Great Britain, you have nothing to worry about. But if you’re moving to a remote part of Indonesia, that might not be the case,” Mendelsohn said. “It’s good to at least know the basics – transportation key terms, how to find food or a bathroom.”
While waiting for his visa approval, Hicks researched free Swedish language classes and tools online, because learning something new always takes him time.
“I have picked up words and the concept naturally, but I haven’t found the time (to learn the language),” he said. “I want to, but Swedish people are the first to switch (languages), and can speak English with ease.”
If you’re not in such a lucky place, you can rely on technology in the meantime.
“If you have a smart phone, download a voice recognition app to help you translate while you get used to the language,” said Mendelsohn. “Your phone can be your best friend.”
Only Pack Essentials When Moving Abroad
Shipping your life to a new country is not cheap, so buying new things abroad and only bringing the essentials is the best way to go.
“Leave as much as you can at home, because you can buy everything you need for cheaper abroad than you would pay to ship it there,” Mendelsohn said. “There’s no reason to spend so much money to ship your things overseas, when storage is so affordable in the States.”
When it came time to pack his bags, Hicks chose to bring what sentimental belongings could fit into three bags and a box.
“I only took what I felt couldn’t be replaced; some of my records, hard-to-find books, mementos from over the years and, lastly, things I figured would be cheaper to bring then buy,” he said.
Although he wishes he could have brought some hometown delicacies with him.
“Let’s say burritos are not the same in Sweden, and they don’t understand Japanese food.”