How to Quit Your Job and Move Abroad in 6 Easy Steps
In December 2014, I was very ill and had to have major surgery. At the time, not only did I had a demanding job in a work environment that could only be described as toxic, but they put so many bureaucratic hurdles in place before I could take any sick leave that it made my recovery keenly stressful. That’s when I decided I was going to quit my job. Nothing about what I was doing, my salary, or the trajectory of my career was worth my health or general happiness. Since moving to Panama, a lot of people have asked me exactly how I did it. Here is how to quit your job, pack up your life, and move abroad:
1. Pick a place that fits your needs- There are many places in the world that you can go- the opportunities are endless. However, it’s important to pick a place that fits your needs as well as the lifestyle you want to lead. During my first study abroad as an 18 year old, I was very happy to go broke in Paris during the week, avoid my mom’s calls, and party throughout Europe on the weekends. I had little concern for anything more than enjoying my life and not being pickpocketed. However, almost a decade later and with more experience, I now value being close enough to home that I can see my family when I’d like to, leaving winter behind as a distant memory, the ability to integrate in the local culture rather than the party scene, and freedom of mobility. I was certain that I wanted to be in a place that I could learn Spanish, make local friends, and safelynwalk to the beach whenever I pleased. I also wanted to be in a place with a thriving economy and opportunities for me to pursue a serious career if I choose to stay. Oh, and cute guys…did I mention cute guys already? If not, move that reason to the top of the list.
Ultimately, it’s necessary to be honest with yourself about the standard of living you expect. Having lived abroad before, there were things I was willing to compromise on in terms of standard of living: constant access to wifi and 24 hour electricity- even hot showers- are not essential for me. However, a good friend of mine lived in Venezuela during a gas shortage and food crisis. Although this is a decidedly difficult experience for anyone, she complained so much about it that I turned her down when she asked to go to Haiti with me- Haiti, where taking to the streets to protest is a time-honored tradition...
2. Choose a date- Once I’d chosen where I wanted to go, I had to choose a date that allowed me enough time to prepare for the move. The wisdom of picking a date comes down to the fact that it gives you something to look forward to. At work, I kept a post it with “November :)” stuck to my computer monitor as a reminder that this was just a “Poe sort of misery with a Frost sort of hope”.
I began informing my close friends and family about my plans to move and the expected date months in advance. This might seem superfluous, but I realized that few people actually believed I was leaving. I’d remind them that I intended to move to Panama and my friends would simply smile and nod indulgently before continuing to make plans as if I would still be around! The unspoken expectation is that there will always be something holding hold you back. Since the night of my going away party and even now, people are still a bit surprised that I actually walked away from it all and moved.
3. Get your finances in order- The perception is that people who choose to move abroad make that decision brashly; this couldn’t be farther from the truth. My life experiences have made me a firm believer in the financial independence of women, especially women of color. Before I moved abroad, I diversified my portfolio: I invested some of my money in stocks, bought rental property to generate some passive income, and then kept some money in my savings as a cushion for my move. It's a misconception that you have to wait until you make a certain amount of money to invest, save, or buy property. Depending on your state or lender, there are a multitude of resources available to help first time homeowners buy a home with nothing down or only a small percentage down payment. Websites like WiseBanyan help you make strategic investments based on your needs. Ultimately, what type of financial planning works for you depends entirely on your needs, your income, and how risk adverse you are. However, one thing that I would strongly recommend is setting up a separate bank account just to save for the move. Having a percentage of my salary automatically deposited into a separate account each month prevented me from spending that money elsewhere and allowed me to set goals and monitor my progress.
4. Do what you want to do- Decide how you want to use your education, skills, and interests abroad. Certain people have jobs that they can do anywhere or skills that are globally in demand. Despite the idea that living abroad is something only for the wealthy or retirees, there are a variety of way to go abroad for an extended period of time and have the cost either completely or partially covered, or even get paid to do something interesting. Some examples are the Peace Corps, Boren Fellowship, Jobattical, U.N. Jobs, U.N. Volunteers, Help Stay, and Help Exchange. There are also many opportunities to teach English abroad in places like Vietnam, Spain, South Korea, and Chile. Additionally, if there is a particular organization you are interested in working for, contact them personally to see if your background matches their needs. It’s important to do the legwork to get your plans in order months in advance so that you have an opportunity to meet deadlines, and change your plans if necessary.
5. Pack light- Some people get rid of everything. I, on the other hand, was happy to give my couch to a guy from Vermont who’d just moved to D.C., but I wasn’t willing to part with my shoe collection, artwork, or a hand painted dresser I once made an ex-boyfriend drive three hours into Virginia to buy for me. I decided what to pack and what to keep based on whether or not I’d be happy to pay for this item to be shipped to me internationally one day. Based on this criteria, I gave away certain things immediately and sold others. MakeSpace dropped off storage bins for me to pack up the rest and conveniently came to pick them up and store them for me. No hassle. I left D.C. with just 2 suitcases.
6. Finally, just go- Why are you still reading this?! Go out there and make it happen!