Thinking of emigrating?

It seems that many people are thinking about emigrating these days and a recent survey found that as many as 50% of people in the UK wished that they lived abroad.

I found that fascinating and I got to wondering about why.

Looking for answers I found that there is little information about the motivation for moving abroad; most web sites just want to help you to go!

It does not seem very logical does it? After all, home is familiar and its easy just to tick along, doing whatever you like, making a fairly nice life. Of course, this only applies if you were lucky enough to win the ‘ovarian lottery’ (google it!) being born into a good family in a free and prosperous country. If you were born in Zimbabwe or South America you might have a different outlook on life and a different set of motivations.

So why do people from comparatively good lifestyles want to risk it all and try to build a new life in a place with so many unknown variables?

There must be a whole host of complex psychological reasons for this, (beyond the scope of this article) but I think that it must be something to do with wanting MORE for yourself and your future.

More what though?

more excitement than the daily grind?
more money?
more freedom?
more time to relax?
more friends?
more sunny weather?
more land?
more house?
more recognition professionally?
more recognition personally?
More originality i.e. wanting to do something different from your old classmates or neighbours?
more status?
Wow. That turned into quite a list. I had no idea that I ‘needed’ so much out of life. But do we really ‘need’ all this and will we get it if we move abroad? Why will all of these things suddenly become available to us in a place that we know little about?

It could be that our perception is a little off here, if we can have all these things in a new country, why can’t we have them at home? The truth is that we probably could, but where is the excitement and glamour in that?

The truth is that we hope to find something better by cutting off any restraints, (real and perceived) that we feel with our current location and situation. In other words; we start over.

As a case study, let me tell you how I got on and what I learned………………

Moving to the ‘Dark Continent’

The first time that I left home, I moved to Uganda at the grand old age of 27. I was taken from everything that I knew and dropped into a completely alien environment; nothing was familiar. The only similarity was that there were people there and they were completely different in almost every way

After a brief training orientation period I was shipped off to a remote, rural African village with a set of keys to a simple house an old Landrover, and a drawing of a small family health clinic and a crude map of the district with crosses marked where the new health units were to be built. Wow, so this is the deep end!

It was not an easy transition however, and the first 6 months were tough and saw great reliance on anything that came in the mail from ‘home’. This was before mobile phones and e-mail were commonplace. Snail mail was it, and the feeling on finding an empty pigeonhole on ‘mail day’ was crushing.

Did moving to Africa make me happy? Yes……….eventually! Stripped of all previous experiences, comforts, friends and family, a new person gradually developed and emerged, the “real” me. Facing some pretty steep challenges I became stronger, my confidence grew as did my competence and capabilities. I became more appreciative of my surroundings, my life and its challenges.

What followed for me was a spectacular couple of years of meeting very interesting people, achieving the near impossible in my job, developing a deep love for the region and I was lucky enough to meet the woman who later became my wife. Enough said.

Lessons learnt from that first time living abroad

Appreciate easy access to clean, safe water.
Appreciate the difficulty in finding good quality food, (by that I mean, actually finding the food, searching out the little trader who grows nice tomatoes or has beans not full of weevils!)
You can live without pre-packed food, precious little tins and ‘goodies’.
Appreciate the protection and safety of my ‘shelter’ or comfortable house.
Respect the weather and how much life depends on the rain and sunshine.
Respect the weather and the devastation that it can wreak.
Appreciate your family more.
Appreciate your friends more.
Access to free medical care for life is a privilege and a matter of life and death.
Access to free education is a wonderful opportunity.
Appreciate a good communication network of telephones.
Appreciate decent road surfaces.
Having a vehicle to travel around in and funds to run it were a luxury.
Reliable electricity is a luxury.
I loved my fridge! (try living without one for a year or so).
Help can come from unexpected places and from people with little to give.
I also learned that it is easy to forget all of the above lessons that I had learned.
Going to live in Africa as a relatively young man changed me beyond recognition, exploded my narrow minded perception of the world and blew away all the largely irrelevant stuff that I used to think was important. I also met many like minded people and felt like a square peg in a square hole for the first time in my life. Time to go back to the UK for a while……or is it?

Moving to New Zealand

A few years on, married now with two small children saw us hankering after a move again; New Zealand this time, a step up for my wife and an opportunity for me to play ‘house’ and look after the children; the good life beckoned.

East Africa, (Uganda mostly but with spells in Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania) is about as far removed from New Zealand, Scandinavia and the UK as you could possibly get, but strangely, New Zealand proved to be the harder one to adjust to!

I wonder if this was because of preconceptions, rather naively I had thought that New Zealand wouldn’t be that much of a transition from the UK. After giving this some thought we realized that:-

We found it difficult initially for the following reasons

Poor timing to leave the UK (around the ‘credit crunch’ period)
Lots of cash worries to fund tickets, settle tax bills etc
My wife going back to full time work after 10 years.
I gave up my career and took a house husband/primary caregivers role
Living in a rural area after being used to a village
Getting used to a child starting school for the first time
Living so far away from family and friends
Lots of hassle with companies in the UK, utility suppliers, financial products, changing addresses etc
Dealing with things that fell through the holes and went wrong!
Dealing with stuff that just plain got forgotten!
Simple housing, with single glazing and little insulation are cold, damp, difficult to clean and heat.
Autumn/winters are mild but wet and long, November to April are fab though.
However, after just nine months, we were more settled and working on enjoying the challenges. Are we happier now? I would say no, not really. That is not a bad reflection on NZ, just that we were not ‘unhappy’ in our previous country!

Moving for us is about moving forward, embracing new challenges, seeing different parts of the world and not getting ‘stuck’ in a particular rut if you like. So, for us, moving abroad did not make us ‘happier’, its just different!

How does all this help me decide emigrating is for me?

Just remember that emigrating is not necessarily the answer. If you think that emigrating will free you to be the person that you know yourself to be; well, we could argue that you could do that right now in your own home. The same strength of character that would see you successfully emigrate, could be used to make sweeping changes in your current life. However, neither is an easy task.

For some people though, moving to a new country gives them a new lease of life and really improves their lifestyle and environment. Ultimately it is down to you to make the decision, but remember, few things are forever and if you do go and it is not quite what you expected, well then just turn around and come back. There is NO shame in that at all, better to have done it and learn, than to forever regret not making the move. You will live happier for it.

Just be aware that there may be loads of things about your new destination that you are unaware of and that are not likely to be noted in local guides or tourist information. Local customs or habits that you may find annoying as they differ to what you think is ‘right and proper’!

One very useful piece of advice if you decide to go, although this will still work if you are just moving house. Go to (opens new window), and click “download file” It is a simple template (WORD/EXCEL etc), that you can use to store all of your current important personal information. With this file you will easily be able to manage the hassle of the paperwork chase because you will know the exact status of everything!

Trust me when I say from experience that you need a personal information file to help you manage the dozens of calls to people and organizations that you are going to have to make. It is free (although donations are welcome).

Safeguarding your important personal information is vital. You need a clear record of all those reference numbers, bank account numbers, customer numbers, postal addresses, email addresses, web site addresses etc in one easily accessible and safe place.

How can the personal information file help me do this?

Your personal information sheet is a simple template that utilizes your existing skills in WORD or EXCEL to create a record or summary of all those details. Just download the sheet, fill it in and save it. No fancy programs or complicated stuff, just a big list of important info!

It is simple, easily accessible, effective and very useful, especially:

If you are moving house
If you are emigrating
If you have dependents or family
If you work away from home
If you are retired or take long holidays
If you live in a potential evacuation zone, floods, fires, snow etc
If you telephone or contact your utility, financial or other ‘service providers’
If you want to take stock of your personal or family situation
Simply add to your personal information sheet sheet over a period of time, save it on your computer, store it on a tiny USB pen/flash drive/stick thingy or print it out. Oh and DON’T forget to take it with you!

I hope that this site has given you something to think about and if you decide to move abroad or emigrate, good luck with the move and I hope that it all works out for you.

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