What a year 2020 has been?! Even if it went well, no one could’ve ever imagined this would be what 2020 would have amounted to! I don’t think I need to give a recap of the state of the world.
Despite everything, 2020 was pinnacle for me in that I learned so many lessons from my move to another country, finally getting a job as an expat after 3 years waiting, and starting my blog. The latter points I will touch on in future blog posts.
But today, I’d like to take you through my very extended process of moving to a new country during covid. My first move to Colombia was so quick and smooth and this was my point of reference.
There may be other countries that have long processes but this was a first for me. I’m sharing this for anyone who is considering a move abroad and is curious about the process itself.
For us, the process starts with my husband’s company asking him to move, giving him an offer letter, and us accepting. Not much to it as if we had to choose where to live.
We had valid passports as well so I wont be touching on that. Let’s get started on what the process was like for us after that.
1. VISA Requirements
Of course every country’s VISA process will be different when moving abroad. For Colombia, we could have moved to Colombia then start sorting it out.
So the first time we visited Colombia was to live there.
However, for Mexico, my husband had to interview at the Mexican consulate in Colombia. Once approved, he had to go to immigration in Monterrey to do some paperwork and get his residents card.
But, there was a back up of applications at the Monterrey office. So his company took him to a city close by, Zacatecas. Here, he scanned his fingerprints and officially received his resident’s card.
Then news started flooding in that covid-19 had hit Latin America hard and Colombia was closing their borders. So we scrambled to get back and made one of the last flights before the Colombian borders were closed to international flights that weekend.
2. Financial Situation
Everyone speaks about analysing your financial situation before a move. However, if you’re moving abroad for a job as we did then this is a bit different.
In our situation, this means to look at the take home salary, work out a budget from there and see if accepting the new position makes financial sense.
However if the choice is yours, saving enough to afford a move would be something to focus on.
3. Nothing Is In Your Control…Anxiety
Sometimes there can be a wait with the VISA process or any aspect of moving that can take some time. Nothing is in your control so that’s definitely something you have to get used to if that’s not your style. It isn’t mine either!
My insides filled with anxiety. I waited around, not knowing what was going to happen. I’m sure lots of people share this sentiment with covid as well and this was the feeling about the world.
On top of that was the anxiety of if we’d suddenly have to pack up our entire lives and move to a new country. That along with other personal issues pretty much took me to my anxiety limit.
After hearing so many people talk about meditation, I finally decided to try it. And magically it worked…not! It’s not a one time thing, as with everything you have to commit (ahhh! Who knows about commitment issues?) and work towards it.
I accomplished 7 days, 10 minutes a day of guided meditation with the Calm app. (I talk about this a lot! No, they don’t sponsor me…yet?). And if I felt anxiety creeping back in, I would focus on my breathing.
I didn’t feel a great change but I did notice that I wasn’t fretting about every little thing. After a month, I could tell that my habits were changing. I became less anxious, frustrated, and even annoyed
Also to help relax, I decided to gain more knowledge. This way the fear of the unknown wouldn’t be so unknown to me anymore. I began looking up things about areas, housing, transport, culture, cost of living, possible budget, and learning the language.
These are just the basics that you’d need to know before moving to a country. It’s better to have a grasp of things before you land rather than being completely clueless.
I mean even after this I didn’t magically become an expert in the new country. I was still a bit clueless but not as bad as it could’ve been.
5. Having Money
For the pre-trip to Mexico before actually moving, I went to convert money in Bogotá. However Mexican pesos seemed to be limited in supply.
I ended up only getting a small amount of pesos. So I also got some USD to be able to convert it when we got to Mexico. However, at the “cambio” (money exchange) in Mexico, I had to fill out a form and show proof of passport.
I have never had such a detailed process to change money. Definitely helpful to have cash in case there are any issues with cards.
This happened with my debit/credit cards, they did not work. I made sure to call credit/debit card company so they knew I would be away and that I would have access to use them internationally. But for some reasons, the machines were different in Mexico.
6. Packing and Organisation
By October 2020, the Colombian airports started internationally flights so we were given the green light to move abroad, probably in November. So I started working towards this date.
I searched for travel dates around mid-November. Then worked back from there when we would need to start getting things done before leaving.
Fortunately, my husband’s company provided a container for shipment for us and packing of it. All I had to do was separate everything. Then decide what I wanted to take with me in a suitcase. All I would have for the next 2 to 2.5 months living in a hotel and until out shipment arrives.
That’s such a scary thought to pack for such a long time what if I forget something? Fortunately, my lists and preparing has helped me through this.
But if you really forget something, hopefully it’s something replaceable and you can just buy whatever you’ve forgotten. That was my thinking to ease my anxiety of not living without something.
Also, if you own a house, now you can decide if you want to keep or sell it. This includes everything within your place too, whether you should sell them or not.
When I moved to Colombia, I had nothing, so I bought everything in the apartment when I moved. However, to move to Mexico, I shipped everything from that apartment to a house.
As the house was quite bigger, many of the things we had seemed small and not sufficient for a house and a new layout. Fortunately for me, this did not bother me too much as I prefer to have less than buying just for the sake of filling up empty space.
7. End Everything and Move Out
Once you get an official date for when you’ll be moving, it’s time to get moving on everything else too. It’s time to see what memberships/plans or recurring payments (like gym, phone, rent) you have that need to be ended.
For us, once we had a general idea of when we would be leaving, we had to alert the landlord of the apartment that we would be moving.
The contract was for a year, fortunately we had a diplomatic clause that allowed us to end it with 45-days notice.
We still ended up having to pay for extra time in the apartment even after we moved out but better that than being kicked out with no where to live.
Fortunately, electricity, gas, and water were linked to the apartment so we didn’t have to stop any of these services.
However, the internet (and landline that no one uses) were contracted in our name so we ended up having to pay extra on those. As well as arrange for the equipment to be returned.
My advice: cater for all these extra payments as they were quite a shock to me. On top of that, we had to pay for repairs to the apartment which costed much more than I expected as well. So leaving cost me a huge chunk of cash that really hurt me to part with.
However, bear in mind that to set up accounts in a new country, you will need a permanent address. Fortunately in my situation, the company that moved us allowed us to use their address for the official documents and accounts.
8. Set Up Health Insurance
This part was not very hands on for me as my husband spoke to his company who confirmed that we will be covered should anything happen.
We were travelling during covid so of course we were absolutely paranoid about what would have happened if we got sick. After arriving we had to have covid tests done.
9. Flying (During a Pandemic)
The actual flying part is usually not so bad except for the panic when leaving your residence. However, as with everything, covid exacerbated this situation too. I did not want to travel with covid in the world but we didn’t have a choice.
Two big points that worried me about planes and covid was that there was no ventilation, not like you can just open the window and get some fresh air. We were just breathing this recycled air.
And what made it even worse, taking off your mask to eat. I planned not to eat so I wouldn’t have had to take off my mask which I stuck with.
Also, one of my husband’s colleagues had travelled and had gotten covid so of course, I was going to be extra cautious…and hungry. I wrote about this experience flying during covid.
10. Hotel Life
Ideally having 2 weeks booked before you leave one country and 4-6 weeks booked in your new country should be good with the option to extend if you must.
My husband’s company was paying for us so this was not as issue (I sound so spoilt). But another option of course is to live with someone you know.
People think that hotel life is so luxurious. Maybe if you’re in an all-inclusive with access to go anywhere, sit on a lounge chair by the beach and not have to work. But when you’re moving countries, this is not an accurate view of hotel life.
It’s stuck in a small room, with limited items in your suitcase, no privacy, and not allowed to go out (thanks covid). It was a pretty harsh experience, without covid it’s not too bad because you can go explore the area at least.
But this time, we were in a hotel in Colombia for 2 weeks. The room was nice but there were no doors except the bathroom which isn’t helpful for when you have meetings.
Both my husband and I were working and some days he’s in a lot of meetings. And on top of being so uncomfortable, we had to buy food everyday.
Sounds nice to not have to cook and clean up but this did not agree with my tummy!
Even though we had lived in Colombia for almost 3 years, something was just different. Then we were in a hotel in Mexico for about a month and a half.
Fortunately, this place had a kitchen so we were able to cook and have some regular foods. And this room had 2 doors: the bathroom and the bedroom so we could have some privacy.
I love my husband but we’ve been together 24/7 for the past 10 months (thanks covid)! So being locked up in a small room and limited outdoor activity can get to be a lot.
And the irony was that we were still renting the Colombian apartment as well as the Mexican apartment, yet couldn’t live in either and were still living in a hotel.
That’s after being in a hotel for 2 months already so I was pretty desperate to move into our own place. Oh the fun!
11. Cultural Differences
So in Mexico, things are done in their style. And wherever you move, there are going to be cultural differences that come into play.
For example, when we landed, although this is not something I wanted to talk about as I think it gives a negative view of Mexico, I want to be real with you guys.
Let’s be real for a second
So customs pulled us aside to check through our suitcases. They tried to charge us taxes on some of the items in our suitcases which was supposedly law by the Government of Mexico.
We asked them to show them the law which they could not produce, it was actually not a real thing and they were just trying to get money out of us. But I honestly didn’t expect something like that as soon as we landed but the culture is so different.
Also when we decided on a house to rent at the end of November however, due to some paperwork (rules of the company) we were delayed in signing and the landlord was too busy to meet with us.
With these issues, we weren’t able to sign the contract for our house till the day the contract started. So up till that point, I was just impatiently waiting that nothing would go wrong or the landlord wouldn’t change his mind.
Fortunately, nothing changed and we were able to sign on that day. But to have internet installed was quite a task. Only one service provider was set up in the compound (privada).
However, they kept cancelling appointments and then they said that they didn’t have enough cable to run to our house to set it up. However, when we called to complain they said that the pathway was blocked and they needed to break the pavement.
Thank goodness this wasn’t the issue! We saw truck of the internet provider on the compound and asked if they could check it out because we were having such issues. He agreed and after much back and forth and a little extra cash, my husband helped him get the house wired up.
If we had known some cash was all they needed, that would have saved us
all the headache, an extra week in a hotel, and not having to find alternatives for internet.
12. Choosing a House
I’ve mentioned a couple things about housing here however you can get the full story here which explains the different aspects that you should consider when looking for housing in a new country.
Also if it’s on a compound, it’s worth checking with administration to see how they send out updates like an application, emails, or Whatsapp group.
13. Choosing a Method of Transport
Knowing how people get around in your new city is important. In Bogotá, we were able to get around with bus and Uber however, in Mexico buses are a method of transport for those of the lower class which unfortunately means that it would be dangerous for foreigners.
Therefore, we researched about how to buy a car whether it be second hand or brand new. The advantage of buying a car in Mexico is that many of the car manufacturing companies are in Mexico.
As for using buses in Bogotá, we had to buy bus cards, download apps, and figure out the schedules. Both methods meant we had lots of research to do.
14. Download Apps
Google Maps is a must! Wherever you’re going make sure to download offline maps of the area so that you can have access to the maps even if you don’t have data.
Each country has different apps that you’ll need to download as well. The basics being xe currency, a food delivery app (Uber Eats, Rappi), transport app (Uber, DiDi), and any specifics like music apps, TV app.
15. Check Specifications For Your Particular Country
Every country has their own rules and regulations so some things may be a bit different than what you expect. When I shipped my container to Colombia, I had no restrictions.
However, for the shipment to Mexico, I was not allowed to carry any liquids, jewellery or food. Whatever, I could not carry, I did not have a chance to sort out donating to charity as it was such a rush however, I did give anything we couldn’t carry to the packing crew.
At least the liquids could be replaced like fabric softener and cleaning items but what hurt me the most was not being able to carry food.
I had made a trip to my home country right before the move and bought a suitcase full of my favourite things to eat. So I was absolutely distraught when they told me that I couldn’t ship it.
I had to make the tough decision of choosing whether to take clothes or food. Any other restrictions or differences with VISA, culture and anything else would be good to find out.
Every country is different, so definitely helps to know what specifics apply to your new country. But I hope this can work as your general guide so you will know what to look for with your next move.