Important Questions to Ask Yourself Before Moving Abroad (2023)

Why Any Expat Before a Move to a New Country Should Consider This

This is the second part of the Moving Abroad Checklist (the first you can find here). To give the perfect context to the importance of researching where you live, I will start with a personal anecdote.

A Personal Tale: The Questions That (Should) Be Asked When You Move Overseas

During the time I lived and worked in Doha, most of the company staff were foreigners. It was just a reflection of the country’s demographic, largely made of immigrants. 

Curiously, however, there were almost no other Brazilians like me, except the boss of the boss of my boss. There were rumors about people from Brazil not resisting much time there because of the vast distance to their country, plus the enormous cultural differences. To my surprise, just a few months after they hired me, they also hired a fellow Brazilian called Breno.

Breno had a respectable curriculum. He Graduated in the USA, from one of the top universities in his area, worked for the star-company of the Brazilian aerospace industry and despite being young (he was just slightly older than I was), had a list of achievements uncommon for his age. He also looked slightly like a frat boy coming out from a B-class American comedy. Breno was a very easy-going person, making funny jokes about all things.

Picture of Doha, Qatar. In any moving abroad checklist, there are questions to ask when researching a country. A certain guy ignored that and ended up in the Middle East with no idea of where he was.
In any moving abroad checklist, there are questions to ask when researching a country. A certain guy ignored that and ended up in the Middle East with no idea of where he was.

​            On one of his first days, I was at my desk calibrating some technical parameters, and Breno comes to me and ask:

Hey Levi! What’s up? What about we go for some drinks?

Breno knew nothing about expatriate life in Qatar

​            Why?

Well, Qatar was not an easy country to have a few drinks. It was illegal to sell alcohol in all stores except one, which was state-owned and demanded a special license to buy their 300% overpriced booze. They also sold alcoholic drinks at bars and restaurants of luxury hotels. There, a round of cocktails could cost as much as a weekend on a Greek beach, hotel included.

​            Despite being busy, the question of Breno surprised me, since at the beginning you don’t have so much money to spare, at least until receive your first salary. Did he know the alcohol was so expensive there? Maybe he found someone with a license to buy alcoholic drinks and was giving a house party? The guy was so easygoing, it would not be a surprise.

​            No. It was nothing like that. He had another idea in mind, which I discovered when I asked where he wanted to go.

​            “Maybe we can go to the party district! Where is it? You know… a street is full of bars and clubs that every big city in the world has!”

That is it. He just asked me about a Bangkok-style party district in an Islamic society where woman could face problems if their skirts were above their knees.  A place where was often cheaper to buy an airline ticket to another country if you wanted to party.

​            This guy had no idea where he was.

Moving Out, Working Abroad and Keeping Your Sanity Cover
This is a chapter from the book Moving Out, Working Abroad and Keeping Your Sanity

How to Make Proper Research If You Want to Move Abroad

Simple answer: Do not rely solely on Media

​            The story of Breno may sound odd, but it is not uncommon. There are plenty of people that don’t do proper field research before moving. Or when they make, they use only media sources, with information written by journalists. Some of those journalists act almost as public relations from governments, publishing information that is unrealistic or exaggeratedly welcoming.

​            Maybe Breno imagined Doha as a Middle Eastern Barcelona because he saw so many media vehicles praising Qatar for having less strict Islamic rules when compared to Saudi Arabia. Yes, it is less strict, but what the media omitted is that Saudi is the strictest Islamic country in the world. To be less, in this case, is natural. When Qatar earned the right to host the football World Cup, there was plenty of government money going around. Maybe that is why journalists felt compelled to do unrealistic and overoptimistic comparisons, like between Doha and Dubai.

​            I cannot stress enough how important is to do proper research before moving out, and I am sure most expats do it. However, unfortunately, they just do not do it right. Going to the easiest source of information (newspapers, internet portals, or YouTube videos) is not a good idea. Editors, presenters, and reporters are not there to help someone live abroad but to earn a living, so they may just create content to draw attention. Sensationalist talks.

Picture of hand marking a map. Proper research about the location is a crucial point in our checklist before moving abroad.
Proper research about the location is a crucial point in our checklist before moving abroad.

​            This is something that I saw in Poland. More often than never I witnessed in expat forums questions about how safe is for a dark-skinned person to walk in the Polish streets. The answer, from my side, is elementary: as safe as you can imagine. The number of racist assaults in Poland is negligible and even being an olive-skinned guy and knowing plenty of Afro-Brazilians, I still didn’t hear about this kind of problem.

So, why do people fear those hordes of racist poles which, in over three years here, I did not see? Because they write about it in the media, they show it on TV, and it may be one of the first things you see when you type Poland at Google. However, all this repetition does not make it true.

​            The difference between what the press portrays and street reality can be abysmal. So if I am telling you here that the main media vehicles are not the best source to research your new country, where should you seek information? Can you guess?

Ask the Locals of the Place Where You Are Going to Stay

​            Ask the real people. The ones who went through the same experiences and endured it for years. Thanks to the same web I criticized above, you also can reach them easily.

​            Social media today is full of groups. They often have names as “Foreigners in [name of the place]”. I don’t recommend these groups as the sole source of information because many of their members are expats still in their honeymoon phase, before the cultural shock, or just tourists. But while they cannot provide you with the most reliable information, it is still better than the traditional media.

The real deal is to look for groups of locals. One simple way I found is to find language learning groups in the country where I am moving to. Not only will you be able to communicate with locals from your new country and learn their idiom, but they will be excited if you offer to teach them your language. It can be fun too!

​Another possibility is to look for common interests. Even before moving to Europe, I was already in local groups about entrepreneurship, football, and philosophy, three subjects interesting to me. While discussing things I enjoyed, I learned about local views on those subjects and other common topics. If you are already in the country but feel you don’t know enough about it – since most of your contacts are foreigners – enrolling in a course or volunteering can be useful and pleasant.

A third way is to find people from your new country that now are living where you live. You can do that on social media. For example, if you are a Canadian moving to Argentina, you can just look on Facebook for the group “Argentinians in Canada” (or, most likely, Argentinos en Canadá). The members know how it is to be a foreigner and will be glad to help with your doubts about their country.

​After I told you where to look for information, comes the next question: Which information should you seek? For these answers, check this article about cultural shock.

A List of the Questions to Ask When You Move to a New Country

To make your life easier, I prepared the template below (based on cultural considerations before moving out). Seek the information about your new country in the ways I suggested previously *communities in social media and groups related to your interests) and complete it. At the end of the exercise, should be a plethora of information useful in your journey.

Girl in doubt about the questions to ask when researching a country.
Time to discover the questions to ask when researching a country

1st Subject to Ask Questions About: The Rules

How do people deal with regulations? Are they rigid and play strictly by the book or there is space for some negotiation? Are the systems and procedures respected daily or used as guidelines, with frequent adaptations to daily circumstances? Are plans rigorously respected, or they are adjusted according to additional requests?

Your previous country:

Your new country:

2nd Subject to Ask Questions About: The Time

Do people arrive on time on every occasion, even informal ones? Is there some tolerance for delays? What happens when someone arrives 10 minutes late for a social gathering? How do we inform at work or university that something blocked the road, making it impossible to arrive on time? Is it normal to do over-hours or to extend a meeting beyond the scheduled time?

Your previous country:

Your new country:

3rd Subject to Ask Questions About: The Humor

Which level of formality is expected in a conversation at work or public office? Is it ok to do jokes as an icebreaker? Do people laugh at small incidents or remain serious? Is a smile always considered a sign of joy or may be taken as disdain? Are puns and tricks common, or do people tend to always behave seriously?

Your previous country:

Your new country:

4th Subject to Ask Questions About: The Communication

When it is time to make a decision, how is the communication process: direct and to the point, with no digressions, or does it go around many hypotheses and with space for different discussions? When people need to criticize a co-worker, do they use subtle language and avoid direct conflict, or do they just say what they want to say without space for doubt? When people ask for a favor or a task, do they suggest indirectly using expressions like “maybe” or “would be nice if someone did that” or do they straightforwardly tell you what they want?  When someone needs to deny an invitation or a request, do they simply say “I can’t do it, sorry” or do they use excuses?

Your previous country:

Your new country:

If you have any other important expatriate questions to suggest, send them in the comments, and see you in the next part of our series Moving Abroad Checklist.

Conclusion: Questions to Ask If You Are Going to Live in Another Country

Relocating to a new country is a significant decision that requires thorough research and preparation. Before making the big move, it’s essential to ask yourself several questions to ensure you’re well informed and ready for the challenges ahead.

One of the primary considerations is understanding the rules and regulations of your new destination. This includes visa requirements, work permits, and other legalities. It’s crucial to know if you’ll need a visa, work permit, or other documentation before you arrive in your new country. Additionally, understanding the local culture, including the importance of time, humor, and communication styles, can help you acclimate more quickly and avoid misunderstandings.

Another vital aspect of planning a move is researching the city or country you’re moving to. While many people rely on media sources for information, it’s essential to seek out firsthand experiences from locals or fellow expats. Joining social media groups or communities related to your interests can provide valuable insights into life in your new country.

For instance, understanding the local language, customs, and etiquette can make your transition smoother. If you’re thinking about moving internationally, it’s also beneficial to connect with international moving companies that can assist with the logistics of your overseas move.

Lastly, before making the final decision to move, it’s crucial to reflect on your reasons for moving.

No matter if you’re moving for work, study abroad opportunities, or simply want to experience a different culture, it’s essential to be clear about your motivations. Asking yourself these questions and seeking answers from reliable sources can help ensure that your relocation is a success. Remember, moving internationally is a big decision, and thorough research and preparation are key.

Wanna Learn More About Living Abroad and Expat Life?

Check these articles:

The Best Countries to Start a New Life Abroad With No Money

5 Things to Buy Before Moving Out

How to Adapt to a New Culture – The 1st Step.

Levi Borba is the CEO of and creator of the channel The Expat. You can check his books here and some of his articles here.

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