The Expat Friend Blog

What could possibly go wrong?

After spending many years dreaming of moving overseas, my husband and I eventually had the opportunity to move to South Africa with our two children. We spent many months researching the immigration process, housing, schools and everything in between. We attended immigration exhibitions, spoke to expats on forums and did everything we were supposed to. We were pretty confident that we’d covered all bases, and felt emotionally and mentally ready for the move, so what could possibly go wrong?

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned after relocating twice is to hope for the best...but prepare for absolutely anything and everything.

Quite a few things as it turned out! One of the things we didn’t bank on was how factors beyond our control would impact on our well-thought out plans and organisation. Despite all of our best preparations, we were left blind-sided – and almost stranded – on a couple of occasions. One of these was a significant delay on our house sale in the UK which meant that we were literally completing the sale the day we were leaving, on our way to the airport. Our buyer had somehow discovered we were leaving the country and spent a few happy weeks stalling the process to try to negotiate a price reduction.

Another issue we encountered was during our visa application to South Africa. We believed we’d prepared well, and had even hired an immigration consultant to assist us. Not really understanding how South African government departments worked at the time (very inefficiently it turned out), we somewhat naively believed her assurances that it would be a straightforward process and take a mere six weeks to complete. In the end it took over six months, which resulted in our being in the country illegally and unable to leave.

So, aside from making sure that any plans to move overseas are kept secret from potential house buyers, what did we learn from it?

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned after relocating twice (the second move was to Mauritius), is to hope for the best, but prepare for absolutely anything and everything. This is a realistic, rather than negative approach. When undertaking such a huge and expensive life-changing event it’s worth considering worst case scenarios, and how you might deal with any unwanted problems.

Also, your attitude is everything! How successful you are will depend on how you approach obstacles and having a positive frame of mind will help enormously. Even though our delayed house sale and rejected visa applications were incredibly stressful situations, and not experiences we would ever want to repeat, they were a useful reminder that the only thing that’s ever completely within our control is how we respond.

It’s really important to accept and adapt to your new country’s way of doing things – the sooner the better. This includes during the time before you move and are dealing with visas, accommodation, work related issues and schools. You might not like how things are organised, but you’ll be much happier, and less frustrated, if you are able to adjust your expectations and properly embrace the culture of the country you are moving to. If you spend all your time comparing and contrasting your new country of residence to ‘home’, you’ll never settle and get the best out of your new life. Going through such stressful experiences certainly wasn’t the most relaxing way to begin our new lives overseas, but we eventually learned the importance of accepting things for how they are, not the way we wanted them to be.

And finally...to help minimise the effects of potential problems related to moving overseas research thoroughly, get organised and give yourself LOTS of time. If you have trouble staying motivated, or feel overwhelmed, divide tasks into small, manageable chunks. Make lists of things to do (or download the ones provided for free at the end of my book Taking The Plunge: The Expat's Guide To Relocating Overseas) so you have a clear idea of the tasks that need completing, and roughly when you should be doing them by. Record your research somewhere safe, or consider using an app or website designed to help you collate or share important information.

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