Before I begin, I have to tell you that moving to a new country, especially a third-world country, was never something on my bucket list. It’s not like I dreamed of doing that one day.
How I ended up in Panajachel, Guatemala, eight years ago is actually a very interesting story.
(This post contains affiliate links, so if you make a purchase, I make a small commission-affiliate disclosure)
But first…I want to answer a few frequently asked questions before I get to my story about how I ended up moving to a different country and some of the challenges I faced.
Can You Just Up and Move to Another Country?
The short answer is yes. The long answer will depend on what country you plan on moving to. Not all are easy, and some have very strict tourist/immigration laws and policies.
You’ll have to do some research on the country you have in mind to move to and decide if it’s worth it or not.
Why is it Hard to Move to a New Country?
Hard is perspective, in my opinion. What some people think is hard, others may view as little challenges to conquer along the way.
Here are just a few reasons why it might be hard to move to a new country:
- Visa requirements
- if you have small children
- criminal record
- small savings
- culture shock
- just to name a few.
It also all depends on the country you are moving to. If you’re going from the US to Canada, it will be easier than if you were going from the US to Thailand.
Things to Keep in Mind When Moving to a New Country
So how did this all begin for me? I first had to change careers. I had to find a new job and make sure that I made enough money so that I could still support myself while living in a new country.
You can’t just show up and take jobs from locals. Nope, nope, nope!!! Even though I was a 25+ year hairstylist in Canada, I knew I couldn’t just relocate to Guatemala and start cutting hair.
Getting a work permit isn’t as easy as people think, and honestly, I didn’t want to take jobs from locals. Period.
Then you have to do some research on a few more things like:
- health insurance/healthcare
- culture shock
- cost of living
- travel insurance
- finding a good place to move to
- learning the local language/a second language
- visa requirements
- can you get a work visa?
- best cities for expats in the country you chose,
- what important documents are required
This is actually a pretty good checklist of helpful tips to follow!
There is a lot of research to be done before up and moving to a new country. Ironically enough, I didn’t do very much at all.
The first thing I needed to do to prepare for my international move was to find an online job or create a job for myself.
How I Became a Freelance Writer
So I’ll be really honest here, I wasn’t sure what skills I had or could learn to make a living in a new country. No clue.
Because I’ve always been a writer, not a professional one, but I liked to write and thought I was good at it, I decided I could be a writer. And write for other people and make money doing that.
In summary, this is what happened to my life:
- was working as a hairstylist in Northern Ontario, Canada, for 25 years
- hated my job, hated the winter
- knew it was time to do something
- also left my abusive relationship and needed to do some personal growth work
- started volunteering at the homeless shelter to take my mind off my problems
- fell in love with all the broken loving souls there
- decided I wanted to keep doing that, but somewhere it doesn’t snow
- figured out how to become a freelance writer
- did that, got a job
- left my hairstyling career and started looking for warmer countries to live in
- Tea leaf reader told me to go to Guatemala
- and off I went
You see, I know I needed a change and for me, a great way to move and still support myself was through becoming a freelance writer. So that’s what I did.
If you want to learn more about how to become a freelance writer so you can move to a new country, too, click here.
After I got all those ducks in a row, it was time to move to Guatemala (this happened in October of 2015; by the way-it took me almost 1.5 years from start to moving)
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Moving to Guatemala
You’ll be surprised to learn I didn’t do very much research at all on this country. It wasn’t even on my list of third-world countries I was considering, so when the tea leaf reader told me to go there, I was a little shocked.
You’re probably wondering why on earth I asked a tea leaf reader to tell me where to go. I’m a Libra. We hate making decisions. ’nuff said
I had to narrow down the town I wanted to live in, so I checked out International Living for some ideas, and that’s how I ended up in Panajachel.
I won’t lie. I was scared out of my tree. I had no idea what on earth I was doing. I’ve done a lot of moving in my life to other cities in Ontario but moving to a new country?
Ooph. I was terrified!
You might really like this video I recently did over on my YouTube channel about moving to a new country.
So let me share some of the biggest challenges of moving to a new location in a new country far away from where you live.
17 Things You Need to Know Before Moving to a New Country
Now, this list is based on my experience of being a solo female traveler in Guatemala and Mexico.
Let’s get down to some of some of the things to consider when moving to a new country. In no particular order of importance, here is my list:
1 Accept their culture
I can’t tell you how many times I have to hold back pounding on the keyboard when I see an expat in a Facebook group complaining about something they don’t like in whatever country they moved to.
This is not your country. This is their country. They do things really different from what you are used to.
Not uncommon where I live are random fireworks, trucks driving by with huge speakers blaring some announcement, scary religious meetings that make you think they are sacrificing humans, ridiculously loud music coming off a party boat, and many more loud things you simply aren’t used to.
This is their life—every day. If you don’t like it, you are free to go, but for the love of God, don’t complain about it. You chose to move there. No one forced you to.
Try to accept and embrace their culture. Take it in, love it all, and add new experiences to your list.
2 You’ll get sick on the food
The water is different, the fruits and meat are different, and street food is hard to resist. No matter how healthy you are and how you try to avoid anything that you fear will make you sick, you will get sick. It could be as little as diarrhea or as horrible as food poisoning.
Ask around to some of the other expats to see what places to stay away from, if you can. Make sure you clean all your fruits and veggies with a disinfectant wash (made especially for these items).
I tried to stay away from purchasing open food but found what I thought to be a great place to buy my pecans, walnuts, and macadamia nuts. For two years, I bought them at the same place, and then one day, whammo.
I was sick for four days and thought I was dying. Just like that.
3 Learn the language
Though you will most likely find yourself hanging around many other expats, there will come a time when you are alone and stuck and have no idea what a local is trying to tell you. Google Translate can’t help you there.
Take lessons before you move. Check Duolingo for the language you need. This app helped me considerably just in learning numbers and a few words, even some very important words.
There were many times I got extremely frustrated because I didn’t know what a local was trying to tell me. Learn the language.
4 You will miss home a lot
I feel this should go without saying, but I do need to say it. It’s not that you’ll miss all the things you used to have but just normal in-person conversations with your friends and family members.
You’ll miss picking up the phone and saying, “Hey, let’s go to the movies.”
It’s all those little things that eventually add up to really big things.
Your car, your couch, your favorite grocery store, or even your favorite lake. You are going to miss all of that. It gets better with time, though. I do have to admit every now, and then, even after four and a half years, I still sigh, “Oh, I wish they had red licorice here.”
5 Customer service is almost non-existent: be patient!
The reason I bring this up is because, as someone coming from North America, we are definitely used to a certain level of customer service. Anyone even working in that industry just knows.
In Guatemala, well, at least the little town I came from, it simply doesn’t exist (in most places anyway). They don’t care if your food sucks; they don’t care if there was a hair in your mashed potatoes.
They just don’t care. I’ve heard this about other countries around the world as well.
So be prepared for really crappy customer service, and don’t bother asking for the manager. They won’t care, either. Suck it up and move on with your day.
6 Drive with caution
I’m not really sure how anyone down here gets a driver’s license. It’s a mystery. Peru is even worse, and I heard Asia is ridiculous. If you are bringing your vehicle down to the country you are moving to, drive with caution.
The road rules are very different (though I still haven’t figured out what they are in Guatemala). The drivers are fast, reckless, and careless.
I had about five heart attacks in Peru in a taxi. Totally out of control.
Always be cautious driving no matter where you are, and if you know you are in a slightly dangerous zone, keep your windows rolled up at all times.
7 Be street smart
Just like you are at home but even more so. Don’t leave your purse unattended. Don’t get into cars with strangers (even if they say they are a taxi, some of them aren’t).
You really need to use common sense and know that depending on where you are going to move, many of the locals are poor and resort to criminal measures to get money: pickpocketing, stealing purses, grabbing wallets, etc.
Just be smart about your money and your valuable belongings.
8 Don’t believe everything you hear/read on social media
I know when you start thinking about moving to a new country, you start doing some online research (unlike Iva) to learn about different places.
Many will say, “Oh, this place is so dangerous, and people get robbed all the time.” This isn’t entirely true. Guatemala has a bad reputation for being very dangerous and ranks 50th on the list, according to World Population Review. Though Guatemala City itself is quite dangerous, the rest of the country isn’t.
They will say murders are high, but what they don’t tell you is that 90% of the murders are from domestic violence.
There is danger no matter where you go. Heck, there may even be danger in the city you live in now.
9 Join Facebook groups for the country you are thinking about moving to
This was one of the smartest and best things I ever could have done before moving to Guatemala. I found out what things I couldn’t get there, the cheapest areas to live in, things to do, and so much more.
It was especially important for me to be able to buy migraine pills. Find out those kinds of very important things first!
Here you can also make friends before you even get to the country you have chosen. Facebook groups are a valuable resource and contain so much information.
Find one or two good groups and ask questions. No question is a dumb question. Heck, I even asked where to find hummus in one group. When you ask a question, the answers help others who are probably wondering the same thing but are too shy to ask!
10 Stay open-minded and be patient with yourself
You are going to go through periods where you get frustrated, homesick, have culture shock, or other random feelings and things you’ve never experienced before in your life.
Welcome to expat life. This is how you grow and learn, and it’s beautiful. Go easy on yourself. If you don’t meditate or journal, you may start doing that. It helps to calm you down and reconnect you with the reason you moved in the first place.
There are going to be many things you don’t like. You can either get used to them or start looking for a new country to move to (or just go back home!)
11 This will be hard
I know earlier I said hard is perspective, but you can’t exactly expect to breeze through everything without complications and glitches.
There will be both and, sometimes, many. You may run into problems at the airport. You could run into a situation with the new town you’ve chosen to live in. Very unexpected things will pop up that will make it hard.
Remember number 10.
Here are a few more practical things you need to consider
Moving to a new country requires you to cross your t’s and dot your i’s on absolutely everything. You can’t just pick up and leave and think everything will go smoothly.
Lucky you, if it does, chances are, it won’t.
12 Find out about the healthcare
I can’t stress the importance of this enough. If you are over 50 and are concerned about your health, you need to ensure that the healthcare where you are moving to is suitable for you. This is where Facebook groups come in handy.
People there will tell you; chances are, they’ve all experienced some level of healthcare.
13 Share your important numbers with family and friends
Your family and friends probably already know where you are going and when but it’s also important to keep them in the loop once you get to your new country.
Give them all your details so that if anything should happen to you, they can give this information to the local officials.
14 Let your bank know your plans
This is probably a no-brainer but don’t be an Iva. I didn’t even think about telling my bank what I was doing or where I was going. When my account got cleaned out, it took forever to get my money back.
Make sure you secure all your banking needs and documents, and tell your bank advisor where you are moving to.
15 Make copies of everything
All important documents, birth certificates, passports, driver’s licenses, all of it for everyone in the family. You should make a copy of everything and secure it in your home country and bring a copy with you and secure it somewhere safely in your new country.
You don’t want to be stranded in a foreign country with absolutely no identification after you just got robbed. I’m not saying that’s going to happen, but it can.
16 Do your research
Learn everything you need to know about the new country you are moving to. Temperatures, safety, ease of getting around, expat community, things for kids to do, I can go and on. There are so many things you need to consider before moving to a new country.
Will you be able to live without some of the things you’ve had all your life?
Will you be able to handle the climate/culture/environment?
Make sure you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into before you go.
17 Make sure you have some savings
This is super important and probably should have been #1. Make sure you have some money in savings for when things go wrong. Not only that, you may want to buy a car or scooter or make some other cool big purchase in your new country.
Or you may run into medical emergencies. Whatever the case may be, it’s important to have some money in savings so you’re not stuck.
Moving to a New Country is Scary and Amazing
The expat life is a very different life. You learn to accept and adapt. It’s liberating and frustrating. It’s amazing and exhausting. It’s all of that and so much more.
It’s not easy in the beginning, I’ll be honest. You run into so many challenges when you first move that you will find yourself questioning why you did this in the first place.
In my first year in Guatemala, I had my bank account cleaned out from a bank machine that had a fraudulent chip/magnet in it. I had no clue. It took me six months to get my money back from my bank, and then I had to scramble to get a new bank account and debit cards.
It’s these things that are frustrating, but everything always works itself out.
Be patient and just enjoy the journey on your beautiful new adventure. So many people are still afraid to move to a new country because, well, let’s face it, it’s a bold and scary move!!
I have a way better quality of life here with less stress, fresher and more affordable produce, and much simpler living, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else but beautiful Guatemala!
My advice is just do it. Listen to your heart’s calling, pack your bags, buy a ticket, and go.