The Expat Experience Link-Up: The Process of Moving Abroad

I have a new challenge today for the last of our March expat/travel link-up stories!    #ExpatLinkUp

Photo of Baku-Houston Sister City celebration: For 25 years, Houston has had a sister city group, the Houston-Baku Sister City Association. To celebrate these 25 years, and Azerbaijan's recent independence, the sister city group has invited the public to a reception with His Excellency Hafiz Pashayev, ambassador to the United States from the Republic of Azerbaijan. Azeri exchange students will perform folk dances; carpets and other art objects will be on display.

Molly at The Move To America  has come up with this idea for us. The theme this week:

The Process of Moving Abroad’:
share how you went about moving abroad.

Write about the visa process, or specific requirements that the country I was moving to needed. How long did it take?

End with three tips on what you would recommend someone do before a move abroad, and how best to go about it.

Ok, then…my Process of Moving Abroad may have been touched on briefly in some of my earlier comments, but I don’t think in a post, so this should fill in some of the gaps.

But, before I get to the visa process or specific requirements that the country I was moving to needed, I should share a little about the process leading up to the visa.

After all, people don’t just wake up one day and decide to move halfway across the world by getting a Visa.

I believe going abroad boiled down to three things:

Relationships: For me, I knew where I wanted to go based on my work relationships: I knew people in Azerbaijan. I had discussed this with others and had support in country. So not just a whim but a pretty odd choice for our neighbors to get their heads around nonetheless. Few knew where I was going even after I showed them on a map!

Reasons: I saw a need, and knew I could be part of the solution. I had the skills to set up my business, and the skills to teach. I had sent some books over previously as part of a work donation so I knew the value of my mission.

Reality: The timing was right. My (then) husband’s bank was being bought out and he was casting about for a next career, and our daughter was leaving for university. So the reality for us was that we could do something totally new without disrupting our lives any more than they already were.

Expat Relationship Building: Holiday Party for all the Exchange students from school.Since I had been getting visas for our Exxon geologists to travel to Azerbaijan and Russia for several years, I already knew people at the Embassy.

I called to speak with the Ambassador to describe what I wanted to do and he advised me that I needed a sponsoring company. He wanted to talk more about the plan, so I made an appointment and flew to Washington DC for a week.

When I met with Ambassador Pashayev he was kind enough while I was in town to provide an introduction to a lawyer who represented a company looking for a representative.

We met and everybody thought this would work out well.

I made an agreement with the owner that I would use his software and advertise it as part of my business in exchange for financial support during the start-up phase (I had to buy a number of computers to use his software).

[NOTE: One unfortunate error: I didn’t get all the details (assurances) of our discussions included in the written agreement and it would cause me grief later. But that’s another story…]

With the sponsorship agreement done, I completed the paperwork for my visa application, submitted it with my two photos and passport to the consular section of the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Washington DC. My visa arrived within the month, arrangements were made with friends in Baku that I would stay with while looking for a flat, and I flew to Baku via Moscow to begin my journey.

All told, the process, from my first visit to Baku in person with my family, to my move to Baku, took less than 1 year, with the visa process being the last step.

Expat Relationship Building: Presenting the $20 Prize to the Sister City Art Winner

Presenting 1st Prize to the Sister City Art Winner

Knowing that I needed to meet many people to get a business of the ground, I worked during the planning year to make contacts everywhere I could.

I had been a member of the Sister City organization that linked Baku and Houston. I agreed to meet with the Baku Sister City group when I arrived, and even provided a $20 prize to the shy winner of an art contest for Baku youth.

At that time, the monthly salary for a doctor was about $50… so this young man was thrilled, especially since it was $20 American dollars!

 Next… End with three tips on what you would recommend someone do before a move abroad, and how best to go about it.

In addition to the 3 keys above, I would recommend (with more information linked):

1. Have a plan with milestones so you know if you’re succeeding or getting bogged down in culture shock.

2. Acknowledge that there will be culture shock… there will be days when you are happy and days when you feel the isolation even in a crowded room.

3. Have an exit plan. Possibly the most important suggestion of all. When expatriate life works, it can be the best thing in the world. But when it’s time to come home, or time to move on, you want to have a plan. Are you planning to stay forever, or just a 2 year stint abroad? The planning is quite different, so be up front with family members and plan accordingly.

If you’re planning to be gone longer than 2-3 years, make plans for renewing your driving license (or national identification card), make arrangements with your financial institution to renew credit/debit cards and make automatic payments. Keep a car at home or have cash to buy transportation pretty much as soon as you return if you will return to a car-based society.

I know from experience that it makes everything else infinitely harder if you can’t get around, can’t pay for things and can’t identify who you are. Worst repatriation ever!

One way or another, despite all my planning, I made just about every mistake I could make in those first years.

But I succeeded in spite of myself… I think the reason for that success is that I wanted to be there and wanted to do good for the kids I was helping. Beyond that, pretty much nothing else mattered.

7 thoughts on “The Expat Experience Link-Up: The Process of Moving Abroad

    • Thanks for the kind words! I was just about to leave you a comment just now… great minds think alike!

      You’re right about culture shock- we don’t talk about it much. Even though I knew a little about the stages of adjustment and thought I had it under control, I never in a million years would have thought culture shock would affect me coming home to the US.

      It took me a few years to realize I had gone through a traumatic adjustment and had not dealt with any of it- I just went out and got a job and worked through it… bad plan. Moving as an expat or repatriating are big decisions- I hope lots of people get to read our collective posts and see all the different perspectives! Thanks again for the thoughts! #ExpatLinkUp

      Like

  1. Pingback: Expat Living: Proven Tips For Creating The Life You’ll Love | Life Lessons

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