Whenever I am in Europe, I try to catch one of the trashy reality TV shows about individuals or families who have left their country and are now enjoying or facing hardship abroad. Somehow, most people depicted do not come across as the average Joe or Jane to me—but hey, it’s TV. Maybe there is some educational element: be careful, stay home, do not even consider emigrating or you will end up like these people, destitute and living among animals.
What Language Tells Us
When people dream about life abroad and leaving their home country, they often see it as one continuum, one process. They think, okay, I take a plane while the moving company is transporting my stuff to the new location. Easy! Fast! Let’s go! They think about it as emigrating, and if they really do not like their home country anymore, the only thing on their mind is “just getting out.” But for the country they go to, they are immigrating. Are these terms just semantics, or do emigrating and immigrating signify two different acts, processes, or issues?
Emigrating Is Not Immigrating
Whenever I educate my students on how to life an international life, the first thing I hone in on is the distinction between emigrating and immigrating. From the students’ reaction, I realized that for many people it is not clear that leaving your country to move somewhere is not one act but a two-step process with very distinct issues. What both processes have in common, though, is the fact that you have to answer two simple questions for each. Only if you can answer all four questions in the affirmative, should you make the move.
What are these questions? Here they are:
- Can I do it?
- Do I want to do it?
Let’s take a closer look.
Can I Emigrate?
Some countries don’t care if their citizens leave; others try to put up hurdles. Maybe there is an exit tax to pay, or you cannot even get a passport. Or you are forced to sell everything at home to loosen your ties sufficiently to evade the local tax man before moving. Maybe the issue is you—you are too frail to leave, it is physically impossible for you to change location. Whatever the reason, no matter how much you want to get out, you cannot.
Do I Want to Emigrate?
Assuming you could leave (legally), this is maybe the next most important of the four questions. What is my motivation? Am I running away from a problem or a situation, now or envisioned? Have I hit a wall professionally or personally at home and want to get out? Do I have a great life at home but think that with my means (e.g., financial, skills) I can have an even better life abroad? These are just a few of the motivational questions to ask. If you don’t find good reasons to leave, your decision process stops right here*.
Can I Immigrate?
This is the question of whether you can legally settle in a new country. If you have an EU passport and would like to settle anywhere in the other 26 countries of the bloc or even Switzerland or Norway, this is an easy question to answer. But the moment you need a visa or residence status, there is a process to follow. It might take a few weeks or years; in either case, the timing might not be in your hand. And until you get the “papers,” there is no way for you change residence legally while being tied to your home country. That is one of the reasons I advise people to plan to leave a place as soon as possible and find a new residence the moment you want to do it. Doors in foreign countries might suddenly close without advance notice; or, if you are lucky, they might open as well.
Apart from the above legal aspects, there are financial aspects. I assume that you want to be able to pay for shelter and food in the new place. This means you need money, be it savings or an income through work or investments. There should not be a mismatch. Being poor and without the right skillset and moving to Zurich might not work out for you—it would be impossible for you to survive. If you have health issues, is the health care system in the new place sufficiently equipped to handle you both in terms of care and access? Will you even be accepted by local insurance with pre-existing conditions, or at what costs? There is a host of potential roadblocks to consider before answering the “can I immigrate” question in the affirmative.
Do I Want to Immigrate?
Now comes the fun part—you have concluded that you want to leave home, that there are no exit barriers, and legally and otherwise you would be welcome in your dream country. Maybe you have compiled a list of options that you now can narrow down. Italy or Greece, Canada or Australia? But do you really want to go there? Have you done your research? Do your social, cultural, and political needs and aspirations match the new place? Or have you been following some siren songs in the media or listened too much to your friends who moved, in the vague hope that you are like them? Will your spouse and kids be happy in your dream place?
Here is another potential roadblock given we live in Covid-times. Does your stance on “liberty vs. Covid-rules” match the new place? How happy will you be in Austria, if you are forced to show a Covid-passport at every corner and are forced to get as many Covid booster shots as the governments tells you to get?
This blog cannot list all the aspects of “Do I want to immigrate?”. One tip: rephrase the question as “Would I fit in and be happy?” if you’d like to see the wider dimension of it. In fact, you might pose this question to several country alternatives to analyze the potentially best option for you*.
Putting It All Together
Now do your homework! Are your answers to the four questions nicely aligned and your new place in reach and want? Congratulations, you are almost there. Or do you find that maybe three of the questions were easy to and positive, but one of them is causing you a headache? Planning to leave your home country is an exciting but also deeply anxious process. The more time and effort you allocate to it, the more likely you will come to the best outcome for you.
© Michael Froehls – 2022 – All rights reserved
*If you need an independent voice to brainstorm with you and help you analyze your specific situation, desires, and ideas, please feel free to contact me for a confidential consultation. I am currently working on different coaching packages to help readers like you get to a better place.