I was recently contacted by Lydia Evdoxiadi of relocate smart, to see if I would answer some questions about my family’s relocation to Barcelona. This was a great opportunity to do more to help others with information from our experience so I was happy to get involved. Lydia’s site offers a load of advice to people who are looking to relocate and she has some good tools available. She is also interviewing other expats so it’s a great place to find out about other people’s experiences.
I’ve included the questions and answers below.
Moving abroad interview for relocate smart
I am conducting a series of amazing interviews. Al is an expat and moved from the U.K. to Spain with his family. He has the coolest expat blog,Smart Relocation Guide, I have seen in years and you are encouraged to visit Al at www.smartrelocationguide.com. We love this interview, filled with humor, wisdom and real life relocation moments which we are sure Al and family will be talking about for years!
1. Al, how long in your experience does it take to plan a proper relocation – the full move – with regards to setting goals, evaluating work opportunities and really getting that feel that ‘This destination is for us’?
My experience was a little different in that I was approached about a role in Barcelona by an old colleague. He had moved to Spain after being headhunted just a few months before and had a new role to recruit in his team following a re-structure at the business. This process started in January 2012 when I had a call about the role and potential relocation, which was pretty exciting. Things are always more exciting before you know how much hard work there is in the detail. Following that call I had to wait for some time before the company’s HR department contacted me for an initial ‘soft’ phone interview. I was then invited to fly out to Barcelona for a set of face to face interviews fairly soon after, which happened around the end of April 2012. I was offered the role pretty much as soon as I returned to the UK, which was early May 2012. There was a bit of negotiating on the package but I accepted probably within the first week of May.
Although my wife and I had done some investigation into places to live, schools and other things we hadn’t come close to any serious planning prior to this point. And the company wanted me to start at the beginning of July, less than two months away. Organising a relocation to another country in roughly two months was probably the second most stressful time of my life (organising to come back was the first). We had to arrange shipping, selling our cars, buying new (Spanish) cars, work out where we were going to live (based on commute, local facilities etc), look at schooling for our three year old daughter, work out all our finances, sell a load of stuff, come to terms with the massive change in our lives as well as manage our own and other people’s emotions.
If I was to relocate again from scratch I would be setting myself a timeframe of at least 6 months, if not more. It would probably look something like this:
- 1/2 months of understanding priorities/desires/goals and then carrying out internet research, signing up for forums and asking questions based on our core drivers to relocate,
- 3/4 months of visiting places, doing more in-depth research and aiming to build relationships and have direct conversations with people who live or have lived in and around where you’re looking (if possible),
- 2/3 months to work out the logistics and details of how you would manage your life in the place you’ve hopefully made a decision on,
- Finally, start looking for a job or working out how you’re going to generate an income. By this time you should have most other things worked out and you’ll know how much money you need to survive. This could take any amount of time depending on where you’re looking and what’s available but at least you’d be ready to get rocking once you’d sorted your job/income.
My relocation was sort of the other way around, which I think was more stressful as we didn’t give ourselves enough time to be sure in ourselves that we were doing the right thing or going to the right place. I would highly recommend spending a significant amount of time in the places your considering living. Travel on public transport, ask the locals questions and visit supermarkets/shopping centres/hairdressers/other places that you have to go when you’re at home. Sign up to forums and get under the skin of the place and the people that already live there. If you were moving to a new town in your home country you’d probably make multiple trips there before deciding to move.
2. Did you do an exploratory visit to your new place prior to relocating?
We went out as a family when I travelled to Barcelona for the interview.
My flights were covered and we had a one night stay in a Barcelona hotel sorted for us, which was great. We then added an additional 4 nights in a town where we were interested so we could have a look around. Following on from my previous answer though I would say that I don’t think this was enough. It felt too much like a holiday and as most people probably realise, living abroad isn’t like being on holiday. If I were to do it again I would want to spend at least two weeks in a place, probably more than once, before deciding whether it was right for us. It’s a bit like when you go on holiday and you get to the point where you’re ready to go home to all your creature comforts. You need to get to that point when you’re doing your exploratory visit so you can get a feel for whether you really could stay there long term. It’s worth investing some time and money upfront to make sure you don’t waste both in the future by relocating somewhere you’re not happy with.
3. When you arrived, what were the professional services that you had a harder time finding compared to home? What services would you have loved to find right away?
One of things that stood out for me was car related services. We had no idea where we were going to go to get our car serviced/fixed or where to make sure it was legal and road worthy. Luckily our landlords were English so they helped advise us but without them we would have really struggled. We also had a few challenges with healthcare. I was lucky and had a good package at work that included subsidised private healthcare but I found the system and naming conventions in Spain are totally different to the UK. It was often difficult to work out who we needed to see for what and where we needed to go. Making an appointment was also difficult, mainly as I had no grasp of the Spanish language. It would have been great to have some pointers on local healthcare services and where to go for what.
In the UK we love our takeaways. It’s nice to get home from work on a Friday night and decide not to cook or create loads of washing up and instead just order a takeaway from the local Chinese/Indian/Thai restaurant. This was something we really missed when we first arrived in Spain and something we didn’t think existed out there. We later found out from a neighbour that there was an Indian near by that did indeed deliver takeaway. It was amazing and we wished we had known about it as soon as we had landed and plugged in our TV. We struggled with a few shopping items, where the products we were after didn’t seem to be in the shops we would have expected to see them.
An example was my wife looking for a changing bag to carry around all our daughter’s stuff (wipes, spare clothes, snacks, drinks, sun cream etc). It took us a long time to find something appropriate and it was in a shop we would never have imagined it to be. Something I think would have been great is a list of hard to find items and where they can be found to save people time and effort when they first arrive.
The last thing that wasn’t an ongoing problem but something that would have made life easier was information on airport parking services. I used one company near Barcelona airport (first time I tried it) and was extremely worried when I dropped my car off at what looked like a derelict warehouse next to the motorway. Everything turned out fine but had I known more about the service and how it worked I would have been less stressed.
4. Did you ever stumble upon a proper relocation site, with good articles and information for getting down the general rules of relocating. Those tips and pieces of advice that we now offer through our sites after having relocated ourselves?
If I’m totally honest then I’d say no. The best thing we used were forums where we asked questions and hoped to get an answer that helped. This often resulted in a lot of negativity as I found a lot of people using the forums seemed to be unhappy and judgemental a lot of the time. I never really found a site/blog where there was someone writing from experience and offering the rough and the smooth to help people see a balanced view. It’s part of the reason I set up my site and since then I’ve actually found some really good sites from people who have relocated and are living the dream abroad.
5. In 2 years of research, surveys and stats, we found out that it takes 3 monthly salaries to relocate properly and that good cash-flow is a total must. What is your experience?
I was quite lucky in this area as the company trying to recruit me had a very good relocation package. We were given a relocation company to guide us and help with property search and negotiations plus other services. We were able to ship 27 cubic meters of household items and we had all our flights covered to get out to Barcelona (plus excess baggage and airport transportation). All in all I think my relocation cost roughly €7500 to the company and we probably spent and additional £2000 on top of that. So probably near the €10,000 mark in total.
I think this will depend heavily on how you relocate. If you don’t ship anything then that will save you a fairly large amount. Our shipping was about €3500 so avoid that and you’re already saving a huge amount. This doesn’t necessarily work out if you have to then buy everything at the other end but you could rent a fully furnished property, which would save you having to buy anything new. It also depends on the rules and costs around rental/buying agreements. For example, we didn’t realise that in Spain you more often than not have to put down a minimum of 2 months deposit (or more) on a long term rental, and you have to pay agency fees. This was a big shock to us as we had always paid one month rent and in the UK the tenants don’t pay any agency fees. These fees ended up being about €1500, which was a bit of a blow to our finances and something we weren’t prepared for prior to me accepting the role and handing my notice in at my UK job.
All I would recommend here is research until your brain hurts and then over budget on everything. For shipping, use a broker to try and drive down costs and push hard to see what the best price is. I think if you’re looking to ship your household items then you’re easily looking at above €6000 minimum for the relocation after adding on flights, hotels, rental fees etc but it’s likely to be higher. So depending on your salary, 3 times would probably be about right if you’re taking home an average wage like me.
6. How high would you rate ‘Being part of a community’ as a factor to get used to a new place?
I would put this as one of the top two/three things you need to focus on when you relocate abroad, potentially even the number one thing. Some people cope well with isolation and being separated from social groups but I think most of us have a core desire to feel part of our environment, and to feel wanted/appreciated. When I look back on our relocation I feel like we could have done more before hand to build a network and understand the community more. There are plenty of forums with tens of thousands of expats living in thousands of different locations. These are potentially your future neighbours, drinking buddies, parents to your children’s new friends etc.
And also the local residents, who you’re probably more likely going to want to please to feel like you really fit into your new country. More difficult if you don’t speak the language but still important. I can’t stress enough how important it is to put a huge amount of effort into building your network and integrating yourself into the community as quickly as possible. This will give you a network of people who can help you, support you, lift you up when your feeling down and make you feel part of something bigger. These are all the things you’re going to miss pretty quickly when you arrive. Be bold and put yourself out there as it will absolutely pay off in the long run. And, if you’re moving to a forieng speaking country, do whatever you can to pick up the language as it will really go a long way to helping you feel like you belong.
If I were to give advice to someone considering relocating abroad, it would be along these lines:
- Really understand your motivations and desires and stay true to them
- Take your time in deciding on a place and make sure it fits with your desires, and make sure you understand the cultural differences between your current country of residence and the countries you’re interested in
- Spend enough time in your desired locations to know what it might feel like when it’s not a holiday
- Sign up to forums and chat like crazy with people who are based where you’re interested in and also from around the globe
- Find ways to begin building up a network before you go via forums, specific websites, clubs etc (and on Facebook, Twitter)
- If you’ve got children, be very conscious of the impact on them, as if they’re unhappy then you’ll be unhappy
- If possible, get professional help with organising and researching (particularly property viewing and negotiations)
- If moving to a foreign speaking country, seriously consider learning the language if you don’t already know it, or at least the basics
- Have a back up plan for what you’ll do if things don’t work out (more elaborate than ‘we’ll just return home if it doesn’t work’, which was my strategy)
Good luck to anyone who is considering a move abroad. It’s an amazing experience and you’ll learn an absolute ton of stuff from it.
Al, we thank you for being part of the Relocate Smart Community and an example of a successful expat! Onward and Upward and all our best to your sweet family!