Planning vs in at the deep end – what’s best when you move abroad?

planning for moving abroad vs winging itThis is a key question that came up as part of my family’s move to Spain as we didn’t have a lot of time to plan. I was headhunted so the whole process went quite quickly. We didn’t have months and months to think about where we wanted to go, how we wanted to do it and what the impact was going to be. Looking back, I wish I had done those things.

But moving my experience aside it often feels like there are two extreme schools of thought on this one. There’s those who think planning is overrated and you should just go with the flow, and those who think you should plan things until you’re blue in the face.

Hopefully you, like me, know that there is in fact a range of levels between uber planning and no planning at all, and the way you approach it will depend on your circumstances.

The reason for writing this post is based on my experience of how most people (not all) summed up my opportunity to move abroad and why I should probably have listened to the ‘not all’ group of people a bit more.

You only live once, don’t miss an opportunity etc

These and many other phrases were repeated to me on a daily basis and I was driven by them. My other favourite was if you plan too much you’ll never do anything.

Now I agree with the sentiment of these statements but I wish I hadn’t taken them so literally. I’m generally a rational person but for my relocation I was like a kid in a sweet shop, looking at all the delicious things in the jars but not paying attention to the price or considering the health risks to my teeth and diet. You have to decide yourself whether something is an opportunity not to be missed and whether it’s a one time thing.

What happened in my case was that too little planning and impact assessment led to a very difficult situation that was hard to fix. I want to help you avoid that if possible by encouraging you to follow your own thoughts and instincts, rather than accepting other people’s cliche statements of positivity.

It may seem like I’m advising against moving abroad but that’s absolutely not the case. I would (and hope to) move abroad again if I actually do it properly and consider everything before jumping in.

So what’s my point?

The point I’m trying to make is that, although it’s great to be spontaneous and you don’t want to miss opportunities, you also don’t want to have a negative impact on you life/relationships/family because you rushed into a huge decision.

It’s absolutely vital that you spend a lot of time thinking this through and planning for different eventualities in detail. Consider what your backup plan is, what could go wrong and how you’ll fix it, what you could do now to avoid future challenges and the long term impacts of your move (positive and negative).

Understand your motivations and stay true to them. Don’t compromise on things that are really important to you and most of all, if you’re taking your partner and/or children, put them first. I didn’t do this and I deeply regret it.

Be regimented with your planning and have timescales, goals, milestones and document it all. Do your research to the Nth degree and then do a bit more just to be safe. There’s always something else that you could know to help you a little more. Build up a file on the place you want to go and really get to know it.

One key tip – don’t just move to a place because there’s a job offer there. That’s what I did and although I’ve learnt a great deal in the process, it was the wrong thing to do. When you’re moving abroad the first priority should be to understand your motivations, desires and needs and then find a place that aligns to those things. We worked backwards and found a place where we had to try and make our motivations, desires and needs fit in and it didn’t really work. If we went back to the drawing board today and wrote up what we wanted from a country, I doubt Spain would come up that high in the list of places that suit us. Lesson learned!

Exceptions to the rule

There are of course a number of exceptions to all the stuff I’ve talked about here. Generally the exceptions are going to be along these lines:

  • College leavers with little or no ties
  • Single people with little or no ties
  • People who don’t have children
  • People with a bucket load of backup cash


In my experience if you have a family then you’re going to want to take the ‘planning’ route rather than the ‘wing it’ route. It might take longer but it will give you a much firmer foundation to build on top of and to make your move abroad a success.

And if you’re looking to move abroad long term then you’re going to want to do the same as it will just set the right foundations to make a good go of it. If you rush in then it’s much more likely to backfire, potentially leaving you stuck in a foreign country with little support and few options. I know how this feels, and it’s not a good place to be.

Just to reiterate again, I’m not trying to put you off moving abroad. I’m trying to encourage you to have a plan to give yourself the best possible chance of success when you go for it. I wouldn’t wish what we went through on anyone.

I’d highly recommend checking out the following posts if you’re after a bit more info on research and planning:

  1. 8 critical things to consider when deciding whether to relocate abroad
  2. Moving abroad with my children – where do I start?
  3. Supporting your partner when you move abroad
  4. Resources I wish I’d known about before moving abroad

I hope this was helpful. Get in touch if you have any questions and chuck in any comments you have below. Agreement or not, it’s good to have a debate.


The Essential Guide To Planning Your Dream Move Abroad - Downloadable eBook

2 Responses

  1. Lydia Evdoxiadi
    October 21, 2013
    • Al Bryant
      November 13, 2013

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