When we decided to move to Thailand, we thought it would be for two years. Maybe three. Now it is our fifth year living abroad. I really never thought we would stay here so long, but we were quickly taken in by the standard of living in Bangkok. Full disclosure: our US life needed some adjustments with two small children. We were woefully unprepared for what logically came next: a move to the ‘burbs. We were definitely ready for something new and moving out of the country was a welcome change.
When my husband was offered the opportunity to move, it felt like the universe aligned. Moving out of the country gave us a real chance to take another path and see what else was out in the world for us. Even with some personal growing pains, we have gained so much from this experience and I have learned so much. (See my post on the lessons I learned from living overseas.) When I look back on the time that we were making preparations to move, all I can do is shake my head at how much we did not know or prepare for.
You don’t know what you don’t know
I wouldn’t call myself a natural born planner and went into the experience pretty blind. I did the basic research about what it is like to live in Thailand and Bangkok. Beyond that, I generally planned to cross each bridge as I got to it. My husband traveled to Thailand a few months before to apartment hunt and selected a place close to his office. That decision made a lot of sense for us because he would have an easy commute and we would be centrally located in Bangkok. Also, I decided to pick a preschool for them after we were settled since my children were two years old at the time. Getting input from people on the ground is a great step in the process. I wanted to experience the city for myself.
Leaving that much to chance may not be your style, and that’s cool. We had a significant amount to focus on in the US the year we moved, so it made sense for me to make fewer decisions in advance. When you move out of the country, these two critical elements are the bare minimum to plan out:
- What you’re leaving behind, and
- What you may do when you arrive
The stuff you leave behind
It can be a little confusing to know what to keep and what to part with. You will need to put a lot of items into storage, especially if you intend to rent out your home. Makespace, the storage service that we went with, allows us to view all of our items online. Additionally, we can have our items delivered within the storage facility’s service area or have a moving van pick up our stuff and transport it wherever we choose to settle. We also set up a mailbox to accept our US mail. Similar to Makespace, with US Global Mail, we are able to view scans of our mail online and schedule shipments of items that we want. During sign-up you will need a notarized document authorizing them to open mail on your behalf.
Moving abroad as a trailing spouse
The reality for many expat families is that the opportunity to live abroad has come from one partner. The other partner, commonly known as the trailing spouse, often quits their job and does not work. Depending on your industry and where you move, that will be the case. The questions that swirl and can cloud an abroad experience (if you let it) are around how to fill your time or continue to pursue a career under these circumstances. Before boarding a plane to move to a new country, think about what you want to do and make a plan for how to take the first step on this new path. It can be helpful to find people who exemplify the career path you want to follow to learn about the challenges and other helpful tips.
Remember that whatever you choose, it should make you happy and be a healthy way to fill your days. Don’t underestimate the benefits of crossing something off of a “to do” list regularly. It can also feel scary to jump into a new thing in a new place. The most important reminder I take with me is: just get started because life may pass you by waiting for things to be perfect.