Planning an international move

As a coach for people going through expat transitions, I work with clients who are taking on new roles, often in new organizations, while also changing countries and cultures. This multi-transition package may sound daunting if you’re about to embark on this journey. However, as both my research and experience through many such moves have shown me, there is much you can do to avoid the pitfalls and set yourself up to thrive in your new life. Here are six things that you should do when you take a new job abroad:

1. Look before you leap

Moving and living abroad is life-changing, so give your decision the consideration it deserves, based on as much information as possible. Know what to expect, both in terms of the parameters of your new role and your new lifestyle (including the new culture). Ideally before you decide, but especially as you plan your move, think through how it will affect every area of your life – career, relationships, home environment, personal development, wellbeing. Do your research and check your assumptions. If you are moving with a partner, make sure they are on board with the decision, and ideally have their own reasons for making the move. This is the only way to ensure that both of you will be committed to making the move a success.

2. Build support

Figure out as soon as possible what kind of support you will need and ask for it or set it up yourself. Anticipate potential challenges and the resources you will have to line up to overcome them. Try to cover all possible areas where issues might arise, including practical (financial and tax matters, healthcare, accommodation, language training, etc.) and emotional matters, such as psychological support through the transition. Leverage your existing support network, but also start early and invest in building one in the new location, whether it is connecting in advance with colleagues already on location, asking your employer for a local mentor to help you get set up or checking within your existing social circle for contacts in the new location.

3. Budget your time wisely

Recognize that you will have to handle personal transitions in addition to getting up to speed with your new position at work. Make sure you set aside enough time for you to manage all those other aspects of your move. If you jump into your new role immediately, where you will be under pressure to perform and prove yourself, while at the same time having to deal with a physical move, cultural adjustment and perhaps family struggles, things could get overwhelming. So include some time for dealing with these challenges into your schedule upfront.

Writing in a journal

4. Understand and anticipate the adjustment process

It helps to understand the cycle of adjustment, so you can anticipate when and where you will need to invest your time. There are a well-recognized set of stages that people in transition experience: a honeymoon period, followed by crisis, recovery and, finally, adjustment. It helps to keep those stages in mind – and know roughly what to expect at each stage – as you go through your move; it will help you keep perspective about what’s ahead and manage your expectations.

5. Be aware of the impact of your personality

Your personal attributes – personality, acquired skills, experience – have an impact on how you cope with change. Some of us have an easier time than others. For instance, if you are extroverted, flexible, and easygoing, you might have a smoother ride adapting to your new circumstances than someone who’s more introverted or less comfortable with uncertainty and change. It helps to be aware of your own attributes, both those that help you adjust more easily and the ones that may stand in your way. Having the right mindset is key. You can’t change your personality, but you can make the most of what you have and be aware of what you don’t have. You can also consciously work to develop skills that will help you cope better with transitions.

6. Take care of yourself 

Last, but not least, don’t forget to breathe. The pressures of dealing with multiple transitions at the same time can get intense, sometimes even a little overwhelming. You will cope best when you are kind and compassionate with yourself; stay healthy by taking care of your body, mind, and spirit; and even indulge yourself from time to time. Maintaining a sense of humor through it all can be a lifesaver.

Now, get out there and thrive!


  • Katia Vlachos

    Expat Transition Coach & Author of "A Great Move: Surviving and Thriving in Your Expat Assignment"

    Katia Vlachos is a writer, coach, and experienced expat. She writes on cross-cultural adaptation and the rewards and challenges of expatriate life. As a coach, she helps her clients navigate transitions, whether it is making an international move, changing career direction, or coping with separation or divorce. Katia is a researcher and defense analyst by training, with a PhD in policy analysis from the RAND Corporation and an MA in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She lives in Zurich, Switzerland.