How To Move Abroad Alone
When I moved to Los Angeles in 2012, it wasn’t until I was a good few weeks into my time there that I realised there were a good few people I’d completely forgotten to tell I was moving until I was 15 hours away, as the non-stop A-380 flies.
This probably happened in Trader Joe’s as I stood staring at a kilo punnet of blueberries for $2.99 while a single tear rolled down my cheek and The Stars And Stripes played – the Aussie dollar was buying USD$1.06 at the time, so I was in heaven – but the circumstances are immaterial (still… A KILO!!) What’s important is that this anecdote demonstrates that it’s not always best to just jet off at a moment’s notice to make a new life abroad.
I left the country in a cloud of dust while making Looney Tunes “go fast” sound effects, which I don’t recommend (unless you’re in a real hurry), but don’t worry: now I’m able to tell you exactly what to do (or, what I didn’t do) in order to make your move abroad, whether it’s temporary or permanent, as smooth as silk.
You might have guessed this would be my first tip. You don’t have to throw yourself an extravagant going away party, but it’s nice to keep friends and family up to date with your movements. Group emails are great for extended family members, and stupid tourist postcards are a fun and cheap way to keep in touch with friends. (Once you have an address, if you’re lucky, a company will even send you “free gift” return address stickers to try and entice you to sign up for something; my letters home were covered in the things for my two entire years in L.A.)
Investigate the transport options
Unless you’re made of money – and, unlike me, you have a driver’s license – you probably won’t get off the plane and into your new car. Instead, familiarise yourself with the local PT options: how much does it cost? Is it a tap-card system or a paper ticket one? And, most importantly, is your planned home neighbourhood well-served by transport?
In most major cities there’ll be a public transit app – in LA it’s my beloved Go Metro app – that will provide you with maps, timetables, and a bus/train/lightrail tracker so you can stand at the stop looking cool rather than freaking out about whether or not you’re going to die before your ride arrives. And, for the record, in case anyone tries to tell you otherwise: the public transport is amazing in Los Angeles. Shout out to the 180/181 (the LA local metro bus).
There’s a pattern of events, shopping-wise, when you move to LA – first you shop at Whole Foods, then that gets too expensive so you shift down to Trader Joe’s, then even that is too dear, and you finally discover your local market where normal human beings shop. Corner stores and local markets like Jon’s are cheap and cheerful, and a great way to get to know your neighbourhood. And while you’re at it, see if your suburb has a farmer’s market for fresh produce.
Hot tip: head to Hollywood Farmer’s Market on Sunday mornings to meet the baby goats from Soledad Sanctuary.
Get travel insurance
It may seem like a bummer to keep updating and extending your travel insurance policy when you’d rather spend the money on clothes/Starbucks/hotdogs, but just Google “American healthcare system” and you’ll be scared straight. It’s not much to pay for relative peace of mind (particularly if, like me, you move to an earthquake prone region).
Save some money
Here’s another fun thing I did that I don’t recommend repeating: I moved to the USA with $500 in my bank account! Now, I was working remotely while there, so it wasn’t a complete disaster, but there were still more than a few weeks where dinner was a variety of 99c of the local store’s finest convenience soups and plain tortillas. But another reason to have some cash ready to go is that if you’re planning on renting in the USA, you’ll likely need to cough up an additional deposit/bond in order to cover the fact you don’t have a rental history or credit rating. And while we’re on that topic…
Take some rental references with you
It’s true that most US realtors and property managers won’t put much stock in an Australian rental reference (and believe me, the reverse is also true upon your return), but it makes you look professional and organised, which is a bonus when you’re trying to rent without a history. A membership for a real estate site like West Side Rentals is helpful while house-hunting, but I ended up finding my dream flat on Craigslist. Look for properties that have utilities included so you can save on headache-inducing paperwork; mine included everything but internet, and the building had a deal with the local provider.
Watch the exchange rate
This one’s boring, but it’s worth considering whether the current or expected exchange rate means you’ll be swimming in money or crying every time you take a large amount out at the ATM. By the time I left the States, the dollar had sunk to a disappointing 85c (which by today’s measly rate seems like luxury), which made my AUD income seem hopelessly inadequate at rent time.
Living overseas is an incredible experience. It’s scary, sad, lonely and confusing, but also rewarding in ways you could never have imagined.
If I hadn’t spent two years in LA, I never would have decided to take the plunge and pursue my long-held dream of screenwriting. I made friends there who I will treasure for life, and finally learnt the joys of cinema hotdogs. So, while I don’t recommend running out the door and yelling “BRB”, a bit of the old snap decision making can be helpful. In other words, next time your lease comes up, look at it this way: move next door, or move across the ocean?
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Clem Bastow is an award-winning writer and critic with a focus on popular culture, gender politics, mental health, and weird internet humour. She has sat in each of theBack To The Future trilogy Deloreans, but can’t drive. She’s on Twitter at @clembastow