How to Prepare for a Move Abroad

For many Black professionals, life in the United States ain't been a crystal stair for quite some time. Job prospects, even for the most qualified multi-degreed candidates, are often as dried up as the self-esteem of a leading lady in a Tyler Perry production before her upstanding Black Knight comes along. The educated and skilled as well as the generally frustrated adult can often find a great quality of life and promising careers beyond US borders.

According to a recent study by HSBC Expat Explorer, the average expat salary in Asia is $74,000 per year, significantly greater than the median African American household income of $34,460. Factor in the opportunities for faster career advancement abroad juxtaposed with frequent stories of prolonged unemployment for Americans of all races and education levels, and packing up to leave the country becomes a much more attractive idea.

In lieu of tossing that pricey degree that Sallie Mae's unrelenting robocalls won't let you forget into a box in Mama's attic, it would behoove more of us to take our talents abroad for a fresh start and rewarding new opportunities. 

I recently moved back to Panama to teach English and dance, and learn Spanish, while tracing my family's AfroPanamanian and Jamaican heritage. It hasn’t been all palm trees and platanos, but choosing eternal summer and self-employment over the American workplace racial rodeo does wonders for one’s peace of mind. Just ask New York City native Kali Blocker, who, along with her boyfriend, recently relocated to Puerto Rico to work as a personal trainer and promote her natural hair movement, Diosas Al Natural.

“Obviously, the lifestyle is a lot more slow paced than NYC,” Blocker confessed, “but that's part of the reason I decided to make the move. Having your own business proves to be the best route, in my opinion. You just have to build confidence with the locals, like most places I've been to.”

Whether aiming to learn a new language in a foreign country with a better climate or you’ve tired of America’s special brand of lunacy and need to escape for your sanity, here are a few steps for getting your mind right beforehand.

Step One: Realize that all advice is not good advice.

Seeking approval and support from loved ones is normal. Faced with such a life-altering decision, we want to know that we’re not on the brink of disaster, setting out down the wrong path. Perhaps you once saw a film where “Starring Mary J Blige” scrolled across the screen and aren’t exactly itching to welcome such avoidable despair into your life again. But remember: in your search for solidarity, consider that perhaps your uncle who was born, graduated, and retired in the same zip code may not be best person to help you prepare to move a few time zones away.

For many of us, leaving the country for anything other than military service or a cruise through the Caribbean is completely beyond our scope of possibility. “What’s wrong with home?” I was once asked by a family friend from back home in 1998, Virginia who is frightened by tall buildings. Not to shun all warnings from those near to us, but I soon realized that advice is dealt from the limited vantage point of the giver and to be heeded with caution.

Moving abroad for better job opportunities and quality of life is an immeasurably beneficial move. Though well-intentioned, loved ones will often talk us down from a leap like this for their own selfish reasons: If you pack up and leave, who will join them in being safe, predictable, and complacent? Be discerning about whom you consult on your big plan.

Step Two: Get your priorities straight.

Do you really need 581 cable channels? Just how much value does getting a fresh floor-length Zamundan Yaki sew-in each week contribute to your life? If you’re serious about relocating internationally, you will need healthy financial reserves, lest you intend to sling that thing for luchini in trying times. Even if you’re not completely certain where to go, you can begin building a cushion to soften your landing wherever you decide to leap. Get real with yourself about the necessity—and effectiveness—of your gym membership. Opt for HULU and Netflix instead of a pricey cable package if you must. Can you cook at home or cut back on popping bottles of bubbly in the club with the thugs? Sure you can.

As I prepared to trade life in Virginia for New York and, later, Los Angeles for Panama, I set up a separate bank account dedicated specifically to jumping ship. I dialed back wasteful spending. What helped the most was directing 25% of my direct deposit each pay period into this account so that I wouldn’t even have the option of drinking or eating that