A very good friend confessed that living in France has always been a lifelong dream. She reckoned it should be a simple affair to buy a home and work remotely from this exotic locale given the many travel shows about the topic. It seems that my move to Austria further prompted her on this specific bucket-list notion and she’s seeking to enlist her hubby in the venture. As we conversed, suspicions that her admirable dream may not have legs to stand on began to pop up. In no way am I purporting to be an expert on settling in a foreign country, as you probably can tell by now, I’m more bravado and bluster than anything. These are just a few things to consider as there’s a lot that television never shows.
The first suggestion when deciding to move to a foreign country would be to visit the embassy website/office of the country within which you wish to reside. One can request clear and current information on their policies on migration. As you might recall from a previous post, even embassies of developed and industrialized countries may have outdated information. 2012 saw the modification of Austria’s residency application process – a basic German language certificate from a recognized institute is now a requirement for the application process. Previously, one was contracted to achieve a specified level of proficiency within two years of arrival.
Another suggestion would be to realistically review your current financial status, job/income options, the foreign exchange between the country of choice and your homeland, and the tax laws you would be subject to. Austria’s residency application process requires the declaration of one’s financial value (bank statement), education level, work history and an indication of how one would support one’s self. This might seem to be overkill, but consider: It takes time to settle into a new country; how will you support yourself while seeking employment or starting a business? Will you be allowed to work immediately upon arrival? How will you fund housing and the necessary ammenities – i.e. internet, phone, electricity/heating, food, clothing, transportation, language classes, renewal of residence permit, etc?
One thing I discovered upon moving to Austria is that not all degrees or professional certifications are created equal. A legislature lawyer conducting a professional seminar I attended, stated that the only currently accepted degrees and certificates in Austria were those received from England, The United States, or certain EU member countries. An Indian friend of mine who was a respected, University-lecturing dentist with a thriving practice found upon coming to Austria that she would have to attend a dental school in Austria for two years and retake her tests in order to be able to practice here. An American friend who has a BA in Nursing and 5 years ER experience was required to study an additional 2 years here and retake her tests in order to return to her profession. My Marketing degree from The Bahamas was accepted (thank God!) as was another friend’s Canadian Architecture degree; nonetheless, I needed to learn more German than all of them given the communications demands of my profession.
On the bright side, perhaps starting over can be a silver lining – perhaps you intend to start that business you’ve always dreamed about! Why not; new land, new opportunities, new you! Review the import/export legislation, policies governing foreign investment, even zoning (in some neighborhoods, a home business is not allowed), necessary supporting infrastructure (I couldn’t believe it took almost a month for my internet to be installed; especially in a G20 member country!), etc in your intended country. Once I had internet, I learned that ‘unlimited’ connection here slows down considerably after a certain amount of gegabytes have been consumed. Working remotely requires consistent, dependable internet and phone access; conference call participants are only so patient.
Also, what are the requirements to rent/buy real estate in your new country? Descriptions can be completely different than what you’re used to: Back home, a house described as 4-rooms outlines the amount of bedrooms available; in Austria, those four rooms are inclusive of the kitchen, bath, and living room. So technically, its a 1-bedroom house. Another thing that baffled me here is that with some offers are zero-land; meaning you buy the house but lease the land upon which it stands.
Further consideration to running a business would be labor. Customers and most employees will speak the language of the country, do you? How would you instruct your employees and communicate with your customers and business partners? What about taxes? Most of the entreprenuers that I know here state that the worst part of running their business are the incredibly prohibitive taxes. There are also licenses to be won from various government offices and they can severly limit how you conduct your business. Example, You might opt to open a small restaurant, but due to size, location, layout & infrastructure, etc, you are not allowed to serve alcohol or are only allowed to operate a take-out instead of a sit-down and so on. What about credit cards or phone contracts? Credit here is limited to a fixed amount based on your monthly income. This probably means dipping heavily into savings to get up and running. Phone contracts can only be entered into if you have employment. Yes, there is the option of a prepaid but my western friends complain endlessly about them for a sundry of reasons.
Don’t reinvent the wheel when planning your great odyssey, review expatriate sites for your chosen country. There is a wealth of shared practical information provided by others who’ve done what you intend to. They can fill you in on most of the hidden details of code and culture and possibly save you a ton of headache and despair. Need to know which schools are best for your kids, which neighborhoods are safe yet affordable, how quickly you can obtain electricity to your new digs, what the natives are really like, does your cultural community exist there, where to find specific food items, the virtues or failures of public transportation, can you freely practice your religion, how to find the nearest hospital, which local pub is the best, and even where to find a job among so many other questions that will pop up. Some of them hold outdated information, but there’s still value in them and if you join the forums, you can get current information and even friendly advice; you might even make your new friends amongst those that answer your questions – I did!