Testing the waters: A crucial step before relocating abroad

  • young woman at local market
Published on 2023-09-27 at 09:00 by Asaël Häzaq
Moving abroad is not necessarily a one-off experience; it can be done in several steps at different times, as long as you're able to adapt to life in your chosen destination. That's what a prospecting trip is all about. But how do you get started? Here are some tips and advice.

The importance of testing the waters before moving abroad

A prospecting trip has many advantages. The great journey into the unknown is somewhat less unfamiliar, and the moving abroad plan can be considered more calmly.

Moving abroad isn't a "holiday"

While this is quite obvious, behind this phrase are the assumptions about emigration and the famous image of the "cool expat". The prospecting trip serves precisely to set the record straight. Moving abroad is a great adventure, but life continues with other challenges and difficulties. You will get a better chance to discover them during a prospecting trip (or several, if you have the financial means to do so). It is also a good way to determine whether the host country meets your needs. Of course, do not wait until your immigration formalities are complete before considering a trip. Be well prepared.

Some people go on prospecting trips without any preparation. As a result, they live like tourists and return home with a distorted vision of their future lives. You need to prepare for a prospecting trip. First, do you know which city you would like to live in? Do you already know, or are you learning the local language? Is your future host city a tourist destination? Is it easy to find accommodation there? Prepare your questions and do your research before the trip. Prepare another list of questions and things to check, confirm or deny on the spot. Instead of visiting historical monuments and amusement parks, consider visiting immigration offices, town halls, estate agents and recruitment agencies (if you're going abroad to look for a job). However, keep in mind that you do not have the right to work yet.

Learning to manage things abroad

How well can you manage things? We often tend to overestimate our abilities. A few observations from online discussion forums are enough to show that many prospective expats seem to be bored with research. They prefer to submit their applications and wait for a handy solution explaining the steps involved in applying for a visa, job search sites, the best areas for cheap accommodation, or even how to budget for the stay of a family of 4. While some questions are valid, others already have their answers online. Embassy websites already provide a lot of information about expatriation.

It's safe to say that the prospecting trip has begun when starting the research. Hence the question: can you manage? If the answer is no, the good news is that management and organizational skills can be learned. Your moving abroad plan will leave you with no choice but to learn, which is the purpose of a prospecting trip. Your list of questions and things to do in the host country will require proper planning.

Preparing for your first few weeks abroad 

The prospecting trip helps you prepare for your first few weeks abroad. How to open a bank account, or which bank to choose? How do you select your telephone package? What is the internet coverage like in the area where you plan to live? On the spot, you can enquire directly from the professionals.

Most often, prospective expats spend a lot of time (depending on how you look at it) on the formalities and procedures relating to moving abroad. Testing the waters gives you an idea of what awaits you in your new country, although the formalities are indispensable.

Testing the waters for your first job abroad

One could almost say that the prospecting trip is your first job abroad. You can look at it this way, too. Once you have done your research with estate agents, banks, telephone operators, etc., get into actual working conditions—no late morning, wake up on time, get ready, and go out as if you were going to work. You will discover your neighborhood, the transport and the atmosphere at peak hours. Keep the same mindset throughout your journey. As mentioned above, the prospecting trip is not a tourist getaway.

Of course, you will have free time to discover your future city in a more "relaxed" way, including parks, sports clubs, cafés, markets, restaurants, etc. Knowing these places is just as important for your new life abroad. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of greenery, fresh air and nature. More and more people are moving to rural areas and small towns. Do you need fresh air? Do you get enough of it in your new town? Would you rather be in a bustling city center or a peaceful suburb? But you can still find fresh air in the city center. Overall, the prospecting trip allows you to test real-life conditions in your new city.

How do you decide on making a prospecting trip?

Should you go travel several times before moving abroad or move there directly? Are you going for short stays or (if possible) one or more months? The prospecting trip is a challenge in itself that involves a cost. You cannot always afford to spend hundreds or thousands of euros on a prospecting trip. It is equally difficult to test the waters when you are still employed in your home country. Taking a leave for one or more months can sometimes be very challenging.

While certain persons consider the prospecting trip an investment, others consider it a waste of time and financial resources. They believe that proper planning already provides many answers. Even for a long stay in their host country, they will not hesitate to take the leap without testing the waters, but it also involves a risk.

Testing the waters is the key to a successful move overseas 

It all depends on your expectations, fears and aspirations. It also depends on your project, your means and your support. Are you moving alone or with your family? Do you have a supportive family? Even if they are not accompanying you, having your loved ones' support can significantly contribute to making your move successful, whether or not you tested the waters. You can also request their advice about making a prospecting trip before the actual move.

Moreover, the importance of a prospecting trip is not limited to long-term immigration. You can even plan a prospecting trip to a country you have visited as a tourist. We often tend to base ourselves on an idealistic vision of the country we visited as a tourist, which gives us a very narrow vision of life in the country, limited to the few places we have visited (remember that visiting tourist spots is different from local life). Of course, you can forego the prospecting trip if you are confident of your choice or wish to keep the "surprise effect" (or any other effect) for your new life. However, testing the waters is proof of adequate planning before moving abroad.