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Expat Relocation Experience – Part 1: Choosing Where to Relocate

Join Marketing and Events Specialist Demetra Tofarides in Part 1 of her relocation to Dubai

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My life as an expat began at 18. Young, naïve and following a typical rite of passage, I packed up my life in my home, Cyprus, and relocated to England, UK, to study at the University of Reading. From an expat student to an expat worker, I spent 10 birthdays here.

Today, at the age of 28, I’m packing up again to continue my journey as an expat somewhere new: Dubai, UAE. 10 years older and wiser, I now have more awareness of the world, my choices and the consequences thereof. I am driven this time by deliberate goals and conscious decision-making, and I feel I can share my thought-process and experience to help others considering a new beginning through relocation.

Choosing Where to Relocate

To choose the perfect location, I had to consider a combination of personal, professional and practical factors. This is my 10-step thought process that helped me narrow down my choices to one single location.

1. The ideal picture

Your first step is to think about your goals and ideal life, and write down what that looks like for you. This could be anything: what sort of climate you’d like to live in; what sort of friends you’d like to have; how you spend your free time; how close you’d like to be to certain places or people; your career goals; your family goals; and so on.

2. Priorities

Finding a location with all the above elements would be ideal, but realistically not every box will be ticked. Prioritise your list by dividing it into 3 categories:

  1. Absolute must-haves
  2. Negotiable
  3. Can live without

Your ‘absolute must-haves’ will be the deal-breaker factors that your new destination must offer. Your ‘negotiable’ items are things that you would like to have but are willing to be flexible on the terms. And finally, your ‘can live without’ category will include things that, upon further reflection, their absence will not greatly affect your level of satisfaction.

3. Career

Look at the current condition and future potential of your industry in your list of locations. Consider whether you can sustain or grow your career there. Ask yourself questions such as:

  • Is there a big market for my industry?
  • Is my industry booming or declining locally?
  • Are there job opportunities in my industry?
  • Is there a lot of competition for job vacancies in my industry?

If you are a digital nomad or remote worker with a job secured, simply looking for a new place to live and work remotely, you may not need to worry about this factor. However, you should ensure that the new location has the infrastructure to support you to work efficiently.

4. Cost of living

Figuring out the cost of living may be one of the hardest but most crucial steps of this phase. Think about the most important aspects of your lifestyle and research how much these will cost.

The basic cost of living expenses you must consider include:

  1. Housing
  2. Utility bills
  3. Food
  4. Toiletries and other essential items
  5. Transportation and car insurance
  6. Travel
  7. Healthcare
  8. Childcare and education (if you have children)

Other non-essential expenses that are subjective to your lifestyle may include:

  1. Monthly sports club membership
  2. Dining out
  3. Entertainment
  4. Shopping (clothes, shoes, jewellery, etc.)
  5. Self-care
  6. Home décor
  7. Hobbies

5. Local salaries

Now that you’ve considered the cost of living, figure out whether the salary you will be earning will cover your desired lifestyle. Look at local salary benchmarks for your role and industry, as well as the potential salary you could be earning as you climb the career ladder.

6. Non-monetary quality of life

Whilst all things have a level of value, not all value is represented in monetary terms. After you have considered finances, think about the non-financial assets of this location that could improve your quality of life. Once again, this is subjective and could include things such as crime, safety, weather, nature, nightlife, religion, culture and more.

7. The relocation process

Even if all your criteria are met, the complexity and cost of relocation may be one of the biggest deterrents you encounter. The relocation process involves several matters, from visa and immigration procedures to the physical move itself.

The main things you should consider include:

  1. Visa and Immigration Process:
    • How lengthy?
    • How complicated?
    • Do you meet the criteria?
    • What potential there is of being accepted?
  2. Costs and Budget:
    • How much will the visa and immigration process cost?
    • How much will it cost to transport your personal belongings to the new location?
    • How much will it cost initially to set yourself up? For example, hotel accommodation whilst you search for permanent accommodation, agency fees and deposit for an apartment, furnishing your new apartment/house, flight and more.

8. Locals and expats

While Google is a great search tool, you should try to speak directly to local people with first-hand knowledge. Better yet would be to talk to local expats who can tell you more about the location and have experienced it from the angle of an expat. An expat’s perception may be very different to that of a local’s.

9. YouTube videos

YouTube has been a crucial research tool for me. Many expats document their experiences when relocating, sharing their thoughts and advice on YouTube. Ensure that you watch a variety of videos from many sources to gain a well-rounded understanding of what to expect from each location. This is especially helpful for those without access to locals or expats mentioned above.

10. Visit

By the time you have considered all the above-mentioned factors, you will hopefully have narrowed your list down to just one or two locations. While not a possibility for everyone, you should try to visit your location of choice before making your final decision. The steps and tools I’ve shared will give you great insight, but visiting will offer an understanding and sense of the location that cannot be achieved any other way.

The Final Tip

One thing I’ve learned from being an expat is that the attractiveness of a location is extremely subjective. Whilst your family and friends may be pointing you in one direction, the phase of your life you’re in, the resources you have at your disposal, the objectives you’ve set yourself etc. may not agree with this.

At 18, London fulfilled my desires and offered the opportunities I was searching for. At 28, London has not changed, but my mindset, resources and ambitions have – and Dubai is the place I can envisage meeting those needs. Therefore, with your goals as the backdrop, use these 10 steps and tools not as a fixed blueprint, but as a guide to finding your new beginning.

by Demetra Tofarides, Marketing and Events Specialist

Thank you to Demetra for sharing her stage one relocation experiences to Dubai! If you are an expat, or an employer looking to relocate your worker and would like some guidance on relocating to another country, get in touch with us here. Mauve’s experts can help you find a solution bespoke to your needs with our extensive range of services. 

To stay up to date with Demetra’s journey, follow Mauve Group on Twitter and LinkedIn.