Regrets I Have About Moving Abroad
Photo Credit: Olesya Kuznetsova/Shutterstock
Ever since I took my first trip to London when I was 18 years old, I’ve wanted to live abroad. After a few short stints in various cities around the world, in September of 2020, I made the decision to permanently move to Europe. Right now, I’m settled in Belgrade, Serbia. I’m satisfied with my choice to upend my old life in New York and start a new one here, but I’d say things are about 85 percent perfect. Though I know my life is ever-evolving and adjusting, below are some of the regrets I have about packing my bags and moving to a new continent.
I Regret Not Making Time for Friends and Family Before I Left
Moving is an emotional process to begin with, but I underestimated how emotional it would be to move over 4,500 miles away. The restrictions of COVID made it difficult to make plans with people locally, but despite that, I do wish I had tried harder to say farewell to my close friends and family members.
Serbia isn’t a place many people want to visit, mostly because it’s not as popular as other European countries. It’s definitely been lonely and isolating at times, and I realize now how important it was to connect with the people I cared about before I left.
I Regret Spending So Much Time and Money on Renovations
Buying an apartment in cash was financially straining enough, but once I started discussing renovations with my architect, I knew there would be additional upfront costs that couldn’t be ignored. My apartment had a bad mold problem, and the electricity, plumbing, flooring, and walls all needed to be replaced. I was hoping to renovate these things little by little, but I knew that repairing and fixing the apartment would be much easier if I got everything out of the way early on.
The apartment looks fantastic, but there are some elements my architect pushed really hard for that I regret investing in. Lighting, for example: my architect insisted on installing a lot of overhead lighting, which I hate. The bathroom alone has three light sources; I only use one, and that’s definitely enough. I could have saved a lot of money by just going with my gut and being firmer with what I really wanted, versus what he thought I should have.
I Regret Thinking European Transportation Was Universal
I prefer living in cities because it allows me to be easily connected through public transportation. I assumed living in Serbia would be similar to other areas of Europe, where the train system is what everyone uses to get where they need to go, both within the country and beyond.
Serbia’s rail system has been out of commission since COVID began, but even if it was up and running, I’ve been told by locals that it’s basically useless. The railway itself is old and needs repairs, and because of this, a two-hour trip can take almost 10 hours. If I want to go anywhere I have to have a car, so I haven’t been able to see a lot of Serbia as a result. Had I really known this ahead of time, I might have chosen a more centrally located apartment, or looked more seriously into purchasing a car.
I Regret Not Learning the Language
Normally I try really hard to learn the local language, but when I moved to Serbia, I was extremely lazy about this aspect. Between the renovations, adjusting to a new life, and a heavy workload, I didn’t have time to drill myself on the Serbian language. I was able to get around fine, and tools like Google Translate helped a little.
But after almost a year, I’m still only barely scratching the surface of Serbian. It’s difficult to have conversations with locals in their own language so I default to English, and then I just stick with that because it’s easier. I really wish I had made a more concerted effort to learn Serbian and keep up with the language before I arrived.
I Regret Working Jobs With U.S. Hours
A huge advantage of living in Serbia is the low cost of living. This is especially amplified by the fact that I am able to work remotely, earning almost quadruple what the average Serbian salary is (most people make about $500 a month here). My lifestyle is definitely beyond comfortable, but in order to maintain it, I have to keep American business hours — which usually means I start work at 3 p.m. my time and end around midnight.
I originally thought this wouldn’t be a big deal, but it definitely takes a toll on certain areas of my life. While I love having my days free, it’s hard to make evening plans during the week. I also don’t feel like I can travel as much as I’d like because I feel I have to be “on” for my clients. I enjoy the freedom I have with freelancing, but I definitely wish I had thought about how this kind of work would impact my lifestyle.
The Bottom Line
Living abroad is exciting and extremely fun, and I know it’s ultimately the right choice for me. Even so, it hasn’t been a completely positive experience. I know I’ll learn from my mistakes and feel more comfortable here, and change takes time. For now, I’m focusing on working through the kinks while I think about where my next move might take me.