How to move abroad

What I would say to friends who ask me for tips.

This is a paying-subs-only post that is a continuation of the previous about moving abroad:

Moving abroad: My path to Berlin
I'm writing this from a couch in my rented apartment in the centre of Berlin, ten thousand kilometres from the city I grew up in for my first 29 years of life. Living here, busy with the demands of the day-to-day, I often forget how remarkable being here is. How the heck is this even possible?

Everything you're about to read is generalised from the experience I had when planning my move abroad. Since this is not drawing from anyone else's experience, the sample size is one. Act accordingly! That’s the first thing I’d say, even to a friend.

Also, I have trouble saying that I'm advising if I don't know you personally and haven't written something just for you, so please don't consider this advice. Rather, I'd like you to think of this as a general list of good things to think about as you formulate your unique approach.

At Changi Airport the day we left Singapore for Berlin on a one-way ticket, with Brownie in tow (he luckily got to sit in the cabin with us!)
  • Think of all the possible paths that you could take to get to your desired city/town. Talk to childhood friends, school friends, friends of friends, family, etc... see what comes up. Google and Reddit "moving abroad." Get some ideas from this post and the previous one.
  • If you want to maximise your chances of moving abroad, I think you'd do well investing in a tech career. I majored in Environmental Studies at university and switched to a tech career after attending a 3-months programming bootcamp. (If you're considering this, read my post about what the learning experience is like.) To get a sense of how important this is: around 90 per cent of the non-Berliners I know in Berlin moved here via a career in tech (engineering, marketing, data science, customer success, technical specialist, UX, founding). I can't speak for the relocating potential of any other fields.
  • Get creative with getting your foot in the door of companies to interview. I made a multi-week trip to San Francisco just to meet up with university students from my alma mater (NUS!) who were there working at startups as part of our entrepreneurship program. I pitched a free Programming for Beginners workshop for these folks through the program office, and when the workshop was over, I asked each of the 10 people who showed up about their companies and if they were hiring. That also gave me the excuse to meet the handful of entrepreneurship program managers to ask for referrals. I smile when I think back on this time because of how fun it was to try and seize the day and convert latent energy to opportunity. Plus I got to visit Yosemite National Park!
  • If some friends are working at companies you wouldn't mind working at in the city you want to move to, ask them to put you in as a referral to their company. Or ask your friends to link you up with those who are. Your application then goes right up the stack. That's how I got interviews at top tech companies in Silicon Valley with relatively thin work experience. The person who sat next to me at a co-working space for a few months happened to be a Singaporean who studied Computer Science at Stanford University, and he graciously put me in touch with many of his friends who stayed behind in the valley and got jobs at big tech companies. If you haven’t already serendipitously met someone like this, maybe you can try and put yourself more in a situation where you might?
  • A tactic to operationalise the previous point: use LinkedIn to look up connections who live in that city, and also try expanding the search to 2nd-degree friends and ask the 1st-degree friend in the middle to make an introduction.
  • Consider not trying to fulfil two desires at the same time and focus on getting your ass abroad first. For example, consider not trying to get a dream job and moving at the same time with it. Sure, it's possible, and if you feel especially confident that you can secure an offer because of your cumulative work experience or the prestige of your degree, then you probably should try to do both at once. But if you find that you're not making much progress, try and focus on the move first. You can change employers after 1-2 years after you land - it'll usually be easier after you're in the city to find jobs there. For example, in my situation in Berlin, I got an EU Blue Card issued in Germany, which required me to work for the original employer for 2 years, after which I am free to work anywhere in the EU without needing a new EU Blue Card sponsorship. I just had to update the government when I had a new job. And for holders of this card, you can apply for a permanent residency in as short as 21 months. Play the long game.
  • Don't drag your partner abroad with you if they're not in agreement with you about moving unless you are willing to lose that relationship. I would not have moved abroad had my wife not been up for it. Over the last 3 years of living here in my calmer moments, I've noticed multiple flashpoints where if we were not "in this together" we would have ignited an explosion of a quarrel. Who would you turn to if you fought ten thousand kilometres away with no friends or family in the same timezone to commiserate with?
  • For those who will need to be moving with your partner and/or children, talk to them in terms of firm dates. It was hard to plan on "maybe someday." "One year from now" was much more helpful. It was easy for me that that one HR professional at said “work here for a year and based on your performance, we’ll open the discussion again.” Had that not been the case, though, I would have pressed them for a firm date anyway. I had to manage the expectations of my wife who was a freelancer and was normally taking on bookings 6 to 12 months ahead of time. She had to force herself to slow her bookings to a trickle as we approached my one-year tenure at It still entailed the risk of lost income, but at least you both decided to take on that risk together.
  • It's okay — and quite fun! — to move to a city or country that you've never been to. We moved to Berlin without ever having been to Berlin or even Germany. We didn't know friends who were already living in Germany for work either (although I later remembered and met with a friend from uni who was doing her PhD in Oldenburg). You can make up for the lack of context by watching YouTube videos and reading what people talk about on Facebook groups. Those are surprisingly informative.

I looked through the emails I've gotten over the years from readers of my blog to research for this post and I've answered all the general questions that I've been asked so far. The rest are very specific questions about the liveability and practicalities of Berlin.

Let me know if you have questions unanswered! I prefer it in this case if you asked in the comments so that my answers can be shared with others by default. You can also, of course, email me if you want to ask privately.

Some housekeeping: I'm sorry I haven't sent you additional paying-subs-only posts recently. This should change as I’ll be reducing the frequency of publishing free posts and increasing that of paid-only posts. That should work out to 2 free and 2 paid posts per month, which means paying subscribers like you get the full experience of 1 post per week while free subscribers get 1 post every other week.

I have some ideas of how to separate these two buckets of free and paid posts, but they're still tentative. If you have time, I'd love to get some anonymous feedback. Please use this link (for paying subs only) - it's a google form with three short questions.

Speaking of three… Substack recently introduced a referral program feature that I think is interesting. You should, as a paying sub, receive an email explaining how you have the ability to gift one free month of paying subscribers benefits to up to three friends (you can send to more than three, but only three can accept). Your benefit for sharing: if any of your referrals sign up, I’ll extend your subscription by one month for free as a way of saying thank you!

This coincides nicely with the changes I’m making in my publishing schedule that is focusing more on publishing for paid-only posts.

Thank you for supporting me and sticking around! ❤️

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