Leon de Leeuw
Don't settle down if you don't want to
This post applies to both expats and anyone else who feels called by the title.
Most expats settle down or return to their home countries. There's always doubt whether to settle down or not, as your folks are back home and you'll want to get back to see them every now and then. You might be hesitant to buy any property or even get a car in the new country you work. Especially in the first few years when you don't yet feel this is your new home. But eventually you'll start feeling like you're at home, depending on the place, your job and the people you hang around with. Once you're acclimatized, you might even meet someone and fall in love. Perhaps now is the time to settle down? If you think so, sure. And you can always stay flexible even then. But you might want to get a place to live together as opposed to renting. Which is totally fine. I don't know what percentage of expats generally decides to stay and what part returns home - or at what point these decisions are generally made. It will all depend on the individual situation. So in this post, I'll just discuss the expat who hasn't met a significant other and wants to stay flexible.
There are these people, like myself, who always want to experience freedom. No matter in what shape or form - a free afternoon with nothing to do, a flexible working schedule, a trip without any planning beforehand. These are things that independent people love. Now most expats would be quite independent - as long as they go to the country alone and not counting in the ones leaving with their family. The ones going at it alone are most likely adventurous and have an open mind. They are willing to meet new people, face at least some risk and throw themselves at this new life challenge. And many will want to keep this freedom. Because who knows when they get a new job offer and want to hop to another country? It's all so easy nowadays - as long as you keep in mind that you want to be willing to pick up and leave.
If this sounds like you, I can tell you the following out of experience and having lived in five countries. First of all, do not close yourself off to people. Could be that you don't have a relationship or don't even want any - totally fine. But do accept invitations to go for drinks and hang around with some folks. Blend in with your environment, even if you're not planning to stay long or don't want roots in this current town. Who knows what other soul you meet, and who's to say he or she is not as flexible as you are?
If you truly take your freedom and flexibility seriously - this is a matter of life for you - then keep the following in mind: No commitment. No cohabitation. No children. No matter how wonderful these might all be to some people - I'm not talking about these people now. I'm talking to the exceptions, you as a person wanting to remain as a bird hovering over the world. These three things all make you commit to the place or the person you're with or decide to bring onto this planet. And if you do it right - of course you commit to these goals. But it does tie you down more than you might want - that's why you should keep this guideline in mind.
Rent a property. Never buy. Many people will tell you you're throwing out money if you rent as opposed to buying. Not true at all - as most people don't know and are not understanding of your wish to remain independent. Make a calculation of what your rent costs per day. For me, I spend 10 EUR a day on accommodation all-in. It's a good apartment, modern and with low utility costs. It's perfect for me. You might spend a bit more and depending on your income, that's totally fine. I'd say don't have it be more than 25% of your income or if you're willing to live luxuriously, don't spend more than half your income on rent. Keep in mind that you have no other costs than just the rent and utilities. Yes, prices might go up, but if you live minimalistically you pick up and move to another apartment or if it's an unbearable inflation - to another country. Yes, it is as easy as that, as long as you keep in mind you never own more stuff than what can fit in one van. Live comfortably but don't overindulge in buying stuff. You'd be surprised how little of it you really need. And if you want to go, you'll be able to. You don't own a property - and the property doesn't own you. Feel the butterflies, get out of the place and off to a new destination.
People have themselves tied down so quickly, with consumer debt and car loans and all. There should be no need for you as a single person. Imagine the incredible liberty - you remaining as free as you were as a child but with more money and purchasing power than your peers who are settled down and save money for family expenses. Yes, it can get very hard and lonely, but you also get lonely with the wrong people around you. If you're a free man, just like I am (or woman), you'll know it from when you were a child. And don't settle down if the thought gives you goosebumps. You have more to do and to see. Don't be that guy standing on a balcony in thirty years and thinking where your life went. This is one chance and don't care what anyone says. As long as your actions don't impact anyone negatively, you are free and don't let anyone tell you you're not.
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