Avoid These Mistakes We Made When Moving Abroad

avoid these mistakes when moving abroad

When you move abroad, you are bound to make a few mistakes. Just like in life, the key is to learning from your mistakes. If you are really smart, you do not only learn from your mistakes, you learn from the mistakes of others too. With this post, we are giving you that chance!

Not switching our bank accounts to an account with free ATM fees

Unfortunately, Wells Fargo has really high ATM withdrawal fees along with international use fees. 

Typical.

This was not something we looked into before we moved to Puerto Vallarta.

This mistake was by far the most costly (literally) mistake we made. In fact, it costs us $7.50 USD every time we used the ATM and an additional 3% on any purchases we made with our cards. To try and circumvent these outrageous fees, we typically take out 300-500 dollars at a time when we went to the ATM so that we wouldn’t have to suffer that awful charge too many times! Bye Wells Fargo, hello Charles Schwab!

Luckily, $500 USD will last you a long time in Puerto Vallarta:)

Not knowing which places took cash and which took card / Not having enough cash

We made the mistake of not carrying much cash when we first moved to Mexico. We were not used to using it and it felt cumbersome to carry around. However, after learning that most places in our area of town (El Centro) do not accept debit/credit cards, we quickly learned to carry plenty of cash with us!

Cash is king in Mexico. Before you leave the house, you will want to make sure you have enough cash to get where you are going, buy a few things, get back, and an extra 20-30% more. You really do not want to get where you are going and not be able to purchase something because you forgot your money.

Taking too many clothes / Taking the wrong type of clothes

Packing up everything you own is hard; especially when you can only take a small portion of your belongings to your new location. How many shoes do you need to take? Will you need a jacket in Mexico? How about dress clothes?

Only being able to take a few of your belongings forces you to recognize what is truly important and what is not. As dumb as this sounds, that is a hard thing to do! Before we moved to Mexico, everything was important. We had space for everything we needed. Or rather, our filled up our space as much as we could and said we “needed it”.

When it came time to pack it was really hard to designate what should be donated, what should be put in storage, and what we should take. The most difficult part was decided if you should take an item or not. Unfortunately, we packed by the motto of “if it fits, it ships!”. That might be a good motto for the US Postal Service, but not so much when you are moving abroad!

Honestly, we packed as if they did not sell clothes in Mexico! (or shoes, or soap, or lotion, or toothpaste, etc.)

Looking back it is easy to laugh at our old selves.

Here’s why packing so much was a bad idea:

  • We barely had room to bring souvenirs back on our return trip
  • We had too much clutter in our new space
    • Jackets and dress clothes took up valuable closet space
  • It was a pain to drag heavy luggage through the airport
  • It didn’t fit our personal rule of “Have less”

Booking an apartment without knowing the area

We really got lucky on this one! We had been to Puerto Vallarta once before we decided to move there, but when we booked our apartment on Airbnb, we really had no idea what the neighborhood was like!

We knew it was about a 15 minute walk from the beach. That’s about it-that was the extent of our knowledge.

Fortunately, we booked an apartment in a great neighborhood close to so many restaurants and cool places!

However, the next time we move abroad, we are going to try and do a little more research so that we avoid potentially ending up in a bad location.

I would not say that we act emotionally or irrationally. It is just that neither of us likes getting bogged down in the decision making process. We could spend days and weeks looking for the best neighborhoods in a given city and never have a concrete answer.

Sometimes you just need to make a decision. Perhaps just a more informed decision than we did on our first move 🙂

We did not book a place for long enough

This is a good mistake to make, right? We absolutely loved living in Puerto Vallarta and we wished we could have stayed for longer. It was nice to come home for Christmas and New Year’s to see family, but nowhere feels like home quite like Mexico 🙂

The next time we move abroad we would like to book our stay for a longer period of time. (Update: we moved back to Mexico!)

Not only does this give us the benefit of being in a great location for a longer period of time, but it also reduces the amount of work that is involved in moving abroad.

The more you move back and forth, the more work you are going to have to do. Ideally, we would like to stay in a location for six months to one year at a time. This gives us time throughout the year to see family and friends and limits the hassle of moving back and forth several times a year.

Not tipping waiters/Not knowing the local customs

Luckily, we only made this mistake a few times before we caught ourselves! For some reason, we thought that you did not tip in Puerto Vallarta! I feel terrible for the first few waiters that we had!

It should go without saying, but do a quick search of the tipping customs in the region you are traveling to!

Whoops….

Not asking the taxi drivers what the price was

When you take a taxi in the States, you simply get in and watch the meter creep up, and up, and up. It works a little differently in Puerto Vallarta. There are standard rates across the whole city. To get from Zone A to Zone C is X price, no matter the exact address you are being dropped off at. Check out this post for a detailed map of the rates. 

At least that is how it is supposed to work! 

Upon first moving to Mexico we just got in the cab and went without asking how much the ride was going to cost. Big mistake. Unless of course you like paying more than you should!

Before you even get in a taxi, ask how much the ride is going to cost.

Always agree on a price before you get in the cab. If the driver quotes a price to you that you know or believe to be too high, simply bargain with him. Sometimes they like to pad the price a little bit to tip themselves (which is fine, they need to make a living, just make sure you agree on the price before you take off!) And in Mexico, it really might feel like you are taking off on an Apollo rocket!

So there you have it. All of our mistakes-exposed! Do not be like us. Learn from our travel mistakes and streamline your move abroad!

Keep it Kinetic,

Greg and Hillary

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  • Rob Stiles

    Great tips…especially the NO ATM FEES!!!!! Saves you a fortune. Also, not locking up an apt. before knowing the area. It’s easy to get caught up but, man…you can really put yourself in a hole if you get stuck in the wrong part of town.

  • Kaylene Chadwell

    Awesome, post! I’m moving abroad in less than a year, so this is super helpful! I’m working on selling a lot of my clothes and other belongings I won’t need. And I’ve bought a couple books to help me learn more about local customs.

  • Elena Melamory

    Really great points, not only for moving abroad permanently, but for travel as well. Checking these things out save a lot of hassle!

  • Elisa Subirats

    Generally speaking I don’t think they were big mistakes except for the apartment booked without knowing the area. But I guess you learned the lessons and next time it will be better

  • All part of the learning isn’t it. There’s probably another 20 or so you could add to this list as well. Really helpful for those who are moving abroad to get off to a flying start.

  • I hope to live abroad one day so these tips are useful to remember. I think I would probably have forgotten about switching banks so must remember that tip!

  • Finding Jing

    I think every traveler commits mistakes in one way or another. I have not tried moving long term abroad yet, but some of your listed mistakes, I had, too. You are right, the key is to turn these mistakes into learnings. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  • Great tips in here. Bank accounts are the bane of my existence when travelling. I wish we didn’t have to pay fees! :'(

  • Melody Pittman

    My husband and I live part time in Panama so I really related to this article. My favorite are renting an apartment without knowing the area and not knowing the local customs. Although, the cash tips are really important too. These are great suggestions!

  • Guilty of the ATM point. For some reason I never prepare for the bank cash transactions when travelling or when lived abroad. It doesn’t seem much at the moment but it certainly adds up at the end.
    A good research of the city, the area and the culture/customs is a must! great list of tips 🙂