As hard as it is to believe I’ve made it to this juncture, this is the final installment of my long journey to becoming an expat in Italy — the country I’ll be calling home in a few short weeks. These waning days of life in the United States are consumed with making endless lists and checking them twice.
It’s also a time of reflection. I can’t help but consider how much harder I’ve made things for myself because of the
timing I chose to relocate.
Well, it wasn’t really a choice. If not for that pesky pandemic, I’d be settled in my new Italian home by now. But, as soon as the borders opened, I decided not to wait another moment, and so I ended up trying to move to a new continent smack dab in the middle of the holidays.
Europeans are all about Christmas markets, celebrating returning tourists, and fighting fear of what a new year and a new variant might bring. Americans, meanwhile, are so giddy about everything (really, it’s as if this is everyone’s
first Christmas), that no one can be bothered with me and my eccentric life choices. So, this quest has been a pretty private one. Probably a good thing, because no matter how much folks may want to support you in such a decision, no one can understand all the intricacies of the process until they’ve done it.
Fortunately for me, many who have made the move to expat life have documented their experiences. I gleaned a lot of great information from them, but of course everyone’s journey is different. Mine, for example, includes retirement and being “of a certain age,” so my quagmire of challenges and red tape may have differed from others.
(This is where those endless lists come in.)
‘Purging and packing are interesting, even cathartic’
One of my choices from the beginning was to sell my U.S. home rather than rent it out or keep it for whatever reason. I’ve been a landlord before, and don’t ever want to do that again. Thankfully, it’s a seller’s market right now, with the prospect of excellent profits. Sure, selling a home is still nerve-wracking in any market, but the process is underway, and so far, so good.
Purging and packing are also interesting, even cathartic. I’ve spent the last couple of years rediscovering the minimalist lifestyle that I embraced years ago in Angola. Letting go of stuff and, more importantly, giving stuff away, are liberating (and conducive to good staging, making the house more sellable than ever).
When it came to packing, the list that helped determine what I would bring with me endured countless modifications. Since the flat I rented in Lucca Province is fully furnished and equipped, the plan was to pack two huge suitcases – one with clothes and shoes, and one with books – plus my crazy giant computer/briefcase. Other near-and-dear items would be left in storage with family, to be retrieved later.
After reading an account written by a fairly new expat of her packing regrets, I had to rethink things a bit. She was surprised to discover one of the things she wished she’d stocked up on were the OTC meds and brands of toiletries she was used to. Because many of the brands she loved were not available in her new home country, she advised bringing a supply that would last through the trial-and-error process of finding comparable products.
Researching whether Amazon delivers to your new location is one way of knowing beforehand what products will be available, until you’re on the ground and start shopping locally. This, along with working out WiFi and utility matters with my new landlord, purchasing health insurance and getting started on my visa were the final steps before I was able to take a breath and focus a bit on what I was leaving behind.
Leave nothing undone
If you’re embarking on your own pursuit of an expat life, this is an important final step. Take a good long look back, and be thorough, leaving nothing undone. Embrace what matters, whether it’s experiences or relationships. If closure is needed, get closure. Recognize what (and whom) you’ll miss, and how to stay connected. (Personally, I’m already planning my first trip back to the States for my granddaughter’s graduation, as well as weekly virtual coffees with friends.)
After the looking back comes the looking forward. I’m still finding it hard to believe, but reality is slowly sinking in. I finally get to join the ever-growing ranks of expats who’ve embraced their dreams. For those still wondering if you can do this, the answer is a resounding YES. You can figure out the digital nomad visas, the mandates and restrictions, the employment and tax and insurance and language issues, even during a pandemic.
Life is short. Find the place that feeds your soul – and live it there.
About the author:
Carla Bastos is a freelance writer and former journalist and newspaper editor. Having lived in developing countries and covered wars and natural disasters, she has written extensively on a variety of related topics.
Her many years of world travels and humanitarian work continue to inform her writing, which can be found at carla-bastos.com.
See more here about Italy’s various programs to repopulate villages.