Moving abroad for love: being an expat spouse in Nicaragua

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Moving  can be challenging at the best of times, but moving to a new country to be with your foreign partner can present a whole host of different challenges

Surprisingly, moving overseas to be with your significant other can be an isolating and distressing experience.  Cutting ties with your home country, packing up your life and readjusting to a new culture, language and city are all huge life changes. Often the true impact of your decision only hits after you move, when the excitement wears off and you’re left to decide what to do next.

Here’s some advice to help you prepare and cope.

Before you move

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It’s easy to tell yourself that everything will fall into place when you arrive in your new country, but the only way to secure a smooth move is to plan for every eventuality before you leave. Sit down and make a list of all your worries and concerns and all the things you’re going to need and miss when you move.
Once you have your list, you can start planning how you’re going to cope. If you have a strong support network of family and friends at home, set up a regular communication schedule. Services like Skype and Google Talk make international phone calls a breeze, not to mention free, and can be synced to a web camera.  If you like the idea of being able to pick up the phone and call home, invest in a VoiP (voice over Internet Protocol) phone. They’re cheap and work just like a landline, except they use your Internet connection instead of the phone line.
The ideal situation would be that you have already spent some time in your spouse’s hometown in the years before  moving permanently. If that’s not possible, the next best thing to do is get some books on Nicaragua and start researching online. Pick out the biggest hurdles; usually that’s speaking Spanish, healthcare and finding a job.
If you don’t speak Spanish, get lessons. There’s nothing more isolating than not being able to understand the people around you. Get your head around the healthcare system next. What are your rights as a non-citizen? Are you immediately entitled to citizenship or do you need to apply for permanent residency?  The process can take a long time and you can’t apply for anything, be it a healthcare card or a job, until you have permanent residency. In Nicaragua, a couple has to be married for 2 years before you can apply for residency based on Marriage to a Nicaraguan citizen.
You should consider arranging your international drivers’ license before you leave.   Getting out and about and running your own errands will help you assimilate a lot faster and reduce the burden on your partner.
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When you arrive in Nicaragua

Make finding a job  or other community activity your first priority. It’s not all about the money. You’ll be surprised at how easily a job or doing volunteer work can boost your confidence and sense of independence.  It’s also a great way to make new friends and meet with  people other than your partner.
Friends, or at least acquaintances, can make or break your move. A lot of people who move overseas to be with their partners can become clingy and jealous. After all, your partner still has their old support network, while you have no one. But it can be hard on your relationship if you want to dominate their attention and get antsy when they go out without you.
There is always the question of  whether you should make friends with locals or other expats. It is good to have a mix of both. In the beginning you may find it’s comforting to meet someone who understands your culture and your romance.
The same goes for you. Cultural activities are a great way to meet people with similar interests and can give you the mindset you need to survive those first few difficult months.

 The first year is the hardest.

It can be incredibly reassuring to have an idea of when you’ll see your family, friends and home country again. Whether it be a month, six months or a year down the road, make a plan and stick to it. It will give you something to look forward to and make the adjustment period easier to handle.
It’s one of the things that set expat couples and people who move for love apart. Expat couples struggle and adapt together, while a person who moves abroad for love can feel alone. It’s likely your partner doesn’t know what it’s like to adapt to a new country. You need to speak up and express your feelings with them.
It’s inevitable that those cultural quirks that once seemed cute will become annoying.    But the only way to avoid culture shock is to understand and accept.The more familiar you are with the Nicaraguan way of life, the better your chances are of adapting.
Living abroad does not mean abandoning your cultural identity. It’s especially important if you have kids to keep your heritage alive. Share your food, culture, history and language with your new friends and family. Living in Nicaragua, where your first language  may not be spoken, it’s important to take a break every so often.  If your partner doesn’t speak your first language, they should get lessons in English. Your language is a huge part of your identity and you need to be able to share that.
And finally, the hardest but most important thing you must do is find your own reason for living in Nicaragua. Your partner cannot be the only reason that brings you here to live. If you hate everything about your new country and are only here to make your partner happy, you may become bitter and your relationship could falter. You need to accept that you’ve moved and you need to make your own ties and your own peace with your  new surroundings That might be in the form of friends, a job, hobbies, food, shopping or sights. Learn to love your new home and you’ll find life will become a lot easier.

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