Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Expat Life: Staying Sane During Visa Application And Renewal

Digital nomading sounds so glam. Working on your laptop by a sunny pool, in December, freshly squeezed guava juice at your side. What could be nicer?

While it's lovely to travel, working abroad also means endless paperwork for visas. I'm doing ours at the moment, and so it's at the top of my mind.

Here are some thoughts on how to stay sane during this challenging time.

Image of passport and stamp

Stress #1 Control, Agency and Importance
The visa directs where you live and for how long, so it's important. 

You have very little control over when or whether it's granted. As human beings don't do well with helplessness, this will be a primary stressor.

Mental Health Tip: Acknowledge that feeling stressed because you are helpless and uncertain is actually a sensible reaction. Breathe through it. Practice self-care.

Practical: You're doing this for a reason, so treat it like a project and set goals for success and failure. Do you want the visa because it looks good on the CV? Because of the income you make? Some other reason?

Whatever it is, put a value on it and figure out how much effort you are willing to spend to get it. Then make a failure target so that you know when to walk away.

For example, "Getting the visa means an international credit on my CV and will net me $1500 a month more in income for two years. I'm willing to invest one month and $5000. If there's no positive by date X or they ask for more money, I walk."

Stress #2 Backup plan
There are usually options, so make a list of alternative destinations and jobs. Maybe you stay home, go home, or try another country.

Most importantly, make sure you work out a timeline! You don't want to be stuck in one country with paperwork that's running out, or having trouble with the revenue stream, on top of being unsure of where you're going.

Stress #3 Confusion and Conflict
Visa bureaucracy typically involves several government departments, all of whom have different agendas. They likely don't talk to each other. If you've applying for a new visa, you may spend all your time dealing with people who are as new to this as you are.

Mental Health Tip: Acknowledge that feeling stressed because you are helpless and uncertain is actually a sensible reaction. Breathe through it.

Mental Health Tip: remember why you're doing this! See the stress as partial payment for what you're going to get out of it when you succeed.

Stress #4 Time Budget
Be certain you have a time budget set aside. As it typically takes several dozen hours of labour of which collecting documents is the simplest part, treat this like a major project with milestones.

Practical: devoting a block of time regularly can be more useful than jumping to respond. Me, I do my paperwork in a one morning block, and devote a whole day to visiting a department. If I finish early, I treat myself to time off and pat myself on the back.

Stress #5: Follow The Basics
Eat properly, get decent sleep, eliminate small stresses and exercise. Yes, obvious, but without veggy, protein and sleep your body can't work. So be certain you don't sabotage your health.

Mental Health Tip: I get off social media and reread favourite books. The lack of notifications lower my overall alert level and the old favourites are a throwback to old comfortable times.  Try it and see!

Stress #6: Rope in Friends
A problem shared is a problem halved, but apart from the emotional support, talking to a local friend will help remind you why you like to stay.

If you're looking for tips, chat to someone from your own country who recently and successfully managed the process. If you're lucky, there may be a shortcut or two you didn't know about.  

Mental Health Tip: remember the points of stress #1 Control, Agency and Importance

I speak from the heart. This is my fifth country, and I'm in the middle of applying for my fifteenth? Eighteenth? Gazzilionth visa. I used to work visas for expat engineers in other countries too, so all in all, I've processed more than a hundred visas over 30 years.

The biggest takeaway is that I've learned that all countries are hostile to expats. You can have politicians moaning they need workers, or raving about luring you in with special promotional paperwork, but it's not them doing the actual visa processing.  

So try not to talk it personally. Decide if it's for you, and if it is, go do it.   

Finally, if you need mental health support, book a session with me. I'm nice and affordable as I live in a developing nation. And I'll know what you're talking about.