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Meet ‘Covid expats’ who moved abroad during the pandemic

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LONDON - Moving abroad may not seem like the most obvious thing to do during a pandemic, but for many people, Covid-19 gave the boost they needed to take the plunge.

About one in 10 readers of the expat site InterNations said they had decided to move abroad as a result of the coronavirus pandemic in its survey among more than 12,000 people online in January 2021.

Maria Eilersen is one of those who has taken the step. As a PR coach and yoga teacher, she left London for Lisbon, Portugal, in November 2020, when the case of Covid rose in the UK

Eilersen, who is Danish, had heard that the Portuguese capital was becoming a new hub for the international community after Brexit. She also wanted to live in a place with a sunnier climate than the UK. "It was a lot, like, why not? We did not do a lot of research - we were like, let's just see what happens ... and it was the best decision ever," Eilersen told CNBC via video call.

Portugal came in fifth in InterNations' survey of the best places for expats in 2021, and ranked high in terms of quality of life, leisure opportunities and affordable prices.

Eilersen and her Spanish partner used apartments they found on Airbnb to try different areas of the city and eventually settled in Campo de Ourique, which they liked for its wide sidewalks and park where they could take their dog.

In terms of work, Eilersen had already externally coached clients via video through his consulting firm Be Conscious PR, which helped make the transition to Lisbon hassle-free. "When I talk to new customers… it's actually just [helps] to inspire them and show them [that] you can really work anywhere, "she said.

Lisbon's skyline showing the city's Ponte 25 de Abril, which stretches across the Tagus River.

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She also found yoga teacher work relatively easy to get hold of in Lisbon, after attending a class at a local studio and being invited by the owner to lead a session as a trial lesson. Now she teaches regularly. "It's something I noticed that happened when we moved to Lisbon ... All these things that had been such a commotion and such bustle in London just happened really easily."

Not everyone has had such a smooth ride, due to pandemic restrictions and travel restrictions.

Entrepreneur and former business analyst Anais Nesta moved from Lyon, France, to Boston, USA, with her husband and two sons in February 2020, just a few weeks before closures around the world.

"At the time, we were not fully aware of the scale of Covid-19. We quickly found a home. We barely had time to buy a table and chairs when the shops and restaurants closed," she told CNBC via email. . The couple's children could not go to school, and the professional projects Nesta had considered were put on hold.

"I had imagined foreign scenarios, but it was far from what we were going to live in. I learned that we were expecting our third child. We arrived in a country where we did not know anyone without the opportunity to create social ties and discover our new host country, "she added.

Two years later, the travel ban has been lifted and Nesta's wider family has been introduced to the couple's new daughter. After a tough start, she now feels lucky to live in "one of the most fascinating countries", and the family has traveled to Louisiana and Florida as well as touring in New England.

Nesta's advice for those considering moving? "Go for it. Going abroad is a real accelerator for personal development."

But she added: "If you go as a couple and even more [so] with children, it is in my opinion essential to define, before leaving, each individual's desires [person]. "

Before choosing Boston, Nesta and her husband individually listed their top five destinations and then wrote down the pros and cons of the places they had in common before analyzing the potential career opportunities in each city. Quebec ranked high, but they chose Boston for her husband's work, its reputation in science, and its location between the ocean and the mountains.

Planning your move

British expat Nina Hobson was living in Santiago, Chile when the pandemic broke out, and advises anyone thinking of living abroad for the first time to plan well.

She and her family are now back in her home country of Yorkshire in the UK and planning their next move, to Punta del Este in Uruguay. "Spend some time reflecting ... Discuss the possibilities with everyone else involved in the move and really listen. For example, my husband and I set aside time in a café and agreed to just listen to each other in absolute silence so we could both really get our thoughts out in the open, "she told CNBC via email.

"I would suggest making a plan, including saving enough money to get home if things get sour. Again, keep the conversation with everyone involved in your move open. Listen to your partner and children. Make a plan, but be prepared on tearing up the plan if you need it, "she added.

The city of Punta del Este in Uruguay.

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Hobson is a life coach who also runs, a blog for women abroad, and uses several apps and websites to manage her work life when she lives abroad. "After being caught through seasonal clock changes, I use now Time and date calculator to double check my work calls. I like Wise for organizing internationally [money] transfers quickly and securely and I trust Slack, [workplace software] Asana and Zoom for my work, "she said.

When it comes to a workplace, she strives for a clean, tidy and light environment in the home and tries to separate the workday from later when the work is done. "Fold the laptop away, draw the curtains, light a candle, put the office notebook away," she suggested. And Hobson sticks to a routine. “My kids know that in the morning I have to work and study, but in the afternoon I am there for them,” she said.

Beach paradise

The dream of a life by the sea has come true for Natalie Levy, a former recruitment consultant based in New York City. She moved to Tulum on the Caribbean coast of Mexico in August 2020 and chose it because of its proximity to her family in the United States, expatriate communities, and access to cities like Cancun.

"It felt like an opportunity to live in paradise with amenities," she told CNBC via email.

Levy, who is now a business coach, says she earns more from working for herself than she did in her previous role, adding that she has been "challenged" to slow down and have more patience if the electricity or internet connection is unreliable. "I ... recognize the privilege of working for myself so I can simply walk away from my computer when things go wrong and resume what I do when I feel like it," she added.

For Eilersen in Lisbon, the move has helped her reset her stance on the "hustle culture" found in big cities. "Londoners boasted of working long hours and did not have time to rest as a sign of honor ... We have to let go of the belief that we only deserve success if it has been earned through a lot of (unhealthy) hard work. occupation." she told CNBC via email.

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