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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

Should You Relocate? What to Consider if You’re Thinking of Moving (More than Temporarily) During the Pandemic

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I don’t know about you, but I’ve been feeling a little stir-crazy lately. Staring at the same four walls for more consecutive days than I care to count has me longing to be somewhere (anywhere!) else.

If months of being stuck inside, working from a makeshift home office, or navigating a remote job search have you seriously considering the idea of moving far far away, you aren’t alone. “There’s been a recent uptick in people looking to leave larger cities like San Francisco or New York City for mid-sized cities and suburban areas,” says Ryan Carrigan, co-founder of moveBuddha, an online resource for planning long-distance moves. “This is likely because people can live more comfortably in lockdown in less densely populated areas where they aren’t cooped up in tiny apartments.”

Whether or not a small apartment or a crowded city are fueling your desire to move, Carrigan says you may be thinking about relocation now that the pandemic has removed barriers that might typically have prevented you from taking the leap, like an employer that requires you to report to an office every day. “It seems that a lot of people already had these moves on their mind, and the current circumstances have made it more attainable,” Carrigan notes. In some cases, “now is a good time to take the plunge.”

But moving to a new city or state is a big deal—even when we aren’t in the midst of a global pandemic. With so much uncertainty around remote-working arrangements, travel, job security, and the state of the economy as a whole, how do you know if you should make such a huge change?

What’s Your “Why”?

As with any big, life-changing decision, it’s important to spend time reflecting on the reason (or reasons) you want to move right now. “Many of my clients have already relocated or are actively trying to relocate [during the pandemic],” says Jennifer Fink, Muse career coach and founder of Fink Development. “The top reasons are getting closer to family or friends, cost of living, reevaluating life or career goals, needing a different type of living space, loss of income, increased flexibility for remote work, and safety.”

For some, the idea of moving may have been in the works for months or even years, and COVID is simply the catalyst that spurs them into action. “We’ve been thinking about moving for a while, but I didn’t want to leave my job,” says Lola Robinson, a recruiter at a San Francisco–based startup. “When my employer announced that they were going to be a remote-first company because of the pandemic, it made moving a real possibility.” Robinson and her husband now plan to move to San Diego in the fall. She cites being closer to family, a lower cost of living, and a better quality of life as their primary reasons for relocating.

Others, like Corritta Lewis, are choosing to make the best of their rapidly changing circumstances. After getting laid off from her HR analyst job, Lewis and her wife decided to leave Southern California for Playa del Carmen, Mexico. “The biggest factor for us was the cost of living. Our money goes a lot further in Mexico where we’ll have an affordable condo with a pool, healthcare, a healthy lifestyle, and affordable childcare,” Lewis says. She hopes to channel her love of travel into a travel resource for families of color once it’s safe to explore again.

While there are plenty of valid reasons for relocating, it’s important to remember that we’re all going through a weird time right now. “The grass always seems greener on the other side,” Fink says. “Before you make a move, make sure you do some deep reflection to understand what’s truly motivating you. People often believe a new location will solve a problem they have, but they later learn that it was an internal problem that really needed solving.”

So ask yourself:

  • Why do I want to make this move right now? If, like Robinson, you’ve been considering a move for a while and the timing finally feels right, that’s a good sign. But if the idea of moving is newer, you might just be itching for a change of scenery. Consider something less permanent instead: Would a weekend camping trip with your family make you feel a little less cooped up? Can you book a short-term rental in the area you’re interested in first? Do you really just need to spend a quiet week in a bigger space in a rural area?
  • Will the improvement in my quality of life be temporary or does this truly make sense in the long term? Lewis believes the combination of better weather, lower cost of living, and a more welcoming community will lead to a better quality of life for her and her family for years to come. She’s also leaving behind a job she no longer enjoyed and is looking forward to starting her own business (something that would be much harder to do in pricey Southern California). On the other hand, if you love living in the city, but the pandemic has left you longing for a bigger living space, you need to consider whether you’ll be happy in the suburbs when life returns to normal. Will you miss going to happy hour with coworkers? How will you feel about a longer commute?

How Will Moving Affect Your Career Prospects?

Most of us won’t be picking up and moving to a new city on a whim. Moving will take some serious planning. If you’re hoping to keep your job after relocating, you’ll need to discuss your options with your employer before finalizing anything.

There will likely be a variety of factors to consider, like whether or not your boss will expect you to come into the office a few times a month after the pandemic is over, whether your company would plan to make cost-of-living adjustments to your compensation (some employers may change your salary to reflect the going rate in your new hometown), and, if you’re considering a move out of state, whether your employer can even legally pay you to work there (not all companies are set up to employ staff in all 50 states).

This might look like a series of conversations, rather than a single, sweeping declaration. Given the current state of the workforce, your employer might be more open than ever to hearing you out. “I believe the trend of greater flexibility for remote work will only continue to grow,” Fink says. Still, it’s important to do your homework and be prepared to discuss how a permanent remote role would work. Perhaps most importantly, both you and your manager will need to believe that you can be successful from a distance given the company culture, team structure, and nature of your job.

In the short term, moving to a new city may not have a huge impact on your career, especially if you’re able to work from home and everyone at your company is currently remote. But what will your job look like when normal life resumes? Will you be the only person on your team who doesn’t return to the office? If you’re a manager, what will it look like for you to lead from a distance? How will moving affect your access to prospective customers and networking opportunities?

If you’re planning to find a new job, or think you might move on from your current company at some point, it’ll be important to get a handle on what the path forward could look like. In other words: What will the long-term impact for your career be in this new location?

Some questions to consider:

  • How feasible will it be to find a new job in or from your new location?
  • Is there a stable job market there?
  • If there aren’t many jobs in your field or industry there, do you think it will be possible to find remote work with companies based elsewhere?
  • Even if that’s the case, would you want to work remotely in the long term? Do you think you could grow and thrive from afar?
  • Is there a shift or career pivot you’ve been wanting to explore that will be made easier or harder by the move?

These questions may not have simple answers, as the pandemic has made predicting future employment trends a challenge. “Before the pandemic, there were predictions that employment in cities would continue to grow, while smaller communities would continue to lose jobs; this is probably still true. However we are in a significant moment of disruption, and I don’t think anyone can say for sure how we will emerge from this pandemic,” Fink says. In some cases, your answer might simply be, “I don’t know.” The unknown can be scary, but it can also be liberating. If in the face of all this uncertainty, you’re still leaning toward moving, that’s probably a good sign.

What Are the Short and Long-Term Costs?

The cost of living in the area you’re planning to move to will likely be an important factor in your decision. We all know how expensive it can be to live in big cities like San Francisco or New York, but smaller cities or popular suburbs can be pricey, too. And that doesn’t just mean housing costs. You’ll want to think about other expenses like sales tax, income taxes, whether or not you’ll need a car (and how often you’ll need to fill up your gas tank), and the price of food at nearby grocery stores. This can all vary from county to county and state to state.

Even if you are moving to a city with a more affordable cost of living, your income might be affected, too, as your current employer may adjust your salary to reflect the market in your area. If you’re planning to get a new job closer to your new home, local salaries will likely be lower, too. What will that mean for your ability to save money or work toward your long-term financial goals?

Moving itself can also put a serious dent in your checking account. “Be sure to ask yourself whether a lower cost of living will offset the cost of your move,” Carrigan says. “How long would you have to work in order to recoup your expenses?” If saving money is your primary motivator, this will be an especially important number to crunch. Cheaper rent is great, but forking over thousands of dollars to move all of your stuff might mean that you’ll have to spend more before you can start saving. Will that be worth it in the long run?

If you’re in the process of searching for a new job, you can always negotiate things like location scouting trips or temporary storage costs into your offer to mitigate expenses. It’s far less common to get relocation assistance as an existing employee moving for non-work reasons. However, if you’re truly great at your job—do people call you a superstar?—you might consider asking anyway, especially if it happens to be annual review time or you know you’re up for a raise or promotion.

What About Beyond the Pandemic?

I know it might not feel like it right now, but this pandemic is temporary. Moving, on the other hand, can be much more permanent. So try to think about what this change will mean in the bigger picture. Do you long for life to go back to the way it was pre-COVID? Then a big move might not end up being as satisfying as you’d hoped. Conversely, has your time in quarantine helped you to realize that you want to make some changes or shift your priorities? Then relocating might truly make sense.

Still on the fence? It might help to ask yourself what a move would mean for your life after the pandemic is over. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Overall quality of life. Will you miss the snow when the holidays roll around? Do you love being able to walk to your favorite coffee shop? Will taking care of that big yard drive you crazy when autumn rolls around and the leaves start falling? Will you be sad to be far away from theaters and museums once those begin to open up again?
  • Your personal and professional network. Do you know anyone where you’re moving or will you be starting over? Would a move take you closer to or farther away from your support system? What kind of diversity is there in the area you’re looking at? Will you feel welcome and safe? What about your partner or children, if you have them?
  • Your work style. Make sure to think not only about whether you can keep or find jobs in the future, but also about whether you’ll enjoy your day-to-day work life. Do you prefer to be surrounded by collaborative coworkers or is the solitude of remote work more your thing? Will you feel out of the loop if you’re the only one who doesn’t return to the office post-pandemic? Will it be challenging to work from a different time zone? Will you have to travel more often?
  • Your partner’s career prospects. Will your partner be able to work remotely too? What does the job market in your new town look like for your partner’s industry?
  • Your children’s schools. What will a new school and community look like for your family in the near future and down the line?

If you decide to go for it, know that a move is going to take a lot of planning—perhaps more than normal, given the current state of the world. Looping in your employer, evaluating the job market, considering the cost of living, and making a plan to carry it off smoothly will all be essential to a successful relocation.

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