Moving countries during the coronavirus lockdown

Milena Spremberg
05.19.20
4 minute read

Moving country is hard enough. Now imagine moving immediately before a lockdown. We asked 3 expats to share their experiences of adjusting to life in a new country during coronavirus.


TransferWise is a new way of managing your money internationally for a fraction of the price of a bank or PayPal. In our Lives Without Borders series we speak to people whose careers and lifestyles have transcended borders, even during these unprecedented times.


At TransferWise we can truly and proudly say that our customers and employees are part of an international community. While COVID-19 has halted travel and closed borders around the world, for many people the lockdown arrived just after they'd moved country. We asked 3 expats about the challenges of settling in a foreign country when you can't leave the house, meet your new colleagues, or explore your new neighbourhood.


“To be honest, I didn’t even know where in the world Estonia was. Now I am here, getting to know the country on the internet.”

Marina recently moved to Tallin, Estonia from Brazil, with her family.

We got to Tallinn and three days after we arrived the borders were closed. I just wanted to get to know the city that is going to be my new home, but since we arrived everything has been shut down and we’ve been home since. I started work and haven’t even been to the office — everything has been online.

I was so preoccupied with the move and leaving our whole life in Brazil behind, that I didn’t stop to take in what was going on. While things were already very bad in Europe, the number of Covid-19 cases in Brazil was still very low. With the whole stress of moving with a small child, being jet lagged, looking for an apartment, we were completely oblivious to how fast things were moving until we got to Estonia.

The hardest thing is that I haven’t been able to put my son in school yet. It’s very difficult to hear him crying in the other room and not be able to go there to see what’s happening or to give my husband a break.

It has been interesting having to learn about a country I’m living in through the internet. Before coming, my husband and I watched or read every single video, vlog, interview, documentary that we could find about Estonia but we sort of figured we’d be seeing all of those sights and interesting things in person. The first thing we want to do when this is all over is take my son to the sea. Believe it or not, but my son was born in Brazil and he’ll see the sea for the first time in Estonia.


"When my wife had her first ultrasound appointment while I was still sick, a colleague (and new friend) offered to go with her."

Paul recently moved to London from New York with his wife and cat.

I moved to London with my pregnant wife in the middle of February. A little over a month later, during the initial phases of the lockdown in the UK, I became sick with what I am now certain was COVID-19. Following the NHS guidelines, I isolated myself in a spare room in our temporary flat and kept as far away from my wife as possible. Although I didn't have the breathing difficulties common with the virus, the exhaustion and body aches were pretty brutal. Even worse was the anxiety; the fear of being sick in a new country, in a temporary home, far away from family and friends, and worst of all the worry that I might give it to my wife.

Upon hearing that I was sick, my team was very supportive. They made a point to message me everyday to see how I was doing and my team lead even brought me some much-needed medicine. When my wife had her first ultrasound appointment while I was still sick, a colleague (and new friend) offered to go to the appointment with her. I was amazed how many people offered to help in any way possible. All of this support made a very difficult time bearable. I am happy to report that my wife never got sick and I recovered after a few weeks (although it took over a month for my sense of smell to come back).


“Before any big life change the detail-orientated part of my brain tends to shut down and I settle into a 'ride the wave' mindset."

Sophie moved from London to Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.

My partner and I moved here in pursuit of work opportunities, to experience a new part of the world, and for travel adventures. We had never visited Dubai before so I had no expectations whatsoever, other than a few anecdotes from friends who had visited and opinions from lots of people who had never been.

There was, and is, a lot of uncertainty about the medium to long term, and we’re wondering when we will be able to travel and see our families again. But I felt we were in a safe place from a health perspective. The UAE took the crisis very seriously with a proactive lockdown. I'd say my first emotional reaction was frustration connected to my job search. I'd been making (what felt like, at least!) some great progress which slowed when companies decided, understandably, to focus on what they needed to do to survive. That meant that a proposal I'd been discussing was parked. It felt as though having just arrived I was caught out in limbo before having gotten really settled.


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