Her Expat Life had the pleasure of interviewing Florencia Barrera, a seasoned expat, on what she has accomplished along the way and why she has chosen the expat lifestyle.
1. Where are you from (yes may be complicated but what's your nationality?) and how did you begin your expat lifestyle? As a student, entrepreneur, trailing spouse, professional, retiree, etc? And tell us about that journey.
I was born and raised in Argentina, in its second biggest city which is called Cordoba. My expat life began at the early age of 20 when I was awarded a scholarship to study abroad in Mexico, at the Universidad de Guadalajara. I went to Law School in Mexico for 6 months there and upon my return to Argentina, I knew I wanted to continue living abroad soaking in different cultures. That’s why months after graduating as a lawyer in 2014, I packed my bags and moved to Australia. This time, for 2 years.
2. Is living the expat lifestyle or international life something you grew up in? When you began living as an expat did people in your immediate family support you ? Scared for you? Against your move?
I wouldn’t say my parents were very happy to see me go. They never lived in a different country or city, so it was something they couldn’t really understand. They were scared I wouldn’t finish Law School or that I would lose focus. But they supported me anyway, even though they were sort of against it. Not only they were concerned about my studies but also about my safety. Back in the day, the drug cartels war was a huge issue in the north of Mexico, and some dangerous episodes happened in Guadalajara during the time I was there.
3. What cities/countries have you lived as an expat? What were the pros, such as finding community, housing, neighborhood, social life, schools, work, engaging in hobbies? What were the cons or challenges: securing a visa, integrating into a new culture, language barriers, finding housing, making friends, feeling at home, building a support network?
Other than my hometown Cordoba, so I far I lived in Guadalajara (Mexico), Port Douglas and Sydney (Australia), Buenos Aires (Argentina), (Sliema) Malta, and now I live in Novi Sad, Serbia.
I believe that finding local support is crucial to successfully relocating anywhere you wanna go. Luckily I was able to find the right help to get things sorted in the smoothest possible way. Relocating to a new country and culture can be daunting, especially if you don’t speak the language. After going through the same struggles every time I had to relocate and gaining so much experience navigating different countries’ bureaucratic systems, I came up with the idea of offering all sorts of relocation services to expats in Serbia. That’s why a friend and I founded LocalAssist.me
4. You're currently in Novi Sad, Serbia and created the business LocalAssist.me, please tell us more about your work and what it's like to be an expat entrepreneur.
LocalAssist.me is a tech start-up that was born to help people relocate in a smooth and automated way. We offer a wide range of services, from opening bank accounts to visas, work
permit services, and beyond. As foreigners ourselves, we’ve been through the same struggles when trying to navigate Serbia’s bureaucratic system without speaking the language. That’s why we put together the best team of professionals, both locals, and foreigners, to help expats smoothly relocate to this beautiful country and accomplish their personal and business goals.
When I arrived in Serbia, I also founded Gautama Business Solutions, an e-commerce & tech consulting firm for American companies. Happily, in the first year of business, I was able to hire my first 2 employees, and I’m planning to expand the business further in 2023 by bringing in clients from other countries as well, mainly from the UK & Australia.
5. How were you able to maintain well-being, happiness, and professional goals as an expat woman?
I believe in the power of strong boundaries. I work very hard, so I kind of have to force myself to respect the rituals I put together to have some balance. For example, I never miss a training session and weekends are laptop-free. I try to sleep at least 8 hours a day and I eat very healthily. If I wasn’t eating healthy, exercising, and prioritizing sleep, I wouldn’t be able to perform well.
6. How was your life different from the local women and families?
Well, I work from home and that’s not still the default in Serbia. But other than that I don’t think my life is that different from local women here. I go out with my friends a lot, enjoy dinner nights with my partner, visit his family during the weekends, and during the week I work, go to the gym and make sure that the house is not a chaos.
7. What goals were you able to accomplish as an expat that you wouldn't be able to accomplish in your home country?
Opening a company in record speed, definitely. Setting up a business is not easy in Argentina, and if I wanted to do the same back home, I would have a lot of obstacles to establishing the business as well as higher taxation and a number of restrictions on to access foreign currency.
8. As an expat woman what type of privileges (or disadvantages) do you come across?
People of Serbia are very welcoming in general and, because of their love of football, every time they hear I’m from Argentina they kind of celebrate it and mention “Maradona” immediately. Men, especially, seem very proud to hear I’m here because of a Serbian husband. Also, I make a big effort to speak only Serbian when I’m out and about and, even when my grammar is far from perfect, people appreciate I make the offer and tend to help even more. I wouldn’t say that I came across any disadvantages so far, I am truly happy with my life here.
9. Has your health, wellness, and overall happiness increased as an expat woman?
Before I moved to Serbia I was living in Malta for business. In comparison to how my days were passing by and how I looked when I was living in Malta, I can say my life in Serbia improved 100%. During my time in Malta I wasn’t able to manage work stress very well, I wasn’t exercising and my only fun activity was having drinks with friends. I was losing hair constantly, putting on a lot of weight, and I was feeling constantly anxious. A trip to Tanzania helped me realise how unhappy I was. Luckily, my partner and I made the right decision to leave Malta and move to Serbia. Once here, I was able to put things in order again. Now I sleep better, I shed off those extra kilos, forgot about hair loss, and improved my overall lifestyle quality.
10. What is your favorite country to live as an expat and why?
That’s an interesting question because it doesn’t have a “one shoe fits all” answer.
I guess that for different stages of life I would choose different cities to live in. As a single expat, I would definitely choose Buenos Aires. It’s a vibrant city with amazing nightlife and cultural offer. As an expat student, I would probably say Guadalajara, because being an international student in Mexico is very fun and enriching, in addition to being easy to get good scores. As a married woman thinking of growing a family, Novi Sad would be the perfect city to be in, because Novi Sad has everything a big city needs but without being overwhelming, and the cost of living is more than affordable.