Are you planning on moving overseas for work, retirement or simply a new adventure?
Making the move and adapting to life in a new country can be one of life’s most exciting challenges. Along with all the positives and life lessons learned through uprooting and becoming an expatriate, many initial obstacles are likely to crop up. Whether you may face problems acclimatising to a different pace of life, getting your head around a healthcare infrastructure, learning a new language or figuring out how to register for utilities, these hurdles are best overcome with advice from real expat communities.
As with many big moves in life, the key to success is in good preparation, so we recruited the expert advice of expat bloggers who have been through the process themselves. They gave us their top tips on what to do before the big move, as well as important things to consider in the first few months in your new home country.
1. Have a safety net
Start saving ahead of your move to ensure you have a fall-back option if anything goes wrong. Molly, a Brit blogging on The Move to America, relocated to mid-west America. She advises having at least two months of your expected outgoing expenses saved as a financial backup before you move: “It is not to be touched unless in a situation where something were to happen and you needed to meet your bills. It gives you a buffer if you need to rethink, change, or adapt to a new situation.”
2. Try to remain flexible
If you’re going through a visa application process for moving to your new home, remember that there can be delays. Try to remain as flexible as possible as a result. “Don’t give up your job during the process until you physically have your visa, just in case,” says Molly. “You don’t want to end up delayed having already handed your notice in, with extra or unexpected costs related to paperwork, medical examinations, embassy interviews or travel.”
3. Think about renting before you buy
If you don’t want to commit to buying straight away, a great option could be to rent short-term. “Spending a few months renting in an area will give a good idea as to how friendly the community is, and whether it has everything you need nearby such as medical providers, shops and schools,” suggests Sarah Hague, a British writer and blogger in France. Seek out rental agency websites and your local classifieds sites such as Gumtree, Craigslist or Leboncoin to start your search for a place to live in advance of getting to your new country.
Although Sarah warns that it can be difficult to find rental housing in some countries if you don’t have a salary. “Some agencies may expect to see proof of three months’ salary to ensure you have the money to pay rent, which should only equate to no more than a set percentage of your total salary. It’s not just expats, anyone who doesn’t have a salary from an employer may face the same problems.”
4. Decide on your health insurance needs
In your new country the standards, costs and systems of healthcare can vary drastically from what you may be used to. If you have an employer sponsoring your relocation, the company will likely provide resources and be able to advise you of the system and where you stand as an employee. However, ultimately it’s important to research the system yourself and find out whether expat health insurance is the best option for you. “It is vital that you learn about healthcare in the country you are moving to,” warns Molly. “How easily accessible is your nearest doctor or hospital, and what are the costs of prescriptions? Find out what the standards are in facilities near you, and whether a good level of care is universally available. If not, look into what your health insurance options are.”
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5. Move wisely
When it comes to organising your possessions ready for the move, Helen McClure of family travel blog Expat Explorers warns not to rely on your packing company. “The itemised inventory created by companies isn’t always very accurate. Take a video of your entire house so nothing is missed,” she says. “Photograph your belongings, including the back of the TV and computer so you can see how all the wires plug back in. Scan all important documents and keep them on a cloud.”
Some small home comforts on your first night will make the whole process a bit more soothing: “Pack a clean set of bedding for each bed, as well as towels, in a separate box so that on the day of unpacking at least you can get your bed made up for a well-deserved good night’s rest,” Helen advises. “Put a big red ribbon around this box or decorate it to make it stand out.”
6. Start learning the language
A basic knowledge of a few key phrases could be hugely beneficial in the moving process, says Sarah Hague. “If you don’t speak the language at all, you risk being ripped off,” she warns. “You could find yourself in an awkward situation, or it might be hard to find a job, if that’s what you’re looking for.”
If you can’t attend taught lessons physically, then apps like Duolingo, Babbel and Memrise are a great start, allowing you to learn in your own time. “Don’t wait until you move, or until you think you’ll have more time to start learning the language,” advises American Francophile blogger Diane of Oui in France. “Start learning as soon as you can. It is the key to your new world!”
7. Prescription preparation
Accessing the medication you need may initially prove a little more complex than you’ve come to expect in your home country. Research in advance how you will obtain your prescription: whether through a general practitioner, pharmacy or specialist appointment, as well as whether it will be easily accessible, as some countries have tighter restrictions on certain medications. “Find out whether it’s likely that there will be a delay in accessing your next few prescriptions due to the time it takes to register with the healthcare system or health insurance,” advises Molly from The Move to America. “If so, talk to your doctor before you leave to discuss your options for ensuring you have access to your prescription.”
8. Seek out useful expat resources
One of the huge benefits of moving countries in the digital age is that no matter where you are, there are plenty of expat communities and resources at hand, with helpful advice from people having been through similar experiences. “Anglo Info is a great resource with a wealth of articles on living abroad and a directory of English-speaking businesses in your area,” says Rebecca on her blog Making Here Home, having been through the expatriation process twice after moving to both Thailand and Germany from her native UK. “There are tons of Facebook groups dedicated to people living in different countries. Some are useful for finding out what’s going on in your area, others are great for buying and selling things. We found our house in Germany through a Facebook group – and our car!”
Molly from The Move to America explains: “You will find reassurance in those who have made the move before you, and they can explain the best ways to make the most of your move. Find a community of people (most easily done online) who have moved to the same country as you, and be an active member of those groups.”
Sarah Hague recommends looking for local organisations and expat social networks: “I’m an ambassador for InterNations, which is an organisation that aims to help English speakers find their feet and friends abroad.”
9. Find your community
Leaving behind family and friends in your home country will always be tough, and being proactive in seeking out ways to meet new people can be a great solution to bridging the gap, as Diane of Oui in France explains: “Putting yourself out there might mean joining a local sports league, gym, or book club, or it might be making small talk with shop owners or chatting with a neighbour that you’d normally just say hello to. Pushing past your comfort zone and showing yourself you can do it is one of the most rewarding aspects of expat life. So wherever you can, take a risk and you might just pleasantly surprise yourself.”
Having been through the expat ups and downs as a South African living in London, Natalie from What You Didn’t Know advises pushing yourself to find like-minded people. “Beating the loneliness requires changing your attitude by getting out and about to meet new people through social groups or hobbies and interests.”
Rebecca recommends registering for Meetup.com: “It’s a website and app which allows you to find out about events happening where you are living and join in. There are lots of different categories from sports, family and learning to food and drink – and it’s free.”
10. Take advice from expat parents
Uprooting kids and getting them settled in a new country is a big challenge for the whole family. Before you move, choosing a school can be tricky, but Rebecca recommends the International Schools Database website as a good place to start researching, as it lists international schools by city. “Once your children are in school, always check if there is a school Facebook group as they can be invaluable for all sorts of information,” she says. “There is almost always a mums’ Facebook group in every city, which is worth checking out, especially if you have young children as this is often where you can find out details about playgroups etc.”
Rebecca also suggests making use of expat parenting sites such as Expat Child: “It’s a really helpful site with lots of practical information about moving,” she says. “Expat-Kids.com is another site with parenting-related articles and tips on raising kids overseas.” She also recommends Mumsnet: “This is the biggest parenting site in the UK, and while it’s not an expat site, it’s where I posted all my questions when we first moved. Lots of helpful mums on there.”
11. Take care of your mental wellbeing
Leaving a familiar routine and comfortable surroundings can be tough, and knowing you’re not alone in feeling the expat blues can be comforting. “Setting up ways to communicate with friends and family as soon as you arrive can make the transition less lonely,” advises Molly.
There are some great podcasts available for when you need emotional support, as Rebecca recommends on her blog. One is The Mindful Expat: “Dana Nelson is an American psychologist and counsellor, and her podcast is really worth a listen,” Rebecca says. “It focuses on issues related to emotional wellbeing and resilience for people living abroad.”
Another is Tandem Nomads: “This podcast focuses on expat spouses. Which is great, because we are usually too busy focusing on everyone else!” Rebecca says. “Two Fat Expats is the podcast I listen to when I feel lonely. It’s kind of like listening to friends having a chat, and it covers all sorts of topics relating to life overseas.”
12. Don’t underestimate the paperwork
Opening a bank account and setting up utilities can mean booking appointments in advance, providing various paperwork, filling in numerous forms and generally jumping through hoops. As a result, bring all the paperwork you never thought you’d need. “When you do get a bank account set up, transferring money via an organisation such as TransferWise is a much cheaper option than through the bank or using a credit card,” recommends Sarah.
13. Cope with culture shock
Whether you expect your new country to be worlds away from your home country in their way of life, or fairly similar, don’t assume that culture shock will not happen, advises Molly. “It’s a unique and strange experience that can sometimes creep in and surprise you,” she says. “Culture shock can be very obvious but it can also be fairly subtle, so don’t be hard on yourself if something unexpected sets you back.” Molly recommends making sure you get to know the area you have moved to by walking around and talking to locals. “Also, have familiar things around your new home to help you feel settled,” she says.
Remind yourself that living abroad is what you make of it, and keep in mind the positives about the reasons you moved, says Diane. “It’s imperative that you try to integrate and adapt to your new country. Focus on what you’re doing and make the best of what you have available to you. There’s no single way to experience a country, so just do what’s best for you and don’t be afraid to go against the grain.”
14. Don’t forget the pet passport
Different countries have varying laws on quarantines and animal vaccination certificates, so ensure you research this far in advance. “If you’re an animal lover like me, your pets are considered part of the family,” says Natalie from What You Didn’t Know. “When it comes to emigrating, the thought of saying goodbye to them is unthinkable, so you might be thinking of moving your pets too.” Natalie recommends using a reputable pet relocation specialist to make sure your family is complete in as short a time as possible after moving abroad.
What are your experiences and helpful tips for moving abroad? Whether you can help future expats by offering some essential resources, giving the lowdown on the admin side of relocating or suggesting a couple of handy insights into settling your family into your new country, comment below to share your advice.
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