Updated: Feb 13
Choosing to move abroad and live the life of an expatriate is certainly the road less traveled. You can feel just like Robert Frost when he says in his poem: ‘Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back’. And just as he says, taking the road less traveled is what makes all the difference.
This could either be one step in the right direction or the wrong one – depending on how you react to the situation and take proactive steps to avoid any setbacks.
Here are some tips that first-time expats should keep in mind before they fly off and touch base with foreign soil.
Think about your accommodation
Before you reach a decision, get to know where you are going first really well. If possible, ask your company to allow you to pre-visit the place. Make sure to check out different areas where you may get housing and possibilities of relocation. Relocation agents can be a great help with that. This will also help you shape an idea of the realistic lifestyle you will live – what housing is in your budget range, or are there decent schools nearby?
Consult all your family members
One of the biggest issues in expatriate transfers is lack of mutual satisfaction among the family members. Remember that decisions can’t be made alone. Your partner, kids, elderly parents or whoever is living with you should happily agree to the idea of you (or them) moving abroad and adjusting to an entirely new location. Not seeking consent or being forceful will only lead to personal and emotional issues that can hamper your effectiveness in your new host country and workplace.
Learn the language
Yes, you need to learn the language of where you are going to live. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be fluent in a month’s time, yet you need to at least learn the basics to get around, as well as boost relationships in the workplace. Don’t leave it to the last minute and think you’ll do fine when you get there. If you don’t speak the native language, you might find yourself in need of someone’s help every step of the way. Therefore, learn as much as you can before moving abroad, or at least learn some of the most commonly used phrases and words such as, “How are you?”, “Where can I find…”, “How much does this cost”, “Can you help me?”, “Where does this street go”, etc.
If you have always been dependent on someone (your parents, spouse or siblings), you’re certainly going to have a hard time abroad. It’s important to learn to do things yourself, as initially in a new place you might have no-one around to help you. Washing clothes, digging through cook books, or learning how to light a gas water heater aren’t things you want to have to learn when you first arrive in your new country.
If you are thinking that your time abroad will be one long dream, you are mistaken. There are certainly many glamourous points to living abroad, but the mundane, daily tasks are the same no matter where you live. Remember that you won’t be a tourist on a vacation. You’ll be an expatriate hired by your organisation on a mission to fulfill a certain goal, or for whatever reason you moved abroad. So, stay focused on it!
Do your research
Have you checked out the website of the host country’s embassy? How about your own home country’s embassy? Thoroughly go through the customs, cultures, and laws of that country to avoid any trouble or cultural blunders, as well as find out if you need anything particular to that country, such as vaccinations or certain medications you need to bring from home.
Pick a busy location initially
Pick a spot that has almost everything available nearby. Living in the middle of nowhere can be quite troublesome when setting up a new home abroad, not to mention isolating if you’re trying to meet new people. Hence, make sure that healthcare services, convenience stores and supermarkets are not too far from your home. Once you get to know a city well, it’s much easier to pick a quieter location that suits you or your family – and by that time you might have the facilities you need, for example, a car.
Adjust to what you have
You need to keep in mind that when you’re not in your hometown, you have to adapt to what’s available in your new environment. For instance, you may have only ordered coffee from a particular franchise, but you may have to adjust to whatever type of coffee you get can in your locality. Weird smells? You will also need to get used to it. Just follow the locals, until you’re so adjusted you don’t even notice you’re doing the same.
Make local friends
If you’re going to skip out on friendships or social gatherings and live alone in a peaceful place, it’s okay. However, there will be a point when you’ll start feeling the need to talk to someone, or to have a gossipy chit chat – both with local and other expatriate friends. Not isolating yourself from others can greatly improve your perspective of a new place and help you connect. Let the locals know a little about you and let them return the favour. You’ll be learning so much from them in no time. It is also a great way to build networks, which in many countries, can be key to finding the prefect job or apartment.
This is a requisite for ’embracing independency’. If you keep thinking about your home and how the grass was greener there, it will become difficult for you to live away from your home. So, don’t look back. Set yourself a minimum time (at least three to six months) where you don’t allow yourself to think about going back. Learn to love just where you are, and this thought will keep you going!
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