7 Fundamentals of Becoming an Expat

Photo by Tuncay (CC by 2.0)

These days, more people are seeking employment opportunities abroad, joining their spouse for a new adventure or pursuing an education in another country. With this trend reaching new heights, we often have InterNations members willing to contribute useful and insightful articles that resonate with expats on different levels. The following article was submitted by an InterNations member, sharing their own personal thoughts, views and tips on life abroad.

So you’ve decided to move abroad and live in a culture other than your own. Maybe you’ve landed a great job in the country of your dreams. Or you’ve fallen in love and can’t wait to live with your significant other. Or you desire to retire in a country with a more reasonable cost of living.

Whatever your reasons or motivations for becoming a world citizen, you need to make some decisions. But let’s first assume that you know where you’re going, you’ve done your research about the place, you have your passport and know the visa required to stay there, and you’ve provided for health care and insurance needs, necessary vaccinations and medications.

After slow-traveling for the last six years, we’ve learned a few good lessons, some the hard way. We’re sure expats before the age of the internet managed, but connectivity has been our tireless friend. Through local websites, blogs, Craigslist, and city forums on sites such as InterNations, we have found vital information about everything from finding apartments and groceries, to local transportation options, to activities and entertainment.

Now on to the list!

1. Going. Travel arrangements to your destination are the easy part, whether it’s by plane, train or other. Check your airline. Some are picky about one-way flights and want you to have a return ticket. Decide what belongings you’re taking with you, if you’re storing anything or selling it all, and whether you’re shipping a car or furniture. We travel light and don’t have a home base, so what we carry in our two suitcases and carry-on bags is our home.

2. Arriving. Where you’ll be for the first few days and how you get there from the airport, train or bus station are important. You will feel an onslaught of newness, strangeness, and awe at your new surroundings while probably being jet-lagged. You’ll need to know how to find a taxi or local bus to take you to your landing place, be it a temporary hotel, hostel, apartment, rental home or your permanent home. Note: Grab some local cash at the first ATM you find.

3. Communications. Figure out the basics. If mail is a factor for you, consider a mail service company in your home country. We’ve had great options and service with Earth Class Mail for seven years. For cell service unlock your phone and get SIM cards in your new country or purchase phones. Internet connections are available almost everywhere, and most expats agree that staying in touch with family and friends is critical and helps minimize homesickness. Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Instagram and apps like WhatsApp are valuable tools. So find out how you’ll connect to the internet, and don’t forget your country-specific electrical adapters for your devices and appliances!

4. Finances. Whether you have or will look for a job, work remotely, or retire, research banking options in your new home. We work remotely so having our mail service, being able to deposit checks in our domestic bank and using ATMs has been crucial for us. Many expats maintain a bank account in their home country as well as one in their new home. But do your research about what it takes to open a local bank account. Note: Warnings about ATM use abound but you get the best exchange rate and we’ve never had a problem.

5. Connections. How will you connect with other expats, meet local residents, make friends and get grounded in your new home? While immersing yourself in your new culture, other expats are invaluable sources of information and help. Look for social meet-up groups or language exchanges and locate yoga classes, gyms, libraries, book clubs, or other places you can meet both locals and fellow expats.

6. Language. You’ll want and need to be able to communicate with people in your new home. Everything involves language. Gestures take you only so far. Obviously, language schools are everywhere or you can self-learn with CD’s, podcasts, or local TV. No matter your ability level, just putting yourself out there and trying is well-received by residents. In Buenos Aires for our long-term stay, we advertised on Craigslist and BANewcomers, a local newcomers group, to find our Spanish tutor who also became our friend. However you learn, you’ll be well-rewarded for the time and effort you invest in learning the language.

7. Mindset. Enjoy your initial excitement and wonder, and carry it with you as you explore your new world. Jump in, be open, trusting and patient. Living abroad is a unique exercise in mindfulness, being nonjudgmental, embracing change and discovering more of yourself. Have fun, listen, smile. Keep a journal. Make a fool of and laugh at yourself. People are pretty much the same everywhere and they will laugh with you.

Mark and Betsy Blondin have been slow-traveling, living for extended periods of time in Latin America and Europe, for the past six years. They just published At Home Abroad: Today’s Expats Tell Their Stories, a collection inspired by the amazing expats they’ve met. You can learn more about them in this Huffington Post story or on their blog. They work remotely while traveling, Betsy as an editor and Mark as a data storage consultant.

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