I have been an expat for 18 years now, having lived in Kuwait for 5 years and in Dubai for 13 and I often think of the things I wish I’d done and known before I made the move and after. So I’m here to share my expert expat tips on things to do and get in order before taking the plunge as well as things you’re going to face at the start of your adventure into Expat Land, wherever that may be!
1. Do Your Research
I know I moved a long time ago and didn’t have the luxury of the wealth of information that is now available on fab websites like this one! I remember writing off to the Kuwait embassy in London to ask for some information about life in Kuwait- I got sent a pink periodical entitled Kuwait Facts & Figures that was full of information about oil fields, agriculture and land mass! Needless to say I was not prepared for when I arrived in Kuwait at all! So you lucky expats- to- be have this wonderful wealth of information at your feet to enable you to find out as much as possible in advance of a move! Make sure you take advantage of it!
2. Use Forums
Forums are great place to get real time, real life information off people who are in the same situation as you are going to be. One of the best things about expat life is how eager other expats are to help you. We’ve all gone through the pain of settling in to somewhere new… a new life with all its joys and pitfalls and helping someone else through it is also part of the experience. Every country has its quirks so getting first- hand information off forums is invaluable! You might have some ready made friends for when you move too- added bonus! Read as much of the recent history as you can to get a real feel for the forum and see what info has been covered, introduce yourself at some point and get asking away… no question is too small and it’s so much better to be prepared and aware! Forums like ExpatWoman.com
are a great place to start.
3. Don’t Underestimate Time
As an expat I’ve met loads of people who have said oh it’s just a move for a year and then 20 years later are still in the same place! A year can go by so quickly in expat land! If you start off with the “it’s only for a year” mentality it can have a real impact on your planning and preparing process than have can have a knock on impact 2 or 3 years down the road. Things to consider- if you have furniture are you going to ship it, sell it or store it? If you can afford shipping or your company is paying this always seems to be the best option…. Who needs 2 sets of furniture floating around in the world and dealing with furniture in storage from afar can sometimes be tricky as well as costly! You’ll end up even forgetting what you have! Down size, sell what you don’t need and ship it, is my advice. Furniture can be varying costs in different countries and the ranges on offer in some places may not suit your needs. (Yes, I was only staying in Kuwait for a year, brought 4 small boxes with me of personal items, left some things with my soon to be ex fiancé, who threw everything away when we split and spent a fortune on crappy furniture which has probably all been replaced 5 times over the years- if I have to buy another kettle in my life I am going to scream!!)
4. Aim To Go Local
Whilst the temptation is to ‘stick to what you know” the best way of getting to grips with a new country is to speak to the locals. Make an effort to learn some key words and phrases before you move anywhere- you’ll be surprised how far a please and thank you can get you in most countries of the world. The days of the superior, hoity- toity expat should be gone! It’s time to mingle- we’re living in a global marketplace as well as a global populace and the more experience you have of other languages, cultures and religions- the more world wise, educated and empathetic you will become. Try the local brands, try the local food- you never know what you may discover!
5. Get ready for the home sick blues
At first when you move abroad you are going to feel like you are on holiday- it’s exciting! There’s so much to see and do alongside getting your home set up. This buzz seems to last about 6 months and at about that time the home sick blues are going to kick in. I used to cry every week in Kuwait because I was missing my family so much- I was only 25 when I moved there and I was single then and it was pretty early days for the expat scene in Kuwait. Nowadays there is the benefit of Skype and teleco long distance prices have come down- I remember it was 2 GB pounds a minute to call the UK from Kuwait and I didn’t have that much spare cash so a phone call home was very quick! Keeping in touch with your loved ones, family and friends is key to getting through the blues as well as forming new relationships in your new home land. The world is such a smaller and closer place than it used to be!
6. Be Patient
Don’t be an exasperated expat! Things work differently all over the world- some places may be faster paced than you’re used to- some may slower. What I’ve learnt over the years- shouting never helps! As difficult as it may be sometimes when faced with language barriers or changing red tape you’re not going to do yourself any favours getting angry. You’re going to have to develop a special brand of expat patience… a smile and kind words can sometimes get you much further than you could imagine. To veer off on another anecdote- I’ve also found tears work- but they should only be used in those very singular, one off occasions where it looks like nothing is ever going to happen don’t waste the power of tears! If you’re really struggling to get something done- see if you can get a fellow expat or a local person to help you out. See if you can pay someone to do the service for you… might save you some hours of angst.
7. Make Sure You’re Mobile
If you are moving to a country where transport links aren’t that great, you are going to have to make sure you can drive. That might mean taking lessons and passing your test before moving or when you get to your new country or brushing up on rusty driving skills. You can book refresher lessons if you’ve not been driving for a while or even a series of learner lesson in the new country just to get the lay of the land and give you your confidence. Research as much as you can about taxis, buses, metros, trams, ferries, cost of buying a car, cost of petrol, shipping your car over etc. before you move so you can figure out some transport plans. If you’re moving to somewhere like Singapore or Hong Kong, for example, you’re probably not going to need a car but if you’re moving to the wilds of Canada, a car could be essential. Make sure you’re as prepped as you can be in advance so you don’t get stuck!
8. Say YES To Everything
This was a top tip from my mum, of all people, who’s lived in one place all her life, but boy has it worked! Basically when you’re starting off somewhere new you are totally out of your comfort zone- no familiar friends, family, usual haunts- so what are you going to do? You are going to start to get invited to things or see events happening- say yes and go go go! You need to find your own new niche and cast a bit of a wider net than you are used to. Give everything you’re invited to a try and see what happens- if you aren’t enjoying yourself you can always leave or never go again! Treat the experience as a discovery session with an open mind and see where it takes you! You may surprise yourself and find you have a penchant for Mah Jong, can now make the best tortillas ever or love playing boules!
9. Law & Order
Maybe it’s me being a bit over sensitive coming from the UK to the Middle East, which are world’s apart in some areas of the law, but a keen understanding and knowledge or local laws and sensibilities really helps you to not make mistakes or worse come a cropper with the coppers! Make sure you find out everything in advance so you don’t make any cultural faux pas or inadvertently break any laws. Check out the local driving laws so you know what offences you can be ticketed for- you’ll find a lot are common but some can be unique- you can get fined for putting your lipstick whilst in the driver’s seat of a car in Dubai for example! If you are bringing meds into the country check what is allowed and what isn’t and especially read up on a country’s drugs and alcohol laws in advance of moving. Hand gestures can also cause a lot of trouble so make sure one you’re used to making in a non- offence causing way in your home country doesn’t mean something totally different where you are moving!
10. Know When To Go
You can be happy in a place for years and then all of sudden wake up one day and be over it, or it may be a gradual falling out of love with somewhere- whatever it is don’t panic! Work out if it is just a temporary something that’s making you feel this way- Are you bored? Are you missing out on lots at home? Do you need a holiday? Do you need some new friends? If you’ve tried everything and nothing’s changed the way you are feeling it may be time to move somewhere else or to go back home. Don’t forget it was probably a touch of wander lust that made you move to Expat Land in the first place and maybe it’s time to expand your horizons in a new country. Or maybe it’s time for your overseas adventures to end and home is where the heart is! Whatever the reasons don’t stay somewhere because you’re scared to take the plunge somewhere else- remember- you did it once before- you survived and for sure you can do it again!