Our Market Editor, Victoria de la Camara, shares her top 10 tips for moving and living abroad. As a daughter of a diplomat, she knows what having to pack everything up and live somewhere completely unfamiliar is like. After having moved 11 times and lived in 7 different countries, she knows all the tricks and realities that expats face.
As we are approaching the end of June, moving season is ramping up – although, the reality is that moving abroad can happen at any time of year. It’s an extremely emotional decision to make, where on the one hand your new adoptive city offers much promise but on the other hand, the one that you are leaving behind, along with friends and sometimes family can be heart-wrenching. It’s tough. And it can get you at any moment. But overall, in my opinion, it’s worth making the move.
When living abroad, you have to know a few pragmatic tips as well as be aware of situations that everyone faces. There’s homesickness, frustration, loneliness, but also tons of excitement. And the best thing about moving to another country is that you’ll be able to experience it at such a deeper level than just traveling as a tourist. That country will become a part of you. So here are my top 10 tips:
- Register at your local consulate: as a diplomat, my father always told me to do so, and it often goes overlooked by expats. Registering as a resident in your country of origin’s consulate allows you to avoid tax issues, vote while abroad, and be in the loop in case there’s an emergency.
- Take language courses right away: beyond helping you understand when the cashier at the supermarket is asking whether you have the brand’s fidelity card – trust me I have looked confused in this situation more times than I can count – it allows you to meet fellow newcomers who are also figuring things out. They likely will have tips on how to set up your phone, get through local bureaucracy or where the best produce is. At the very least you’ll have someone to laugh with about local absurdities.
- Accept that it’s different: there will be a multitude of differences between your hometown and this new city. The sooner you accept them, the easier and happier you’ll be – trying to fight it or getting frustrated every time, will only just upset you and change nothing. Try not to have the attitude that everything is better back home.
- Get curious: in the same vein as accepting that things are different is to be curious about the local culture. Why are there different practices, habits, rules, ways of thinking, etc? Everyone adapts to their needs, so there are certainly legitimate reasons that locals are behaving the way that they do. Have curiosity, observe, ask questions, and have a sense of humor about it.
- Accept that you’ll meet incredibly helpful and incredibly rude people: there are all sorts of people in every place. But without a doubt, you’re bound to encounter someone that is unbelievably rude. I’ve have had amazingly kind locals take me to another store three blocks away because they didn’t have what I was looking for, and I have had Moscow metro workers (very strong middle-aged women, born out of the Soviet Union) scream at me because I was using the wrong ticket. My parents even had a neighbor in Belgium who threw our trash bag all over the floor because it was just slightly over the property line. It’s not personal, but it will definitely happen. Just try to move on.
- Take one (food) cheat day a week: while I recommend consuming local products on a daily basis – the sooner you familiarize yourself with them, the more you’ll integrate yourself locally – every once in a while it helps to find a store that carries your products from back home so that you can indulge in a little familiarity. Maybe it’s that box of mac n’ cheese or a salad dressing. Be prepared to get excited about food items that you didn’t even like that much back home.
- Take your time to find a home: if you are able to manage it, try finding a temporary place to stay for the first few weeks so that you can make the right decision on where to live long term once you’re more familiar with your new city.
- Your things will make a difference: the day that your furniture, decor, and personal items arrive from back home is the day that you finally feel like you’ve carved out a little space for yourself in your new destination. If you aren’t bringing a whole shipment of things from your previous home, then a couple of framed photos, your favorite vase, and mugs will help you feel more settled in.
- Ditch the car and start walking: there’s no better way to become familiarized with your new city than to see it on foot. By getting to point “a” to point “b” walking you’re bound to make a wrong turn or go down a new street that will help you discover the neighborhood. You will start to feel like a local, as well as get those endorphins going to help keep you happy.
- Join the expat community: through your children’s school, your work, classes, or just looking online you’ll find that your adoptive country has a big expat community that you can become a part of. Often, that community even has special activities that they organize such as book clubs or sports teams. It’s worth reaching out, giving it a try and connecting with others who are going through the same experience.
Living abroad is never easy, and even serial movers like myself, go through many emotional ups-and-downs when living somewhere new. But then, as the years pass, this new place becomes your home and you wondered how you ever lived anywhere else!