Monday 9th May 2011

When it comes to getting advice on moving overseas who better to ask than the expats themselves? This week we approached 27 expatriates and asked them to share their top tips for making a move abroad successful. We asked:

What's the best piece of advice you can give to someone who is considering moving overseas for the first time?

Here are the great responses we received.

1. We're Not In Kansas Anymore!

Often expats forget they are in a different place, with a different culture, language, customs and ways of doing things.

You need to consciously embrace the differences of where you are each and every day to avoid those frustrations.

Thanks to Larry Larson of Costa Rica Dream Makers

2. Be Open And Never Look Back

Be comfortable to be alone, be open to surprises and never look back at your home country for the first three months. Avoid socializing with co-nationals abroad and make as many international friends as possible!

Thanks to Thei Zervaki of Fullybooked.biz

3. Visit, Experience, THEN Decide To Live There Or Not

My advice ... take a shorter trip to your envisioned destination and spend 3 to 4 weeks in an apartment to see if the local way of life fits you. Too many folks move because of one aspect--such as low cost of living--only to find they don't enjoy other aspects of life they hadn't considered from afar.

Thanks to Tom Sheehan of Pedalers Pub & Grille

4. Minimalism

Embrace minimalism and sell everything except for the essentials and mementos; paying for a large monthly storage unit is money better spent abroad and that money will often go a whole lot further in your new country!

Thanks to Shannon OD of A Little Adrift RTW Travel Blog

5. Tips For People Considering The Expat Life

Find a place where other expats live. I came with my husband, so I am not alone. I speak fluent Spanish, so I mingle freely with the natives. But at the age of retirement, you do not suddenly become a fully assimilated Lawrence of Arabia. I enjoy the company of like-minded Americans.

Thanks to Susan Schenck of Live Food Factor

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6. Live It Up

Don't have the same expectations you would have in your home country, it's more difficult to do things like go to the post office and grocery store. Remember you are guest in their country, it's clique, but true. Our family had a wonderful time traveling, eating out and of course shopping!

Thanks to Laura Potter

7. Ease Into The Local Cuisine

Sure, chowing down on plates of steamed duck feet might make for a good picture, but you don't want to psyche yourself out on the first day by going overboard with exotic foods.

Thanks to Jamie Barys of UnTour Shanghai

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8. Learn The Language To Love Your Destination

You need to spend at least 1 month in your destination before you will begin to know what you like and don't like, and whether it's a place that you would consider living.

Register with a language school to learn the language and culture as an affordable way to discover your destination.

Thanks to Matthew Vicario of languageschoolreviewer.com/

9. Get Realistic

Don't base your plans on what you think is going to happen. Get realistic about life overseas, not as a tourist but as an expat.

Read expat forums and engage with expats who already live there.

Thanks to John Falchetto of expatlifecoach.com

10. Research!

Do reseach while still at home. Look at your home country's embassy website in the country where you are going.

Blogs like mine help a lot of people

Learn the language

Once in your new country, if you feel like screaming in frustration, laugh instead.

Thanks to Britta Pichler of Op-Expat

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11. Tips For Making Your Move Abroad A Less Jarring Experience

a. Take time to plan the things you can--and accept the things you can't plan.
b. Choose well. Spend time there in advance.
c. Pick a place that has excellent health services; preferably a national health plan.
d. Take time to learn the language at least a little in advance.
e. Lighten your load. Take only those things necessary and irreplaceable.
f. Choose a place where you enjoy the food, a great comfort.
g. Plan on dealing with bureaucracy--again and again.
h. If broadband internet and satellite television are important to you and your business, choose wisely.
i. Bring your sense of humor.

Thanks to Brandon Wilson of pilgrimstales.com

12. Make Sure You're Going To Fit In!

If you're going to live in a country that has a very different culture and language make sure you research the culture. Online blogs give the best insight to possible negatives, frustrations e.g Cairo sleep deprivation!!!! Not funny! Check out online local expat support communities - if none exist study local people CAREFULLY & copy - I didn't & have regretted it! I live in Egypt and if I were new to this country I would be much nicer to irritating officials than I was for the first 4 years - I learned the hard way that smiling, nodding & asking about family etc. goes a long way! Pick your battles & don't sweat the small stuff! Learn the language, be good with neighbours.

Thanks to Mara Vaughan of Mara House Luxor

13. Test Drive Your New Location

My best advice, especially if moving to somewhere that you previously vacationed, is to take a 3 to 6 month trial during the off season or bad weather. Our Greek island paradise on Paros can be deadly dull and lonely during the winter.

Of course, this, and I think all other advice, pales compared to: It's all in the attitude, you either have it or you don't.

Thanks to Michael Shepherd of parosparadise.com

14. Banking Advice

My advice would be to bring some cash ($US) with which to open a bank account, and then have the remainder of the funds wired over when the account is established. I had arranged for my Scottish bank to wire money to a bank in Buffalo NY. When I arrived in Buffalo, the bank had received the funds, but returned them to Scotland, as they did not know who I was. I had just returned from Japan, so had some yen with me plus some pounds sterling, issued by the Royal Bank of Scotland. The Buffalo bank said they were unable to exchange yen, and would only exchange pounds issued by the Bank of England.

Thanks to Diane M. Radford MD, FACS, FRCSEd

15. Live Like A Local!

Take at least 2 weeks - preferably a month - and go live like a local: no hotels, no expat hangouts, no touristy stuff, just day-to-day life that you could reasonably afford for a longer term. Ideally go at the most undesirable time of year so that you can experience it as bad as it can be. If you hate it after the experiment then you probably should not move if you have the choice. If you are still loving it after living like a local, then you should do fine with moving. Always leave yourself an out so that if you need to leave the country at a moment's notice, you have the means to do so.

Don’t cloister yourself among expats even if you live in the same part of town – get out into the community and make local acquaintances through cultural events, religious worship, volunteerism, academia, whatever. In a group of similar foreign people, you may find a range of opinions from people who absolutely love being an expat in that country to people who hate everything about it and constantly make derogatory remarks about the locals as if it weren’t them living in the locals’ home country! It’s the “us vs. them” people you want to avoid at all costs – the constant negativity is draining, toxic and sometimes contagious if it catches you on an inevitable bad day.

Thanks to Jan Diggs of Arabia Inform

16. How Do You Say...HELP!

Learn the local language and improve your proficiency (grammar, vocabulary, accent). This enhances your appreciation for the people/culture which will have a reciprocal effect on those you meet. It also mitigates risks while, say, obtaining a drivers license, taking the kids to the doctor, or shopping at a local market. And, it is important to be able to speak with police in the likelihood you are in a minor car accident (the #1 danger for expats) or your house has been robbed (also very common). Knowing the language for all the simple reasons (groceries) and complex (kidnap) is imperative.

Thanks to Suzanne Garber of International SOS

17. Advice For Those Considering A Move Overseas

I'm a travel agent, mom of 3 and author of "Romantic Weekends in Europe"and "The Mom's Guide to Traveling with Kids.".

I have lived abroad a couple of times and my first response to your question would be "Visit the place you are planning to move to before you go." My second response is "Find out if there are any expat clubs or American clubs in the area (e.g. American Womens club) Of course it is important to immerse yourself in the culture and meet locals but an American connection can go a long way!"

Thanks to Allison Umbricht of Trips Of A Lifetime

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18. Expat Help

Know yourself very very well and be ready for different types of bathrooms. Also, get to know the language and the people of the country you are living in. This will improve your security and ability to learn the best places to shop, eat and visit. Enjoy!

Thanks to Patricia DeGennaro of patriciadegennaro.com

19. Culture Tips And Culture Shock Tips

Be prepared to deal with Culture Shock and learn to manage it in easy 3 steps. I did a show for Expats Radio on the 3 steps: http://www.expatsradio.com/programmes/culture-shock-and-how-deal-it-expat.

Learn about the country you are going to -- and not only the do's and don'ts but also the prevalent cultural values and cultural blueprints. More about this in Expats Radio interview: http://www.expatsradio.com/programmes/go-or-not-go

And last but not least - adopt the 7 HABITS OF A HAPPY EXPAT: http://globalcoachcenter.com/7-habits-of-a-happy-expat

Thanks to Margarita Gokun Silver of Global Coach Center

20. The Life Cycle Of Culture Shock

Learn about the life cycle of culture shock. Every expat I knew in Ghana (including myself) had a difficult first few weeks that was full of uncertainty and confusion, then we loved it. However, at 3 months (on the dot), everybody suddenly hated it and felt like: "If everybody could just stop being so Ghanaian." Plan for something really nice (maybe a trip?) for your 3 months aniversary. Know it will get better. For a while. And be patient: Harvest time (when everything falls in place) will come after about a year of digging and shaking hands and sweating hard. All of a sudden, everyone will come to you and want to work with you.

Thanks to Eva Schiffer of Net-Map

21. Change... It Happens!

I had a 13 month expat assignment in China while I was working for Dell, Inc. My best advice is to realize that the experience changes you, but the people back at home have not changed. So, realize that you will be different when you return and that your relationships may need to adjust (and eventually your old crowd will get tired of your "when I was in China" stories).

Also, keep an open mind and try out as many new cultural experiences as you can. You may not like all of them, but you will be a better person for having tried (plus you get great stories!).

Thanks to TyAnn Osborn of Michael & Susan Dell Foundation

22. Forget About The Coffee And Enjoy The Lobster

Keep an open mind, because many things will be different from what you are used to and it's easy to focus on what you are missing, rather than what you are gaining. For instance, on the tiny island I lived on in Micronesia it was impossible to get good chocolate or coffee, yet lobster was so cheap and plentiful that I ate it several times a week.

Thanks to Alice Bourget

23. Getting To Know You, Getting To Know All About You

We have lived in England, Australia and Canada for most of the past 25 years. The best thing anyone contemplating a move overseas can do to prepare for the upheaval is to read as much as they can about their destination country. And not just guide books, but US government travel advisories, local newspapers and magazines, websites to calculate the cost of living differentials, and anything else they can get their hands on. The more you know about your destination, the better prepared you will be to find a place to live, establish your new routines, and settle into life abroad.

Thanks to Phyllis Harber-Murphy of More Than 9 2 5 Virtual Assistanct

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24. The Busiest Cities In The World Can Still Be The Most Isolating!

Moving to a foreign country is very exciting. New people, cultures, experiences and adventures are around each corner. While this can all be great for the first month or so, after awhile it's natural to begin missing your life back home. Soon you find yourself wishing you could talk to the cashier while at the store, or being able to ask for directions without stumbling through a foreign language. Many people end up feeling isolated and alone, even in the largest, must exciting cities. This is commonly referred to as "culture shock" - and can quickly turn your adventure abroad into a nightmare, making you count down the days before you return home. The best way to avoid falling into this trap is to embrace your new city - did you play sports at home? Find a league in your new city. Same goes for any other hobby you might have. Take a language course - this will help you to make new friends as well as meet other foreigners going through the same experiences. Also, look into finding expatriate associations. You can often find groups of people from your own country who are also living abroad, and it's great to be able to share that common bond - just make sure you still make an effort to get out there and make friends in your new city!

Thanks to Matt Reider of CanuckAbroad.com

25. Advice For Expats!

1. Learn the language. Americans and many other westerners already have the reputation for being ignorant (we don't speak any foreign languages) and arrogant (won't bother to learn any). I was well received for at least making an effort. I mean, I am in THEIR country. Right?
2. Adapt to social differences asap. Find another American who has lived there a while and ask them what you need to know. There are little nuances that you would never think are different. We think "everyone in the world does it like us" - not so.
3. Befriend locals. You will learn the language and social differences much faster from locals.

Thanks to Cari Andreani

26. Don't Skip Out On Skype!

The best advice I have is to make sure you, your family and friends all have Skype accounts (a great webcam, mic and speakers as well)! This free download is such a wonderful way to stay connected to people back home. My parents have been able to watch my kids grow via the video calling feature as well as read them stories, complete with pictures, and play games together. With Skype you can call account to account for free, add a plan to get your own local number or add Skype credit to call phone numbers. This has also been great for my business to have a local US number for customers to call!

Thanks to Lisa Yaker of JYOUlry

27. When In Beijing, Learn Chinese - When In France, French...

If you're planning on moving abroad, (especially to a non-English speaking country) learn the language. You don't have to attain fluency, but just learning some basic phrases has myriad benefits:

1. You can get around independently - take a taxi, ask for directions, order food
2. Locals really appreciate the effort and you get friendlier vibes as a result!
3. A nation's culture and history are a part of their language. Learning the language gives you deeper insight into that place
4. It's intellectually stimulating...and fun!
5. Knowing some of the language makes the place seem less alien

Thanks to Corinne Dillon of Discover Mandarin

Do you live overseas? What's your top tip for first time expatriates? Leave a comment and let us know.

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