Moving abroad can be both incredibly exciting and terribly daunting. Perhaps it feels like you’re about to jump off a plane into the unknown and are unsure whether the parachute will open or not. Or something along these lines.
I was 18 when I relocated to Norway to study for a year. I then lived in the US at 20, the UK at 23, China at 27 and now Australia at 29. Each country taught me something new. And after more than 10 years, I thought I’d share some tips with all those who are aspiring to or starting to do the same.
1. Mind the admin
It sounds boring I know but sorting out all the admin stuff at the beginning will give you more time to focus on everything else right after. Whilst every country is different, here are a few things you should have on your moving list no matter where you’re off to:
- Bank account
- Phone number
- Insurance (medical, travel, others)
- National Insurance number
- Embassy registration
- Local taxes
When I moved to the UK, I didn’t pay enough attention to one of these admin items: council tax. It took months and a letter saying I’d be taken to court if I didn’t pay the full amount immediately for me to finally realise my mistake.
2. Don’t pretend to be a ninja turtle
Before relocating, do a bit of online research as to what you might need to bring along with you. As globalisation spreads, most brands and items become available all over the world. The good thing about it is that you don’t need to travel with tonnes of luggage. Quite the opposite: the lighter, the better!
Moving from China to Australia recently, I travelled with six suitcases. It was so heavy and unpractical. Next time, I’ll keep it down to two for sure.
3. Feeling lost? Embrace it!
When you first arrive, everything will feel new and interesting. The first few days and weeks are the ideal time to explore the city you’ll be calling home for a while and get lost along the way. It won’t take long before the unknown becomes familiar. Enjoy this moment in between and witness the routine slowly settling in.
I love walking. So when I first arrive in a new place, I just walk around everywhere. I try to soak up the atmosphere and notice as I slowly begin to feel at home.
4. Learn the lingo
If you’re in a country that speaks a different language to yours, that means learning a few useful phrases to start with. It’ll help you to get by and the locals will appreciate the effort. Plus, familiarising yourself with the language will provide you a lot of insights as to the local culture. Even if the language isn’t new to you, there will always be some fun expressions and slang words to you to learn and entertain your friends with.
There’s loads of ways you can learn a language, one-to-one classes, group classes, online courses, YouTube videos, language apps and more. Pick the one that suits you and off you go!
5. Go local
Now you know the lingo, it’s time to put it in practice with locals. Join sports clubs, take part in meet-ups, go to events and don’t be too shy, it’s easier to say “hello” than it will be to say “goodbye”.
Another good way to make local friends is to live with them. House sharing is a great option when you first arrive in a new country. I did so in the US and in the UK and it really helped.
6. Keep your crew close
You might be living abroad for a few months or a few years. Regardless, don’t forget to keep in touch with your family and friends back home. As time passes, some relationships will fade whilst others will remain or even grow stronger. They are the ones to nurture.
My family is my rock and even though we live thousands of miles apart, we call each other ever Sunday and go on a family holiday once every year. These are rituals I know I’ll never regret.
7. Say Yes!
Back home you’ve got your habits and what you’re about. There are the things you do and the things you don’t. Moving to a new country is time to shake those up a bit. Prepare yourself to say yes to everything (as long as it’s safe and legal of course!) Someone invites you to a pool party, say yes! Someone offers you a piece of homemade cake, say yes! Someone asks you to help them out with a cool project, say yes!
When I was travelling to Brazil, my friends suggested we go hand gliding. I’m absolutely terrified of heights. But I said yes! And loved every minute of it.
8. Don’t leave everything for the end
You’re here now and there’s so much to explore in the city and around. But at the same time you’re keen to make new friends, go out and enjoy life. Both are awesome things to do and it’s all about finding a balance that works for you so that you don’t end up with a huge ‘to do’ list right at the end and cram them all in the last couple of months.
This is exactly the mistake I made during my two years in China. At first, I was terrified to travel alone as my command of the language was very poor. So it took me a while to get started. Once I did though, I only had a few months left and kept wishing I’d started sooner as there is so much to see there!
9. Brace yourself for the shock
Depending where you go, you may or may not experience cultural shock. If you do, it might be mild or strong and might happen right at the beginning or after a few months, also referred to at the “honeymoon phase”. As you settle in, you might see things that disturb or revolt you. Perhaps you’ll feel lost and depressed or angry and aggressive. Cultural shock is real and the best thing to do is to be prepared and aware.
My granddad lived in the US with my American step grandma and I’d visited them quite a few times. So I naively thought moving there would be easy. I wasn’t prepared for the cultural differences at all. The shock was quite significant and once my three-month internship completed, I was glad to head home.
10. Allow each place to change you
You won’t change a place, it will change you. I deeply believe in that statement. During your time away, reflect on both your own background and the local culture around you. Confront them. Challenge them. Take the best of each and from this whole experience, witness the emergence of a new you.
I might sound utopic right now but I honestly feel as though I’ve had a different life in each of the places I’ve temporarily settled in. I’m just hoping I’ll get more than the nine cats are blessed with.
I really wish someone would have send this list my way before I headed on my first experience beyond borders. So if you or anyone you know is about to take the leap, share it with them! And if you are on your way there, I hope you found these useful. There’s much more to say about this topic so feel free to leave a comment with your own tip to add to the list.