Often the best way to get advice is to speak to people who’ve done it before, who can offer that little bit of wisdom that only experiencing something first hand can give you. When it comes to moving abroad this means speaking to people who have already done exactly that, and so for this blog post we have spoken to expats who have spent time in Australia, Spain, South Africa, France, Canada, Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Italy, Bahrain and the UAE in order to give you some expat moving tips from those who’ve done it before.
Try Before You Buy
The first tip comes from John Middleton, an expat who retired and moved to Spain in 2004, keeping everyone back home up-to-date with his new life at a-brit-in-spain.blogspot.co.uk. John’s tip is if “you are considering moving abroad, after you have decided where you would like to be, rent somewhere for several months to give yourself the chance to really live in the area, try out the size and style of property, the climate, food, etc. Renting also gives you the opportunity to check out properties that are for sale without being under pressure. and by talking to people "on the ground" you could find a real bargain.”
Planning Is Essential
Lara Green and her family lived in Perth, Western Australia, from December 2010 until May 2012, documenting the whole experience in the excellent Our Life Down Under blog. She has plenty of advice to give for potential expats. When asked “What is the best tip you would give anyone who is preparing to move abroad?” she says “Do your homework! It pays to go for information overload and from our experience you can't do enough planning. Find out how much things cost, where the best areas are, schools, property, places to work – even mundane things like flights, transport, purchasing a car and shipping should be considered so you know you can afford the move financially and can push ahead with confidence. If you start the adventure with knowledge on your side, you'll have a good idea of what you can expect from life in your new country and embrace it from day 1.”
This point is backed up by Ben Taylor, an expat who moved from London to Portugal in 2009. He says “My number one tip [is] to research, and research some more, especially when it comes to matters like residency and taxation – it's impossible to be TOO prepared!” Ben blogs about his expat life at movingtoportugal.org and has also written a book about his experiences.
Understand the Cost of Living In Your New Home
Russell Ward moved to Canada (Vancouver and Ottawa) in 2003 before moving to Sydney, Australia in 2006. He continues Lara’s part about planning, but with extra emphasis on finding out about the costs involved: “Do your homework on the country – understand the job market, the property market, get a feel for the different suburbs and where you might like to call home. When moving to Sydney, one thing I hadn’t researched in enough detail was the cost of living, transportation issues, and booming property market. Sydney is one of the world’s most expensive cities to live in so the cost of living has become a major challenge, as has the high price of housing and major traffic problems. I may have spent more time looking at possible areas to live if I’d known what I know now and this would have made those early months less stressful and more enjoyable.” Russell writes about his expat life in Sydney at insearchofalifelessordinary.com and in a more compact form at twitter.com/russellvjward.
Learn the language
Anthony and Rachel Pinwill bought a house in France in November 2008, and after a period of renovation opened Maison Laurent, their very own chambres d'hôtes (that’s bed and breakfast) in July 2010. They said that the “one thing which will make life easier and a move abroad much simpler is to ‘learn the language’! Communication is the most important aspect of settling into a new life and you can’t do that without the language. It’s incredibly difficult to manage without it, but manage we did, and we are still having lessons three years on, with no end in sight!” Anthony and Rachel blog about their life in France at escapetofrance.blogspot.co.uk.
Have A ‘Yes Year’
Lara Green, who already gave us the great tip about planning earlier in the article, also came up with a great idea for your first year in your new home abroad. She said: “Be open minded and honest with yourself. It's important to understand that it's not going to be like home, it will take some time to adjust, make new friends, find your feet and feel settled. If you understand that there will be a period of adjustment, it will take an immense amount of pressure off everyone. We made 2011 our 'yes year' – in essence, a year that we said yes to everything – from invitations to dinner and trips to the park to opportunities to visit new regions, make new friends and be part of the local community.”
Adjust To Your New Life
Obviously this period of adjustment to your new expat life is the biggest litmus test of whether you are going to really feel at home in your adopted country. As someone who has lived in 11 countries Helen Maffini is an expat veteran and someone with plenty of great tips about adjusting to your new expat life. Below she lists some of the tips that she feels will help you settle easily into your new home:
“Develop family rituals that make you feel at home wherever you are. For example, we have pizza and movies on a Friday night and we have continued to do this in all the countries we have lived in. We have special traditions for birthdays and other holidays and we keep these alive wherever we are but also add to them with some of the local ideas.”
“Say goodbye to a place you are leaving properly, especially with kids. Sometimes parents think it is easier to just have a quick goodbye and leave a place, but mentally we need to close one part of our life in order to open the next. Saying goodbye properly – by get togethers with friends, creating a memory album of the place you are leaving and/or by telling people you are going to miss them and setting up ways to keep in touch – is so important. Yes, it is sad and hard but it is worth it and helps to start your new adventure with a sense of closure and thirst for a new beginning.
“Get involved in the local life of the place you are moving to asap! Try the food, find out about the celebrations and holidays, meet some local people and enjoy all that your new country has to offer you”
Helen has lived in Canada, Japan, Singapore, Bali (Indonesia), Hong Kong, France, the UK, Italy, Australia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. She has written many online guides to expat living, including family-travel-scoop.com and yourabudhabiguide.com as well as two downloadable ebooks, Fly It Quiet Travel Games for Kids and Sammy’s Next Move.