If you're considering moving to another country and becoming an “expat” like I did, start planning NOW. The more time you have to prepare, the better off you're going to be. My husband and I moved with our three young sons from South Carolina to the Netherlands last year. Here are nine tips for expats and someday expats that we learned (many the hard way!).
Prepare the relatives
Not everyone is going to be happy that you want to move your life far, far away. Although they may not like it, eventually you need to inform your family and close friends of your moving plans. Be honest and open, but don't let anyone tell you you can't do it. It doesn't matter how many kids you have, your age, if you're going alone or with a spouse…anyone can become an expat.
Research, research, research
Once you know where you're headed, learn everything you can about your new country, town and community. Get a guidebook about your would-be home. If you have kids, research local schools online. If possible, embark on a scouting trip before you move. Depending on your budget, you may not be able to afford such a trip.
Look up weather conditions for your home-to-be so you know what kind of clothes and gear you'll need to pack and what can be left out of the suitcase. My family was not prepared for how quickly it got cold here in the Netherlands and I thought our air freight would arrive before we needed our coats. Not at all. I had to buy boots, hats and mittens in the meantime.
Learn the language
If the language of your adopted country differs from your homeland, sign up for language lessons as soon as possible. Not only will understanding the local language help you to communicate, but also your fellow residents will truly appreciate your efforts. One of the things that has struck me most is how kind people are when I attempt to speak Dutch.
What we left behind: a big house, a big yard and so much “stuff”
Find a good relocation company. The company we used was our lifeline. I sent many, many emails during the months prior to and after our move. Everything from school enrollment to ordering our Ikea necessities and landlord negotiations all went through them. I don't want to imagine how difficult life would have been if we didn't have a relocation company to help us get situated. They were the people that picked us up from the airport and brought us to our new home.
Know your doctor
Familiarize yourself with the medical system of your new country. Who will be your doctor? Know the after hours emergency procedures. I wasn't aware that in the Netherlands there are no pediatricians as we know them in the U.S. When my children got sick just a few weeks into our move, I felt lost as to how to handle it. Plan on paying upfront (in cash) if you're not going to be covered by the national insurance. Also be prepared for a phone menu in a foreign language without an English option. I (still) have trouble calling my doctor and hitting the wrong number.
Network on social media
Learn about your new hometown via Twitter, Facebook, and other social media outlets. I made several local contacts prior to our move with whom I have since become friends. Expat blogs offer a firsthand experience of what it's REALLY like living in your new area. This website lists over 1,500 expat blogs by country and city. I wish I would have known about expat blogs before I make the move; I would have been better prepared for what to expect!
Our family's new favorite mode of transportation in Europe, the train!
Nail down the necessities
Think logistics. Go through your day—what do you need and use from morning to night that is absolutely necessary…including furniture? What is the minimum you need for your family to function? Pick out and set up delivery of furniture necessities (beds, kitchen table, etc) prior to arrival. Wash linens before you pack and bring them in your suitcases.
Join the expat club
Find out if there is an expat club in your new town and join it if there is one! Learn some ins and outs of your new locale and meet new people from all over the world. Because of our affiliation with our local expat community, we have made some great friends, embarked on many fun family activities, and my husband and I have enjoyed social evenings out as a couple as well.
Paperwork might take a long time to complete and require multiple steps so being patient becomes a big part of life. Due to a delay with our residence card I had to wait four weeks to get a phone, which was frustrating to say the least and our belongings were delayed in customs for what felt like forever.
That's probably more than enough to get you started—and might even seem overwhelming. If you break it all into smaller pieces and do a little at a time you won't be as overwhelmed when it's time to move. This is a once in a lifetime experience…enjoy it!
Have you ever been an expat? What tips would you offer to someone about to take the leap?