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Tips For Expats and Soon-to-Be Expats

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Tips for Expats & Soon-To-Be Expats

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.

Tips for Expats and Soon-to-Be Expats - the big house we left behind in the U.S.
What we left behind: a big house, a big yard and so much “stuff”

Get support

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!

Tips for Expats and Soon-to-Be Expats - our new favorite mode of transportation, the train!
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.

Have patience

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?

About Farrah Ritter, The Nomadic Travel Mama

Farrah Ritter is an adventure-seeking mama to a twin boys and their older brother. Her family of five moved to the Netherlands in 2012. Originally from Michigan, she and her husband relocated to the South in 2006 and jumped over the pond with their boys in tow. She blogs at An Instagram and Twitter junkie (@Momofthreeunder), Farrah loves to see perspectives of others and experience the beauty of old towns and historic places.

  1. Andrea, Passports And Pushchairs says

    I was an expat in London for 3 years, and I would say a few things – one, don’t compare prices to the US. It will drive you crazy and you will always think everything is super expensive (in certain countries!). Don’t compare ‘things’, like how your kitchen/fridge/washer was better in the US, instead figure out how to live with what you have. And dedicate some time to explore the grocery store, I stood and cried the first time I went because I couldn’t figure out where my usuals were, but once I took the time to explore it was very helpful!

  2. wandering educators says

    what excellent advice. and yes, it makes a huge difference to have such great support!

  3. Keryn @ walking on travels says

    Excellent tips I’ll be passing on to a few friends that are about to and have already gone expat. I would have never thought of using a relocation company. And I like Andrea’s tips on the grocery store and not comparing things to US prices and doing exchange rates in your head. Even when we travel I can’t think this way. I just know our budget ahead of time and work that way.

  4. Hello! Thank you for the great advice! I have a couple of questions! How did you get a visa? Was it a work visa? I hope you don’t sharing that info. I am wanting to move over there and just want to know the right channels i have to go though!
    Thank you for your time!

  5. Dorine Houston says

    Learn what culture shock is and its stages. Accept the fact that it will hit your second or third month, and, like the common cold, be inevitable and incurable. However, if handled properly, it passes on its own, like the common cold, and by the time the first year is out, you can expect to find yourself adjusted to the new culture. During months 4-6, when it is in its acute phase, confine your grousing to other expats, who understand and will not be as offended as the locals by your great unhappiness with their seemingly incomprehensible and stupidly thought out local customs. Remember that your cherished customs from home look just as incomprehensible and stupid to expats here. Embrace the adventure of the new culture, and embrace new foods rather than trying to recreate your lifelong foods by traveling far and wide and spending exorbitant sums to buy items hard to find in your new country. Stay away from McD’s and seek out local treats!

  6. Andrea- I almost drove myself insane when comparing my washer/dryer from back home. The size! The speed! And here I should just be thankful to have one 🙂 Thanks for the tips!

    Wandering Eductors & Keryn thank you both for your comments as well. I honestly do not think I could have done this without the support of our company. They were such good sports, they also play a role in our upcoming House Hunters episode. I love them and still keep in touch.

    Jessica- feel free to email me with any questions! We are here with my husband’s work visa, but also hope for an extension. I can try to answer any specific questions you like!

    Dorine- very good points. Whereas I have not had any serious or negative issues with culture shock- mostly because in The Netherlands English is widely spoken AND accepted- I have a friend in Germany who has struggled a great deal. I was very concerned about experiencing a homesick depression as well- but I think due to our location I did not need to worry. You are SO right with staying away from McDs- the great thing is that there are so many fewer of them here, it’s not as tempting- not to mention you aren’t really driving as much so drive throughs are a thing of the past! Thanks for the great comment and perfect insight!

  7. Michele {Malaysian Meanders} says

    Stellar advice, both in the post and the comments! When we were getting ready to move to Malaysia from Texas, I found connecting through social media to be extremely helpful. Future expats should also know that it’s normal to completely freak out, whether it’s before you get on the plane or even a few months after you’ve arrived at your new home.

  8. Michele I was amazed at how helpful Twitter and blogs were prior to our move- and now here months later as well.

    And freaking out is completely normal (you’re so right!) I remember going through that last day in a total haze- I think that was a self-defense mechanism. How strange to board a plane and leave your life behind!

  9. I would add get tax advice. Taxation when we lived in London was especially complicated and HIGH. You’ll need to figure out if you’re going to sever state residency or not. If you live in California, paying an extra 9% plus UK tax plus AMT is massive. And, travel as much as possible. We traveled a lot while overseas (7 years!) but it now doesn’t feel like it was enough.

  10. Laurel- Capturing la Vita says

    Great tips! I am not an expat, but I live part-time in Italy. I love reading the Florentine newspaper the expats put out and get so much wonderful information that way.

  11. Katie- that is insanely high. And yes- sometimes I wonder if no matter how long we’re here we can never travel enough. I find myself stressing on weekends we are just home wondering ‘what should we be doing??’

    And Laurel- that’s a great idea, I never thought of that!!

  12. Richard Crest says

    Great, thank you for sharing quality tips about being an expat. Aside passion in travel I am also up to new discoveries. Just wandering to be an expat too.:)

  13. Again…VERY helpful advice for our family making the big leap of FAITH this summer! : )

  14. Great points! We moved from Vancouver, Canada to London, England and lived there for 7 years, came back to Vancouver and now 5 years on we’re moving to Germany. I think what I’d also say is if you stay for awhile and then move back – ‘home’ will be quite different and you will be too. It can be a hard adjustment. It’s not just slotting back into your old life. I found that culture shock harder than going to other way, to be honest.

    I second what others have said about embracing where you are and looking for local foods you like. Try and research that, and try it out before you go if you can. If you can, get connected with friends of friends already there – a lovely woman who was a good friend of an old colleague in London took the time to Skype with us from Munich to answer questions about specific neighbourhoods. It was so helpful.

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