Expat tips: lessons I’ve learnt

I’ve been contacted recently by HiFX to contribute to their expat tips campaign by providing a tip that can be beneficial for future expats. I couldn’t decide on just one, and just wrote a bunch of them instead.

If you are moving abroad, or you’ve recently moved abroad, here are my tips to help you start your expat life in a new country. These tips come from my personal experience, and behind each of them, there is a story (sometimes a really painful story of learning it hard way). Hope you’ll find these tips beneficial, and avoid some of the faux pas I’ve made. For more expat tips see the HiFX Expat Page.

Expat tips
Enjoy life

My expat tips

#1: When you move to a new country, prepare yourself that the things are different than home. The quicker you adjust and accept, the sooner you’ll start to enjoy your new surroundings. Don’t forget that if things were so great back home, you would probably still be living there.

#2: Get to know how long the winter lasts in the country you are moving to. Don’t trust billboards and commercials. They never show slush and rain.

#3: Don’t underestimate the language barrier. You cannot really immerse yourself in the new culture, until you start understanding the language. The fact that you already speak few languages doesn’t mean that you’ll learn a new one as quickly as you assume.

#4: Don’t buy property just because you like it and the price is good. Don’t forget that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Do your research. And especially do your research on your future neighbors. This can help you avoid many potential problems. Wrong neighbors can be a real annoyance.

#5: Sometimes you can be surprised how little your money can stretch. Don’t keep converting another currency back into your own. You can get really discouraged sometimes.

#6: Just because you feel lonely sometimes, it doesn’t mean you need to hang out with the people from your home country that you wouldn’t normally hang out back home. Do your effort and you’ll find like-minded people in your adopted country.

#7: When people chat with a cashier in a supermarket, they are not trying to mess with you. They are just chatting. Keep your calm. Relax and go with a flow. Try to use these queues to learn the language. Listen and challenge yourself in understanding what they talk about. This is better (and healthier) than to be getting angry with a poor service.

#8: Have an open mind. Don’t compare your home country with your new country all the time. They are different and there is no point in comparing the two.

#9: Don’t just assume that you’ll hop in the taxi whenever you need a ride. Taxis can be extremely expensive in some countries.

#10: Yeah, you probably won’t find your favorite French cheese in the local shop, but taste instead a local one. You might get surprised. The same goes for the wine.

#11: They say it with the reason: If in Rome, do like Romans do.

Do you have any expat tips? Add them in the comments below.


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54 thoughts on “Expat tips: lessons I’ve learnt”

  1. Hi Jennifer, that’s awesome. I’m not saying it won’t have its challenges, but I think it will be an excellent experience for your family. I wouldn’t worry about finding a job in three years, once you return from SK. I would rather believe that many new opportunities will come your way thanks to that experience. Definitely try to learn the language. They say here that each extra language a person speaks, it’s like having an additional university diploma in your pocket. We are really exciting for you. Good luck, and let us know how it’s going once there.

  2. Hello! My husband is considering a job in South Korea on a three year contact then can renew yearly after contact. We currently live in the US. We are very happy here in the U, but the offer from the job in SK sounds like a great opportunity to experience the other side of the world. I am on board to move our family overseas for the short time frame. I feel it will be an amazing experience for our family. Our concern is after the three year contact has expired, will my husband have a hard time finding a job when we relocated back to the US? This is the only thing that is making the decision hard for us. Do you have any advice to give us? Thanks!

  3. Thanks for stopping by, Vikki! I agree that we need to get out of “holiday mode”. Living in a place and visiting it as a tourist is very different. Thanks for the tip!

  4. I’m a UK expat living in the Canary Islands – my favourite things about it here are the range of events and fiestas like Carnival also that it’s not just about being at the beach. When I first moved here, I didn’t realise that away from the resorts, there are lush mountains, volcanos and cave villages just waiting to be explored!
    My tip would be: If you are living somewhere, really live there and don’t stay in ‘holiday mode’ too long, you will miss out on so much!

  5. Thanks for stopping by, Stefica! And yes, you are right there, I also miss diversity of the food here in Croatia compared with Canada. Now you made me remember how much I miss Thai, Vietnamese, Mexican, and a good Chinese.

  6. Great tips! We split time between USA-Croatia. My biggest hurdle when in Croatia is that although I very, very much adore Croatian food, I miss the accessibility of diverse ethnic foods there. When living in Seattle, we commonly eat Thai, Mexican, Vietnamese, Indian, etc once a week. I also love spicy food, also not very common in Croatia. We’re in Seattle for an extended period of time this round, so I’m trying to learn how to cook some of these dishes that I miss when in Croatia, and I’m honestly excited about how great they will taste with the wonderful produce in Croatia.

  7. So true! Living abroad gives you an opportunity to meet people from all walks of life, and different cultures. And it’s something to embrace and enjoy if you are an expat. Thanks for stopping by.

  8. In line with #8, I’d recommend constantly reminding yourself that just because something is different (from your home country) doesn’t mean it’s wrong. One of the blessings that I’ve discovered in expat life is the joy of knowing people from all over the world. I still hang out with Texans, but I also socialize with locals as well as expats from Europe, Australia and Asia.

  9. The first tip is great! I never really did any of this stuff before I moved abroad, but I guess Australia is cheating a little bit. Probably would if I moved again though, and also think reverse culture shock is totally worth a mention.

  10. I agree 100% with you. I mean, they can still have fun that way, but it’s a wasted opportunity to learn something new and embrace the difference.

  11. Thanks for this — I have been considering becoming a long term expat, so this is good to read. Not sure I can stay in one place long enough, though.

  12. Great tips! It always amazes me when people decide to make the leap, move abroad but don’t really change anything. They still frequent places where other expats meet, they don’t learn the language or explore the culture of the country but do have a habit of comparing everything to their home country. If they enjoyed living there so much you have to question why they moved…so why compare everything to it?

    I would love the opportunity to move abroad one day and immerse myself into the local way of life; it’s just knowing which country to choose! :)

  13. We tend to romanticize about our home country once we leave it. So yes, I’m with you, we should remind ourselves that not everything back home is roses and unicorns.

  14. Marie-Carmen, thanks for your comment. Excellent point for the fav food. Makes you really appreciate it :-)

  15. Lol, Conversant Traveller! You see, your local store is preparing you for some challenges if you ever move abroad.

  16. Thanks, Paul! I agree with you 100%. Without understanding the language and the customs of where you are going, you cannot truly make it there.

  17. It’s true, Raphael. I find it’s a shame to move to a new country just to hang out with a people from your won country.

  18. Great tips! Expats and travelers probably all have these issues at one time or another. Like you said, the best thing is to remember you are in a different place than you are used to–there’s a reason you moved there in the first place, right? :)

  19. Really great tips here that I can relate to! I would also add to this the concept of ‘Reverse Culture Shock’ and if you ever return to your home country to realize that it may never be the same again and accept that both you and others may have changed over the time that you were away.

    Great post guys!

  20. Great tips! I think people are very brave that move to another country. We plan to do it one day for awhile.

  21. I would definitely advice people to avoid “La Vida Expatriada”, that is, getting together with other expats from your home country and form a close group of drinking, partying and other related activites. Why? Because by doing that you’re not leaving your comfort zone and you’re missing out the experience of interacting with the local people and absorbing their culture.

  22. So great to give and get tips from expats, right? I know where to go if I ever make a move outside the states :) Nice work.

  23. What I can never understand is those people that decide to move to another country but make no attempt to learn the language and customs of where they are going, either before or once they are there. I’ve seen countless TV shows where Brits move abroad and just struggle to get by because they can’t be bothered. If you’re going to make that step, you really have to embrace #3 in your list with open arms IMHO, otherwise you’ll never truly settle.

  24. I’ve never lived abroad, and not sure I’d have the guts to make such a huge leap, but am in awe of those who do! Mind you, our local supermarket keeps discontinuing all the food we like so if we did move abroad we’d be able to cope with #10 :-)

  25. Excellent post all of which I can definitely relate to! Man I miss SO much food from home, I think that’s my sore point. Great job Frank!

  26. I also lived as an expat in several different countries, and the points you raise are certainly true! The last two are especially important if you want avoid frustration!

  27. These are also good tips for travelers. It is important to try and learn a bit about the culture of the country you are visiting

  28. Great tips there and some seriously sound advice! For me though you can’t beat the first one, “Don’t forget that if things were so great back home, you would probably still be living there.” Love that!

  29. Like your tips. Very true!
    Somehow I did find easier to blend in while working in Japan rather than in Netherlands because I learned more of the local language. It’s funny how, if you make the step to learn the language then you suddenly feel how warm people can get!

    And well… You won’t find your favourite food but hey, you can see it as a super treat when you find it back! Makes you love it even more!

  30. Great read!!! And I totally agree with #8!! I think it is important not to compare it to your home country and remember you are a guest in their country! No two cultures are the same so I agree that it is important to embrace the differences and experience the culture!!

  31. Thanks, Roma! I agree. Not speaking the language can be a real bummer. I’m not speaking a good Croatian yet, but was fortunate enough that people around me speak either Italian or English. I manage to get by. But it would certainly be much better if I spoke Croatian. It can be tough at times.

  32. Thanks, Caitlyn! True, I love the most when you are paying in millions of foreign currency. Feeling like a millionaire :)

  33. This is such a good post. I REALLY struggled in my gap year. I went to France, I didn’t speak a word of French and struggled for months and months. I tried and cried endlessly. I think it’s important in a self-discovery period to know when you need to call it quits and move on. Sometimes some things aren’t for everyone.

  34. Thanks, Heather! This is a good addition. It happened to me more than once. No matter how careful and respectful I try to be :-)

  35. Thanks, Jess! It does drive me crazy too. This is the tip for myself too. To remind me to practice what I preach :-)

  36. I really like the one about not converting back to your home currency! When you stop doing that, everything seems a lot more relative to each other.

  37. Great tips! I’d also recommend learning about the local customs and taboos so you don’t inadvertently offend anyone.

  38. Ohhh I love #10…its so true. But I also admit I am always missng some things from home…. sometimes too many!

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