So you want to live in another country. Awesome! You’re in for a life changing experience, it’s just a matter of making it happen. Here are some helpful hints on things to do before you leave.
- Research the country you are moving to
- Make contact with people before you make the move
- Be prepared to leave friends and family behind with the knowledge it will be a while before you meet again
- Set up someone you trust with the legal authority to manage your affairs back at home
- Try to learn survival phrases in the local language
- Pay off your debts and have some money saved up; even if you already have a job secured
- Bring some of the local currency with you to get started
- Know that you can’t possibly plan for everything
- Have fun!
Research the country you are moving to
Try and learn a little bit about the history of the country you’re planning on moving to. Find out what the citizens are proud of and who their heroes are. Know a little bit about the current political situation and who heads the government. Try and get a basic understanding of some of the customs (hand signs not to use, how to greet someone, whether or not to remove your shoes when you enter a residence, etc). Arriving in another country with a basic understanding of these things will not only prepare you somewhat for what to expect, but it also shows that you made an effort to understand the culture.
Now it would be very hard, if not impossible, to learn all the customs, traditions, history, and facts about a country before you get there. Chances are, in most countries, the locals will be able to tell pretty quickly that you’re not from the area. And you know what? They expect you to not know the customs. They expect you to make mistakes that may be disrespectful. Chances are they’ll laugh, tell you the correct custom, and then move on. At that point, all you have to do is share in the laugh, be gracious, and you’ve just learned one more custom from that country.
In summary? Do some homework, but don’t stress about it too much. You’re going to make a mistake, and it’s probably not going to be a huge deal. Just be gracious, respectful, and willing to adapt.
Make contact with people before you make the move
This can not only give you an idea of what to expect (good places to eat, the easiest way to get to the right city from the airport, areas in town to stay away from) but can also give you a small network of people to interact with as soon as you land. Moving to a foreign country can be exhausting, and one thing many people struggle with is getting out and meeting new people from the start. It’s certainly something I had a hard time with.
If you talk with a couple people in the area before you leave, try and find out where the local hang outs are. Find out if there is an active expatriate community. Maybe check out some sport groups if that’s your thing. If you can join a group, or a club, or an organization of some sort, chances are one, some, or all of the members will take you under their wing and show you the ropes of your new home.
If you can’t find a group to join, maybe see if there is a restaurant or bar that is popular among the expat community. Pop in there on a weekend night and you’re bound to meet at least one person who would love to talk with you about home. You’ve just got to be outgoing and willing enough to initiate a conversation.
In Pohang, I didn’t really meet anyone for the first 2 weeks or so. Then, I was introduced to one guy by one of my coworkers. Through him I met another group of people, who then plugged me in with the EFL community in Pohang. Now it’s simply a matter of picking some activities that I enjoy, and I’m meeting more people all the time.
The best things you can do? Be friendly, be active, be open to trying new things.
Be prepared to leave friends and family behind with the knowledge it will be a while before you meet again
This one is hard. Not everyone can move to another country, just because they can’t imagine leaving their friends and family behind. Thankfully, with the advances in technology, you can see and talk with your loved ones via Skype, Google Talk, or any number of other video chat services. Certainly no replacement for seeing them in person, but it’s much better than relying on letters and phone cards.
Still, it is by no means easy to leave your friends and family behind when you move to another country. Make time to see the people you love before you leave. Make sure you can contact them once you’ve left. Put together a mailing list, a blog, or get addresses so you can send postcards to people from each destination. Be certain that you leave an address or phone number that you’ll have access to once you get to your destination. Those letters and calls from home are things you grow to look forward to. Have your loved ones take pictures of themselves and keep them with you in your wallet or passport book. And most importantly, be diligent about maintaining contact once you’ve arrived.
You’ll probably need a check cashed, or an account managed, or something done back home that requires you to be there during the course of your adventure. Set someone up as an account manager with your bank, utilities, cell phone, etc. Make sure that person also has a power of attorney, just in case. Make sure you TRUST THAT PERSON with handling all your financials. This will reduce the amount of headaches you have once you leave, and takes very little time to set up. Definitely worth doing!
Try to learn survival phrases in the local language
Just like learning about the culture, this not only shows respect for the new place you’ll be living, but it will make your life easier once you arrive. While English is widely spoken across the globe, there are many, MANY countries where it can be very hard if not virtually impossible to find someone with enough skill to communicate with you. If you know how to say hello, thank you, where is, how much is, and know the number system; you’re going to be in pretty good shape. If possible try and learn these things so you can recognize them in conversation. If you can’t? Get a phrasebook… that’s what they’re for.
Pay off your debts and have some money saved up; even if you already have a job secured
Just like starting a new job back home, it will probably be a couple weeks to a month before you get a paycheck. The last thing you want to have happen when you start your new life in another country is to slowly slip in to debt as you buy the things you need to settle in to your new place. Take care of your financial obligations before you leave. Have money saved and set aside. Notify your bank what country you will be in and how long you will be there. Get a foreign emergency number you can call in case your card is stolen. These things are essential. Financing your new life overseas with a credit card is a recipe for disaster, as any financial planner would tell you. PLAN AHEAD!
Bring some of the local currency with you to get started
You’ll probably get a better rate from a bank back at home and, chances are, you’re going to need some money at the airport for food, transportation, or a phone. And some vendors still only take cash 😉
Know that you can’t possibly plan for everything
Life is unpredictable. It always has been and always will be. There’s a fine line between responsible planning and over-planning. The easier you can accept that the unexpected will happen and the more prepared you are to take things as they come, the less stressful your experience abroad will be. The best thing you can do is to do your homework, make the preparations, and then let things happen. After all, part of the joy of traveling is living through all those amazing, unexpected experiences that come out of nowhere.
Seriously, this will most likely be one of the most memorable, enjoyable experiences of your life. Keep an open mind, treat the people you meet with respect, and don’t be afraid to let new experiences take you by surprise. You only get to live once!