So, your bags are packed and your travel guide is ready. You have checked for the third time whether you really have both plane tickets and a passport - and perhaps you will check again... just in case. You are going to live in a new country for the first time in your life, and you couldn't be more excited...
This article will give you a more realistic plan of how your first months abroad will go. Take a deep breath, it will only hurt a little.
1. Providing housing should be your top priority
You're in a new country. You're homeless. This local hostel, hotel, or friendly sofa will only keep you so long before you need a (somewhat) more permanent residence. I know you think it will be easy to find a fantastic apartment in a big city, close to all the major attractions, but this is not realistic. These places are more expensive, and you may have to think about where you live to find a place within your budget.
To find accommodation on your own, you can find a real estate agent (which is admittedly a bit of an old-school tactic), check out ads, talk to other expats (nothing like a personal recommendation!), or use the services of one of the many online housing providers. Yes, the big name in the industry, AirBnb, will let you rent for about a month - but it's not the most economical.
Other services are specifically designed for those who want to stay for a longer period - say, 6-9 months - and are ideal for students, teachers on a shorter contract, or for those of you who want more time before you agree to a place. UniPlaces and Study Abroad Apartments are two examples of housing services focused on Europe.
Consider these basic tips for visiting a new country
- When signing a rental agreement, you will need the first (and sometimes the second) month of rent, as well as a security deposit. Find out in advance if you can write a check from your home bank account, if you can even withdraw that amount in cash, or if you can pay in a different way. Usually, a phone call to your local bank asking you to temporarily remove the cash withdrawal limit is enough to withdraw cash from your current account.
- Make sure you have enough funds to cover these upfront expenses without moving to Ramen until you receive your first paycheck.
- Do not forget about everyday but important tasks related to water, electricity, garbage and the Internet.
- Try to ask for help from local residents, especially if there is a language barrier. Their insider's point of view will prove invaluable, and will help you avoid possible scams for an additional fee ("Foreign Tax" if you will), that you are in a good neighborhood, and make sure that there are no fun cases in your contract. If this local is a personal friend who truly cares about you, then even better!
Whatever you decide, never use Craigslist to find an apartment. No matter how friendly this respected citizen seems on the Internet, don't send him your money. They will try to convince you that the ridiculously low rent they charge is because they need a reliable caretaker. There is nothing free in this world, especially on the internet.
If you decide to find an apartment on your own, then I would recommend searching on the expatriate forum. Depending on the country, long-term rental housing may also be an option. TrustedHousesitters and MindMyHouse place ads about the possibility of placement in homes around the world.
There are a ton of people who own property but only use houses or apartments for a week or two a year. The rest of the time, they need someone to rent it out to. There are other expats leaving the apartments as they move on, so you can get an inside scoop without listening to the scam.
2. Making new friends is hard!
Now that you have a nice, cozy apartment, you start to want someone to share your adventures with you. The problem is, you don't have the faintest idea where to find this person.
During high school and college, having a group of friends was relatively easy. You were all the same age, participated in the same activities, and grew up in the same area. You had classrooms and daily socializing to turn strangers into friends. Most likely, you never had to find a couple of friends, except for the initial conversations on the topic of "Will you be my friend?" that we all had in kindergarten.
That's another matter. You're in the real world and meeting people in a new city, which means you're taking a whole new approach to finding friends. you're not a tramp, so this whole backpacking scene isn't for you. If you work in a company or school, then your friends are more likely to be your new colleagues.
If not, then the whole "friendship" thing gets a lot more complicated. You don't want to live in your past on Facebook, but you're not sure how to continue in your overseas future.
Before retreating into the cave of loneliness and despair, try the following tips (tips on visiting a country where you don't know the language):
- Let your online friends know that you are alive. Bloggers are great people who know and tend to be in touch with their community. Do a quick search for people writing about your area and see if you can arrange a meeting over coffee. Check out local meetings, expatriate meetings, or kush surfing events. Of course, don't forget to meet in public places for the first couple or several times.
- Join a local organization. Do you like to cook? Ride bikes in insanely hot weather? Climbing ridiculously early to capture the perfect sunrise? There will be communities of expats and locals who feel the same way. Find a group with similar interests online.
- Learn the local language with your language partner. Find out if there are local language schools that offer language exchange, or search for existing schools online.
- Join an expatriate online organization. Dating is a comfort, and while you're on a grand adventure abroad, it can be wonderful to hang out with a group of people from your home country. There are a ton of expat groups online, and they tend to organize meetings and get-togethers.
- Take a class on what you like. Whether it's cooking, language, or dancing, you're sure to meet people who have similar interests as you.
3. Be attentive to your relations at home
Now that you have both a fabulous home and a group of friends with similar interests, you want to share the wonderful news with your loved ones at home. Thanks to Skype, Facetime, Snapchat, and a host of other platforms, there's no way you're going to distance yourself from anyone, right?
Please get rid of this idealism immediately. This will save you from heartbreak and frustration. Keeping in touch requires a lot of effort, even without the added difficulties of translating through a new cultural lens. While you're happily rocking up about a fantastic roast duck at a restaurant, your friends and family at home will be nodding their heads politely.
Moving to a new country means an initial period of excitement about your new lifestyle, but it will disappear. Your life goes on completely different trajectories, and some people may find it difficult to understand what they have never experienced.
Here are some tips to help prevent and minimize any possible friction:
- Be patient and understand. This applies to you and your friends and family. While you, the intrepid traveler, should be able to express your new life, you shouldn't monopolize the conversation. Your friends and family may be going through a different phase of life, and their daily activities matter, too.
- Try not to be arrogant. I'm sure you don't deliberately flaunt how much cooler your life is than the lives of your friends and family, but it can turn out that way.
- Make an effort to schedule a specific time on Skype, or at least make sure you know the time difference well enough not to call at ridiculous hours.
4. Transport and foreign bureaucracy are the devil
Keep in mind that there are many countries whose government offices move more slowly..
You will want to dance the victory dance at the first independent and successful passage of public transport. It can be a daunting task to get acquainted with all these billions of bus routes, to carry the right change in foreign currency, or to buy a ticket at a vending machine, with instructions written in what may be gibberish.
Keep these tips in mind when migrating abroad for a new home:
- Make sure your visa is in order. Know where government offices are located and know how long it takes for each meeting. But most importantly, take a book with you, try not to get upset because of the red tape, and celebrate with new friends when it's all over.
- Mastering local transport will help you a lot. Metro, bus, taxi, rickshaw, bicycle-all this is important to learn. Find out if you can purchase a monthly pass or if you will have to buy a new ticket for each trip. Buy a helmet if a motorcycle taxi is the best way to get around, and be sure to make sure that these are safe modes of transport.
- The traffic flow is extremely important. You need to know whether the cars will stop for pedestrians or you will have to play a challenging survival game every time you cross the road. Especially if you ride a moped or motorcycle, pay attention to how everyone else rides and do what they do.
Moving to a new country is not a frequent experience in life, and you couldn't be more excited. Cling to that excitement as hard as you can, because the next few steps of moving abroad alone will be a huge challenge for you.
5. Mastering the norms of etiquette of different cultures takes time
Don't be afraid to be a shy foreigner - at least not at first. You will, of course, make mistakes, but as long as you show a little common courtesy, read some basic etiquette, and direct those manners that you only used with your grandparents, and you should be fine. However, there are different cultures that are more finicky than others.
To keep the peace with your neighbors, follow these tips:
- Find out the specific ways you can offend the local people and avoid them! Depending on where you are, this may mean that you won't be eating with your left hand, showing the soles of your feet, or sticking chopsticks vertically into a mound of rice.
- Learn how to greet people and share food. These are the two most important lessons you'll pick up abroad, and most likely even get some new, delicious recipes from living abroad to share with your friends back home.
- Check out the local holidays. This will help you navigate the cultural landscape wherever you live. Having a list can even alert you to impending non-stop fireworks, massive water battles, or celebrations filled with colored powders.
- No matter what you do, no matter how disgusting a gift with food or drink looks, never make a face for yourself and do not refuse it. If I can drain the tea with yak butter, so can you.
6. The program can help you organize pre-logistics
Adjusting to a culture shock and making new friends can be scary enough on its own, without the extra hassle of arranging housing, finding a living, and fighting bureaucracy. Sometimes the best way to spend a long period is to complete a program.
Consider signing up for a "Vacation Year Abroad" program or going to a foreign country for a long-term volunteer internship. It can be the best of both worlds: your program is with all the logistics, and you'll have plenty of time abroad to immerse yourself in a new culture.
There are many programs that can help you get back on your feet and ease your transition to life in a foreign country (which may cost you more, but will save you a ton of headaches and frustrations). Organizations such as IVHQ and Projects Abroad have been established in a wide variety of countries.
If you are even slightly interested in learning a language abroad, Live the Languages Abroad is a good place to start your search. Although, of course, these organizations are not the only software providers!
Making the decision to move abroad on your own is a huge step. This is a great opportunity to explore the world, get to know another city and gain your own independence. Moving abroad will certainly be a challenge, but with the right planning, it is totally possible and totally worth it. Follow these tips for visiting a new country and you will have a whole new life in an amazing country abroad in the blink of an eye.