Sunday, 9 March 2014

My 10 tips for becoming an expat

noun & adjective
  1. 1.
    short for expatriate.

Moving abroad can be both liberating and scary. You get to see a whole new world other then the one you grew up in. As you know, I love travelling and I love seeing new places. But there's a difference to going somewhere on holiday and moving there, becoming an expat.

Expats are people who live in a different country from the one the grew up in. Currently there are over 230 million expats in the world, making it the 5th largest imaginary country in the world.
I've moved abroad twice now and I, weirdly enough, enjoy the process. I love discovering new ways of doing things. Moving abroad allows you to do that. But understand one thing, there will be days where all this new stuff will seem quite overwhelming. Anything from filling out a tax return to complex legal matters. So do yourself a favour and breathe. I hope that these ten tips will help you.

1. Research
It might seem as the most obvious one, but it's probably the most important one. Before you go you should make sure you're loaded up with information. How can I get a car or get around? What's the average costs per month? What's the price of beer? (I genuinely find this one quite useful as an price indicator) What's the weather like? All this (and more) are questions you should be asking yourself. If you've already been to the place on holiday, even better. At least then you know some of the basics.

2. Online networking

Never underestimate the value of a good forum and social media site. You can ask other expats about tips on how to buy a car or where to get a certain food item. Also, it wouldn't hurt to know someone before you get there. A personal link of some sorts. I've personally used sites like Couchsurfing to connect with locals before I go (and also after I arrive).

3. Talk, talk, talk and talk
To battle homesickness and loneliness, talk to people. This can be the locals around where you live, the people in your hostel or even the cashier at the supermarket. You never know, they might  have job opening or maybe a great apartment for a penny.

Tip! Check out my post Homesickness and how to battle it

4. Mingle and jingle
Join the gym, take a dance class... Just do something. Besides the obvious physical benefits, you feel apart of something. If you meet some people in the hostel that invite you out for a drink, say yes. You never know, that person could very well be your next travel companion for the next few months (or years). The important thing is that you put yourself out there. You've made the step to move to a new country, why hold back?

5. Banking and currency

Don't get caught paying big commission and poor exchange rates. Either in your departure country or your destination country, shop around and find the best offer. It might be worth speculating and hold off with the big amounts until the rates are good. Use sites like XE to find out the relevant exchange rates* (Take into account that each bank or similar, has their own rates).

My tip is to take out enough cash to see you through the first 2-3 days. Then, until you've set up a local bank account, use your home country debit/credit cards. A good thing to do, is to ensure you've read all the fees that comes with overseas transactions.

Setting up a bank account in a country do vary, but these are three documents I would recommend you should always bring:
  • Copy of passport AND the original
  • Address confirmation (utility bill, letter from building manager etc.)
  • Copy of visa (if relevant)
Until you've actually gotten a permenant address, at lot of hostels will allow you to use their address as your address for banking purposes and similar. Please be advised, that if you intend on moving you change your address ASAP.


If you don't have access to conventional banking, Western Union and PayPal are two good alternatives to offer quick and easy transfer of funds across borders.

6. Find a shack
As soon as possible you need to find yourself some accomodation. It could be a flat or house or even long-term stay in a hostel. Moving to a new country can be stressful, no need to put more preasure on yourself. Use expat forums and sites like Couchsurfing to find out where the locals get the accomidation. Don't be foole by overpriced letting agencies that pray on unexperienced new arrivals.

I would recommend you book yourself into a hostel/hotel for 5-7 days. You need some time to shop around, don't jump at the first best thing you find. Check out the different areas. Is it close to current/future employers? Close to an outdoor area (beach, park etc.)? Supermarkets? All these things are important to take into account.

7. Working nine to five
I assume that if you're moving to a new country, you'll be in need of a job. I recommend looking online for listings, apply and then personally turn up with a copy of your CV. Nothing says determined like an actual person that bother to turn up, not just rely on jobsites. By all means, start looking for jobs before you go, but chances are you'll be doing some job hunting when you arrive.

When I moved up to Auckland, I applied for over 90 jobs. It can be stressful and you might start panicking about money, food, accomidation etc., but you need to understand one thing: There is always A job. Wherever you go in the world it will in 99.9% of the cases be A job you can get. I'm not talking about the dream job you've been looking at. I'm talking about jobs that pay the rent, period. It can be a bartender job or sweeping the streets. It's a job.

Make sure you read essential job tips and that your CV actually fits the norm of the country you're in. Take NZ vs. European CV's. NZ CV's tends to focus more on achivements and duties, than timeframe and the company name. 

Tip! Make sure you research the tax system in the country. Apply for ID and/or tax number as soon as you arrive. This will speed up your employment process and will get you some needed cash.

8. ££$$ is better than £$
I know that can sometimes be hard, but try and save up as much as humanly possible before you go. If your budget says you need $1000, then aim to save $1200. So make sure you bring more than you need. Until you've gotten an apartment and job sorted, you'll need funds to tie you over.

9. Go local
When you arrive, you should get a local phone number. When you start looking for jobs, if you're CV has a international number I can almost guarantee you that no one will give you a callback. Even if we're talking a basic Pay As you Go plan, it's still beats someone having to dial an international number.

Either do a simple Google search or ask the locals; where is it cheap to buy groceries? I remember when I was International Ambassador at my uni last year; I bumped into some Chinese students that were doing their weekly shops in Marks & Spencer because they thought that was cheapest supermarket. For those of you that aren't used to British brand, M&S are FAAAR from cheap when it comes to food.
So ask the receptionist or even cleaner where you are staying. Chances are that they are big on bargain hunting as well.

10. Start learning the language

Though there are over 375 million people in the world that has English as their second language, there are plenty of people that don't. Besides if you've moved to Spain for example, many might perseeive it as rude if you don't at least make an effort to speak the native language. Just because English is your first language, doesn't mean you can expect everyone else to know it. So get yourself a language course. I HIGHLY recommend signing up to Duolingo, a absolutely FREE service to learn some of the biggest languages in the world. It's easy to use and you learn a lot quickly. I'm speaking from personal experience, as I'm currently trying to pick up some Spanish. So far, I'm limited to say stuff like Tù eres una niña (You are a girl) and Èl bebe agua (He drinks water) in addition to some basics, but I'm getting there.

But the best way to learn a language, is to use it every day. So do your best to speak the native language when at the supermarket for example. Also, make sure you know the basics (Thanks, please, you're welcome etc.) + the phrase "Sorry, but do you speak English?"

Staying an expat?
A word of caution: The "danger" about becoming an expat is that you'll stay one for many years or even the rest of your life.
You might find that you're creating a life for yourself, becoming a local, so that even the notion of leaving can be painful. Then again, like I've come to see; just because you were born somewhere, don't mean you belong there. It might be that the nomadic lifestyle appeals much more to you than settling down in own place for the rest of your life. I'm personally that, a nomad. Though I miss my family and friends in Norway, I can't see myself living there at least for many years.

One person moves abroad every 44 seconds. So that means that roughly 9-10 people have moved abroad since you started reading this article. Why don't you join them? Move abroad. Take a chance.