Seven is a magic number, and with these seven basic tips, organizing your move abroad will hopefully work like a charm!
1. Make lists, lists, and more lists.
Lists were my saving grace when I moved abroad.
First, make a list of everything you need to do before you move, from booking a flight to contacting your utility company and phone provider to selling or donating old furniture. Next, make a list of things to pack (see #2 for further details), ensuring that all important documents are on top of said list.
Finally, make a list of things to buy during your first week abroad. If your new apartment is unfurnished, ordering furniture and household items will definitely be your first priority. Start off with a comfortable bed and a clothing rack, some kitchen utensils and cleaning products — everything else can wait a little longer.
Be sure to cross items off your list once you have packed or bought them: this helps you to feel more efficient and makes the process seem less overwhelming.
2. Don’t over-pack, but don’t forget about the bare necessities.
Only packing necessities will not only lead to an uncluttered new home and less washing, but also force you to visit local shops to buy what you weren’t able to bring along. This will give you an opportunity to practice your language skills and explore the area.
While you shouldn’t over-pack, it’s important to remember vital items: as far as clothing is concerned, don’t focus on what you usually like wearing, but on what you will need most abroad, according to the dress code at your new workplace, any activities you are planning, and the local climate.
Also pack everything you might not be able to replace that easily. I, for one, seem to have oddly shaped feet and need to wear wide-fit shoes in a UK size 7. In some countries, this might make it rather difficult to get decent ladies’ shoes in my size.
I have already mentioned important documents in passing in the first section, but it bears repeating: your passport, visa, birth certificate, driving license, employment contract, etc. should be your top priority when you pack your suitcase. Ideally, you should also make sure to put a copy of each in a different bag.
3. Get in touch with people in your new home.
Using social media enables you to connect with other expats and local people before you even move to your new home. If you are already an InterNations member, make sure to join our community in the city you are moving to, not in the city where you are currently living. That way, you will remain up to date about upcoming events in town, especially our Newcomers’ Events, and be able to ask for advice in our local forums.
But no matter which site or app you use, don’t be afraid to suggest meeting up with your new online friends. The worst they can do is say no, but you might gain some friends for life. Even if you never meet up, they can give you plenty of tips about living in your new city, like choosing the best neighborhood to live in, navigating local bureaucracy, or simply finding the nicest café to hang out in.
4. Video chat is your friend.
Video chat tools, such as Skype, are a must-have for expats and expats-to-be. Skype interviews are becoming ever more popular for recruiting international employees, and if you plan on sharing accommodation, video chat makes it possible for you to talk to potential roommates from abroad.
Once you have relocated, a fast and stable internet connection with a decent bit rate is a must, too. After all, you’ll want to video call your friends and family back home, won’t you? However, be careful not to miss out on opportunities or events abroad because of Skype.
Sometimes, it will be tempting to hole up in your apartment and talk to familiar faces you have known and loved for years. You will never start feeling truly at home, though, if you keep rejecting your colleagues’ invitations to after-work drinks in favor of video chats with your siblings.
5. Find someone to learn the local language with.
Yes, grammar lessons can be a slog, and studying a new language in addition to a full-time job or raising a family is a huge amount of work. But though you are often able to make do with English or another lingua franca, learning the language is a tremendous help. It makes it easier to deal with practical matters and to understand the local culture better. Truth is, most people will also be suddenly a lot more outgoing if they perceive you as “making an effort”.
To practice your newly acquired language skills, you can also find a “tandem partner”, a native speaker of the local language in your new country. Language tandems are often advertised online, on university message boards, or at local libraries. Ideally, you won’t just find someone to correct your pronunciation, but a new friend as well.
6. Go exploring before moving permanently.
If you have the time and money, organize a trip to your new destination at least one month before actually moving there. Relocation agents often call this a “fact-finding trip” — personally, I prefer the term “exploratory mission” as it makes it sound so much more adventurous.
During a visit to your future city of residence, you might want to start house hunting, either by arranging viewings in advance or by meeting estate agents while staying there. Physically seeing a house is vital, so you can get a feel for how homely the place is and if it lives up to the description in the ad. Also take the opportunity to explore the neighborhood and see how safe and convenient it is.
If you can still squeeze in a few items on your schedule, play the tourist, too. While you shouldn’t spend your whole expat life living like a casual visitor, now’s the perfect occasion to find out more about your destination of choice and to ensure that you already have some fond memories when you relocate.
7. Take time for yourself.
Living abroad, finding your feet in a new job, and organizing your new home should not mean neglecting the things you enjoy or, indeed, your own health. If exercise was a part of your routine at home, continue to work out as an expat. It’s always easy to find local gyms, exercise classes, or cheap DVDs to work out in the comfort of your own home.
And though it might be easy to bury yourself in work or try to balance all your new responsibilities, some “me time” is essential to recharge your batteries. Apart from regular exercise, make sure to get enough sleep and a few quiet moments to yourself.
Documenting your expat life could be a nice way of relaxing and reflecting on your experiences — you could create a photo album, write an old-fashioned journal, start a quirky scrapbook or a state-of-the-art travel blog, whichever you prefer.
(Image credit: iStockphoto)