Skip to main content

Top tips for expats by expats

By October 19, 2016September 27th, 2023Emigrate

Top tips for expats by expats

October 19, 2016

Planning to emigrate? If you’ve embarked on this new journey abroad, you’re probably rather apprehensive about the road ahead. Indeed, no one can say for sure what will happen in your future, but the best advice is to take the advice of those in the know – those who have already done it.

We’ve rounded up some of the best expat tips from the experts in the field – the ones who have already undertaken this mammoth move abroad.

30 tips from fellow expats

  1. Get rid of your possessions

It’s human nature to cling to our past through memorabilia and other possessions, but if you’re moving abroad, it’s necessary to get rid of all the things which aren’t essential. Though you’ll undoubtedly retain some keepsakes and items of sentimental value, starting a new life abroad requires that you get rid of everything you’ve been hoarding all those years. Not only will you be able to make a bit of cash by pawning these possessions, but it allows you to start fresh.

  1. Make friends with the locals

Expats often reach out to other expats in their new country. Though this is a great way to hold on to your roots or share stories with people who understand your situation, you need to make friends with the locals if you’re to fit in and assimilate into the new country and culture.

  1. Don’t make a blind move

Due to the tremendous expense of travel, there are many people who move abroad blindly – visiting the country they are relocating to only once or sometimes not at all. It’s essential you visit and explore the destination beforehand to prepare yourself for what lies ahead. What you see on the internet or on TV is not always what you get.

  1. Embrace the differences

If you’re going to move abroad expecting things to be the same as your idyllic view of your home country, you’re going to be in for a shock. Though there may be similarities, there are rather big differences in culture, custom and language between different countries. It’s best to accept and embrace these differences else these disparities may frustrate you forever.

  1. If you’re older, move to expat destinations

It’s harder for older generations to assimilate and blend into a new culture – so other expats who have moved abroad at retirement advise that you choose a destination where there is an existing expat community from your home country. This will make it far easier for you to settle in.

  1. Prepare for waiting

The emigration and immigration process is an extensive process which requires a lot of waiting – you must wait for paperwork, approval, for service, for clearance and cashflow. Accept that you won’t be able to start your new life off in one clean sweep, and be patient.

  1. Don’t cast your plans in stone

Many expats have a city in mind where they want to settle down, but after moving there they discover it’s not the right place for them. Of course, it’s frustrating to have to move again, but be prepared to change your mind and find a place which is more suitable to you once you’re in the country.

  1. The distance between you and people back home will grow

Moving abroad changes you – and it changes your outlook on life. You must understand that although this is a deeply enlightening and transformative experience for you, people back home will not have this experience. The same goes for your idea of your home country – you will hold on to things you see in the news or your perception of the place it was before, but these ideas may no longer hold true. Understand that these differences in your physical location and lives will create a divide between you and the people back home, and it’s something you’ll have to accept.

  1. You will need to put in extra effort for your family

The move abroad will be stressful for you, but irrespective of your own stress, each person in the family unit should put in extra effort to assist each other. Your wife or husband may need you to be strong and stomach more than you usually would as they cope with their loss. Your children will need you to be there to listen to them. Trust that things will get back to normal one day, and be a bit more caring, accepting and strong while your family makes this transition.

  1. Don’t focus on what you’re missing

It’s important not to allow yourself to focus too much on what you’re missing. Yes, Wimpy coffee will no longer be a thing, the neighbours won’t all be braaiing on weekends and you won’t get your favourite rusks and jam at the local grocer, but you must rather focus on the new things you wouldn’t have had back home. Expats are often preoccupied with drawing comparisons – focusing on negatives or losses. But if you focus instead on those things which you enjoy about your new home, your past won’t dump you into a mindset of perpetual homesickness.

  1. Move because you like the place, not because you want to get away

Expats often flee from their home country and this, more than anything else, becomes their goal for relocation. Advice from others who have done this is to make sure the new place you are moving to is the right place for you. You need to have an affinity for the destination and not merely a need to run away from your place of origin – else you will forever be bitter about your old home and miserable in your new home.

  1. Make an effort to learn the language and customs

There is no easier way to finding your feet in your new country than learning the language and customs in the new place. You may be shy or reserved, but you don’t need to fear being laughed at or called out for making mistakes. Rather ask and observe the locals and you’ll find it far easier to settle in.

  1. Check your morals, behaviour and manners at the door

If you want to settle into your new life, don’t apply your preconceived ideas about morals, behaviour and manners to the locals. Things you may traditionally consider as rude are not necessarily rude in your new country. The social interactions and behaviours of people in this new place will differ, and you shouldn’t try to play the behaviours of the two countries off against each other – it’s simply different, not wrong. The sooner you let go of your ideas of how people are supposed to behave, the sooner you will find your place and make friends.

  1. Have extra cashflow

It may be easier said than done, but most expats advise that you have additional cashflow to get you through the first few months. There will be unforeseen registration and shipment costs, additional fees will be levied on this or that – and you may not have bank accounts in your new country. Be sure to make provision for these costs. If you need assistance with your financial migration, remember that can help you out.

  1. Become an expert on the country

Before you arrive, read up on your new country as much as you can. Understand the history, culture, cuisine, political systems and heritage. Get to know the cities, the people and the icons which people look up to. Find out what their biggest brands, favourite TV shows and best festivals are. Learn the local jokes and banter. If you understand the country and know more about it, conversations will be so much easier and you won’t feel left out.

  1. Don’t take yourself too seriously

You must make peace with the fact that you’ll make a fool of yourself fairly often, especially during the first few months. Be okay with that, else this embarrassment will only make you feel more stressed. Laugh at yourself and allow others to laugh with you. Before you know it you’ll be settled in and those stories about your first few months will become jokes to share around the dinner table for years to come.

  1. Learn to do things for yourself

Some expats have shared that one of the hardest parts was learning to do things for themselves. One noted how she would always rely on her mother to make appointments for her, and another asked her brothers to do the DIY work in her home. It’s incredibly daunting to have to do all of this on your own, but believe that you can and force yourself to become independent – it will only make you a stronger and more rounded person.

  1. Don’t think about going back

Many expats leave a door open to their home country through which they can return. Although your plans should not be cast in stone, this open door hinders your integration into your new home and keeps you from mingling with people. It also makes you constantly compare the two countries, which will make you feel homesick. So be determined to go and stay there indefinitely and tell yourself the door is closed. This may not be true – but once you get yourself in that mindset, you’ll find the move much easier.

  1. Research the place to see what you have to work with

Although many expats research the culture and cities, they don’t always take stock of the stock which is actually available in their new town. Be sure to check what local produce and products are available and where you can get the things you can’t live without. This holds true for people who are vegetarians, have certain medical requirements or are used to eating certain kinds of foods.

  1. Figure the transport out

It’s hard enough trying to learn the language and new routes – so having to navigate around your new town can be incredibly stressful. Learn as much as you can about the options, costs and routes of the local transportation systems before you get there, and once you’ve arrived, give yourself a few days just to travel around town.

  1. Befriend the older generation

Many people who arrive in a new country want the advice of the strong and burly ex-marine next door or the young and in-the-know mum in her SUV, but you’ll find that you can get much more insight and assistance from older locals. Be friendly and ask for their advice and they’ll help you get to know the town. These people are also much more patient and may have time to show you around town. Although older folks are often wary of foreigners, there’s nothing that a home-baked melktert can’t fix.

  1. Be picky about friend and family visits

Expats are often so starved for connection, that they tend to welcome anyone with a hint of South African bush to their homes. Though this is a great way to connect with your roots, be sure to set out ground rules and only allow brief stays from people you aren’t that close too. This could also hold true for family. Though you love to see them, they sometimes hamper your assimilation or prolonged stays may interfere with your new life. Family can be especially draining if they harbour jealousies or resentment at your move, so it’s best to keep those family members away for the first few months of your immigration. It’s a fine balance, so be sure to think things through before opening your door to just any saffa.

  1. Share your culture with your new friends

Fitting in and sampling new tastes is great, but it’s important that you share your own culture and cuisine with your new friends. Many expats prepare their favourite home meals only for their families or other expats from back home, but the best way to make new friends is to make this a reciprocal affair. Invite the neighbourhood over for a braai and a beer and tell them about your home.

  1. Technology is your friend

You will miss home. So make use of technology to connect with your family back home. Although you may have made promises about frequent visits, these usually don’t materialise and you’ll find yourself losing touch with family and friends. So schedule frequent skype calls so you don’t miss out on each other’s lives.

  1. You will NOT get what you expect

No matter how prepared you are, things will definitely not be as you expect. Even if you’ve visited the country or city before, living there permanently is far different to being a tourist. Some things will be disappointing, while you will find loads of surprises along the way as well. Be okay with not knowing.

  1. Make a schedule

Life will never be the way it used to, and along with the mess and disorganisation of the whole move, you will find your stress exacerbated by the unknown. The newness of it all can be overwhelming. So make a schedule with weekly activities and tasks which you and your family can check off. This will give you some achievable goals for the week and make sure you don’t get overburdened by all the stress.

  1. Sign up for everything!

Even if you’re not one for socialising, most expats advise that you get outside your comfort zone and enrol for local craft, hobby or sporting groups and events. Remember – this is a new life, you need to do new things. These new hobbies will fill the void of the things you’ve lost and are essential for your new life.

  1. Don’t be bullied

Even though you want to fit in and feel at home, you shouldn’t make the mistake of simply accepting anything and everything your new life throws at you. It’s essential to go outside your comfort zone, but you shouldn’t feel overwhelmed or feel forced to participate in something or accept things you wouldn’t normally accept. Take it slow, and if you don’t approve of or feel comfortable going somewhere or doing something, then don’t. Even if you’re alone, it’s important you keep a hold of your own identity and preferences or you’ll feel even more lost.

  1. Translate and verify all your documents

Trying to get hold of documentation or qualifications when you are in a new country can be a nightmare. Make sure to have all your official documentation translated and verified by an accredited official or you may get stuck in red tape. Find out beforehand what employers, banks or educational institutions will require of you and be sure to have this documentation ready before you move abroad.

  1. Let go of the guilt trip

One of the hardest parts of moving abroad is the guilt at leaving others behind. Whether you are moving away from friends, had to give your beloved dog up for adoption, or have elder relatives who can’t immigrate – there will be things you feel guilty about. It’s not a good idea to ignore this guilt, but work through it and understand that there isn’t much you can do about it. You can take care of family back home in other ways and schedule time to chat and visit – but let go of the things you can’t change.

We hope these tips will make the ride a bit smoother and more enjoyable and that you’ll find your feet in your new home in no time.

Leave a Reply