“If you only do what you know you can do – you never do very much.” ~ Tom Krause
Moving to another country, even if for a couple of months, can be a daunting experience. And more so if you’re doing it alone! I’ve recently moved to Holland on my own and in the process I’ve compiled some top tips for moving to another country that are fundamental for expats. Becoming an expat can be a very exciting period in your life, so do not fear, go with the flow and enjoy every minute of it as I have!
My top tips for moving to another country:
- The most obvious but by far the most useful – learn the basics of the local language before you land. This is a must. You’ll be able to converse with locals and find your way. I must admit that this is often easier said than done especially when you’re trying to wrap up things before you move. But there are ways to make it easier for you. Obtain language CD’s and play them in your car or on your iPod on the way to work. You don’t need to learn the written language just yet, but get started on conversing first and foremost.
- Read up about cultural norms and the way of life in the area you are moving to. Try and read biographies of locals or expats, travel guides and anything about the region that has been written. This will help prepare you and will ensure a smoother transition.
- Seek out events in the area – anything from expats events to festivals, book clubs, running clubs etc. You’ll be sure to meet some friends and strike up relationships with locals and expats alike.
- Join Facebook Groups in the region by doing a general search on Facebook i.e. ‘South Africans in Germany’ or ‘Expats in Berlin’ etc. etc. I recently joined a Facebook group and met a girl living in my area in Holland who happens to be from the exact same suburb I’m from in Cape Town! And she went to the same high school as me! Never underestimate the power of social media. But also be cautious and go with your gut feeling if you do meet up in person with anyone you’ve met online.
- Don’t only surround yourself with expats. If you do, then you’ll never be able to properly integrate yourself in the culture and the country. Of course expats can be a great source of knowledge, but locals have a wealth of knowledge that is much more extensive than expats. Expats tend to clump together and only have expat friends. Try and break out of this if possible and befriend locals too.
- Study the transport system as best as you can before you get there. This will save you from confusion when you arrive. Buy a monthly or yearly transport card that will give you the freedom to hit the ground running as soon as you arrive. Get lost in the city or town as part of your exploration. But always keep a map of the transport routes in reach.
- Learn to laugh at yourself. A few days ago when I was travelling by tram the tram suddenly stopped and I pressed the ‘open door’ button to get off. But the door didn’t open. The young man next to me was laughing so hard. Then I turned to look at him and we laughed together. I soon realized that the tram hadn’t come to a complete halt and the stop was still a couple of metres away. He glanced down at the map in my hand (I’d circled numerous places) and he said, ‘organized indeed!’ and then roared with laughed. As soon as the tram started moving again I nearly flew off my feet right into him. He could tell I had no idea of how a tram worked, let alone keeping my feet on the floor! We got off at the same stop and he said, ‘You’ve had a good start to the day!’ We chuckled and then parted.
- Phone home often. It will keep you sane and help you keep in touch with loved ones.
- Take one suitcase initially. Travel as light as possible. You can always send for more of your belongings at a later stage. Lots of suitcases = high stress. And that’s the last thing you want when moving.
- Research where English-speakers or expats hang out, find out where they live and move close by. You’ll at least have a support system of like-minded individuals when you arrive. You’ll want to speak English initially and it’s good to have people you can relate to upon arrival.
- Stay in a budget hotel for the first few weeks until you find proper accommodation. Get to know the areas well before you sign a rental agreement. Location is everything and you want to be near public transport and amenities. Be warned that expats are often ripped off in many ways so do your research as much as possible and know the going rate for accommodation.
- Ensure you follow, understand and respect all the government procedures when moving. Do thorough research both on and offline.
- Stick to your hobbies and the things you enjoy as much as possible, as early on as possible. Hobbies keep us sane and keep us grounded in what we know and what we enjoy. For example, if you’re an avid reader, bring a couple of books with you or find a local bookstore with English books. Or if you have a hobby that is sports-oriented, seek out the nearest sports club, join and stick to a weekly routine. These are also great ways to meet people and integrate.
- If you’re using the Internet to find information about something in the area, do not use English phrases/keywords when you search. The good stuff will be in the local language so translate phrases before using them to search. Once you’ve found a site that looks informative, simply translate the entire page (you should easily be able to do this and some browsers automatically ask you if you want to translate the page when its in a foreign language). Remember that English-language search results tend to be geared towards ripping off expats who are new and who are unfamiliar with the way things work.
If you’re a new expat, good luck and as difficult as it can be, always seek out the positive. Do you have any other tips for moving to another country? Share them below!