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How to Live Abroad: 16 Tips from Expats

Moving abroad? There’s a lot to plan and do before you go—and even more to sort out after you arrive. That’s why we’ve reached out to people who’ve done it before to get their best advice for living abroad. Whether you’re a military family moving overseas or solo traveler looking for adventure in a new place, these 16 tips from travel abroad experts can help you!

Don’t Let Fear Stop You

Girl standing in front of temple rubble. Photo by Instagram user @mappingmegan
Photo via @mappingmegan

If you’re thinking about moving to another country, Megan Jerrard’s advice is to dive straight in! The creator of Mapping Megan advises anyone dreaming of taking the leap to just do it.

“It’s natural to be scared of the unknown, especially when it comes to uprooting your whole life and moving abroad,” Jerrard shared. “But I wholeheartedly believe that the things we regret most in life are the opportunities missed, the chances we didn’t take, and the things we didn’t do.”

She also explains that in the event of a worst-case scenario, you can always come back to your home. “But the point is that unless you make it happen, you’ll never know. And there’s nothing worse than having ‘what ifs’ hanging over your head as you go through life.”

Plan the Logistics

Girl holding a yellow passport. Photo by Instagram user @prettylittlepassports
Photo via @prettylittlepassports

When it comes to moving overseas tips, making a to-do list and planning ahead is something Kamila Zawadzka always encourages. Thinking through budgets, finding a new job, and getting short-term accommodations ultimately led her to creating her living abroad blog, London New Girl.

“If you fail to prepare, then prepare to fail,” Zawadzka explained. “Moving abroad takes some serious planning, and while the admin side can be totally sleep-inducing, it’s 100% necessary to make sure you tie up loose ends at home and set yourself up for success in your new country.”

According to Zawadzka, taking the proper steps to secure your visa, gather the right documents, and save enough money can be the difference from moving indefinitely or having to return home after a couple months.

FIND YOUR STORE

Stay Open to Things Changing

Girl in yellow jacket staring at mountains
Photo via @migratingmiss

If your every day is an adventure, things are bound to go awry. Even with the best plans for living and working abroad, things will change and the unexpected will happen. When it comes to relocating abroad, Sonja Bolger of Migrating Miss advises travelers to avoid getting tied down too soon to avoid any hiccups.

“My best tip is to not go with too many plans,” Bolger added. “You don’t know what’s going to happen with work or where you’ll like living, so it’s a good idea not to lock yourself into a contract for anything too soon.”

Give Yourself Time to Adjust

Little girl standing inside Vienna museum. Photo by Instagram user @theexpatchronicle
Photo via @theexpatchronicle

Trying to adjust to life in a new city is an even trickier transition if you’re moving to a different country. While you probably want to get settled as soon as possible, some things will just take time. This was especially difficult for Lauren Covino-Smith, creator of The Expat Chronicle, as she loves to check things off her to-do list and adjust quickly to changes.

“I had to force myself to slow down and allow the relocation process to happen,” Covino-Smith said. “And after two years living abroad, I’ve learned that allowing yourself to adjust naturally will make you happier in the long run.”

She also says that when moving or traveling abroad, some age-old advice can be helpful: “Remember, life is about the journey, not the destination.”

Know Your Body

Woman facing a building skyline in China. Photo by Instagram user @thatsabryant
Photo via @thatsabryant

Having Multiple Sclerosis hasn’t stopped Ashley Bryant from following her travel dreams. From living in different places to traveling frequently to raise money for dontmsme—a tablet-based system she created to connect people living with MS to support groups—Bryant has gained a lot of insight on how to thrive with a chronic illness abroad.

“Continue to listen to your body while you’re on this journey,” Bryant said. “Find out where the closest hospital is and how to get a car service or ambulance if it’s available and you need it. Make sure you have all your meds.”

She also encourages travelers to do research on where they’re going so they’ll know what to expect with different cultures. “Understand that accessibility won’t be the same everywhere, and some places won’t be accessible. Plan accordingly.”

Compromise with Travel Partners

Two men holding hands staring at a grassy hill. Photo by Instagram user @coupleofmen
Photo via @coupleofmen

After three years of living abroad solo, Jerrard met someone and fell in love. Even though she’d been traveling alone for some time, she says the change happened smoothly.

“Ideally, if you’ve found the right travel partner, there won’t be any transition period required, and it’ll just feel like a natural fit,” Jerrard said. However, even with the right person, she still has tips for traveling as a couple that can help make the journey as enjoyable as possible.

“With any type of travel companion, though, you do need to understand that there’s now another point of view, another set of ideas, and another set of interests to take into account when you’re traveling, so you need to be flexible and willing to meet each other in the middle so that each person is having equal input into the travel experience.”

Travel Light

African woman in white dress standing next to a building. Photo by Instagram user @thatsabryant
Photo via @thatsabryant

Not sure what to take when moving abroad? It’s probably less than you think! Embracing minimalism to help you declutter before you go or even after you arrive can help you live more with less.

“Don’t feel like you have to bring your entire life with you,” Bryant said. “You’re going to find new things that you won’t find at home.”

This advice also applies for any day trips, extended vacations, or future moves while you’re abroad. Packing light helps you feel freer to roam and offers you the suitcase space for new treasures. Still wondering how much is enough? Check out this guide to deciding what to pack for your overseas move.

Be Respectful of Different Cultures

Girl in yellow sari in front of a mosque. Photo by Instagram user @glographics
Photo via @glographics

One of the many benefits of moving abroad is getting to know people from different cultures. To ensure you don’t offend anyone—and to look less like a tourist—be sure to do your research about the culture first.

“While it’s important to stay true to who you are while living abroad, respecting the culture in which you now live is super important,” Covino-Smith shared.

As a U.S. citizen living abroad, she learned to reel in her sarcastic nature when needed. “Certain cultures find it inappropriate to crack jokes with strangers. Others simply won’t understand the humor behind them. Point being, learn about your new neighbors and respect their way of life.”

Brush Up On the Language

Girl standing in the middle of crosswalk in Tokyo. Photo by Instagram user @fracosma
Photo via @fracosma

“This sounds really trivial, but learn some of the language,” Bryant said. “Even if it’s just a few phrases before you move.”

Most of the people you meet overseas won’t speak your native language, so it’s good to study up on the basic vocabulary and common phrases of your new country’s language before you go so you don’t get lost or confused.

Practicing the language can also help you feel more prepared and get settled quicker. Not sure where to begin? Apps like BabbelDuolingo, and many more can get you up to speed. You can also check out helpful phrases to know before you travel.

Join Local Groups to Make Friends

Group of girls sitting in the grass. Photo by Instagram user @beebop123
Photo via @beebop123

Making new friends is a common piece of moving abroad advice. So it should come as no surprise that, after leaving home in Melbourne to start over in London, Zawadzka started investing time and energy into meeting people.

“So many studies have proven that we need friends to feel happier and more connected to society,” Zawadzka said. “No matter where you fall on the introvert-extrovert scale, we all need someone to talk to every now and then.”

This desire to develop her own network and share it with other female expats led her to found the London New Girl Facebook group. Rather than waiting to meet people the old-fashioned way, using Facebook groups, Meetup, and other local online resources can expedite the process.

Befriend Locals & Expats

Girl in orange skirt standing with local villagers. Photo by Instagram user @mappingmegan
Photo via @mappingmegan

Meeting new people can be one of the hardest parts of moving to a new country. But Jerrard highlights the importance of befriending expats who share similar experiences, as well as locals who can help you adjust faster.

“You can obviously still keep in touch with your friends and family back home,” Jerrard encouraged. “But the biggest reason a place feels like home is often all down to your role in the community—whether you feel welcomed, feel like you have support, feel as though you belong.”

Put Yourself Out There

Guy wearing glitter and holding a rainbow flag. Photo by Instagram user @travelsofadam
Photo via @travelsofadam

If you’re moving abroad for a year or settling in for the long haul, there’s some overseas advice that’s universal. “My number one tip for new expats and immigrants is to get out there and be social,” said Adam Groffman.

The writer behind Travels of Adam says making friends as an adult—especially as a member of the LGBTQ community—isn’t always easy, so just getting out there is key. He encourages anyone who’s traveling or moving overseas to try new things and meet everyone who will speak with you.

“If you’re moving to a place where you don’t know the language fluently, look for other expat and international groups and meetups because they can be a helpful bridge into adjusting to your new home.”

Invest in a Capsule Wardrobe

Neutral clothing items and shoes laid out on a bed. Photo by Instagram user @latina.minimalista
Photo via @latina.minimalista

Be sure to downsize your wardrobe before moving out of the country. Lydia Bradbury, a military wife and creator of The Wild Bradburys has found that streamlining outfit options is crucial to living abroad or traveling with kids.

“Capsule wardrobes are key,” Bradbury said. “Giving each child one hefty drawer for clothing is ideal for saving space.”

Not only do capsule wardrobes work for traveling families, but they’re a great idea for solo travelers as well. Worried you’ll get bored of wearing the same things? Here’s some inspiration for creating a capsule wardrobe that isn’t bland.

FIND YOUR STORE

Stay on Top of Organization

Calendar and clock and hooks on a wall. Photo by Instagram user @organizerjanet
Photo via @organizerjanet

Maintaining organization and schedules can make getting settled a lot easier. This is especially true if you’re moving abroad with kids. For Covino-Smith, having a whiteboard calendar that everyone has access to at home is key to keeping track of three children and any relocating overseas tasks.

“It was super helpful when moving abroad because we had tons of dates to remember!” Covino-Smith said. “When our goods shipment would arrive, when our appointment to apply for residency cards was, deadline for registering the kids for school and activities, new doctors’ appointments—the list went on! And our calendar helped to make sure we were all on the same page.”

Change Your Grocery Habits

Three women standing at a meat counter in a market. Photo by Instagram user @pilarlj3
Photo via @pilarlj3

Another pro tip for moving abroad is to say goodbye to bulk shopping. Bradbury says that living outside of the U.S. often requires you to shop more frequently.

“As Americans, we have grown accustomed to oversized kitchens and refrigerators,” Bradbury explained. “These sizes are not normal everywhere else in the world. People shop smaller more often to accommodate their available kitchen space. This also creates a lot less waste.”

Not only do they buy less because of smaller kitchens, but it’s also a part of the culture in many places to shop daily for fresh ingredients. Head to nearby markets or stop for produce at the stand by your home to slow down and embrace the art of cooking in your new city!

Be Adventurous

Man and woman parasailing over crystal blue waters. Photo by Instagram user @tthaisgoulart
Photo via @tthaisgoulart

Say yes to new things and be spontaneous to make the most of your time in a new country. Covino-Smith reminds expats to get experimental with everything from different ways to prepare regional dishes to trying to dress like a local.

“Part of a successful relocation is embracing all the new experiences that come your way,” Covino-Smith said. “Everything from culture and language to food and travel. I’m not saying you’ll love it all, but simply by opening your mind to the adventures of being an expat, your experience will be enriched beyond your wildest dreams!”

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