What Should I Do As a First-Time Expat? 6 Tips for Living Abroad

Modern Bridges of Europe

What Should I Do As a First-Time Expat? 6 Tips for Living Abroad – Moving to a foreign country is a brave decision even for the most experienced traveler, but it’s even more daunting for the first-time expat. 

Though it requires a lot of preparation, moving abroad can be an amazing experience giving you opportunities to learn about new places, people, and cultures. It’s an excellent move to push you out of your comfort zone as you integrate with new norms of cultural conduct, business ethics, and various uncertainties. 

Before you make that move, there are tons of things to think about, organize, and make proper decisions. From finding the best accommodation to getting the right visa, organizing your belongings, shipping, and all sorts of logistical and administrative issues – you will have to come up with a plan for all of them. You may be wondering about the best first steps to take to make your transition as easy as possible.

As experienced expats who have relocated to new countries numerous times, we’ve put together some helpful tips and strategies to help you make that leap and go off on a successful start as a first-time expat. 

Beautiful National Parks of Europe

Tip #1: Give Yourself Plenty of Time to Move 

So many people try to move ASAP and they tend to miss a lot of essential steps, resulting in fees, fines, and missed opportunities. To ensure a smooth transition and avoid financial setbacks, it’s crucial to start your plan no less than 6 months before moving abroad. This timeframe allows you to leave no stone uncovered and provides ample opportunity to bolster your savings before the big move. Consider entrusting your finances to one of the best nationwide banks, as they can offer reliable services and a sense of security during your initial months abroad. Saving and sensibly planning your finances will provide a certain cushion of protection for the first few months abroad, ensuring you have a strong financial foundation to build upon in your new destination.

For instance, children’s education shouldn’t be underestimated as an expense. Depending on your dream destination, childcare in the early years may be reasonably costlier compared to educating your child in your home country. This is mostly because you may be considering enrolling your child in an international school in that country which often costs more than local schools. 

There are other expenses to consider like security deposits, transportation of your belongings, visa applications, travel medical insurance, and the necessary help from immigration lawyers and tax advisors. Most countries even require that you have a valid passport for at least six months beyond the length of your visa. That’s why you need to plan at least six months out and secure savings for the same period. 

Stunning Castles of Europe

Tip #2: Know Your Long-Term Goals (if you have any!)

Many expats want to start their own business abroad at some point, change career paths, get involved with an international company, or even begin expanding international investments. All these are possible goals and because they are long-term, they require a clear roadmap that starts from the best decisions early on. 

Making the right decisions early on can make all the difference in your move abroad. That’s why we also recommend setting and outlining all your goals – both short-term and long-term goals. Setting these objectives and milestones will help provide an anchor for those times when you begin to worry, especially during your initial time abroad. Whether it’s following your career goals, deciding to be with your other half, or other reasons why you’ve embarked on that adventure, goals will ground you and always serve as a reminder of your purpose in living abroad.

Lakeside Towns of Europe

Tip #3: Research Exhaustively 

Moving is a lot more than packing and unpacking your belongings. Avoid overlooking or underrating any problem areas by carrying out a lot of research. You’ll also make tons of decisions depending on the place, the government, customs, and culture. The more you know about the place, the government, and the customs, the better. Spend time reading up on the local rules, tolerance of safety, bureaucracy, expectations for conveniences, healthcare requirements, cost of living versus quality of life, employment laws, customs, and regulations. You can learn a lot about what it’s like to live in the country by looking it up on our Country Tool!

Learn as much as you can about cultural differences. Don’t just stop at the visible culture in how people dress, the type of music they prefer, and their food. Research on the culture guiding norms, social codes, social interactions, and beliefs. Never forget that what’s polite in one culture may be absurd and even rude in another. The expectations of friendship may even be different. 

Observe how towns and cities are organized as well. Familiarize yourself with the city’s layout, available transportation, government offices, and more. Thorough research will help you remain proactive, plan effectively, and set up contingencies for when challenges arise. 

Beautiful Coast of Europe

Tip #4: Make a Plan for Before, During, and After the Move

While your goals cover things on a macro level, you’ll want to create plans on a micro level as well. You need to make a short-term and long-term plan that takes those goals and breaks them down into tasks, organized by schedules and milestones. That way, you won’t find yourself overwhelmed about what to do first. 

What if you wish to change jobs at some point or build your business? In this case, the visa you use for entry might not be the visa you need to achieve permanent residency or citizenship. Working as a digital nomad, for instance, always has very different visa requirements when compared to in-person work or entrepreneurship.

You also need to plan how you will get your finances sorted. As you save up for your trip, your plan will outline how much you should put aside for X number of months to get your estimated figure. You can use our Moving Abroad Budgeting Worksheet to calculate your moving costs and monthly expenses in your new country. You will also need a local bank account and have to figure out the best way to transfer money from your home country while keeping overseas charges low. 

Even before moving, you need to plan which of your belongings to place in storage, ship abroad, or sell. That said, also expect mistakes, especially when taking local public transit or trying to shop for groceries which are often common experiences first-time expats deal with. For instance, in your home country, you could simply stop by the local grocer and pick up your regular items. In the new country, you may have to figure out new ingredients, flavors, and brands, and often in a language you are still trying to learn. Embrace all of these tiny challenges and plan contingencies to give yourself the appropriate time and space to settle into your new country.

Cafe Culture of Europe

Tip #5: Get Local Assistance and Perspective

Many of your biggest decisions require a natural perspective of your intended destination. For instance, deciding on accommodation is a lot bigger than signing the contract for the rental lease or buying a property. You need to consider if the neighborhood is suitable for you. The possibility of networking with others is important, especially for people who would love to hit the ground running when it comes to interacting with other expats and locals. For remote workers, strong Wi-Fi and the chance to have uninterrupted periods for working is a necessity. If you have kids, you may also consider the type of schools nearby and what kind of education to expect. Those moving to tourist attractions might consider living a bit outside the actual hotspots to avoid the crowds. There are even the hassles of keeping your original phone number, getting a new phone number, or transitioning to an internet phone service. What if you wish to keep most of your money in your bank account in your home country and use an international ATM or online payment provider? There’s also the problem of permits, and licenses for every other detail such as the need for a new driving license in some countries. 

All these are areas where your relocation consultant comes in handy. They are highly knowledgeable and can help you figure out perks or difficulties you haven’t already considered. Relocation consultants also help with actual job searches, apartment hunting, and navigating tons of overwhelming and confusing bureaucratic issues that would have otherwise taken too much time and resources. At Expat Empire, we bring you access to the right professionals for every phenomenal decision to help guide your footsteps right.

Charming Cities of Europe

Tip #6: Take Language Classes 

Even when you are moving to a country where a majority of people learned English in school, learning the language will help you go beyond the expat bubble and mingle, connect, and build authentic relationships with the locals. That’s why you should learn the language of the place you wish to live abroad.

Learning using apps such as Duolingo may only provide you with the basics. If you wish to pick up on common expressions and colloquialisms and use them correctly, consider working directly with another person. You can either do this in person or online. Remember, you don’t have to learn everything before you arrive. You can continue learning after you have moved. 

Besides your language tutor, when you arrive, you will also have the chance to chat with random people like your neighbor, the shop assistant, or the mail person which offers more avenues to practice in a more relaxed environment. That said, when you come, you shouldn’t shy away from exploring your new neighborhood or taking part in sports and activities that the locals tend to prefer compared to foreigners. This further provides more opportunities to connect, interact and immerse yourself in everything that locals have to offer.

Beautiful Beaches and Forests

Move Overseas With Profound Confidence As a First Time Expat

Moving to a new country is exciting, but it doesn’t also have to be overwhelming or daunting. There’s no doubt that going on a vacation for a few days and living abroad are entirely different experiences. Although there are a lot of moving parts to consider, there are also tons of guidance you can leverage to confidently make your move as an expat. You don’t have to make those countless brave decisions and preparations on your own. 

At Expat Empire, we bring to you a tailored array of Consulting Services so you can make that transition with much-needed peace of mind. Our Timeline Planning service will help you gain clarity on where you are right now and help you plan while setting the right goals and milestones before, during, and after your move abroad. You can gain some leverage with our 1-on-1 Coaching sessions for a comprehensive guide to facilitate your planning process as you embark on this new adventure in your life.

As the founder of Expat Empire, David McNeill is focused on inspiring people to move abroad and showing them how to do it. David started Expat Empire because he has a genuine passion for living abroad. He left the United States in 2014 and has since lived in Tokyo, Berlin, and Porto.