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Ask the expats: Top tips for settling in abroad

Relocating is always a tough task and settling in to a new culture/environment can be extremely problematic. No matter how many expert guides you read, the fact is that there is nobody better qualified to give you advice than somebody who’s had to do it themselves! Below is an unranked list of 10 top tips from expats living throughout the world with vastly different backgrounds.

Take a long vacation in your new home country

Richard Bexon, originally from the UK and living in Costa Rica for the past eight years, recommends that “Before making the jump into living in another country I would highly suggest taking a long vacation there to make sure that the country you think you are moving to is the real country. Meaning that you are not seeing the country through your holiday glasses, as it can be very different.”

Richard spent five months living in Costa Rica prior to committing to a move, ensuring that he was entirely happy living there before beginning the arduous process of relocating.

Join clubs to meet people with shared interests

Making friends in your new home country is a key part of settling and Ryan Mossny, who moved from Canada to Western Perth in Australia, recommends joining clubs to meet similar people. Mossny offered us his own personal experience: “In my case I joined the Canada Club of WA as its members were Canadians and anyone interested in Canada. It has helped me to make connections in both the local and expat community and made living so far away from home a lot easier.”

Adapt to the environment you find yourself in

Brett Isis, a US expat living in Shanghai, highlights the need to “adapt to the environment you’re in, not the other way around – whether it be eating style, driving style, phone etiquette or anything else.” Following this advice will help reduce the problem of culture shock, as you immerse yourself in the culture, and make it easier to build bridges with the locals.

House-sit to get a feel for the country or area

“I am British and currently living in New Zealand. The NZ countryside has always been somewhere I imagined myself living and I’ve utilised house sitting assignments to sample life in various locations across the country over the past 12 months.” This is the guidance of Charli Moore, who says that house-sitting enabled her to live like a local and determine whether she would want to live there permanently.

Learn the basics of the language

Gene McManus has been an expat in Japan, Lithuania, Ecuador, Slovakia, and Canada and is therefore an expert in settling into new cultures. He recommends learning the basics, as even as little as “hello”, “goodbye”, “please” and “thank you” will demonstrate a desire to integrate into your new home nation.

Establish yourself as a regular

Jasmine Stephenson, who relocated from the US to Colombia, recommends that you “find a few local places that you like and visit them often. Establishing yourself as a regular in a few different places will help you feel connected to your environment and also give you the chance to meet other regulars too.” This is an excellent tip for making friends in your new home nation and one that is often omitted from typical guides.

Make a support system in your new home country

Leva Zinnikas recommends building a new network of friends after relocating, as your family and existing friends will no longer be close by. On moving from Lithuania to the USA, her motto was “Don’t be a stranger. Meet as many people as you can. There was no family anywhere close. So making friends was goal number one.”

Zinnikas used the site Meet Up in order to make a new support system, which she has been able to rely on in her endeavours in America.

Accept that there will be bad days

Cat Gaa has lived in Seville for six years, moving from America after studying in Spain, and advises expats to accept that there will be rough days and disappointment at times. Relocating is not an easy process but “being realistic about the experience you will have can help you cope greatly with the tough times, and make the small triumphs an even bigger deal.”

Don’t settle into your old routine

“One tip for expats is to not settle in to a typical routine from their home town. Instead, make friends with locals, try some local cuisine and get out there to see the town by walking around.” This is the advice of Sabeen Ali who was born in Pakistan, grew up in New York and now lives in Macedonia. By doing this you will immerse yourself in the culture, meet new people and ultimately integrate into the local community.

Bring a part of home with you

Brandy Bell considers herself a nomad/permanent expat and instructs expats and travellers to take some reminders of home with them wherever they go. Bell states that “the secret to smooth settling is to pack like a pro. Find the three items (that are practical / packable) that symbolise home to you, and bring them. Mine are the painted silk I bought in Turkey, the small wooden sign that says ‘dream big’, and a eucalyptus oil diffuser that I spray around the house. No matter where I land, they’re with me.”

3 Responses to “Ask the expats: Top tips for settling in abroad”

  1. Jennifer Peters

    Hi Charli Moore,

    I have always wanted to live in NZ but the cost of accommodation and life there has always been an issue. Which house sitting website do you use and how do you go about finding house sits?


  2. Jamie Waddell

    Hi Jennifer,

    I’m Jamie and I wrote the article. When I spoke to Charli she said she used I hope that helps.

    I’ve got a couple of pals who’ve recently moved out to Auckland and are absolutely loving it.

    All the best,


  3. Colin Guest

    Over the past years I have had a number of housesitters looking after my house and dog while I was off on my travels. In general I had no problems, until I had my last house sitters. Despite their signing a contract in which it stated they were liable to pay the electric bill, they refused to pay. this left me with quite a bill to pay. On writing to the company I used they replied they could do nothing about it. In view of this I have not and will not use house sitters again.
    To get over this problem, I suggest that if using a house sitter you take a refundable deposit from them. Then if they do not pay any bills they have signed to say they will pay, deduct the bills from their deposit.

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