10 Things To Know Before Becoming an Expat
There are important things to know before moving abroad. Things like choosing between living in the city or the country.
Or what type of dwelling suits you best. If someone would have told me seven years ago that I'd move abroad, I wouldn't have believed them.
Literally, three months before my husband and I agreed to move to China, the first foreign country we'd call home, I was in total bliss.
My cupcake store in Orlando, Florida was booming. We'd just broken ground on our second location and I was already planning on the next expansion; a cupcake truck.
I've always been a go-getter. My parents called it being a dreamer. But, my dreams always came true. There was nothing I ever wanted that I didn't achieve.
I may have changed my mind ten minutes in, but reaching my goals were as easy as pie.
I hadn't ever considered what it meant to live an expat life. So, when my husband asked me to pack up our family and move abroad, I was in shock.
I wasn't ready to leave the business I'd just started. And then, the monkey wrench. I was pregnant. For two years, we tried to get pregnant and finally when it did happen, we were planning on moving over seas.
I was the first married woman in my group of friends who was about to make the biggest decision in her life. There was no one I could talk to or bounce questions off of.
Ten Things to know before moving abroad
- Everything will take longer than expected
Bank lines, grocery shopping, car rides. Just save yourself a lot of stress and either plan your day early or carry a wine flask. Or both.
- Don't have expectations of life abroad
I didn't have many expectations besides the general ones. But even the smallest of expectations shattered. Once, when I was about to place my then nine-month old into a waiting taxi, a group of mainland Chinese men rushed the taxi and literally took it from me. I was in shock. What if they'd taken off with my kid? Fear then settled in. I realized right then, there are rude people everywhere.
- Meet people as soon as you can
Both times we moved, I stayed indoors a lot. My excuse was that I was on a writing deadline and needed to focus. In reality, I wasn't ready to mingle with new people who wouldn't understand my moods, quirks and sarcasm. Both times we moved, it took me six months to venture out and make friends. It wasn't as if I was lonely. My teen, toddler and husband kept me plenty busy. But, when the teen spent time with her friends and the husband was away at work, conversation lacked with the toddler. Eventually, I found a fabulous group of women and I kicked myself for not having courage earlier on.
- Learn the culture
I can't tell you how many times I became embarrassed when I did something the wrong way or said the wrong thing. Even worse, I wasn't aware just how different the food was going to be in China. In Thailand, I've had better experiences because the international 5-star dining experience is the best in Asia. In China, spitting on the ground is normal. And, in Thailand, you bow your head in prayer-like form to say hello. Every country is different and wonderful in their own way. Also, taking a few traditional cultural courses will help you acclimate to this new world. And, you can make friends in the process.
- Find out the holidays
In the five years I've lived abroad, I've never experienced living in a country that love to take holidays as much as the Thai people. Four-day weekends are common and although that's awesome, it took a few weeks to learn to purchase all your wine and beer prior to a holiday creeping up on you. For example, in Thailand, alcoholic beverages are only sold between the hours of 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. – midnight. That's not to say some restaurants won't serve you. But, most won't. And the supermarkets definitely won't.
- Obtain medical insurance prior to moving abroad
We already had private insurance prior to moving abroad and we've never had to use it because medical services are cheaper than what the bill would cost even with the out-of-network option. But, I've heard horror stories of non-insured expats getting shunned at the hospitals for not having insurance. Some countries, like Spain, won't let you step foot in their country without having private insurance. So, it's best to find out beforehand.
- Take language classes immediately
No, I don't speak Chinese. No, I don't speak Thai. But, I looking back, I wish I would have taken a few language courses. Nothing makes you feel more awkward then locals trying to explain something to you in their language and you have no idea what they're saying. Also, knowing the local language helps with communicating to taxi drivers, shop keepers and restaurants.
- Consider cost of living
There are various differences in cost of living anywhere you go. In Thailand, income taxes are high, but average cost of living is lower when compared to other parts of Asia. In China, income taxes are lower than Thailand, but rental prices are at an all-time high. I suggest to research as much as you can.
If you're moving overseas with kids, consider placing them in a local school (if their young) so that they can adapt more easily with the culture and the language. International schools can be quite expensive. If your job doesn't cover tuition, definitely look into placing them in local schools. My oldest attended one semester in China in a private school when she finally decided to home-school. My youngest wouldn't survive in a local school. So, it totally depends on how long you plan on staying in the country, your budget and how well your kid(s) adapt to new things.
- Have an open mind
People are different, everywhere. From the way we eat, to the way we cook our food. And, it's in this cultural diversity that we learn and grow. Empathy can take you far. Kindness, even further. Don't be quick to judge others. You never know the path they've had to take to get to where they are. So, keep an open mind and an open heart.