Becoming an expat

It’s a big move – and not just in terms of geographical distance. Becoming an expat means change in social and cultural terms as well as, of course, language too.

And depending on what stage of planning you’re at, it may feel as if there’s a never-ending list of things to think about – from accommodation to language training and everything else in between. But making the move abroad is something millions of people have already done – so you’re not alone, and if it sometimes seems challenging, it’s often one of the most rewarding things to do. Broadening horizons, gaining new experience – and maybe even getting a little more sunshine, too!

So without further ado, here are our top 5 expat tips:

Research. Know as much as you can before you go. Go visit if possible before making your decision. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Know Before You Go campaign was set up in order to help people avoid any difficulties overseas.

Get the language. If there’s one ‘expat regret’ that crops up quite a lot it’s people saying that they wish they’d learned the language better before moving. Obviously this depends on where you go – for instance an English speaker in the Netherlands is unlikely to encounter any problems while out and about in the country. But when settling in to Italy or France there are likely to be far fewer English speakers around – and additionally if you’re working for a foreign employer, having the language to a certain standard may be required as part of the employment. Luckily, learning a foreign language is fun, and although it does require effort it’s a rewarding activity.

Be social. Turning up in a new country can feel a little overwhelming at times, bit don’t shy away from social invites. Dive in and start building your network of friends and business acquaintances as soon as you can. And if you’re seeking information about a new place, you can jump onto one of the expat forums and ask people already there – and social media sites like Twitter can be useful for getting information too.

Be healthy and safe. Apparently, according to a recent survey, many people aren’t aware of the difference between a travel policy/ the EHIC and expatriate medical insurance. Make sure you have the required level of cover – there have been stories of people who are uninsured getting turned away at the airport in some countries. It’s also worth remembering that insurance (as opposed to the EHIC) also should cover emergency repatriation or evacuation.

Be prepared for the challenges. Expats face a specific set of circumstances – you’re settling into a new culture, a new town, a new job and often a new language. All at once. Rare would be the expatriate who didn’t feel the strain at some point. However if it feels like things are getting too much and that feeling persists, then it’s important to seek help from a health professional or via the counselling available if there’s an employee assistance programme available as part of the employment package.



This post was written by Gavin M. You can follow him on Twitter here.