As we prepare for our big Trans-Atlantic move in a few weeks, everything has been a blur of selling and donating furniture; packing up our most treasured belongings; seeing friends; and going on our favorite walks one last time.
After 4 years in Boston, it’s very bittersweet for us to leave. We have a wonderful community here, and have loved living in New England. Boston is a fantastic city to live in, and 4 years truly flew by.
While we are sad to leave, we are also so excited for what comes next– a new adventure in Amsterdam, a city we’ve never visited before!
As we started preparing to become first-time expatriates, we noticed we were feeling a bit out of our depth. With the exception of study abroad in college, neither of us has lived outside of North America before, and the expat experience is a new one for us.
With that in mind, we reached out to our blogger friends, asking for their best tips and tricks– what to expect from expat life; what surprised them; and what we should be sure to know! We’ve compiled those tips into an article for those with similar questions. It’s been super helpful for us, and we hope it will be for you, too!
1. Keep track of your paperwork
Submitted by Kylie from Between England and Iowa
When you’re an expat, you’ll have a lot of paperwork! Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of everything. For example, my first U.S. Green Card (permanent resident status) was only temporary. 90 days before the expiration date, I had to apply to get the conditions removed. However, they don’t tell you how and when to do it– it’s something you are expected to calculate and find out how to do yourself!
On top of visas that may have expiry dates, you’ll also have to keep track of passports expiring, potentially different tax deadlines and requirements (especially as a U.S. expat that will need to continue filing U.S. taxes), etc. I also decided to keep up my right to vote in my home country in case I decided to repatriate. This was another form that I had to fill out every year to say I was still an overseas voter.
A good idea is to keep a document or a written list of all the paperwork expiration dates, just so you don’t miss anything!
2. Resist the temptation to over-pack
Submitted by Jackie from Jou Jou Travels
When moving to another country, it’s often difficult to determine what to bring, and you might have the tendency to want to overpack! The best advice would be to simplify your life and bring half of what you’d want to bring. The last thing you want to do is have a ton of stuff and realize there is nowhere to put it all.
Depending on where you are moving from, the reality is you might be moving into a much smaller place. For example, if you’re moving to the UK the living space might be half of what you’re used to if coming from the U.S. The closet space can be very minimal, too.
Many places come furnished already with a bed, couch, kitchen table, and even silverware. Do your research to determine if that will be the case in the country you move to.
So what should you pack?
- Stick to the essentials, like your toiletries and clothing that you have worn at least once in the past month.
- Bring some photos of family and friends so you are reminded of them if you feel lonely.
- Don’t forget any important documents such as a passport, visa information, and your medication.
- If you’re a woman going to a big walking city, don’t bring all your high heels!
- Lastly, don’t bring anything with a unique plugin, as adapters don’t work well for long term use in another country.
When you move abroad, one of the great things is getting to meet new people from a different country. But sometimes it is also nice to connect with people from your home country as well, and it is always good to have a community of people who understand your culture, speak your language, and are happy to help out in a tricky situation.
Having moved to several different countries, I have always joined Facebook groups for the area I am moving to for people from my home country of Ireland. For example, when I moved to Australia, I joined a group called Irish around Sydney. It was great to connect with lots of people from home, get advice, and it even helped me get an amazing job working for an Irish-owned company.
I absolutely love meeting new people when moving abroad and experiencing different cultures, but it is always nice to have the comfort of home to fall back on if need be. I have found in most places I move to that there are groups like this and they make the transition to living in a new place much easier.
4. Don’t underestimate how much you’ll miss food from home
Submitted by Mark from Where Are Those Morgans
Moving abroad is an exciting, stressful, nerve-racking, and expensive administrative process. But it is all worth it in the end– once you arrive in your new home, new city, new country.
There are endless positives to taking on a move abroad, but you will face some unexpected challenges along the way, including things you might never have given a moment’s thought, like food.
I moved from York in the UK to New York City in the U.S.– nothing crazy, and for the most part relatively similar in culture. But differences in staple groceries are astounding.
Bacon, baked beans, sausages, chicken, crisps (chips for Americans!), tinned soups and so many other things you take for granted are no longer what you are used to. It doesn’t take long before novelty wears off and you begin to miss food from home.
An Indian curry in the UK is very different to a curry in the U.S., and don’t even get me started on Fish and Chips with mushy peas!
The same will happen to you, and maybe to more of an extreme if moving to a country with a far greater culture gap.
One solution is to find an online store (a British store in my case) and order the most important things you can’t live without. I sometimes even use Amazon to ship British foods when I’m desperate. This is going to cost you though, sometimes to an unjustifiable price point.
Another cliché (but serious and viable) solution is to fill a suitcase with non-perishables, such as tea bags and biscuits. My suitcase contains at least 1000 Yorkshire tea bags every time I visit the UK.
Compared to documentation, visas, houses and making friends, food may seem irrelevant at first. But once the dust has settled, simple things like familiar foods may become your main source of homesickness.
A very important check before you decide to move countries is to organise your medication supply. If you take a prescription regularly, you should think about making sure you will be able to get them in your new country.
There are a few solutions to manage your medication supply. They will depend on things such as:
- How often do you take the medication?
- Can you get it without a prescription?
- Do you need to have regular blood tests or doctor visits?
- How much will it cost? (Both how much you pay and how much it costs in your destination country.)
You can ask your family to get it for you and send it– which makes sense if your new country is not far or you’re planning to move countries often. Check with your home country’s healthcare provider whether this is an option for you. In the UK, for example, you lose the right to free healthcare services, including prescription drugs, after three months of being abroad.
If this also applies to you, I recommend checking local expat forums to find the best doctor practices and pharmacies where you can source your medication in your new destination.
6. Learn the language
Submitted by De Wet from Museum of Wander
Expats can usually be divided into two distinct groups: those who speak the language of their new country and those who don’t. While learning a whole new language, or even a new alphabet, can seem overwhelming, it will reward your efforts in leaps and bounds.
You could find language exchange partners or sign up for language classes in your new city. However, we have found that getting a private tutor is the best way to learn a new language. A tutor will not only help you unlock the language, but also be your link to the culture of your new country.
You can choose to practice the language around certain topics, such as visiting the post office or ordering food over the phone or banking at home – and then go out together and practice it in real life. This gives you a much more authentic exposure to using the language than sitting behind a textbook in a class.
Eventually your tutor can also become a friend, and introduce you to their friends. Thanks to our tutor (who is now our friend) we have met other locals, we now know where to get the best hotpot in town, we have the inside scoop on the best places to visit in China, how to haggle for a discount at the wet market, and where to go for acupuncture when suffering from a migraine, just to name a few.
7. Bureaucracy can take longer than you think
Submitted by Vicki from Vicki Viaja
Emigrating to a new country is never just a walk in the park. There are many things you think about before you leave, such as the fear of not making friends and possibly feeling alone, or problems with the language. But what many future expats do not think about early enough is the bureaucratic procedures.
Sure, the bureaucracy of a country and the paperwork you will need in your new country, such as a visa, resident registration, or a social security number, are obviously not the most exciting processes when emigrating. However, since I started living abroad in Spain, I know how important it is to apply for your papers in advance, as it can avoid a lot of red-tape time.
If you already have your papers together before you arrive, or at least know which papers you need and where you can apply for them, you can save a lot of time after arriving in the new country. With the time saved, you can then get right into the fun part of living abroad, like exploring your new country and making new friends there.
8. Think twice about renting a storage unit back home
Submitted by Megan from Packing Up the Pieces
One of the greatest tips I wish I had known before moving abroad was to simply sell most of my belongings. Six years into my journey, there was one thing that was continuing to take space in my mind: the dreaded storage unit that I had shoved everything into before I departed. It’s hard when becoming an expat, we want to “hold onto” items for when we return, but plans can always change.
After 6 years on the road, I realized that I was still paying an unnecessary monthly fee for things I truly had no purpose for. I went into my storage unit and discovered I didn’t even realize what was in there.
Some of the furniture was destroyed by the weight of all my belongings. There was some damage, even though the unit was temperature-controlled. I tried to sell the big items, but no one wanted them because 6 years was just enough time for furniture and clothing to go out of style. I had literally spent over $7,000 on this storage unit, and everything inside was worthless.
Moral of the story is… let go of most of your personal belongings, and sell them straight away. Less is more.
9. Investigate whether travel insurance or local health insurance is the best fit for you
Submitted by Emily from Wander-Lush
Many people neglect to consider the pros and cons of travel insurance versus local health insurance when they move abroad, and just assume that a long-term travel insurance policy is the best fit. Depending on where you go, it can be much more economical to opt for a local policy when you arrive.
I recently relocated from Australia to Tbilisi. One of the biggest things I wish I knew before arriving in Georgia was how affordable day-to-day medical care is: GP visits, dental care, regular blood tests and the like can all be done for a very low out-of-pocket expense.
Everyone’s needs are different and you’ll have to put a bit more research into your options if you have a pre-existing condition, for example. But for young people in good health, it can often work out better if you sign up for a local healthcare plan in-country. This is especially true if you’re going to be in one place for a longer period of time and you don’t need the extras travel insurance provides, such as cancellation insurance or coverage for lost baggage.
When you do travel, you can always take out an extra short-term travel insurance policy on top of your health insurance for peace of mind. Just check the conditions and make sure you’re allowed to sign up when you’re already overseas.
Peace of mind is one of the most helpful feelings while living abroad as a new expat. Appointing a power of attorney either back in your home country or internationally can go a long way in achieving this peace of mind.
A power of attorney is a legal document stating that someone, preferably a trusted family member or a lawyer, can act on your behalf. The document can also be called a living will or healthcare directive. Appointing someone as your power of attorney can be especially helpful in matters pertaining to medical, financial, business or personal matters.
If you find yourself in a serious medical emergency and cannot speak for yourself, your POA can speak with your insurance company and hospital while you heal. If the foreign ATMs have rejected all of your credit and debit cards, your POA can go into your bank in your home country local bank to discuss lifting security alerts and updating your PINs.
Appointing a power of attorney can be quick and easy, so don’t skip this step before moving abroad, as you will never regret having that added level of safety.
11. Keep in mind “expectations versus reality” of living abroad
Submitted by Steph + Lewis from Book It Let’s Go!
Living abroad has certain connotations– that you will be spending all of your days sightseeing or on the beach, or exploring your new far-flung destination. But the reality is that life as an expat is pretty much the same as life back home, just with a few culture shocks. Even these culture shocks become the norm once you have lived somewhere for a while, and you will fall into the same routines you had in your home country.
When you first announce you are moving abroad family and friends will be excited for you and you will inevitably get asked “when can we come and visit?” We expected to be inundated with visitors from home, but the reality is that very few people will come and visit, and instead everyone will expect you to “come home” and visit them.
The truth is that in the beginning you will enjoy trips to your homeland to visit family and friends, but people won’t necessarily take time off to see you. You will have to fit into their busy life, and eventually you may want to go on a real vacation.
12. Prepare yourself for your new culture and location
Submitted by Zoe from Together in Transit
When starting a new adventure in another country, it is really good to prepare yourself both personally and in terms of your belongings. The focus often seems to be on the logistics and the actual moving part of your adventure, but it’s also crucial to prepare yourself for the new culture and location.
Consider joining something that you already know you would enjoy doing, as well as something a little out of your comfort zone. This could be joining a new gym in your new location, which allows you to stay healthy while in an active environment with similar goals to others, or joining classes to learn a new language, such as the language spoken in your new location.
If you are an active Facebook user, joining a local expat group is the perfect place to start, too. Join some groups before you even move, as this will already give you an insight into being an expat in your new location. Joining an expat group in advance will allow you to also see what events and activities are planned that you can join in for, with many expat groups planning coffee dates, hiking/exploring the new location, and tips for being an expat in that location.
13. Don’t be discouraged by the possibility of a seemingly endless immigration process
Submitted by Cecilie from Worldwide Walkers
Living in Belgium has been an exciting adventure for me, yet the endless official meetings, paperwork, and immigration process completely wore me out, and made the first couple of months abroad really hard. I wish I had prepared myself better mentally for all the official stuff that moving abroad entails.
There is a lot to think about when you’re moving abroad: having your legal documents in order, setting up a bank account, getting health insurance, and beginning the immigration process itself. All of these things are handled differently from country to country, yet all expats have to go through them.
When I first arrived, I found it hard to navigate the Belgian system. Every time I looked for information online, the solution was a meeting in person. I went to so many meetings, I was passed on in the system, and I didn’t feel like I got the answers I needed. I even ended up in a situation where I was without health insurance for a month.
So, while most people find it exciting to move abroad, I found it tiring. Therefore, my tip for moving abroad would be to have patience with the system, and don’t take it personally if you feel like a number rather than a person. Trust that everything will work out in the end, and enjoy your new adventure!
Arriving in your new country or city stirs a myriad of emotions. It can be exhilarating, daunting, exciting, terrifying and overwhelming. The first thing you should do upon arrival is to take a deep breath and stick to your plan.
- Have a safe place to stay. You will want to move straight into your new home, but this is not always possible, or even advisable. Consider that you may have a house but no furniture, or have hired furniture but no sheets or pillows. I suggest you spend your first day or two in a hotel or furnished apartment. This gives you the time to scope out the local shops and eateries and get yourself stocked up.
- If you decide to take the plunge and move straight into your new house, then bring essentials with you. Not just clothes and toothbrushes but bedding, pillows, towels, & bottle opener. You will be missing these home necessities and will need to buy them if you don’t bring them with you.
- Locate your nearest doctor, hospital, take-out restaurant, and supermarket. Ensure you know any security & alarm codes, and the number for the local police & ambulance service.
- Take an hour or two. Find a café or bar, sit and just “be.” Moving to a country is stressful and chaotic. You need to remember why you are moving here and to take a moment to see the beauty in your new surroundings.
15. Tips for moving with kids
Submitted by Paula from Truly Expat
Moving to a new country is exciting for everyone in the family, kids included, especially when they are young. But as they grow, so do the complications. Leaving friends behind, fear of the unknown, and concerns about making friends are some of the many worries young children face before moving abroad.
The first thing I do before a move is to sort out schooling for the children. Once that first hurdle has been reached, everything else can start to fall into place. Ask the school to give you a list of addresses (if you are lucky) or even the general areas that other students live in your children’s year group or class.
Why is this so important? It doesn’t matter how old your children are, being able to visit friends’ homes for playdates or study after school will ensure your children find their grounding early on. Being on the same school bus, or even being able to walk home from school together, can make the difference between happy children and miserable children.
The sooner they slip into a routine, the easier it will be for them to form friendships and a new life in their new host country.
16. How to mitigate homesickness and loneliness
Submitted by Ve from Venaugh
Moving abroad away from everyone and everything you know can be extremely difficult. Many think because it is (usually) your choice to live in another place that it should be filled with great experiences, but not every part is. I have moved from the UK, to the Caribbean, to Colombia, and to Mexico, so I know what it’s like to miss home.
Loneliness and homesickness are such harsh aspects to deal with, and you can never truly prepare yourself for when it happens. My biggest comfort when I’m missing home is food. There isn’t anywhere I can buy food from my hometown, so I often make a dish from scratch. Another option is to call someone you miss from home, like a sibling or friend. I’d also recommend taking a social media break from time to time, as people often only showcase the good, and make us think we are missing out on so much more than we actually are.
And don’t forget, you’re in a new place, so go explore! The feeling eventually passes and you can conquer homesickness.
Moving abroad can be a stressful experience, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. One priority that should be at the top of everyone’s list when it comes to moving is safety.
Before moving, it is always a good idea to join and check local Facebook groups for the best neighborhoods to stay in based on your preferences. It is also good to do an online search to see if there were any incidents reported in the area, and which areas are best avoided, whether during the day or after dark.
Make sure to join local communities in the area via websites such as Meetup so that you’re not lonely immediately after you move. Not only will meeting up with locals help you feel at ease, you will also pick up tips on getting acquainted with the place, learn about the culture there, and know about the best places to eat and drink in addition to making friends and keeping safe!
As an expat, you’ll feel like you have hundreds of things to organize and worry about. Finances can be a major issue, especially when you’re moving to a country with a new currency.
Your banking provider from your home country will most likely charge you expensive fees to transfer funds or change currencies. Credit card fees especially can add up over time, and will cost you a lot of money. Locally, you might have issues paying with a foreign card, so you’ll need to find a solution fast.
While you can find a bank account locally, a great solution that will save you money over time is to get an international bank account. Some providers to consider include Wise, Revolut, Monzo, or N26. These banks are all-online, and don’t require you to go anywhere in-person to open an account. Signing up is quick and easy, and you can hold several currencies. Fees for international transfers are low and you can use your money all around the world.
When you move to a new country, you will be eager to explore all corners of the new destination. Whether by going to a highly recommended restaurant on the other side of the town, or for a weekend getaway, driving a vehicle can provide you great flexibility of movement.
But, driving can be a whole different game in your new country, so you should definitely do all your research beforehand.
- Which side of the road do they drive, right or left?
- Do drivers diligently follow traffic rules?
- How are the road conditions?
- What should you do to avoid getting a ticket?
Before leaving your home country, check if your current driver’s license will still be valid, and for how long. You may need to apply for an international driver’s license, so explore the eligibility criteria and the process for applying for a local driver’s license.
You may also want to own a car to make travel and commute even more flexible. But do not rush this decision. Perhaps try a rental car for a couple of months, to get acquainted with the road conditions and the driving practices of your new country. Then start exploring the automobile market for your car. Do you need a 4X4? Should you buy a used car, or a new car? Which brands have better resale value in the local market? These are all things to consider when driving in a new country.
Housing can certainly be a challenge when moving abroad. The market is likely very different to where you’re from, and it can be hard to tell quality from listing photos, especially if they’re professionally taken. There can be a lot of scams out there as well– so it’s good to follow the rule of thumb “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” The cost of living can also vary drastically from place to place, so you should be careful that what you’re signing up for is aligned with current market value. Turnover can be quick or slow depending on where you live as well, necessitating different timelines.
Living in Boston, we’re very accustomed to sky-high rental prices and having to sign ironclad leases 6-8 months prior to moving in, due to Boston’s entrenched housing shortage. When we were looking at apartments in Amsterdam, we thought the prices were really reasonable at first glance, and couldn’t believe how quick the turnover was– 1-2 weeks!
However, when we started researching, all of the housing forums were full of locals bemoaning how expensive apartments are, and many apartments we were interested in would vanish within hours of being posted. With lower wages and higher taxes, real estate is probably pricier other things equal in Amsterdam, which we wouldn’t have realized if we hadn’t done our research.
We ended up using a realtor-broker that specializes in expats, partially due to COVID. He set up appointments with agents, sent us videos of viewings, and took care of all the paperwork for submitting our application– much of which was in Dutch, which we do not speak yet. While he did charge a fee, this was the right decision for us due to our situation, and he gave us a lot of peace of mind.
That’s a wrap on 20 tips for new expats!
We are so grateful to all these fantastic blogging friends for their contributions and advice! We hope you find their tips for new expats helpful, whether you’re moving to a new place or contemplating a move abroad in the future.
Stay tuned for lots of new content about our Amsterdam move, coming soon! We are also planning to launch some YouTube videos on our new channel, so stay tuned for those as well!