10 tips on moving to a new country and being happy there

April 20 | Guest post by Katie Billotte
Edmond Mille - Vegetable Fruit & Potatoes
Photo by Lightmash. Used under Creative Commons license.
My adult life has been characterised by international moves. While I won't even begin to pretend this is not awesome, the first weeks and months in a new country can be disorienting at best, completely depressing at worse. I am facing another international move come autumn, so I thought I would take this opportunity to share "Katie's Top 10 Tips for Moving Abroad without Jumping off a Ledge."

  1. Pick one or two items (preferably light ones) and take them with you — no matter where you live. I take a pillow my mother bought me before I left for college and a little dog my uncle gave me one year. No matter where I am living these two objects live with me and remind me that I am at home.
  2. Sign up for a language class. If you already speak the language join a book club. Language classes are helpful because you'll not only develop ever-so-important linguistic skills, you'll also have a chance to meet other new arrivals — people who are probably just as desperate for company as you are.
  3. Figure out where the locals buy their groceries and go there. This will save you tons of money and make you feel so much more at home. Plus, it will expand your culinary palate in ways you can't predict!
  4. Throw down the dollars for a rental service when shopping for your first flat. It might cost a bit extra but you will find a better place to live and save yourself a significant amount of unnecessary stress.
  5. Download Skype. Buy Skype credit. Love Skype.
  6. Get a mobile phone. I know this sounds weird, but the sooner you have a local number the better. For one thing, it makes it WAY easier to make friends.
  7. Go for a wander, get lost, and find your way home. This is the best way to learn any new place, foreign or not.
  8. Make an appointment you cannot miss on the third day you are there. This will force you to get with the programme, get in the right time zone, and get a life. Sooner than three days is too soon. Later than three days is too late.
  9. Give yourself permission to be homesick. I happily left Denver, CO when I was 18 years old after a countdown that had begun when I was about seven. The fact is ,however, every time I move to a new place, I want to go home — home, home — to Denver. I embrace this feeling. When you feel homesick, recognize that the feeling connects you to the place in which you were born or grew up and to the people you love still living there. Heck, book your holiday ticket home during this period. It soothes the soul and you might save some money buying in advance.
  10. Be grateful. The first few months in any new place, especially a foreign place, is going to be stressful. The fact is that most people live and die very close to the place they are born. You are experiencing something wonderful and unique — no matter how much it makes you want to cry, scream, or rip your hair out.

Some of you Homies probably have some tips you've picked up. If you could add one suggestion to this list, what would you tell someone about moving to a new country?

  1. Find out what the local beverage of choice is, and learn to enjoy it.

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    • I couldn't agree more! This is also a fabulous way to be the best gift giver at Christmas when you come back home with ample stock of your new found delight.

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  2. Great tips! I would also encourage people to make friends with locals! Locals are your best resource. If you are studying abroad this task isn't too daunting since you are probably taking courses with the "locals." Other ways to make local friends include joining a play group/soccer league/swim class/etc. (if you have kids), taking a course for fun at the local college or volunteering.

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  3. Thank you for this! It is even more relatable for me since I am also a resident of Denver. I have lived here (CO) all my life and can't imagine calling any other place home, yet my husband and I face an international move after our daughter is born in August. While I am kind of excited at the prospect of a big adventure, I am also scared shitless! I love lists, and this one has just made my day :)

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    • I know this is an old posting, but I wondered (if you even read this LOL) but I wonder how you went with the move? did you move? how did it go. your words are exactly mine at this time – I am facing a move to NZ (from Australia, so not toooo far) and I am both excited and scared shitless! LOL Am really liking the tips though, almost makes it seem like a breeze to do! :)

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  4. Every day, no matter how miserable you are, find something you love about the culture or country — even if it's something small like a type of candy or the view from your window.

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  5. Figure out immigration policies BEFORE you go. Go to the embassy, find out everything and make sure you get the correct info.

    Second, eat where the locals eat and don't fall into familiar "tourist traps" from my experience, they are SO much more expensive than normal places.

    I moved from New York to Norway 3 years ago and it was undoubtedly the best decision I have ever made, but immigration was a NIGHTMARE and no one could have prepared me for how long the process was. Everything turned out proper in the end though!

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    • agreed. the paperwork is one of the biggest headaches in the universe. it feels neverending.

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  6. I have two tips:

    1) Keep track of immigration policies and regulations for the six months before your move or you could find yourself in serious trouble once you arrive. Visas in the Czech Republic have been getting harder and harder to come by for non-EU citizens and I've had friends get deported for not keeping their eye on the ever-changing bureaucracy here. Make sure your papers are in order (or that you know where/how to get your papers asap) before you go.

    2) Know when it's time to leave. Sometimes a new country just doesn't work out. Maybe you don't jibe with the culture, maybe the bureaucracy is really getting to you, maybe the language barrier is just too much- whatever the problem, if you've taken steps to try to overcome it and you're still deeply unhappy? It's time to move on. Don't force yourself to stay somewhere if you really can't find a way to love it. There are a lot of countries out there, and one of them is sure to win you over if you get out there and give it a go. You've already done it once, after all!

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    • Number two is soooooooo true! I stayed a year too long in Japan. Overall it was a great experience but the bad days were outweighing the good by the end. Recognize when it's not working out! I have a good friend still living there who is miserable but afraid to come home due to the economy. I worry he's going to become one of those old expats you see in the Western bar every night constantly bitching about life in Japan lol.

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      • Oh man, I would love to go back to Japan… I left because of the economy there and cried on the plane all the way home.

        Something else: Realize there are several stages of attitude when you move to a foreign country:
        1) Fear/anxiety/homesickness ("What am I doing here? This is like Mars!" etc.)
        2) Honeymoon phase ("Everything is great! Lemme tell you about my experience in blah blah blah…")
        3) Acceptance

        What people don't realize is the cycle repeats. You'll go back to the Homesick phase and then skip to the Acceptance phase. During the Homesick phase, it's always a good idea to go wandering and find new experiences, thus launching you back into the Honeymoon Phase. :-) Then again, if the Homesick Phase lasts too long, maybe it's time to go home.

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    • The second point here (as well as Kk's insights about not becoming the bitter old expat) is very important. I'm on my fourth country of residence now, and my first overseas home was just a bad fit for me; it took me a year or so of destressing afterwards (and living in a new place that, however odd, *did* work for me) to accept that, and not feel guilty about it. Likewise, I've watched other friends & colleagues, who I loved dearly, just not fit in the other countries that I've lived in (and loved). It's a hard thing to go through, but if you are miserable after 6 months to a year, it's probably just not for you. Living in a country you hate (even if it's inexplicably) isn't good for you, or the reputation of your countrymen/women!

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    • #2 is very true — but also, give yourself enough time to see if this is just a phase of moving through culture shock, or if it really is a bad fit. Everyone gets culture shock to some degree! The difference between culture shock & a terrible fit is easier to figure out if you've already traveled quite a bit, or have made international moves before.

      If you're in your first or second month of living in a new space and you hate it — try forcing yourself to connect with people and connect with the culture. If the feeling doesn't get significantly better in the next few months, it's probably a bad fit. This is just really hard to tell if it's your first time living in an unfamiliar culture.

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  7. 1. Sign up at the local library. Reading kids books in another language is a great way to cement in the language. And most libraries will have a small English section too. Also a good way to find out about fun and cheap classes (easy way to meet new people).

    2. Get a city map, bus map, subway map, hiking map, etc. so you have some reassurance when you get lost that you can find your way again.

    3. Your embassy can be a great resource for immigration questions and more. Use it!

    4. Send your new address to friends and family so you can get packages once in a while. Sometimes you won't be able to get a favorite snack in your new country and it will be awesome to open a box full of Twizzlers.

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    • I've never been to the US, but it would still be awesome to open a box of twizzlers!

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    • I second the hooking up with the local library. Within my first month in the Netherlands I bought a library subscription (yeah no free libraries here). They have a bunch of local events/services posted and the library staff is helpful in helping you find things. Eventually, I hope to check out books in Dutch and be able to read them.

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  8. The only tip I'd add is, if you have children make sure that they know, at least to some degree, what to expect, and to keep checking in with them after the move. Even if they seem to be adjusting well. Children are not emotionally or socially equipped to assimilate cultural differences without help.
    I was seven when my parents moved me from England to Oregon, and I experienced culture shock so severe that I developed a form of PTSD, from which I still haven't recovered 30+ years later. So, yeah.
    When handled carefully exposing children to different cultures can be a wonderful thing, but when children are lost in the shuffle (so easy to do when parental stress is high) they can get, well, LOST in the shuffle.

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    • I think that on the whole, an international move can be an amazing experience for young children. Kids are much more adaptable than adults, and usually pick up the language and make friends faster than adults.

      It's a shame about your PTSD, but that really sounds like a rare case. I have lots of friends who made similar moves without any ill effects, and I moved from Kuwait to Arizona at age 7. It's made me much more flexible and adaptable, and since then I've lived in London, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and Istanbul.

      Of course care needs to be taken with any move, but in my opinion kids don't need to be handled with kid gloves :)

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  9. My strongest recommendations would be to join a club, team, organization, or meeting to continue to do something you love. People in other countries play soccer (football), crochet, watch movies, garden, run, play chess. It's a wonderful way to feel comfortable doing something you love and to get to know other people with whom you already share something!

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  10. My one tip is, if you have a day when all you can think is you dont want to face the strange, incomprehencible world outside your door- thats the day to go out, go anywhere and face it. Having just moved to 4 countries in 3 continents in the last few years I always need this push.

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  11. I've found that with any move, it always helps me to get with the program of the new place if I spend some time "being a tourist" in my new city before I can really experience being a resident. You know, go to museums, historic sites, attractions, famous restaurants, etc.

    I have done this both in the states and in Europe (for a temp. move) and it has always helped. This way, you learn a little bit about the are you are new too, can have some fun while keeping your mind off of being home sick, and can get a bunch of stuff out of the way that all the locals have done and been to. It's also a great opener for making new friends- ask questions on what to do, see if people want to go with you.

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  12. Find out how the locals get around.

    I've known several people who wasted a lot of money (and time!) trying to get around London entirely by cab or renting their own car because that's what worked at home, and on the other side got completely thrown when I went to Tybee Island (near Savannah, Georgia) and found out there was no public transport at all.

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  13. Bring a copy of a RoughGuides for your new country. It has maps, listings of local librarys, cafes, etc. Also know that it is okay to cry your first or second night there. You might be overwhelmed and crying is not a sign that you made the wrong decision. :)

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    • I would say compare guides and buy the best one for your region (or the one whose format you prefer). Sometimes Rough Guides are better, sometimes Lonely Planet is better (for example, Rough Guide is far better for Taiwan and India than LP, but LP's Indonesia and Hong Kong books beat out Rough Guide).

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  14. I've moved a lot domestically and I have to say this is a great list! (Minus the language class part … but a class or volunteer group is a must and serves a similar purpose.)

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  15. If you happen to move somewhere with a very strong drinking culture, remember to find at least one social hobby that doesn't involve alcohol.
    After living in South Korea for four years I've seen too many new expats turn into alcoholics because their only social activity is drinking.

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    • Yes! I only lived there for a year but for a stretch of about 3 months my husband and I stopped going out with the group that was there because they became such heavy drinkers. It becomes a bit too much sometimes.

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  16. - Make both local AND foreign friends: with local friends, you'll feel more connected to the place (expat friends are great but they, like you, will never have the same sense of being born and rooted in that country), you'll have access to better information and tips on how to deal with life and you'll be able to challenge cultural assumptions and expand your horizons with a friendship that stretches across cultural and linguistic boundaries (it's OK if at first your local friends all speak English – it can take years to make local friends that you communicate with in your language: it's simply a fact that locals in most countries have spent more time learning English than you have, most likely, learning their language unless you're already fluent).

    Expat friends, on the other hand, are good when the cultural differences become too much. For example, here in Taiwan, it's a very quiet home-oriented culture where even in one's twenties it's not unusual to say things like "Oh, it's 11pm, I have to go. Grandma will wonder where I am. See you!" and people just don't drink beer and shoot the breeze until 2am or throw parties the way Westerners do. Well, sometimes they do but not nearly as often. Sometimes you just need some good home-style partyin', and for that you call your Western friends. They're also good for asking questions about things locals never think about (and so don't have an answer for) – it's amazing how many times I've told a local friend how I deal with something in Taiwan the way another expat advised and the local says "YEAH! I never thought about that…" because for them it's innate. It's also a good way to ask about things like where to buy clothing for Western-sized women (especially in Asia).

    – Find that country or region's expat message board. Every country has one. Some are better than others. I don't want to talk smack about bad message boards, but good ones can be helpful – there are probably other expats looking to make friends out there and this is how you find them if you aren't meeting them otherwise. In Taiwan one of our boards has a "Friends and Language Exchange Only" board for people who aren't looking for romance – while some people on there really are just skeezy and using the board not for its intended purpose, I can say I've met a few good friends from there, as well. Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree message board is also useful for info and occasionally meeting people. When I lived in China I organized a big meeting of LPTT posters in Beijing. When I went to Beijing (I was living in the rural south), I had at least one event/night out/ thing to do.

    – Don't be afraid to speak what little of the language you know. I'm most familiar with Chinese and learning it in an immersion environment so that's what these examples are based on – if you can only say "ME NOODLES" instead of "I would like to order the pork fried noodles, please", then go ahead and say "ME NOODLES". The locals will be forgiving, they may laugh about it when you're not in earshot (accept this – it's not so bad – and learn to laugh at yourself good-naturedly), and it's the first step. Saying whatever you can will provide you with a sense of connection and will ward off feelings of helplessness. Don't worry, next time you can say "I'd like to order the pork fried noodles, please."

    – Accept culture shock. If you find yourself getting frustrated – accept that too (call your expat friends and vent over beer, but don't do it too often and don't do it bitterly or you'll start to feel you hate the place), but try to stop yourself and say "hey, wait – it's just different here." I find it has a calming effect. Some examples for me include different notions of what "RSVP" means, sidewalk hogging (which is partly bad urban planning, to be fair), painfully direct comments about body issues and yet indirect reactions to anything else that could cause someone to lose face (so it's OK for someone to call me fat, but not OK for me to tell my boss that with all due respect, I disagree), and parties that end at 11pm.

    – You may encounter genuinely rough issues such as sexism and racism, especially if you are moving to a non-western country. There's no one way or right way to deal with this – just be prepared for it. The hardest for me was accepting that outside of the West, women in many parts of the world are still unequal. This didn't always apply to me – as a foreigner, in Asia I often get a "trump card" that supercedes being female – which is almost worse, because as you are treated relatively well, you see local women treated…maybe not so well. Or people have expectations of you that simply aren't true ("Why did your father approve your living abroad? It's OK though, soon you'll go home to get married" – NOT JOKING). You might have to fight for a fair salary or an equal-treatment workplace if you are working. This can be tough – be prepared. I've known more than a few female expats who have gone home over just this issue and I do not blame them.

    – if rental agencies aren't an option (they're not in Taiwan), do rent a place you basically like. If you rent the cheapest shithole you can find, you won't adjust very quickly. If you are moving solo, try to find a room in a shared apartment so you don't feel boxed in and alone at home.

    – There will be days when you just want to eat pizza and watch American (or wherever you're from) movies or TV. Sometimes you can force yourself to go out anyway – sometimes (especially later on) it's OK to order that pizza, stick in that movie and curl up on the couch.

    – Take day trips. I fell in love with Taipei by hiking all around it (not at once). Try to go with a small group, but it's OK to go alone (in most countries).

    – Some countries simply won't suit you: I didn't stay in China because it just wasn't right for me. Taiwan suits me beautifully (most of the time)! I could live in India (and have) but Japan will never be right for me. That's OK.

    – Read! Every country has different expat literature – if you're in Egypt, In An Antique Land and The Map of Love are good reads. If you're in China, River Town and Oracle Bones. In Taiwan…well, there's not a lot out there but I was heartened by "Expat: True Tales of Women Living Abroad" (which has one story about Taiwan). There may also be expat-written books in English that cover things guidebooks miss – on my shelves are books about hiking around Taipei, festivals and folk beliefs of the folk Daoist religion here and a guide to historic buildings of Taipei – very localized stuff that is not in any guidebook. Look for these at English bookstores, expat community centers etc..

    – Identify what you know you'll want and plan days to find it: for me it's good coffee and Indian food. I made day-long forays into the city just to seek out the best coffee and curry and I'm happy I did.

    – Learn to do something you'd have never learned at home: music lessons, embroidery, kung fu class, how to do a tea ceremony, how to cook local dishes – something that can help connect you.

    – If single, accept that the local/expat dating scenes will be very, very different. If you are female and single and living in Asia, you may well find yourself not dating much or at all (although it is certainly possible – I can cite many positive examples – I'm just talking generally).

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    • Being a China expat myself, I would also say, stay away from the downer-expat, you know, the people who complain more about being in another country than appreciating it…they may be nice people, but their negativity can bring us down…Awesome post!!!

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      • There aren't many of those in Taiwan (which is oh so different from China) but generally I agree…bitching occasionally with your friends to let off steam is one thing, and can be very healthy in moderation. Hanging out with That Guy who hates everything about the place but never seems to go home is another.

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      • I was just about to say this! They seem rampant in Japan.

        On the flip side, after living in Japan for several years, the doe-eyed newcomers could also be grating haha. I tended to wait a few months before really socializing with them because ANYTHING negative said about one's experience would be met with rabid denial, even if it was something not unique to the local culture. I remember a new girl getting irrationality upset with an older expat when he was bitching about his boss being a micromanager. He even said to her, "You know there's guys like him back home too, right?" which made her even angrier. I've always wondered what her beef was lol.

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    • I'd like to add a plug for couchsurfing.org here — it's a great way to meet locals, expats, and travelers, even if you don't host or surf. It's especially useful if you want to make local friends, but don't speak the language yet. Almost everyone I've met through this site, both at home and abroad, has been open-minded and interested in their own community and the rest of the world.

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  17. Oh, and get involved in blogging – it doesn't have to be just you shouting words into the whirling vortex of the Intertubes. Many countries have entire networks of expat (and local) bloggers and some countries have sites where different blog updates are listed for that community (Taiwan has "Taiwanderful" which is more of a list and "Bloggers in Taiwan" which features blogs and runs a list of updates on all Taiwan blogs written in English – your new country probably has something similar). I've made friends and been invited to meetups and events simply because of my blog, beyond the satisfaction of writing about my adopted home.

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    • A good friend of mine was living abroad for a while, and reading her blog (when she remembered to update it!!) was an awesome way for me to both feel connected when she was on the other side of the globe AND see what she saw. She'd post pictures of random city scenes or things that are different here in the States, and I really loved it.

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  18. I think your list is perfect as-is. In all my international moves, those ten ideas are how I survived.

    One other thing that worked for me while living abroad was to encounter strangers with an open mind, and to learn to trust your instincts. That weird man grabbing your elbow and trying to lead you down the sidewalk could be an ax-murderer (unlikely) or he could be moving you off of a trolley track before you get smashed and depositing you safely in a lovely hidden bakery before he vanishes into a crowd.

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    • Depends on the city (not the country but very much the city and even neighborhood). Man grabs my elbow and tries to move me in the area north of Chinatown in Manila? I run the fuck away from him. NOT a safe place. Man grabs my elbow and tries to move me in Tokyo? He's probably pulling me out of the way of a bus and I should let him do so.

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  19. My favorite way to stay connected – write letters. And postcards. Coming home to snail mail waiting for you is a great way to feel – well, *at home*.

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    • Make sure to encourage recipients to write back, though – I had a problem with this in that I'd write to people, mostly postcards, but never said "write back!" because I didn't want to put on the pressure, y'know?

      …and nobody wrote back. They'd e-mail for sure, but didn't realize how much I would have loved it if they'd write just so I'd have mail to come home to.

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  20. Jenna's tips are right on. Especially the expat forums– living abroad is made so much easier when you have an instantly accessible network of other expats who've been-there-done-that and can hold your hand as you work your way through the hard stuff.

    Living far away from 'home', in a country that's not your own, is never a complete cake walk… But some moves are more challenging (and maybe more rewarding!) than others. Because of that, the tips-and-tricks that are valuable for one location might not be the same for another.

    My husband and I have been in Jakarta for a little over two years now. We haven't stepped foot in the States since we've been here (not even for holidays!) and about three months into our new life, homesickness hit HARD. The 'this is all so new and wonderful and exciting!' phase was over and the 'this is all weird and frustrating and I just wanna go someplace where everything isn't wrong!' phase set in.

    During that time, I found that making our house feel as much like 'home' as possible really helped. We moved to Jakarta from Seattle, two places that couldn't be more different from each other.

    In Seattle, we lived in the heart of the city (Capitol Hill) in a quirky artist's loft full of modern, Western conveniences. (Things like a washer and dryer! A dishwasher! An oven and stove!) In Jakarta, we moved into a house with hit-and-miss electricity, a squat toilet, no hot water, and no AC. We had no kitchen, at least not one that an American would recognize as a kitchen, no screens (mosquito central!), and no shower (we had a bucket and scoop situation).

    The 'rustic' living situation wasn't helping the homesickness, so we set out to make our house more comfortable. We installed a sit-down toilet, a shower-head, and a hot water heater. We installed an AC and high-powered fans. We painted all of the walls bright colors and had a local photo shop print lots of pictures of our friends and family, which we framed and placed around the house.

    Our house is still *ahem* 'authentic' (when friends and family from the States come to visit, they're like "You seriously live here?!") but it feels like home to us. To me, making your new living space feel like home is one of the most important things an expat can do.

    Another big one? Take advantage of the perks of expat life! Whenever you start feeling like, "What am I doing here?! The traffic! The pollution! The filth! The corruption! The extremism! The terrorism! The (insert complaint here)!" take a moment to step back and remember all of the reasons that your expat life is awesome.

    They're not the same everywhere, but for us in Indonesia, some of the perks are cheap and easy travel and having household help. In the last year, we've been to Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, India, Malaysia, and China– not to mention all of the internal travel. (Bali is just an hour flight away from Jakarta. We can– and often do!– weekend in Bali.) Sure, we don't have a dishwasher but we do have a full-time live-in maid *and* a full-time handyman/errand boy/messenger. Remembering the great parts of the expat lifestyle helps to take the edge off on those days where nothing feels like 'home'.

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  21. These are great tips and as anyone who lives in foreign country knows, sometimes you just need to be reminded of the tips you are already aware of. Language classes are incredibly fun and rewarding. I get to be in school again!!

    I really liked Lanie's idea of going out, even for a bit, when you just don't feel like it. It gets you over the rough patches. I'm currently living in Tehran, Iran. On my worst days, if I can just make it to the market to buy one thing, or go to the park and just sit, I calm down about all the things that are bothering me. A couple of tiny tips: 1) buses. Often, developed cities will have convenient metro systems, or extensive taxi systems, and you'll think that it's a no-brainer to take them. However, taking the bus, no matter how crowded or rusty, is a great way to really SEE the city you are in at a nice pace and to be surrounded by locals. I apply this to traveling to new places, too, not just living in them. I've had more conversations in farsi on the bus than I have at my farsi school! It's truly my second teacher.

    2.) When I am feeling low, I imagine a friend visiting me…where would I take them? what would I show them? What would fascinate them? It reminds me of the unique and valuable things about living here, and then I try to do some of those same things (time to buy delicious fresh nun barberi bread again!) Sometimes you need to feel like a tourist again, not a local, to get out of a rut.

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    • I totally agree! I take the bus everywhere and have made friends, had conversations, been taken to lunch and picked up private English teaching classes as a result.

      A word of caution – in some cities/countries, you absolutely should NOT take the bus. You would never, ever NOT EVER catch me on a public bus in Tegucigalpa (Honduras) or Guatemala City (and yes, I've been to both). Some intrepid expats do it, but I got a dangerous enough feeling from those cities (and hear a lot about armed robberies on buses) that I decided to heed the conventional warnings to just take a taxi.

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  22. My tip is to become a regular at a local place, whether it's restaurant or a bar. I'm a vegetarian and when I moved to Korea it was hard for me to find food without any meat, but a few local restaurants got to know me and would have the bowl of tofu ready when they saw me coming (since I had bleach blonde hair I was easy to spot). A bunch of us teachers ate at the same place for lunch everyday for so long that when a few of us were leaving Korea the owner gave us little going away presents and said goodbye to us. It's experiences like those that help you feel connected to a place you felt lost in at first. Even when you're having a hard day and are feeling homesick it's great to walk into your favorite restaurant and have the people smile and wave at you even though you can't talk to them yet.

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    • YES. This made my time in Nagasaki so much easier. I'm vegetarian, too, but owners of the two or three places I frequented made me feel right at home, even when I was feeling lousy.

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  23. My survival list:
    Get my hair done by a local person and talk to them. Get to know what they like to do around the town.

    Find local take out chinese.

    Have mom send a box with mac and cheese and other non perishables to make eating a little easier.

    Translate a grocery list (in my case, I have food allergies and keep Kosher, so I need to know how to read labels ASAP).

    Go to a bar and see if you can chat to anyone. Worked for me the day after Christmas.

    Try the local food, preferably with a local.

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  24. One thing to mention is to mentally prepare yourself for the space you'll be living in. My husband and I moved from our parents' big Southern homes with backyards to a 200 square foot studio apartment in South Korea. We had been married for 3 weeks. I could not function in so small a space. We got in a fight and I had to go into the bathroom (the only other room) to cool down. If I had really prepared myself for that before the move I would have been fine.

    The flip side of that is I tend to feel sorry for people with large houses now:)

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  25. For some people, getting out and doing things as soon as they arrive is the way to go. For me, however, I find it's best to take a few days – maybe up to a week – and just lie low. I felt so guilty about this the first time I moved abroad by myself (I moved with my family as a kid), and I think I really over did it with the socializing and ended up completely exhausted, having not really had much fun anyway. The next time, I let myself be an introvert briefly, and I felt so much better. I didn't just sit around in my room, but I did make sure not to push myself until I was a little bit settled and had gotten some rest.

    On a similar note, I always tend to feel guilty about something when I live abroad because I'm "not doing it right." When I lived in Germany and most of my friends were American, I felt bad. When I got the flu in England, I felt like I ought to be out exploring anyway. And I'm sure I will have some guilt issues about my next move (Thailand). At the end of the experience, I realized that I had made some of the best friends I will ever have, I saw plenty of the UK (and made myself sicker by trying to deny my illness), etc. LET THE GUILT GO. Maybe there is a "right" way to travel, but as far as I am concerned, when you are living your life in a place, you need to let go of the expectations. Just allow yourself to create the life the makes you happy without the second-guessing and the guilt. I don't think you lose any of the cultural experience, but you will probably lose some of the negative emotions that tend to develop when you are in a new place, making room for a more enriching life overall.

    Also, eat the food. Whatever it is, eat it.

    4 agree
    • This is a great point. Along the same lines, it's okay to "indulge" in the foods you know or try to recreate them and it's also okay to look for other expats to hang out with. I adjusted really well and only have local friends (& other foreigners) and I never looked for other Americans or American groups because I always figured "why should I be friends with someone just because we're from the same country" but sometimes I wish I actually had some American friends. Somehow there is really a shared mentality/communication on some level that just makes you feel good.

      0 agree
  26. I feel like this article rings very true to business travelers as well.

    When I go to spend a month or two at factories in China or India I have 3 plastic photo frames that go everywhere with me, they are the first thing I unpack (one of my husband, one of my friends, one of my parents) My second homeaway item I always take with me is a blanket covered in JLA characters my husband gave me a couple years ago.

    Always change wear local cloths, just as much as speaking, the more local you look, the better you will be treated. This was particularly true for me when I lived in Kerala.

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  27. Love this!! I am Brit who has just finished living in Montreal for the past 18 months and relocated to Amsterdam so I can relate to a lot of the tips given.

    The one thing that has personally kept me sane is firstly, making sure our cats can come with us wherever we go (international moving not an excuse to re-home in my own opinion!) and secondly roller derby! When I lived in Scotland I started playing and I have been fortunate enough to play in Canada and now I am helping coach the team here in Amsterdam as I have what is known as "the 9 month injury".

    I would add to the tips to check out health insurance/health provision asap and get coverage as soon as possible. There's nothing worse than being ill in a strange place and worrying about potential costs/implications any treatment may have :)

    2 agree
    • Agreed! Find that thing you do at home and love, and find a way to do it wherever you are! Like watching baseball? find a bar that shows baseball! It's a great way to meet people who have similar interests, and often helps get over the language barrier because you're already speaking your sneaky insider-language ;)
      I have grand plans of keeping up with Dr Sketchy's Anti-Art School wherever i move next year. And if it's not in the city i move to? i'll damn well start one.

      0 agree
    • Hello, fellow Offbeat expat in the Netherlands! I am living between Amsterdam and Utrecht myself. My husband and I have been here for about 3 months and are loving it so far.

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  28. Thank you so much for this list. I'm moving from Brisbane to Hungary in August. I'm moving to a small town so I have a few fears about the community being a little closed. I'm also leaving a 5 year long relationship in the process, so fitting in and social interaction will be important for me.

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  29. It is really likely that you are going to get "ripped off" within your first month – be it when you change currency, bargain for the first few times, or even get pick-pocketed. It's going to happen. Don't beat yourself up over it! So what if you paid twice as much as a local for the super-cute placemat set? It's still super-cute and only 7USD. Consider it a story for back home. Or forget it. :)

    2 agree
  30. Laughing at the make an appt within 3 days. I got so lost in Perth, AU when I went for my first job interview that I had to call them and get directions from the far side of town! They were pretty understanding and hired me in spite of it, but yeah – I soooo should have taken your advice.

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  31. I think you've just got to keep in mind the fact that it takes time to find your feet in new surroundings. It takes to time meet a nice group of people to socialise with & adjust to language/culture/how far your money goes! We found with our move that the most stressed out of all of us were the kids when moving to a new country!

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  32. A few of my friends and I move every few years to a new country – a lot of us use 'MeetUp' which is a fantastic website where you can find groups set up by people in your area with the main goal being to meet others. You can even set up your own MeetUps.
    I also firmly agree with getting to know some locals -show some interest in their culture and they will be happy to share it with you!
    Also, finding people who are native to your country or speak your language fluently has also helped me through those days where I want a friend but don't want to struggle with the new language.
    Finally, start a blog about your new life & country – this can really help you focus on learning about where you are and also serves as a reminder of how you have progressed when you read back on it in later months.

    0 agree
  33. I have been wanting to live abroad for a while now. The thing is I have invested in furniture and want to move it with me when I go. I have read many posts that advise against this but I have found a moving company near me that moves internationally, http://www.ndms.com/.

    0 agree
  34. These tips are so important and I've never read an article like this before. Generally, moving tips involve what to pack, which items to toss, where to find storage but you make this about keeping the precious items close to you. With the growing technology, Skype makes it feel like family is right around the corner. Your first tip I found the most important. It's the little things that matter such as a jacket that your best friend gave you or a necklace that your mother passed down. Having these items always make you feel closer to home.

    0 agree

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