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

Guest post by Katie Billotte

Edmond Mille - Vegetable Fruit & Potatoes
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?

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

  1. 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.

    • 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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 🙂

    • 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.

    • 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.

  4. 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.

    • Hi Carita,
      Not sure if you’ll read this, but 4 years on how did you manage? I also moved from Australia to a town in France, but after 2 years I had to come back to Oz. Never got over the isolation, the loneliness, the culture shock 🙁

  5. 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. 🙂

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. 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/.

  10. 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.

  11. Lately there are more and more location services companies, however, I think that there is still so much adventure in just going to a new city or town and discovering things yourself. In saying this, the tips here above were very good. Our company rents and sells properties to internatial clients. We also assist them in the process and have made some very good friends. We know that our clients are future nieghbours, not just numbers. Find us at http://www.propertyinbarcelona.co.uk

  12. Thanks for this, I moved to Italy just over a week ago and I am teaching english to children (which I love!) but I am finding it a little difficult. I can only describe what I am feeling as some sort of existential crisis, haha xD I am not sure where I fit, I live in a flat above a kind of “host” family who are very kind and I know I have support but I still don’t really know where I fit anymore and what I am supposed to do. Teaching , of course is an important structure in my day but I never seem to know what to do with the rest of it (I have mornings off). I have been walking, farther and farther every day to explore etc. but I can’t help but feel that I am not making the most of every opportunity. Does that make sense? I feel like a crazy person, I am so blessed to be in such a beautiful place but all I can seem to focus on is how lost I am!

  13. Thanks, for giving the tips on moving to the new country,I like your 1st tip as we know when we plan to move anwhere we have a lots of boxes,furnitur etc. I find one of the moving company Strongman MoversLLC. It is a local Orlando moving company which helps you to move your office or home furniture. you may also visit this link :http://strongmanmoversllc.com

  14. What makes me happy is having a home that I am proud of and love!! When moving to the USA, I used a furnishing company called Furnishr to help me out because they made everything so much easier. Not to mention the designs are beautiful!!

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