Tips for Moving Abroad from Expats

Moving abroad is both exhilarating and also terrifying. What to take? What to leave? How long should you plan on staying? How can you meet people overseas? What will it be like? I figured there’s no one better to give advice on moving overseas that those of us who have already done it—so I asked expatriates currently living abroad for their advice and tips for moving abroad.

My favorite piece of advice actually came long before I started this post, before I even left California to move to Germany. My boss at the time (a South African in San Francisco) advised me to grit my teeth, splurge, and take things that really matter (in my case, my books) with me. I’d say the same to you, whether that thing is books, your favorite painting, or that extra ten pairs of shoes.

Expat Tips for Moving Abroad:

Before You Go:

  • Stock up on your favorite hair products and makeup—it’s not very likely the stores will have them (and definitely not at the prices you’re used to, if they need to be imported). Especially if you have textured or curly hair, or a skin tone different than your new host country (it’s nearly impossible to find a darker foundation or cover-up here in Germany without going to a specialty makeup store).
  • Bring photographs, or get them printed as soon as you arrive. It will make you feel closer to friends and family.
  • Stockpile medicine—brands you know and trust. The worst thing is to be sick and try to negotiate a pharmacy or doctor’s visit in a different language. (And keep in mind, your new host country might not be aligned with your medical beliefs. In Germany, for example, they default to homeopathic medicine rather than painkillers).
  • Start learning your new language, even if it’s just a bit of Duolingo or Babbel on the side. It will make you feel much more comfortable to have a few basics down pat when you arrive.

“Use the opportunity to get rid of as much stuff as possible. Shipping overseas is expensive”
—Anisa Alhilali
Two Traveling Texans | Instagram

  • Buy a Kindle, VPN, and get to know how to use the (Full disclaimer, your new country might have very harsh rules about streaming/downloading, so use your best judgment)
  • No matter how expensive you think the move is going to be, it’s going to cost more. Make sure you have a comfy cushion, and if you can, add in a small budget for going out and exploring once you arrive. That’s crucial to settling in.
  • Buy a culture guide for your new country and read it closely. A lot of the frustrations you are going to have will be based on these differences. The more familiar you get with them, the easier it will be for you because you’ll anticipate the problems before they happen.

Moving Overseas:

  • Bring your pets! Even if you’re just planning on moving abroad for a year. The “trouble” of making that effort is worth it to have that comforting presence with you.

All the info you need on how to move your dog abroad here.

  • It can be way, way, cheaper to check extra luggage than to ship boxes. If you’re only moving small things, but you want your home-y stuff to come with, you can check cardboard boxes as long as they fit the airline’s dimensions. Best to call ahead and alert them that you’ll have extra baggage and that the “bags” will be boxes. Even if you check 3-4 bags, it’s still the cheapest and least-onerous way there is.
  • Keep all of your receipts. They may be very important for taxes down the line.

Settling In:

  • Remember you’re going to hate the first month/six months/year depending on where you’re from and where you’re going. Keeping that in mind has actually helped me like places more—I notice the times that I love it, rather than fixating on the parts I hate because I am already expecting those frustrations.
  • Invest time to find things you love in your host country.
  • Go out as much as you can: to eat, to explore. People often chat about restaurants and shops in small talk. It’s nice to be able to say “I know that place. It’s next to…” or to recommend another place to someone.
  • Don’t be afraid of standing up to (offending) the locals for what you believe in.
  • But at the same time…pick your battles!

“Maintain your relationships back home. It can be easy to get caught up in this exciting new adventure. You’re meeting new people, trying new foods and living a new experience every day. But while you’re away, the world keeps moving and your friend’s lives move on without you. Put in the effort to touch base on a regular basis with your friends and family. When you come back home, whether it’s to visit or to move back, you’ll be glad to have your friends waiting for you.”
—Erin Mushaway
Sol Salute | Instagram

  • It takes at least two years for a new place to feel like ‘home’. Take it one day at a time till then.
  • A year abroad can swiftly turn into more—we were only supposed to be gone 18 months, and we’ve been here for 4 years now. Don’t prepare yourself for a short-term move, prepare yourself to stay and settle, and then adjust backward if you leave on time.
  • Cultivate a “Take the bad with the good” perspective—the expat perspective is all about balance.
  • Take every spare minute to travel—especially around your home country. Go to the big cities and small towns, and focus on the local favorites. You won’t get the chance to deep dive like this again.
  • Don’t compare anything to “home” – it’s a dangerous cycle that makes it hard to adjust and be happy.
  • One of the best things someone told me before I moved to Mexico was that no one would have the same expat experience as anyone else. Several people from the same general area in the US could all move to the same general area in Mexico, but those experiences would and could differ greatly. It’s true!

“Shortly after I moved to Mexico, my friend sent me an article suggesting that those with children wait to visit their home country for a minimum of 6 months after moving—waiting a year is even better. This lengthy period of time gives everyone time to get settled in and used to all of the changes the new country brings. We waited almost 8 months before our first visit back home. We did struggle once we returned to Mexico. It felt like our ‘honeymoon’ period was over. Plus, we didn’t know when we’d be able to visit our family again. I’m happy to report that our second visit to our home country went well AND we were happy upon returning to Mexico.”
Blissmersion | Instagram

  • Focus on just making it for the first 3-6 months. Don’t try to accomplish anything more than merely weathering the transition. Forget about improving other aspects of your life (getting in shape, advancing your career, etc.). Just lay that new foundation, and then build on it later. This advice was as useful to my brother moving across the country as it has been to me moving half a dozen times to two other continents.

It’s now coming up on two and a half years since I moved here. I see my rows of books every time I walk through my front door, and look at them like old friends—all the references to my own life contained in their selection—and see that my boss wasn’t trying to home feel like home but to make me feel like me. And in your crazy foreign life, sometimes that’s the most important thing of all.

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