Living abroad can be very frightening for a lot of people, especially if you’re not used to uprooting yourself and moving from your home country. But I hope these tips will help you to get acclimatised, as they worked for me. A lot of sites list out the paperwork-based tips for getting situated abroad, whereas my tips are just a little bit more practical – it doesn’t mean that the paperwork is less important, I just wanted to give my two cents!
My featured photo today is of Centro Colombo in Lisbon, Portugal!
Here are my personal tips for living abroad!
Manage your expectations
Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of videos about Lisbon, but it’s a lot different from going there on holiday to actually living there. You’re not guaranteed to be living in the main tourist areas of the place you’re living, but that means you can explore hidden gems. It’s also usually the best way to immerse yourself in the culture.
Figure out the logistics
This involves all of the documentation and legal hoops you need to go over before being able to be classed as a citizen – whether it’s a visa, a home to rent or buy, bank accounts, social security numbers – these are all especially important to help you get your international stay on the right track.
Learn the language
I get that it’s hard to learn the language of the country you’re moving to, and I had the same problem, don’t worry! There are apps such as Duolingo and Memrise, as well as textbooks. If you work somewhere that facilitated your move abroad, they may also have a course to learn the language.
Know the laws & respect the culture
You can easily find the laws on your local government page, as they gear the information towards tourists, but is especially valid for ex-pats. For example, in Portugal, it’s apparently illegal to urinate in the sea, whereas in Singapore, chewing gum is banned.
These laws are important so that you can enjoy yourself while abroad.
In terms of respecting the culture, it’s pretty straight-forward. In Ireland, they hate it when you compare them to your home country, whereas in Japan, most onsen will not allow you in if you have a tattoo – the latter harkens back to when tattoos were (and still are for some) associated with the yakuza.
Know where your Embassy is
This is really important, especially for your legal needs. The most important piece of information I needed was where the British Embassy was located, and even just mentioning them helps to ensure that you are listened to and that the other side will comply without question. If you need emergency travel documents or advice on services that can speak in your language.
Join an ex-pat group
I joined an ex-pat group on Facebook when I was preparing to move to Portugal, and there were so many hints and tips about life over there and they will assist you if you post a general question (such as ‘What would you recommend for _______ and __________?’).
You don’t know if and when you’ll return, so I felt that my biggest saving grace was to be as minimalist as possible. I had a capsule wardrobe, my technology and not a whole lot else, but I was happy with not buying material goods when I had all of the experiences to share and do. I think it’s up to the individual, but I didn’t want to have to rely on having a lot shipped out. Actually, most of my possessions I kept in the UK, as shipping would have been expensive. And when I left Portugal, I gave a few bits to my friend Jeanette, and some of the household stuff to my flatmates, Junior and Cynthia.
Know the healthcare system
It is important to know the healthcare system in the case that you may need medical attention while over in the other country. If you’re lucky, the company that you work for may provide you with private insurance. It is also wise to register for a European Health Insurance Card if you are going from EU country to EU country (although after Brexit, we can’t use these as British citizens after 31st December 2020).
Explore the less touristy areas
I was spoiled when living in Lisbon because I got to live in the northern areas of Lisbon. This meant that my priority wasn’t exploring the likes of Almada and Belem, and instead heading towards Quinta das Conchas and also seeking Campo Grande and José Alvalade Stadium, the home of Sporting CP. A lot of tourist videos highlight the southern areas of Lisbon as opposed to the northern, which I feel has a lot more authentic culture to it, and a lot less tourism. They are so easy to get to from the Metro lines too.
What is my point, you ask. Well, my point is that it’s so easy to explore different areas of the place you’re living in, just so that you can find some hidden gems that you didn’t realise existed until you stumbled upon them. It’s not so difficult to go off the beaten track once every so often.
How to use the ATMs and your bank card
Some banks now don’t require you telling them when you’re going abroad, and they can easily check spending patterns. However, you’ll often find an international charge whenever you use your bank card to pay for goods and services. Instead, I recommend withdrawing money and using cash.
Again, I suggest asking fellow ex-pats about what you can do to prevent getting ripped off, and generally, be more money-savvy. It also helps to keep an eye on the current exchange rate between your current currency and home currency.
My best suggestion is to find a new bank in your current country and open an account once you have your social security number.
Manage your budget
It is always recommended by employers and visa eligibility that you have a certain amount of money saved so that you can survive the first few weeks abroad before your first paycheck. I had to do this, and it was quite an easy feat. I think I went over with about 400€ to last me about a month, and that was for food, transport and toiletries, as well as different clothes and other homely items.
I was unfortunately rejected from a job because I wasn’t able to have £1,000 in the bank to be able to stay abroad until the first paycheck. I probably would have had that job if money wasn’t an issue. Think about it, I could be writing about Milan or Rome right about now, as well as a quick post about Malta.
You’re likely going to be working with a lot of people who are in the same boat as you – freshly moved abroad, with no idea how to do your job. And that’s fine, and you can take solace in that. The nicest people I’ve ever come across have all been from my training group at Teleperformance, as well as the project teams that I was with afterwards.
Embrace the differences
It’s important to embrace the differences and culture shock as a positive thing. I posted earlier about the things that gave me culture shock when I was in Portugal, and it was fun to immerse myself in a different culture – and that’s the whole point of travelling for me. Embrace the differences and see where they may fit in your own life – for example, I’d definitely have a bidet in a future house build.
The best thing about living abroad is having fun, and as long as it’s in a good environment, you should be fine.