Moving countries. Many people do it, so as looming as it may feel, it can be done. If you are about to move your life across the world then there’s probably a lot going on in your head.
We’ve written a few things to keep in mind as you get settled. There are some assumptions here, firstly that you are moving for good and that you will need to learn the language and culture of the country to which you are moving.
Joining a new community takes work, and you’ll feel like an outsider at first. It won’t always be that way. Perhaps a better term than ‘outsider’ would be ‘cultural immigrant’ because you’ll be learning to speak and act in appropriate ways with a growing ability to connect with your new community.
The first few days will just be looking after yourself and getting hold of essentials. One thing at a time, okay? A few weeks on and hopefully you’ll get a chance to explore your surroundings before setting up a daily routine that involves regular language study and interaction with people.
The first few days
When arriving in a new country, you’ll need accommodation, transport to the accommodation, a phone that works, local currency and groceries to last a few days.
Accommodation is best booked before you leave so you have a place to stay when you arrive.
You can now save some hassle and purchase an e-sim before you leave. They cost more than a regular sim but save the bother of having to find a sim when you arrive and then somehow trying to remove the old sim (they are so tiny!??). It can be activated once you arrive in country.
It’s a good idea to withdraw some local currency when you’re still at the airport to pay for the taxi fare and groceries for the first day.
Once your phone is working (and you have picked up your luggage and sorted cash), you can organise transport. If you don’t have an airport shuttle organised, then you can download the taxi app for whatever country you are in and book a ride. There are also normally taxis at the entrance of the airport, but give yourself the best chance at paying a fair price by researching how much the fare should cost and reminding the driver to use the taxi metre (if you have a common language to speak in, that is, but if you have to pay slightly more don’t sweat the small stuff).
If you plan to eat out, you may not need much but it’s still worth locating the local grocery store in case you need a few essentials. In some countries, it’s not safe to drink the tap water so you may need to buy water. Make use of your hotel staff or Airbnb host if you need directions, as they are a wealth of information. Although you can find most things on Google Maps, get their recommendations for amenities like restaurants, shopping centres, local activities, coffee places, etc so you start your stay with the local tips.
The first weeks
You have the essentials for living. Now what? You won’t get this time back so explore as much as you can the first few weeks to get a feel for the geography of the area and the key landmarks. Think of every day as a learning experience and try as many local routines as possible, like getting a haircut, using public transport and shopping in the market.
The first months
By now you’ll probably be ready to set up a routine and start life in your new community. It may look like attending language classes, work, school, university or maybe volunteering. An affordable place to stay will probably be on your list.
After a few weeks you may want to move out of your Airbnb or hotel and rent a place at a more reasonable price. If you plan to buy a home, it’s better to wait until you get to know the area and have some culture and language under your belt so you can negotiate sale contracts and know what you are getting into.
A 6-or-12 month rental will allow you some structure and a home base while you explore and discover where you want to be based long term. You may try to get a fully furnished apartment if it’s only for a year or less to save the hassle of buying and selling furniture.
A hobby will help you relax in what can be an overwhelming time as you settle into a new community. The added bonus is a chance to meet like-minded people and begin connections that may turn into friendships.
If you have kids, you’ve probably already thought about schooling options. Home schooling and using a local school both have pros and cons. If you do educate at home then you’ll want to encourage your kids to join a local sport or play group so that they get to meet local children.
Smaller children can be enrolled in preschool or a local play group (the park is a great place to meet other parents and kids by the way). And schools often have play groups or contacts for extracurricular activities, so drop in and ask for recommendations.
If you have a job lined up, that’s a great way to meet people and hopefully start learning some language and culture. If you have a student visa, however, and frontload intensive language learning rather than leaving it for later, then you’ll be starting when you’re the most motivated. Who wouldn’t rather eat the big frog rather than save it for later?
Whatever your work or family duties, try to invest in your language and culture learning as soon as possible. You can sign up for a language course at a local university or language school or hire a language tutor for one-on-one practise (or both).
Many courses have evening and weekend options, as well as morning and afternoon sessions, so you’ll most likely find one that suits your schedule.
Participate in local activities
Trying local activities will give you a chance to practise your growing vocabulary.
Make a list of activities you’d like to try and work through it. The list could include learning to cook local dishes, getting a driver’s license and driving a car, doing some gardening or joining a sport team, visiting a local holy site like a temple, church or mosque, celebrating a local holiday or setting up a bank account.
After your first year, you’ll hopefully be on your way to learning the language and culture, have some friends (or maybe acquaintances that could be friends one day) and a routine that is working and allowing you to slowly interact with your new community.
Of course you’ll be forever learning as a second language speaker, but if you are intentional in the first year you’ll set yourself up for success in your new home.
I’m an educator and writer living abroad. I love languages, experiencing different cultures and going on adventures with my family.