From a marketing perspective, a country should always try to put on it’s best face when welcoming foreign visitors. This strategy tends to pay off when those new visitors stick to the usually safe, well-kept tourist spots. Just like with that crazy relative all of us have, it is one thing to visit a country, another one entirely to live in it.
Once you start to wander off the well-worn trails, the real flavor of the country starts to emerge. This is the reason why slow-traveling beats the pants off jet-setting from country to country.
Let the country, it’s customs, it’s people, effect change in you in ways that a collection of same ol’ vacation snapshots never could.
Many future expats usually get the bug to live abroad during an extended vacation. I know I did!
Everything feels exciting and new. Food tastes markedly different. The air, the sounds, the smells… it’s sensory overload.
But before you commit to packing everything up and shipping it to your new address overseas, it’s best to plan accordingly. I recommend you put boots on the ground for a few weeks, or better yet, months, before you settle down. It is very likely that one city or neighborhood will be a better fit for your lifestyle, but you won’t know that until you’ve explored around a bit.
Follow these tips that will help you adjust and have the best expat experience possible:
Don’t Rent (Much Less Buy):
Signing a lease and paying a deposit without getting a lay of the land first can potentially start you off on the wrong foot. You may end up paying way too much because rental properties marketed to expats overcharge knowing that prices are still low relative to prices back home. Stay in a hotel and negotiate month-long rates and while you gather information about the country.
The best way to get familiar with the rental market is to read local newspapers and online classifieds geared to the locals. Country-specific expat forums are a great source of information, such as Lonely Planet’s Thorntree Forums.
Seek Advice from Other Expats and Locals:
You may think you’re getting a sweet deal on that condo. Until you find out that the nearest public transportation stop is a mile away. Or nearby schools suck. Or that a sketchy part of town starts only a couple blocks away from your residence.
Expats (both online and offline) and locals are your best source for information regarding potential areas you might enjoy living in, among other things. Plus, it will give you something to talk about and an excuse to meet new people.
Couchsurfing.com is also a great way to meet local people. There is the option to meet local couchsurfers in your area for things other than a place to spend the night.
Request to meet with other couchsurfers for a cup of coffee and they would be more than glad to share their local knowledge with you. That $2 [worldcurrency curr=”USD” value=”2.00″] cup of coffee may be the best money you’ve ever spent if it can prevent you from making an expensive mistake.
Keep an Open Mind:
The quickest way to ruin your slow-travel experience is to try to recreate in your new country the lifestyle you had back home. You’ll be in for a disappointing experience.
Yes, you will miss some of the food and places you used to frequent. Oh, what I would give for a Zaxby’s Nibbler’s meal right now… But is it enough for me to forgo the experience of a lifetime?
Not. At. All.
Adjusting your eating and social patterns will take some time. It’s normal.
What you can’t allow is frustration to set in. Take a deep breath when things move at a different pace than you’re used to. Accept there are things you can’t change and focus on the positives yo do encounter. Look forward to those new experiences. If anything, you’ll have funny stories to tell your friends later.
Adjusting to life in a new country is not easy, at best, and challenging at times. Make the best of it by integrating into the culture as best as you can, and by drawing on other expats and friendly locals as a source of wisdom and advice.
How have you coped during your stints overseas? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
Keep tuned in and check back Mondays for business building info, Wednesdays for expat-life-related content, and Fridays for tons of pictures as I do an on-the ground report spotlighting a travel destination.
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Photo Credit: KevCheng @ Flickr