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The best expat bloggers in the business share their tips for anyone about to move abroad – the practical advice and honest truth no one thinks to tell you before you get there.
My hand clutched the post it note, desperately re-reading the scrawled letters and comparing them to the wall of packaged meats in the deli aisle of Spar.
‘Aufschnitte… what the hell is an Aufschnitte? Is it ham, or sliced pork, or something between the two? Should there be cheese in it?’
I wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans leg as my internal monologue crept up a pitch and started to betray me.
‘You can’t even go to the supermarket for a simple errand! If you can’t work out this one thing, when it’s written down for you, how the hell do you think you can survive living here!’
The devil in my ear continued, as my pulse quickened in fear and doubt.
‘It’s just meat, it can’t be that hard Carly. Just look at the writing he put on the post-it and find it. Simple. It can’t be that hard!‘
I silently panicked in the supermarket aisle of Spar, convinced I’d made a terrible life choice in moving overseas. Tears welled in frustration because I couldn’t complete even the simplest of tasks without utter dependency on someone else. This stupid Aufschnitte errand was going to be the end of my attempt to live in Austria.
But that’s the thing with moving abroad – the things that prove difficult are never quite what you expect.
To save anyone else from potential supermarket breakdowns, I asked some of my expat blogger friends to share their best advice for moving abroad.
The question was simple – share your #1 piece of advice for anyone about to move abroad.
You’ll see from this collection that there’s a few common themes, but no answer is exactly the same. Which is exactly how moving to a new country can be – never quite identical, but every piece of advice helps.
I also got these Expat Experts to share a bonus tip, of one actionable thing you should do before moving abroad. They’ve shared all in our 7 Day Planner to Move Abroad. But more on that later, let’s get to the advice!
1 Rachel from The Department of Wandering moved from Melbourne to Berlin and has this advice for would-be expats and digital nomads.
‘For someone planning to move abroad to a place where your mother tongue isn’t spoken, my top tip would be to enrol in a language school as soon as you arrive. Although learning a new language is intimidating and difficult, it really makes the process of settling in a lot easier.
Being able to communicate to immigration officials, bank clerks and just generally day-to-day with the locals is SO helpful! If you have at least a basic grasp of the language, you definitely feel less like an outsider.’
2. Beverley from Pack your Passport moved from the UK to Australia and back again to Leeds. She has some excellent tips on saving enough to get that far!
‘When I moved to Australia on a Working Holiday Visa in 2010, I spent the six months before my departure from the UK living as frugally as possible. I used own brand beauty products where possible, chose nights in with friends over going out to bars, and sold a bunch of stuff on eBay.
It wasn’t that much fun, to be honest, but when it took me a few weeks to find a job in Sydney I was thankful to have that buffer. Saving is boring, but it definitely makes setting yourself up in a new country less stressful to know that, if things go wrong, you’ve got a bit of money behind you.’
In the 7 Day Planner Beverley shares more tips on what you should do before leaving home. Get the bonus advice here:
3 Roma & Russ moved from Sydney to London in 2012, writing about their expat adventures at Roaming Required. Their tip is an easy to action one.
‘Find the one piece of “home” that you want to take with you. This could be something simple like a printed photo, favourite stuffed animal, or a keepsake, that will immediately make you smile and connect you with wherever your home is.
After living abroad for a while, you will appreciate your piece of home more than you realise right now.’
4 Silvia from Heart my Backpack is a serial expat who’s lived in seven countries, including Japan, and now calls Norway home. I love her unique tip!
‘I’d really recommend writing down a list of all the reasons you’re excited to move to this new country. I know it sounds sort of cheesy, and in fact I only did this myself because it was part of a blog post, but now whenever I’m feeling down about Norway I go back and read my list of reasons why I moved here.
It always fills me with new energy and motivation, and helps me to focus more on the positives about my new home instead of the things that frustrate me.’
5 Jessica & Sean from a Wanderlust for Life give their tips around how to re-build your friendship circles in your adopted homeland.
‘Start reaching out in social Facebook groups of the place you are move to so you have make some friends once you move. Or try meetup.com to see what’s available and what you can get into quickly once you’re there.
Creating your own network as quickly as possible will help you adapt, be happier, and give you fun stuff to do!’
6 Sonja hails from New Zealand, has lived abroad in Spain and now Scotland, blogging about it all at Migrating Miss. Her advice is all about the mindset baby.
‘The best piece of advice I have to give would-be or newbie expats is to be flexible with your move. Things don’t always work out exactly how you expect, and you need to be able to roll with it, especially if you’re moving without a job. Try not to lock yourself in to any accommodation expenses or bills until you have something secured, and realise that you might need to adjust your plans if you can’t get a job right away.
Websites like HelpX and Workaway are great options for working for your room and board in the meantime, and couch surfing or housesitting to keep your costs down when you first get there. Moving abroad can be like a rollercoaster ride, so be prepared to change your plans! ‘
7 Drew & Julie moved from the US to London and just arrived in China. Their blog Drive on the Left covers a range of Expat topics and their advice is priceless.
‘Patience. Moving to a new country and adjusting to a different culture can be daunting and headache-inducing at times. The key is to exhibit extraordinary patience when faced with weird and bizarre obstacles in your new life that you may find silly or frustrating, but everyone else around you seems to find normal.
Too many expats (and we’ve met plenty of these people) fall into the trap of thinking, “why can’t it just be done like it is back home?” That mindset has literally never resolved a problem before, and probably won’t in the future.
Much of expat life, especially when getting settled in, is coming to the realization that people handle things differently in different places. You can complain, get angry, or even cry, but that won’t change the outcome. Being patient, taking the challenges in stride, is the key to long-term happiness in expat life. ‘
As part of the 7 Day Planner to Move Abroad, Drew & Julie go into more detail about what you should do before the big move. Pop your email in the box below to access the 7 Days of Planning advice
8 Michelle from American in Vienna has one final piece of advice for first-time movers to help your overall wellbeing
‘Try to create a consistent workout routine, such as daily yoga so you don’t get so overwhelmed or burnt out during this transition time. There are many 5 – 15 minute yoga videos on Youtube you can do to help you remain calm and stable.’
(I have to second Michelle’s advice here – my favourite at home workout channels on Youtube are Bad Yogi for calming yoga stretches, or Blogilates for more intense pilates workouts. Both channels come with structured routines or easy 5 minute workouts you can do anywhere!)
As for me and my supermarket meltdown? Well, it wasn’t the last time I felt lost and alone overseas. Eventually the lady behind the meat counter pointed at the prepackaged mix of meats on the shelf behind me that had the word ‘Aufschnitte’ printed in bold on the front. Supermarket meltdown averted – this time.
But that incident was a wake up call to stop being so hard on myself. No one is testing you on your level of success as an expat – no one is watching to see if you pass the ‘Aufschnitte test’ in Spar. Everyone adapts to life abroad at their own pace and that’s ok.
Armed with the advice above from 8 experienced expats, I hope you can make your move abroad easier on yourself.
If you need an extra helping hand, you can sign up below for our 7 Day Planner to Move Abroad. It’s an easy mini e-course choc-full of tips from all the expert expats included in this article, plus some daily actionable tasks to make sure you are on track for your big move.
Just know that however you approach your move abroad, it will be worth the experience. Even if you lose your shit in a supermarket once or twice.