Relocating to a new country is a daunting prospect. If you’re worried about not only the practicalities of physically moving your life abroad, but also how to prepare and settle the whole family when you get there, then here are our top ten tips for moving abroad.
10 tips for moving abroad
1. Visit the location you are moving to in advance
This isn’t always possible, but if you can, then it’s definitely the best way to find out what you’re about to let yourself in for and understand more about what you need to make plans for.
Internet searches are great - and much of how you prepare can and will be done online - but if there’s a window of opportunity to visit your new town then do it; this way you’ll be able to experience the culture first-hand, visit potential schools and new houses, gain an insight into the healthcare facilities in the area and even do a test-run to work or school.
2. Negotiate your relocation package if you're moving for a job
And understand what it entails completely. Of course, this will only apply to those of you that are relocating for a job that has a relocation package benefit, in which case your employer should talk you through the process.
You will need to find out whether or not the package includes a budget for things like school expenses, rent and health insurance, as well as added extras such as training or employment support for your partner, language training or flights home in the case of an emergency.
Make sure you know up-front what is and isn’t included so you can budget for your new life accordingly.
3. Join expat forums and start reading blogs
The best people to talk to are those that have been through the same process you’re about to enter.
Join as many forums (such as British Expats) and read as many blogs as you can – not only will it give you a more realistic insight into the process from start to finish but you’ll also be able to ask questions, receive support and perhaps even make some friends in your new area to meet up with when you get there. Check out some of our favourite blogs for moving abroad.
4. Prepare for culture shock
At some stage, you and the rest of your family may all experience culture shock in one form or another, so being prepared for the onset will help you cope when it hits.
Your new life is likely going to be completely different to the one you’re currently used to – from the food you eat, the currency you use, the language you speak and the roads you drive on to the new people you’ll call friends, the new job you’ll be taking on and the new neighbourhood that will provide the background to family life – and the sooner you can start to get your head around that, the better.
Even if you’re looking forward to your move and are genuinely excited, culture shock can still set in – you might find yourself unexpectedly craving food you can no longer buy, or TV channels you can’t watch; you might yearn for your old routine or desperately miss the sounds and smells you were familiar with. And often these homesick feelings come on suddenly, when you’re least expecting them, and are triggered by the smallest of things.
The key is to minimise the impact of all these changes hitting at once; as soon as you know where you’re moving to sit down as family and begin your research - watch lots of documentaries, read books, look at your new neighbourhood on Google Maps and just generally find out as much as you can before you leave. Always be positive about the move in front of children, focusing on why and how your new country will benefit their lives, and answer as many of their questions as you can.
And when you get to your host country, make sure you’ve got Skype and Facetime installed on laptops and mobiles so that home is only a phone call away.
5. Learn the local language
Unless you are already fluent in the language of your new country, then part of your preparations to move should centre around learning as much of your new language as you can.
Communication with the locals – however basic – will help you feel more settled and confident in your new surroundings. Many countries will use English as a second language anyway, which can be a great help if you’re really struggling, but always give your new language a go first; the more you use it in regular, everyday situations the easier it will become.
When moving to a country where English is the mother tongue, it’s still worth investing some time in researching the local colloquialisms; each town or city will have its own regional dialect and use slang words for things which you won’t be used to hearing, and which might cause some confusion at first!
6. Prepare for life as the ‘trailing spouse’ if you're moving for your partners job
International relocation is tough on the whole family in their own ways, but they can be particularly difficult when you’re the ‘trailing spouse’.
The trailing spouse is usually the one that has the least control over the move, and yet has to compromise the most – they are moving to support their partner’s career change, and therefore may be giving up a job and life they might not have necessarily chosen to under different circumstances.
This is by no means a bad thing; many trailing spouses welcome the changes ahead and understand that they will give their family better chances or bring greater opportunities/a quality of life currently unattainable in their home country. But it can be difficult if you’re giving up a job, friends and family you love to go into the unknown.
If you’re about to become a trailing spouse then, as with all other elements of your move, preparation is key. Will you be able to retain your job in your new country? For example, does your current company have a branch out there you could transfer to, or is there a possibility you could work on a freelance basis? If not then what are your chances of getting another job out there? Can you retrain or study for a different role? And if you can’t work at all and your family will be minus a regular wage, is your partner’s relocation package reflective of this?
7. Research the local rules and laws
Especially if you’re going anywhere outside of the EU, where attitudes towards public behaviour and dress codes can be completely different. Even the smallest of gestures in some countries can be taken as a sign of rudeness, which can quickly land you in hot water with the locals.
Take some time to find out about the customs, local laws and regulations of the new society you are about to enter – things like speed limits and road rules, dress codes for public outings, the correct way to address and greet your peers and table etiquette when dining out might seem trivial, but get them wrong and they could result in you (at worst) breaking the law or (at best) publically embarrassing yourself.
8. Check your insurance policies as soon as your trip is booked
And then double check them. As a minimum, you’ll need travel and health insurance – health being imperative as many other countries do not operate a National Health Service, so you’ll be expected to pay for all medical care you require. From there, you might want to consider insuring your new home, making sure your existing life insurance policy covers you in your new country, looking into insurance for cars if you’ll be driving and, even though it’s morbid, insuring yourself against accidental death whilst living abroad. If you’re part of a corporate relocation and receiving a relocation package, then these might be things you’ll want to talk to your employer about to see whether they can be included.
9. Look into relocation services and removal companies
Particularly if you’re not being relocated by your employer, where help and support may be provided - they might even be arranging your removal entirely on your behalf.
If you’ve have been given a budget by your employer to arrange your own move or if you’re moving privately and need some extra guidance on certain parts of the process then international removal companies can be a great help.
Once you know your move date, start compiling quotes from international removal companies in your area – around 3 to 4 is a good idea. Some removal companies that deal in international relocations will also be able to offer you additional relocation services – things like helping you with your visas and immigration, home and school searches, helping you transport your pets, recommendations for shipping your vehicles, as well as many other things. Always ask about these sorts of things when talking to removal companies – a little bit of help can go a long way!
10. Prepare for the unexpected
Always. Because no matter how hard you plan or how prepared you think you are, something somewhere will catch you unawares. And that’s completely normal for a move of this magnitude.
Generally speaking, it takes around 6 months for expatriates to feel settled in their new surroundings, so don’t beat yourself up if things feel strange for a little while; it’s all part of the process.
Remember that you have to embrace your new life, not the other way around – you’re moving somewhere where the customs and traditions have been set in that particular society for hundreds of years, so being open minded, accepting your new surroundings and letting go of your expectations is the best way to truly become part of your new culture.