There are so many things that need to be done when you are doing an expat move. List to be checked off, bags to be packed, things to be sold, things you need to buy. Passports. Visas. Miles of red tape (well, depending on where you’re headed).
But here are my essentials, the things you really don’t want to forget about when you are moving. And only two of them are practical tips.
Although, on a re-read, I think these are essentials if you are staying put too…
Money makes the world go around
Well, not quite – I’m more of an ‘All You Need is Love’ kind of girl. But if you want to go around the world, you need to have a way of funding it. Ending up in a financial fix when you are far from home is the last thing you need.
Get your finances in order before you leave your home country – trying to sort things out when you aren’t physically there is never easy. If possible, pay off any loans or credit cards before you leave.
It’s also worth having a back up plan – if your move doesn’t go as expected, do you have the funds to get home? Hope for the best, plan for the worst…
You may also want to consider getting advice from a tax advisor – this is a complex area and one that is worth understanding before you move rather than afterwards.
Where there’s a will…
Another practical point (I only have two practical things, so I’ll get them out the way upfront). If you haven’t got a will already, consider getting one drawn up.
I know that the thought of it is upsetting, but it is important to have plans in place in case things go wrong. I didn’t like doing this…just the thought of it brings a tear to my eye and then I think of ‘Who Will Love My Children’ and I start to sob…
But I feel reassured that we have a plan.
Things can get a bit complicated when it comes to the financial side of wills when you have lived in multiple countries – the tax thing rearing its ugly head again – so if your money situation is complex it’s worth contacting an expert.
Be yourself; everyone else is already taken
For every situation, it seems, there is an Oscar Wilde quote…
But this is my favourite. Just be yourself. You are enough. Sometimes it seems like we should reinvent ourselves when we move. A new haircut? New clothes? Go for it. Especially if you’re moving from England to Thailand – you won’t be needing those jumpers for a while.
But the real stuff, that doesn’t change, wherever we go. The baggage you carry in one country will generally find you in the next, no matter how hard you try to shake it off (metaphorical baggage that is. Literal baggage you’ll want to keep hold of).
Be open to the power of ‘YES’…
It can be really hard to put yourself out there when you move somewhere new. The triple whammy of culture-shock, jet lag (or just sheer exhaustion) and homesickness, coupled with not knowing anyone or how anything works – well, it’s enough to make anyone feel like they just want to lie down in a darkened room.
And that’s ok for a day. But then you have to start saying yes to things. Be open to invitations, try new things. Shutting yourself – and your mind – off to new opportunities usually just results in amplifying the aforementioned triple-whammy.
Say yes. It’s the easiest way of meeting people, and often these people will then become friends, and that’s when everything starts to feel a bit better.
…but remember it’s ok to say ‘NO’
Because I love a contradiction. You don’t have to be best friends with everyone you meet. You don’t have to give time to people who don’t make you feel good.
Oscar Wilde didn’t say this (I wish he had) but people can be roughly divided into radiators and drains. Surround yourself with radiators, avoid the drains.
Same principle applies to opportunities, requests, demands on your time. Say ‘No’ to the things that drain you.
OK, there’s a ton of stuff that doesn’t fill us with radiance and positive energy, but we have to do it anyway (I’m looking at you, laundry basket). But sometimes, especially when we are ‘new’ somewhere we can feel obliged to try to please everyone, do everything, and accept every demand on our time.
But saying ‘No’ is empowering. If there’s stuff you don’t want to do…don’t do it!
(I know I’m stating the absolute obvious here, but I am a ‘yes’ person at heart and have to work really hard on this, and I know I’m not the only one).
Take care of yourself
OK, I talk about this a lot. But you need to look after yourself. So often we get caught up looking after the kids, the pets, the house move and everything in between we forget abut ourselves.
It is impossible to take good care of everything if you are not taking care of yourself.
There are so many ups and downs in expat life – and I don’t just mean the ‘rock bottom’ most of us experience a couple of months into a move. Maybe you’ve repatriated and it’s not what you expected. Or you find yourself in the same place but your besties have moved on and suddenly you feel lonely even though you’re not ‘new’.
Give yourself a break. Make time every day to do something that is just for you. Even if this is just twenty minutes reading a book, or taking a bath, or going for a long walk without being attached to your phone.
And I know it’s not exactly ‘me time’ but make sure you keep up with health checks. PAP smears, mammograms…you know, all the fun stuff.
Most of the women I know are not naturally good at looking after themselves, but are so good at looking after others. So let’s look out for our friends too, and when you see that super stressed out new Mum at the school gates, take her for a coffee. That might be just the lifeline she needs.
A sense of humour will take you a long way
This is the one thing you absolutely do not want to leave behind. You will need this more than anything. Things will go wrong. You will have bad days. But, the ability to laugh at the situation – and yourself – will lighten the load.
On our second day in Bangkok I got lost on my way to visit the kindergarten.
It was about a million degrees, 200% humidity, I was carrying one child and panicking that the other was going to get mowed down by one of the crazy motorcyclists. There was no pavement. I had no wifi. I had no idea where I was.
And just when I had managed to get directions…the little one did a huge poo in her nappy. It was dripping down her legs. There was nowhere to change her. Those 200m felt like 200 miles. I arrived late, with two crying kids, dripping with sweat and smelling of poo. What could I do but laugh about it?!
OK, the laughter was slightly manic and mixed with the sheer relief of finding a changing table and stepping into an air conditioned building. And yes, it was also mixed with tears. But I managed to joke about it, managed to get the appointment despite being an hour late, and – look! – now I’ve managed to turn it into a funny story…
But a sense of humility is important too. In other words…
Don’t be a dick. Even when things are tough, you need to remind yourself that you are living in a different country, and that you are a guest. In fact, it’s when things are tough that you need reminding most.
If you are living in a country where you don’t speak the language, make an effort. Even if it is just ‘I’m sorry, can you speak English?’ Obviously this should be said in your host country’s language…everyone is capable of rote learning a couple of basic phrases.
And yes, this is directed at my fellow Anglophones…and myself, because it’s an easy trap to fall into. Not even bothering to try, because you think everyone speaks English. If someone approached you in your home country and spoke to you in a different language and expected a response, what would you think? Exactly. I know this doesn’t apply to all native English speakers, and hats off to everybody who learns the language of their host country. But we have this reputation for a reason…
Actually, ‘Don’t be a dick’ should just be the golden rule. Follow this and everyone will be happier.
Don’t be a dick. To yourself, to your partner, to your family. To the new people you meet, to your old friends. To random people in queues – don’t push, don’t stand too close (sorry, that’s my pet hate…). To other drivers – hey, they might never have driven on this side of the road before! And to people online…you might not be able to see them, but you can be sure that nasty comments still hurt.
And we’re back again to Oscar Wilde because, as he so succinctly put it:
‘Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.’
Be the former. Be a radiator.
Mr Wilde put it more eloquently, but I’m pretty sure what he meant was this…