Five Essential Truths for First Time Expats

Having lived abroad for over half of my life now, I can speak with a little bit of knowledge, (and hopefully provide a bit of caution), about making the huge jump to living outside of your home country. Here’s five basics to know before you go:

1) YOU’RE NOT HOME. Try as hard as you might, the country you’ve chosen to expatriate to is not “home”. It’s important to remember that you are the guest, and you can’t and shouldn’t expect things to run as they do at “home”. Expect pretty much everything to be different to how things are done where you come from: transportation, workplace procedures, food & dining, kid’s school matters, holidays…the list goes on. Best to just jump in with both feet, and enjoy learning new ways of everyday life.

2) YOU ARE HOME. That means to say, once the choice is made, and you’ve actually made the move…you’re committed. No going back, at least for a while anyways. I remember crying for days when we first moved to Singapore in 1997. Everything seemed so strange, so…hot. Anyway, once we found a flat I did my absolute best to make it a home for us. This meant combining the familiar stuff we brought with new, locally bought decor…baskets, batiks, what have you. Set yourself up to have a home that is your comfort place, your retreat, your home away from home.

3) YOU PROBABLY WON’T HAVE A BATHTUB. Or an oven, or a clothes dryer, or wall to wall carpets, or central heating, or….Many of these things just don’t exist in everyday homes outside of North America. Sure, you might be lucky to get a few of these luxuries, but don’t count on your expatriate home being anything like what you’ve always known. Learn to compromise.

(Actually, learning to compromise is probably the one thing you will do well at, right from day one!)

4) GET READY TO SAY GOODBYE…A LOT. This is one of the hardest expat truths to accept. It’s going to be great, meeting so many fellow expatriates from all over the world. You’ll share so much, such a common bond, they almost become like family, in your new far-flung home. But, everyone is on some sort of time limit, contracts end, and your new besties leave. It happens. Over and over and over. Sure, you end up with many great friends for future visits to their home countries, but it still is very hard constantly saying “farewell”.

5) TRAVEL IS SO GONNA HAPPEN! Ok, I admit that all of these truths I’ve shared are tough, even a bit discouraging. However, there is a big silver lining. Probably the best perk to living abroad is that, in almost all cases, travel to nearby places will be inexpensive. Or, at least far cheaper than what you’d pay travelling from your home country. So, get out there and explore your region, as we did so many times over the years in Singapore…trips to Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand…all very affordable, even for a family of four.

Ok, kids, that’s my take on just a few basics to consider before you take the expat leap. It’s going to be scary, yes, but it’s going to be amazing as well!

*all photos aquired via image bank

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