Moving abroad is an exciting prospect and brings waves of anticipation, but those are usually mixed with a certain amount of hesitation. Unless you’re a seasoned pro and have moved abroad many times, you’re likely to have a few reservations too. Naturally there will be challenges along the way; it’s almost a given when immersing yourself into a totally new culture and environment.
Vietnam was my first destination of choice, but I knew next to nothing about the place. I barely prepared at all. I’d heard that teaching opportunities were plentiful, so I armed myself with a TEFL certificate and systematically rid myself of years of accumulated belongings. That’s about it!
With hindsight on my side, there are things I might have done a little differently, but still; moving abroad can be an incredibly rewarding life experience that builds confidence and puts you in good stead for future adventures. Here are my best tips for anyone planning to make the leap:
- Do some homework on your destination
As I said, I decided to just go for it without building too many expectations. I had decided that too much research could lead to disappointments. However, depending on the country you’re moving to, it is smart to get informed on the basics.
On arrival in Vietnam, I found that I had no idea how to even get across the road. A sea of motorbikes droned by at all times, and there were no functional crossings. It took me thirty minutes at the side of a road to figure out that I should just step out and the bikes would simply move around me.
Getting a phone SIM was also a huge challenge, and finding vegetarian food was equally problematic. I didn’t eat for the first 24 hours! Finding my way around was also a nightmare at first. I later downloaded the Happy Cow app to find restaurants, and learned about both road systems and efficient map apps from expats who had been there a while. Had I thought of some of these things ahead of the move, I’d have saved myself a lot of time and effort.
- Pack as light as possible
This one is a biggie. I wasn’t sure what I would need, so I decided to err on the side of caution. That decision resulted in a baggage weight of over 50 kg in total. I’ll never forget what that did to my body en route, but the worst is that I never even used half of the stuff I took. Even in third world countries, you can find reasonable electrical items, toiletries, clothing and probably even some of the niche products you use at home. It also helps to use a packing checklist so as not to forget anything important.
By the end of my time in Vietnam, I had to do a yard sale as I couldn’t face onward travel with such a heavy weight. I still couldn’t get rid of half my stuff and ended up ditching it. If in doubt about what will be available, join expat groups on Facebook and ask questions. Most places have an expat network online and they’re happy to give advice.
- Prepare for culture shock
One thing I really wasn’t prepared for was the massive differences between the familiar Western culture and that of Asian culture. I remember my first sight of a motorway gridlocked with revving scooters; I’d struggled to imagine ever joining it. As it happened, this was the only viable way to get around, and although the prospect was daunting, I eventually did learn to ride a scooter and deal with the crazy traffic.
People’s attitudes were vastly different to what I was used to. When locals could speak English, they would ask very direct personal questions and think nothing of laughing at me openly. Attitudes to everything from food preparation to money were totally different, and I felt quite lost for the first couple of months.
Eventually I learned to adapt, and even embrace these new, freer ways of living. It really helps to remember that there will be challenges and you’ll come across things that seem completely bizarre, even. When I look back now, I can see that these experiences were all valuable and character building, even. I’m grateful for them all.
- Be prepared to learn a new language
Dependent on where you’re headed, you may need to learn the local language. Not every country of the world has an English-speaking majority, so find out if your new country does. If not, it helps to do a language course ahead of time, or at least get yourself a local dictionary or phrasebook.
Learning a language with a local or a language school on arrival is a very good idea, as you’ll get to practice with those who know when you’re making mistakes. It’s also a great way of making friends with both locals and other expats or travelers. Once you’ve got to grips with some basics, you’ll feel more confident about asking for things in supermarkets, getting accurate directions and building a rapport with locals day to day.
- Gain a qualification or two
Unless you’re venturing out with a very comfortable budget, I recommend learning a skill or two that are relevant to the place you’re heading for. You can also go over your CV to figure out which skills you have that are marketable abroad. I had found out that in Vietnam, teachers were always in short supply, so getting myself a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate meant that I didn’t have to rely on my savings to get by. I could afford to take a quality apartment for a more comfortable stay.
It’s a good idea to research on international job boards and speak to people on expat forums about what kind of work is available to foreign nationals. See what most appeals to you and then find out if you’ll need to study at home or on arrival. Also be sure to get the right kind of visa if you’re planning to study or work abroad. You may need to acquire permits, so it helps to be prepared for this.
Ultimately, moving abroad doesn’t have to be fraught with challenges. A little preparation goes a long way. This way you’ll feel more confident and ready to embrace all the wonderful experiences coming your way.
Author Bio: Jessica is the head of content for Hire A Mover – her fathers moving company. In her spare time, she enjoys travelling around the world to different surf spots and tasting the local cuisine.