Becoming an Expat: What to Know


Becoming an expat means your whole life shifts. Your first time in a new country is like a glorious first date.

Everything is new, adorable, and fun. You find all the little differences in lifestyle charming and you are easily swooned by the newness of everything around you.

The flaws in the mail system don’t matter and you don’t care that you cannot easily access your bank account at home.

You are not bothered by the job market or anything that boring. You are in love and you just want to absorb everything that country has to offer you.

We’ve all been in that blinding state of joy and fascination, but there are things to consider before becoming an expat.

Becoming an expat can be wonderful, giving you new friends and opportunities. But there are things you should know first.

Becoming an expat will cost you

Becoming an expat might not be cheap, but living in another country is an experience like no other. Still, no matter what country you are moving to, it is going to cost you a sizable chunk of change. You’ll need a flight and chances are you’ll need to check a bag or two.

When you arrive, you are going to need a place to live. You might need to stay in a hostel for a bit while you search out apartments. You’ll need to learn the local language and likely invest in taking lessons.

Keep in mind that foreigners in many places often get charged more than locals for housing (probably rightfully so) and you will most likely need a furnished place – these extra charges add up.

Get ready for commitment

Get over that lovey-dovey, oh-you’re-so-cute stage and prepare yourself for bedhead, dirty laundry and annoying habits as you settle into living the expat life.

Part of the magic of traveling is that you are escaping everyday life, but after becoming an expat, you have to start some sort of daily routine. That means dealing with landlords, banks, post offices and other unpleasant situations.

You’ll also have the added bureaucracy of filing for visas, residency and dealing with embassies.

You will discover that grocery stores are no longer fun and whimsical with all their crazy foods and funny packaging, suddenly, these are your food options and things like peanut butter and pizza rolls are not available.

It’s also smart to remember that trips home may or may not be an option.

Depending on your money situation and distance from home, it may not be financially responsible or possible for you to fly home for visits.

You have to think about how long you want to live abroad and whether or not you can handle that sort of time commitment.

Do you have a future together?

If you are planning to become an expat, you’ll need to establish three things in your new expat life: work, a home, and a social life.

Are these things you can do in your country of choice? What is the job situation? Is English teaching going to be enough to pay the bills? Are you planning to freelance?

You need to find somewhere you can live that is safe, affordable, and close to where you need to be for work or socializing.

Speaking of socializing, what will your friend situation be?

If you already know some people there, great, if not, you need to start joining clubs, attending events or latching on to coworkers to kick start your social life.

If you don’t have a job, home and friends, your new relationship with this country is going to go sour pretty quickly and you might start to feel homesick.

We’re not saying becoming an expat isn’t totally worth it, because it is and it can be– we just encourage you to think things through. There are so many amazing transformations that come from truly immersing yourself in another country. But there are also things that suck (no peanut butter in Argentina, whyyyy?).

Have you made the leap to becoming an expat? What made it better for you? 

Becoming an expat: things to know first!

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  1. Great post Rease! I made the leap to expat life in New Zealand. It was awesome. I made friends pretty quickly just by going out all the time and getting a job and some roommates. In fact, my roommates were heaven-sent. They’ve become lifelong travel buddies now!

    P.S.– There is one tiny organic-y health food shop in Palermo that sells peanut butter. I also found it once at Disco Salguero, on Salguero y Cabello (which is also where Krissy used to live!) Haha. Can you tell I’m obsessed? Love peanut butter!

  2. Benjamin Katzenberg on

    Hey, I dunno if guys are allowed to cintribute to Girl Guides, but if we are I guess as an ex-pat myself I’d add a couple things.

    1) Learn the language. Unless you’ve expated to an Anglophone country, you’re really doing yourself and your new community a disservice by continuing to function in English. Especially when they’re out drinking, your non-english speaking friends aren’t always going to be in the mood to accomodate you, and you may have a hard time making new friends. English is fine when all you need to communicate is “where is ATM machine” and “three beers please”, but even in very developed countries there’s a lot of people who hardly speak English.
    You’ll also discover tremendous warmth and respect from the locals for making an effort to learn their language, and language classes are a terrific way to make new friends.

    2) Visas: Most people I know who have moved abroad just arrive on tourist visas and then leave the country every 90 days or so. This is fine if all you’re going to be doing is odd jobs like working in bars or picking fruit and getting paid in cash under the table, but if you decide to do anything more serious you could run into problems getting paid. Especially if you’re planning on teaching english at any kind of official school, you’ll probably need a working visa, and these are always easier and less time-consuming to obtain before you enter the country. If you come on a tourist visa, then get hired at something more serious after you arrive, you may have to go through a lot of hoops to get a work permit. Also remember, visas and work permits are generally temporary, usually only 6 months at a maximum. If you plan on staying somewhere longer than that, there are going to be even more hoops to jump through. Hopefully whoever is hiring you for a long term position will be able to get you a long term visa, but even then be prepared for a lot of waiting around in crowded government offices and filling out bewildering arrays of forms. The takeaway point is that in most cases if you’re not getting paid under the table and/or supporting yourself on odd jobs you are probably going to need a working visa, and these are a lot easier to get before you arrive.

    3)Housing. One thing I don’t recommend doing, ever, is getting housing before you arrive somewhere. I’ve done it before and its a nightmare. People trying to rent apartments to foreigners will leave details out like the fact that 20 odd industrial jackhammers will be running from 6am onwards on the other side of your paper-thin bedroom walls, including sundays, or that the heating system dates back to the industrial revolution and will shut off in the dead of winter for no good reason.

    4) Healthcare: When you’re travelling this isn’t something you usually think about, I know I don’t. But if you’re going to live somewhere abroad this ought to be something you consider. Your health insurance probably doesn’t work overseas. Most developed countries, and even most undeveloped countries, have national healthcare for their citizens, but that won’t be available to you. Your employer or the school you’re attending might be able to provide this to you, but that’s not something you should count on. You can purchase health insurance to cover you abroad, but its expensive, and with a deductible around $500 for the most part this isn’t going to help you at all. The bottom line is if you get injured or sick it probably going to be very expensive. Also remember that pharmacies in other countries may or may not be able to give you stuff you’d get over the counter in the States. One common example is Melatonin, this can be hard to find abroad. Sudafed, NyQuil, and other common cold medicines in America usually aren’t available.

    • I’m not sure what my goal would be. But, running would prloabby be part of it. I love to run, but I’m not especially good at it. And, I’d prloabby add losing weight as well (I don’t need to lose a lot, but I would love to get more fit).On the other hand, I’m thinking about writing an ebook. And, writing on the ebook every day for 30 days, should be enough to complete it. You got me thinking about getting more fit. I’m going to start next week. First, I have to celebrate my daughters birthday with lots of cake (this weekend) Jens P. Berget recently posted..

  3. I’m doing this the opposite way (from expat to RTW-er) and wonder how the change will be for me. In some ways, I think it will be hard to leave the relative security and comfort of the friend base I’ve built up here. After living in Korea a year and a half, it’s become a second home to me. I’m starting to feel like wherever I live, I’m going to be missing someone who’s living somewhere else.

  4. If you manage the first 12 months of being an expat, you never look back. And in fact one of the biggest lessons is to be careful that you’re aware of what you’re getting into. You will lose friends from ‘home’ and you will forever be attached to your new home. Meaning travel becomes an integral part of your life. We are now living in our 3rd country, Singapore, and I just love it. But trips back to London and Australia have to be made to keep up the wonderful relationships we’ve established. Great article.

  5. I’ve been an expat for 9 years (in 4 different countries) and would agree with all of the above.

    Being an expat is in no way comparable to being a traveller. I just moved to India. It took me 2 months to get a bank account. I have to pay my phone bill in person at a specific shop. Mumbai is so huge that I could well end up travelling for hours to meet people – yesterday a 35km taxi ride took 3 hours!!

    As you say, setting up can be expensive. In each country I have purchased furniture for my home, and each time I have left it behind when I moved.

    On top of that there’s a huge emotional impact. You spend years with a group of people, becoming firm friends, and then one – or all – leave, and you know that you will never all be together again. And this happens each and every place you go.

    You will miss family events and friends’ weddings. People at home will not always understand why you don’t come back for them.

    Having said all that, I love being an expat. My life has changed completely since I left home. I have spent time long-term travelling, but I prefer being an expat. I know the places I have lived intimately and have done things that I could never do if just passing through.

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