I’ve lived in 5 countries. Here are my 11 best tips for moving abroad.
Editor’s note: This piece was originally published on jasminezelda.com, the author’s personal website/blog, March 3, 2017.
Planning on moving abroad or considering it? Then read this post to get my 11 best tips for both before moving and once you have arrived in your new home country. I could say I have learned a few things since I have lived in four countries on two continents during a span of eight years for different reasons. People ask me for advice once in awhile, so here I gathered a list of the 11 best tips I can give (to start with) for if you are moving abroad.
Before moving abroad
1. Know what papers you need and gather ALL of them in advance.
Before moving abroad research in time what papers you need on government or other helpful sites. It is a hundred times easier to gather all the papers while you’re still in your home country. Papers you might need for registering or applying for a social security number are usually birth certificate, copy of passport or ID and bank and tax statements (rarely though). Be also mindful of having the correct visa if applicable. Once you have signed a housing contract you might also need a copy of it in order to get your social security number. When you start to work your new employer might ask for a copy of your ID/passport, a scan of your bank card, a copy of your bank details, graduation diploma and any other possible certificates of your previous employers. In some cases they might also need an extract of your criminal record from countries you’ve lived in in advance. Also make sure you notify your social security system in your home country that you’re moving abroad, because that might be an obligation by law.
2. Make an initial budget.
Research costs of housing, what the typical deposit for an accommodation is, possible agency fees, what registering and opening a bank account costs, utility costs, housing insurance, third-party liability insurances (at least required in France), health care (crazy expensive in the Netherlands and mandatory for everyone), mobile phone and internet costs, transportation costs and so forth. Make sure you also have some extra money because from experience I can say moving abroad costs a lot more than you would think. When you know all the costs you might have to initially pay, make a budget accordingly. This is also where you want to over-budget so you know you’re covered. And then stick to your set budget as much as you can until you have a bit more freedom to spend.
3. Packing the “right” things.
I’ve lived from suitcases back and forth for the past 11 years and I still think packing is hell. Especially for moving abroad for an extended time period. My greatest tip here is to only pack what you really really think you will use and need. Then re-pack a few times the last week you’re at home and take out things you realize you might not need after all. Do NOT take shampoo, soap, razors, etc. with you because you can buy that stuff for pretty much the same prices everywhere in the world and it only adds on weight. Things that hold some personal memories are also useless in the end. Store them in your home country and bring them later on if you want to.
However I do recommend bringing clothes you might need, like work clothes, and your daily (or expensive) make-up because you don’t want to end up shopping all your money away. Bring only the things that are in good shape, qualitative and can still be used for a longer time. Don’t bring seasonal clothes like summer shirts, but i.e. skiing clothes could be an idea to take with you since they cost a lot. Be mindful of limitations of how much your suitcase can weigh and always book over-weight or an extra suitcase in advance, it’s way cheaper than at the airport – believe me I know. You can also research how much it would cost to send things, i.e. I’ve used Eurosender which is relatively cheap within Europe compared to many national postal services.
4. Learn the local language.
If you move to a country where you don’t know the local language I would suggest you start practising basic phrases and vocabulary already before moving abroad. I read somewhere that the best way is to start learning a language in your home (not-new/non-stressful) environment up until a certain level (conversational, B1). After that you should start learning grammar to be able to further develop the skills to become fluent if this is your goal. A number one tip is to try and use the vocabulary and phrases as soon as you learn them because they will stick that way. Once you move you will already know some basic phrases and can feel a little bit more comfortable when you can understand signs and i.e. do grocery shopping without too much of a hassle. Start immediately talking with locals in shops, transportation and so forth, because the longer you wait to practice talking, the harder it gets to even start. Then start a language course in your new home if you can!
The more languages you learn the better you become at rambling. I can ramble in Spanish, Dutch, French, Swedish and Finnish.
Once you arrive in your new country
5. Handle paperwork as fast as possible.
Most important thing ever! Even if it seems boring and laborious – handle all paperwork as fast as possible. Some things might take weeks or even months to be settled. Get a new sim for your phone (even a temporary one) because usually you need a working/local phone number for a lot of things.
Additionally you don’t want to end up paying a huge bill to your provider back home and in worst cases you can’t be contacted or you can’t contact anyone if you already terminated your contract. Register or apply for your social security number within days of arriving. Handle all other things like opening a bank account even before you get your social security number, because they might be able to add it to your account later. And did you know that in France you can get housing aid through CAF (at least if you’re a student or a low-income taker)? For me, that whole application process from applying until I got money took eight months.
6. Sign up for a gym ASAP.
That is IF you want to sign up for a gym. I recommend doing it as soon as you can and make it your routine from the start because it’s really hard to pick it up after some time has passed (at least if you don’t have high self-discipline in such things). Moving and having a new life abroad is always a bit tricky, but exciting, and I recommend doing some activities or exercise because your mind will be clearer and less stressed. Plus it’s a good way of meeting people and a good way to start a new lifestyle!
7. Resist over-eating local delicacies (even if you really want to).
I get it, you want to taste everything new and delicious and you don’t really care about how much of it or how often. But hear me out! First time I moved abroad for a longer time (Paris, 5 months) I gained probably like 10-15 kg or so (and lost a lot of it once I was back home again). Why? Because everything was “SO good”, and also my regular eating habits changed a lot – baguettes, wine, got addicted to coca-cola, unhealthy(ish) canteen food at work and pasta dinners several times a week. Certainly not the healthiest lifestyle. When I moved to the US and also France the second time around I was so careful with what I ate. I tried not to change my eating habits from home too much, while still enjoying the good life. Both times I lost about 10 kg or so, because I was even more mindful of a healthy diet and lifestyle than back home in Finland. So my point is; enjoy, but everything in moderation. Don’t for example switch a daily oatmeal breakfast for daily croissants with marmalade, this will catch up with you eventually.
8. Socialize initially as much as you can.
You might be moving to a country or city where you don’t know another soul. Will I be lonely? Will I ever get as good friends as back home? Yes and yes. You might feel very lonely at times because:
a) You really might not have friends yet or haven’t come to the stage of hanging out with for example new colleagues or your roommates on a regular basis;
b) Sometimes it’s superhard to get in to friend groups/cliques;
c) You feel like your friends from back home are not contacting/talking to you enough and some might even fade away from your life.
But fear not! My best tip is to socialize as much as you can when you get there – even if you’re dead tired and you’re still adapting to your new life. Be a social butterfly for the first 1-2 months. Find people you like or seem to have things in common with, ask people out for a coffee or an activity and say yes to social events however small or big. Join clubs, a gym, your company’s activities or employee hangouts, meet people through people you may know, or use apps to connect with people (Meetup, Bumble, Skout, Tinder, Meet My Dog). There are many for different purposes. After a little while your people will become your friends and you can make lifelong friends if you make the effort for it.
9. Walk around the city.
This might sound like a weird tip, but believe me – it works. The best way to get to know a new place and to know how to get around is to do just that – get around. Preferably by walking or biking, which is also good exercise. It’s easier to recognize places and to understand how streets and areas are connected to each other this way than merely observing from public transportation or a car, also because you’ll most likely be glued to your phone then. If you’re moving to a big city, like Paris, New York or similar that is not walkable as a whole, make it your mission to get to know the different areas of the city one by one.
10. Remember what your goals are and why you moved.
If you moved abroad because it was your dream, for a job, for studies, for love or any other reason – remember what initially made you move and what made you make that decision. There will be times both before and after moving that you will question everything and possibly unconsciously stress about it. Then take your list of 100 life goals out, get motivated and straighten out your priorities again. And always always remember that no matter what, your home country will (hopefully) be where you left it and you can always go back. It is not a sign of failure if you initially decided to move permanently but later decide it’s time to go back to motherland. It just shows you were brave enough to try, make the most of it and realize it wasn’t for you in the long-run.
11. Have fun!
Last but not least, have fun! A lot of it. This is an exciting experience that should be enjoyable rather than stressful. You will learn a lot about yourself, life, about others and also about cultures. You will meet amazing (and less amazing people) and you will make a new place your home. There’s nothing more fun than that for sure! Enjoy!
Jasmine Kukko is a master’s student in Marketing and PR, a lifestyle and travel blogger at jasminezelda.com, and the social media manager and Finnish contributor at Global Young Voices. She is from Finland and has lived abroad in France, the United States, the Netherlands and Sweden. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.
All photos above are property of Jasmine Kukko.