Living the expat life: pocket survival guide
Ask other expats about their experience and you will get a hundreds of – often conflicting – tips on what to do and what not to do. We’ve been involved with a lot of assignments – and these are the pieces of advice that most will agree on.
Choose your accommodation carefully
Do your research before you go and see where other expats in your host country chose to live. In particular, it is a good idea to try to minimize the commuting time. Life will be hectic enough without a draining commute at either end of the working day. Most expats either choose accommodation that is close to their place of work – or wish they had.
2. Learn about your new country
It may sound obvious, but do your research in advance to learn about what to expect. Look for contacts within the company, or in your own personal network, with knowledge of that location. And when you arrive, try to get into the local routine quickly, rather than sticking to the habits and timings of your previous life. In some ways you will be forced to adapt (weekends may fall on different days, for examples) but it is also down to you to take note of the way your new neighbours live their lives (eg market days, rush hours, travel tips).
3. Learn a little local language
Even if you only learn one or two key phrases, this not only exposes you to the language but also makes a positive and polite gesture to your hosts, both professionally and socially. They don’t expect you to become fluent in their language: but they will be proud of it, and pleased that you acknowledge it.
4. Make social efforts
It’s a new chapter in your life and a chance to do something different. You will also have new opportunities that were not available back home. Whether it’s local cooking classes, surfing or dancing the tango, give it a go. Also make the effort to integrate yourself into the expat community; you’re all in the same boat and the support it offers can be very valuable – both for you and your family.
5. Be realistic
It won’t all be plain sailing. You know that, and one of the characteristics of the most successful overseas assignees (which means the whole family) is the ability to take the knocks and not give up at the first disappointment. You’ll have bad days; but if you have the right attitude, the good will outnumber them by far. And form your own opinions. You will have read good and bad things about your new country but don’t let the media dictate your experience. It’s your assignment, it’s your life.
6. Be positive
Many of the expats who fail are the ones who expect it to fail. Your assignment is a wonderful opportunity for you and your family. See it as an adventure and try to enjoy every day.