I can distinctly remember the first time I was entering a country I had intended to live in for the next year.
Full of wide-eyed wonder, excitement and nervousness, my husband Chris and I were standing in line at the New Zealand immigration counter. The immigration officer asked me why I wanted to enter the country and without hesitation I exclaimed, “To shear sheep!” She laughed out loud, asked us no further questions, stamped our passports and we were in.
It was the first time we moved abroad, and we definitely made some rookie mistakes.
For instance, when we didn’t make a clear plan on how to leave the airport. We jumped on a random bus blissfully thinking, “We’ll just figure this out!” After wandering around in the rain to find our hostel, we eventually climbed one of the steepest hills of our lives, went to our room and despite being so hungry (there were no restaurants anywhere nearby), collapsed and slept for 12 hours straight still in our clothes.
It didn’t occur to me that I would be hungry at weird hours nor did I really understand how much jet lag could affect me.
Since that time, I have learned the tricks to adjusting to a new country. Here are some tips to help you acclimate and enjoy the thrill of moving internationally!
With any international trip, delays can happen, luggage can get lost and your body may need to adjust to the new time zone. After my move to New Zealand, I have made some adaptations to my entry plan so that I arrive in comfort.
When moving to a new country, there are a lot of things you’ll need to remember. Be proactive and mitigate some of the stresses by making yourself an expat cheat sheet.
Every country has its own unique customs. The last thing you want to do is make a major cultural gaffe within the first couple of days in your new country, so be sure to do your research.
The last question is often overlooked. While in southern Australia in the city of Adelaide, Chris and I had been invited to stay with a friend. We were arriving on a Sunday and wanted to get some ingredients from the grocery store so we could make a dish to share with dinner.
Despite being in a major city, almost every single grocery store was closed. We quickly learned that in Australia, Sundays are important days for recreation and spending time with family and friends, so many businesses are closed. When we arrived and told our friend we couldn’t buy anything for the evening, she just laughed and said, “Welcome to Adelaide.”
Another cultural difference was explained to us by an engineer who was working at a large firm in the city of Darwin, the capital of Australia's Northern Territory. He was from the United States and told us that during his first week of work, he would show up to the office 15 minutes early, but all the doors would be locked.
His boss would eventually get there, coffee in hand, and open the doors. The American said he learned that it was culturally acceptable at his workplace to come late if there was a line at the café and it took longer than usual to get your morning cuppa (Australian lingo for cup of coffee or tea).
Chris and I have moved to New Zealand and Australia on work visas. Upon arriving, it felt like we had so many important things to do. To start, we identified the tasks that required processing time. This allowed us to streamline our priorities, while not feeling overwhelmed. For us, those steps were:
While in New Zealand and Australia, Chris and I worked on various farms, cafés and at a department store. Working in other countries has been one of the most eye-opening experiences that we’ve had.
We’ve made lifelong friends, learned new skills and had the opportunity to see how other countries balance work and life.
With the Internet age we live in, there are so many ways to connect with other people in your new country. You can use professional networks like LinkedIn to connect with people in your industry. Or do a Google search for Facebook groups in your area using terms like “expats abroad” or “digital nomads.” In my experience, there are often a few local cafés where expats frequently meet for coffee, chat or plan outings together. Ask your colleagues if they’re aware of these locales.
You could also consider joining international groups that meet and do activities together, such as Hash House Harriers, which is a group of international, non-competitive running clubs. If you are involved in any organizations back home, such as the YMCA or The Rotary Club, check to see if they have international branches. You’d be surprised how many groups are active worldwide.
There are other websites like Couchsurfing, which in addition to providing local homestays, connects members who are available to meet for coffee or show people around town. I found a group through this site that met every Friday for dinner at a local restaurant while I was in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. You can also search online for local “meetups” to find like-minded people who share your interests. This is a great way to begin building a network of friends in your new country.
Remember to stay connected with family and friends back home too. Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp, Facebook and Google Chat all offer ways to stay in touch without buying an expensive international calling plan.
Last but not least, have fun exploring your new country and settling into the day-to-day. One of my most memorable first experiences living in Australia was going to the grocery store. I will always remember standing in the middle of the produce section, holding a green pepper in my hand while staring at a sign and wondering why they labeled it “capsicum.”
As you make the move to your new country, take it all in, try new foods, go to a movie, do what the locals do and you will be on your way to enjoying your new home and gaining a presence of “just being there.”
Don’t forget to protect your health with an international medical insurance plan designed for expats. IMG’s Global Medical Insurance is my plan of choice for long-term stays. With it, I know that if something were to happen to my health while I’m living in another country, I would have the benefits and support I need.
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