8 tips for Americans moving abroad from those who have done it
Whether for a few months or a few years, here are some tips on how to make it go as smoothly as possible.
Moving overseas might seem like the perfect way to turn your life into an extended vacation, but that's not always how it shakes out. While living abroad certainly has its positive aspects, life is life wherever it's lived, which means you'll have your good and bad moments. Here are a few tips from several people, including me, who have done it and can help make your move smooth no matter how long it is meant to last.
1. Learn the language
Pretty much everywhere you go – at least in the western world – people will either know how to speak English or be eager to try their hand at it. Resist the temptation to oblige them. The best way to remain an outsider in your new home is by failing to pick up the local language – or to have an, err, VERY basic knowledge of it like our friend Mr. Bean here.
Quickly learning rudimentary words and/or phrases in the local tongue will not only ingratiate you to locals; it will also inspire the confidence needed to master the language outright.
2. Keep an open mind
Have preconceived notions about where you'll be living? Don't. Nothing is ever what you have imagined it to be. Heck, even if you've been to the place before or, going a step further, say, studied there for a few months, the experience of actually living there, with all the daily demands that entails, will be altogether different. Go in expecting that anything can happen and you won't be let down.
3. Expect (and accept) adversity
You will undoubtedly have moments where you question why you ever left the comforts of America, where the conveniences offered by Netflix and food delivery services make life easier than anywhere else in the world. You will get past these troubled moments.
"The important thing is to stay true to the reasons you chose that place by actively continuing to explore and discover it. Never kid yourself that you finally 'understand' it. You don't – and that's a good thing," explained Ashley Rindsberg, a writer who moved from San Diego to Israel a decade ago. Now living right outside of Tel Aviv, Rindsberg got past his initial homesickness and has never looked back.
Ashley's advice leads us to our next point...
4. Be curious
A narrow experience of your new locale limits your understanding of it. This can lead to everyday frustrations that are hard to overcome.
"Veer off the main roads and find the side streets and alleyways," Tim Stoutzenberger told From The Grapevine. "That's where the locals live.That's how you come to understand their way of life. And don't eat from menus with pictures of the food. Those places are never any good."
Stoutzenberger lived and studied in Europe and the Balkans for several years before returning to Washington, D.C., recently. Part of the pleasure he derived from living overseas was getting a feel for his home city like the locals had. And from not eating at restaurants with pictures of food on the menu, of course.
5. Know your legal status
Make sure you have a legal right to be where you are. A lot of people head to Europe, for example, with the intention of simply staying. But the truth is that most European countries only offer a three-month tourist visa. And while overstaying that by a week or two isn't usually such a big deal, a few months or longer and you're looking at harsh penalties including fines or even outright banishment.
6. Bank local
Your American bank will be more than happy to collect a fee on every transaction you make, whether it be a cash withdrawal or purchase. These add up over time. There are ways around these fees but they usually involve a whole other set of fees. Best to look into banks wherever it is you'll be living.
If you do decide to stick to your American bank, don't forget to tell them you'll be overseas. Most banks (and credit card companies) will put a hold on your card once they see it being used abroad if they haven't been informed. Getting that hold removed can be a real chore.
7. Don't go it alone
If possible, know people wherever it is you're going and if not, actively seek out new friends. We are a social species and as such like company.
It may seem romantic to spend time abroad alone, but the reality is that sooner or later it doesn't really matter where you are but rather who you're with.
Having split my time this past year living between Tel Aviv – where I have made friends with locals and connected with those I know from back home in the States – and Europe, where I know far fewer people, I can tell you Tel Aviv has been a more pleasant experience.
8. Stay in touch
Unless you're on the run, odds are you're leaving loved ones behind. Don't forget about them.
"You realize that you have lost touch when you feel obligated to not go into details, and just answer situations positively or negatively," explained Stephanie Flanagan, who moved from New York to London four years ago. "So of course it is important, but make sure your actions reflect that importance, or else you'll end up regretting it when you really need someone to talk to back home.
Thanks to Skype, FaceTime and other technologies I'm probably not even aware of, it's easier than ever to stay in touch with people.
MORE FROM THE GRAPEVINE: