Living abroad can be one of the most rewarding experiences of a person's life, but it can also be stressful. Fortunately, there are a number of resources to guide expats through a comfortable transition and a fulfilling time abroad. Here are some problems expats don’t always take into account, and how to deal with them.
Language barriers can be hard to deal with
The language barrier is an issue that becomes apparent to expats practically as soon as they land. Before even entering a new country, you will no doubt have to pass customs, after which you may need to find a cab, get some food or check into a hotel – all of which require conversation. Aside from studying the language before leaving, the best thing you can do is simply not hide from the issue. Rather than avoiding talking to the locals, strike up a conversation any time you can. As an expat, putting yourself in uncomfortable situations can be incredibly beneficial.
You'll need more than just a visa
Everyone should be aware that a visa is required to move abroad, but few anticipate the investment involved. The visa itself will usually cost between $200-500 depending on the country, but even if you're being sponsored, you may be liable for the cost of an immigration lawyer. Again, costs are country-specific, but in the United States, for example, you can expect to pay upwards of $5,000 in attorney's fees. Aside from the costs of living abroad, dealing with your finances will involve opening a new bank account, which can prove to be difficult until you have proper identification at your destination. If you haven't secured a job or housing arrangement before leaving, you'll want to set aside a decent line of credit to get you through the first few weeks. While costs and obligations vary by country, the US State Department offers country-specific information regarding visas, as well as entry requirements and other essential information.
You will have to deal with cultural bias
Cultural bias is something that can greatly impede on your social and professional life abroad. Because we are so used to the way people from our own culture behave, expats bring with them the expectations fostered by their own cultural upbringing. For example, Americans live very fast-paced, active lifestyles. As a result, they can sometimes be impatient towards people who aren't constantly in a hurry – despite the fact that this behavior isn't common everywhere. Just remember, adjusting to a new culture takes time. While bias is something you can't escape, you'll find yourself adopting values and behaviors of the culture around you within only a month or two of living abroad.
Settling in takes time
Everyone knows that change takes time to get used to. And while settling into a foreign place can be uncomfortable, there are plenty of ways to facilitate a smooth transition. For example, you can join a club or get involved with a church or school. All of these activities can not only help you become more accustomed to the culture or in some cases, a new language, but more importantly, they'll help you become an active member of your new community. You may not be able to settle in over night, but being involved in your community will expedite the transition.
Material things matter less
Moving abroad means leaving behind the comforts of home. While it's certainly difficult to part ways with your friends and loved ones, clinging to material possessions won't make the process any easier. The best expats are those who learn to pare down their belongings to the bare essentials. Many foreign residences cannot accommodate the large amount of household goods that we Americans have. This could be the amount of items you have in your home or the actual size of your furniture. Many entry ways and room sizes are much smaller in foreign countries.
Healthcare shouldn't be an afterthought
Healthcare is something expats oftentimes neglect to think about before arriving at their destination. But putting it off until you actually need it can cost you. Healthcare is something that should be taken care of long before your arrival, regardless of how healthy you may be. There are many things to be taken into consideration when looking for insurance, and in some cases you may be better off keeping your current policy. Americans, however, can actually save money, as policies in other countries almost always cost less.
While being an expat can be fun and rewarding, it's also a learning experience. Being prepared and knowing how to cope with the stress of living in a new place can help expats get the most out of their time abroad.