Tips for moving abroad for the first time

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Moving overseas for the first time

So. You’re moving abroad? You’ve either been thinking about it for a long time and you’ve finally set the ball rolling, or your other half has come home from work and announced that his job is moving and so are you. That’s what happened to us in any event…

In September it will be three long years since I stood weeping outside my London terraced home and waving all our worldly possessions off in a ginormous lorry that blocked our small, friendly and much-missed street for a couple of hours. We weren’t that popular that day I can tell you.

I will never ever forget the final goodbyes with family and friends. Or the trip to the airport that day we departed, hands clenching passports and one-way tickets to Kobenhavn… My husband in his infinite wisdom had kept all other important documents together in a brief case that he had found in the attic. A briefcase he had been given as a Christmas gift as a teenager by his optimistic Grandmother, and one that hadn’t seen the cold light of day for many years. A briefcase that (we found out afterwards) contained a set of darts from his university days. The customs and excise staff were very understanding, but when you are feeling slightly emotional anyway, it’s these little extra stresses that will set you off, believe me. But, dear reader, you will be pleased to hear that I have just about forgiven him!

And before we knew it we had arrived in the land of bikes and terribly expensive famous jumpers. A land that was to be our first foreign home for the next two years. And a mind-widening, mostly great experience it was too… We must have enjoyed it, as we wanted to do it all over again and have now lived in Munich for 6 months!

Tips for first time expats

And what tips would I give to those about to embark on their first foreign “postings”?

Do your research. Insist on a pre-visit (if you are with a company), and check out all the different areas before you commit to a house. It’s worth seeking out a good relocation agent. I employed one for our Denmark move, and I also found one for the German move as well. The Danish relocation agent proved invaluable in helping us find a house. She had her inner-contacts and knew of private houses available not yet advertised. The German relocation agent is now a good friend, even if she did make me look at 15 houses in one day on nothing more than a cup of coffee (and I had already chosen the first house I had seen)!…

Go with your gut feelings on things. Looking back, there are things I would have changed about our time in Denmark. But as a first time expat you aren’t sure about the way some things are done. If you aren’t happy with something question it. If it’s something as important as choosing a school for example, look into the alternatives, however daunting it may seem. For a move to be successful, everyone in the family has to be happy.

Meeting people. When you first arrive in your new country, it’s so important that you start getting to meet people and begin to make friends. I know I have said it before, but say yes to everything. If you are a parent then get involved at school, seek out local groups and don’t just stick to the expat circle… When we first arrived in Munich, we were invited to an English-speaking group here. When we arrived I found out that we were in fact the only English people. Everyone else was German learning to speak English. We felt like celebrities and had a great evening, and I have made some good local friends out of it. We take turns having brunches at each other’s houses. I made them eat Marmite. They did actually invite me back.

Learn the lingo. Do it. Book yourself some lessons as soon as you get off the plane. Just being able to say “hello”, “goodbye”, “no I really have no idea what you are saying” and my general life-saver “and you” which can be used for a variety of situations! “Have a lovely day” – “and you”… “Have a great weekend” – “and you” “Your driving is terrible” – “and you”… See? It honestly makes all the difference.

Skype. If you haven’t got it already, download it now. It’s invaluable for being able to see and speak to loved ones at home.

And on a note about loved ones… Plan your time sensibly when you visit home! Organise an afternoon in a pub or restaurant and get people to come and see you. That way you get to spend valuable time with all of your wider circle of loved ones, and not exhausting yourself by rushing around all over the place (when you could be spending time in Waitrose – I’m joking – slightly).

Get your cook books out. Your longing for food stuffs from home will have you giving Nigella a run for her money. I am not lying about this. Tough times call for desperate measures, and you never know, you may discover some hidden talent!

Change the sign on the door to ‘No Vacancies’. Don’t underestimate how many guests you will have in your first year somewhere (and some requests from people you haven’t heard from in years – cheeky beggars!). Do not let yourselves get overbooked. You need time as a family to get to know your new lives, constantly entertaining people is not conducive to this, believe me!

And do you know what? There are times that you won’t be so enamoured with your new life, that you will be desperately homesick and just need someone to understand you for once… But then there are days that you realise how lucky you are to be given such an opportunity, what a valuable experience it is for your children and how much you will learn about yourself.

And perhaps most importantly of all, until you have lived abroad, you will never ever understand how good a decent cup of tea and an M&S hot cross bun can taste when someone’s smuggled them in for you!

Enjoy. Bon Voyage, and the very best of luck!

Republished with kind permission of Emma via


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  1. Very relatable read, I agree with the points here and experienced them myself after moving out to Australia. Being an expat myself i began my own relocation business. I wanted to address a need for a service which genuinely recognised that each relocation is different and that all relocatees have differing expectations, therefore I created an App called Applocation which gives helpful advice and is easy to access through your phone.

    Going with your gut on some of these things is a great idea. Skype really helps make the transition easier! I would definitely recommend it.

  2. Hi Carole, brilliant post! Some invaluable advice here when it comes to relocating. Hope you’re enjoying your new life!

  3. Fantastic advices. Meeting new people is essential. Making new friends is one of the most important things when you are in new country. You could find some people in the web. Just be careful. Greetings!

  4. I’m planning to move abroad, to Thailand to be specific, next year! I’ve been filling my brain with as much information as possible and your tips may be the most useful that I’ve come across!

    So far, I’ve been using this: (I hope you don’t mind the link!) Which I’d definitely recommend to anyone who’s thinking about moving abroad.

    I’m planning to teach over in Thailand, I have most of it sorted out, where I’m staying, where I’m teaching etc, but obviously I’m still pretty worried about the whole thing! Thanks for the tips!

  5. I’ve found that the only way I can ever really be ready for a move is having sufficient time to prepare. For me, that’s two months minimum. My bosses know it, and my family knows it. I won’t make a move with less than two months notice, but the more time, the better. Thiago |

  6. I think the key thing you mention in this article is ‘do your research’. I thought i’d done a ton of research before I relocated my family to Spain but there were so many things missing. The main thing that bit us was the taxation in Spain, which hadn’t been clearly outlined by my new employer. That was a big shock on my first day!

    I also underestimated the emotional impact on everyone involved. I thought I would be strong and tough but I was surprised at how much I felt the pain. Just be prepared.

    I would also make sure you have a backup plan. It’s something I deeply regret not having. I kept saying to my wife ‘it’ll be ok, if we don’t like it we’ll just come back’. Easier said than done!

    I’ve written a similar post on my blog to try and help people make sure they’re prepared before they move abroad. I had a pretty tough time so I’m trying to do what I can to help other people avoid the same issues. It’s at – .

    Hope you don’t mind me including the URL.

    Nice site by the way.


    1. Hi Al,
      Thank you for sharing your experiences and website.

      While I agree with doing loads of research, one can be hampered by hearing only one side of someone’s experiences – if that person had a bad time, then it will be reflected in their advice. Unbiased information is very hard to find!

      The emotional side of relocating is unpredictable too and people do indeed need to be aware of that.

      A backup plan is an excellent idea and one that, personally, I’d not thought of, so thank you for mentioning it.

      Your site looks great too!

      1. Yes, I agree. Too much info can definitely hinder. I guess it’s about getting the right balance of the right stuff, which can be difficult.

        I’d like to relocate again in the future so I’m hoping that by writing my blog and staying close to other sites like yours I can be more prepared next time.

        All the best.

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