It's no secret that moving and living abroad come with its challenges logistically, mentally, and emotionally. When you move to a foreign country, you'll have a lot of adjustments to make. Depending on where you've moved to and where you're from, you could be facing everyday life in a foreign language and a unique local culture all while feeling the need to make new friends and adjust to completely different food.
Whether you're moving overseas to try working abroad, you're able to work remotely and take your job around the world, or you simply want to see what life is like in a new culture, you'll face your fair share of highs and lows.
Some moves might not feel drastic but others might feel as though you've been thrown right into the deep end.
However, some tools and tips can help make the process smoother to settle in abroad.
These tips aim to help both in the preparation phase and while living abroad to help ease into the adjustment period and help you get the most out of the experience.
1. Bring an object from home that gives you comfort
This one seems silly, but I highly recommend it. Everything is new when you move abroad, but sometimes all that newness can be overwhelming. That is why having a small object from home can be very helpful and comforting.
The item can be as simple as photos of your loved ones or as sentimental and specific as your favorite teacup that your mom made and gifted you. Having a visual reminder that you see daily is just the right amount of home you need as you get adjusted.
I like to bring a mix of postcards and pictures of friends, family, and past travels. It is easy to put in my luggage to join me on my move, and I can easily decorate my new space with items that remind me of loved ones and adventures.
My room is a critical space. I see it as my sanctuary in the middle of the pretty intense period of adjusting to a new country. Having these objects that bring life and are also profoundly personal has helped me in my transition. As a bonus, they work great as wall décor that can easily be removed when renting.
Tip: Do not bring anything too big or too many items. You might have more leeway if you move abroad for an extended period, but a small object will be enough to make the space feel familiar.
2. In the preparation phase, make a list
There are so many things to consider and worry about when moving abroad:
- getting a visa
- renting an apartment or house
- finding work abroad
- and all the other logistics that come with a big move.
It can sometimes increase the stress and overshadow the fun and adventure that is about to happen. Take an evening and research what you want to see, do, and experience when you settle abroad.
The list will serve you before you move and after you arrive.
While you're dealing with the steps to move overseas, this list can help remind you of all the reasons why you want to leave your home country. And once you get to your new country, the list will serve as a reminder to experience life abroad and as a way to connect with others by inviting them along.
As you meet locals, they will give you better recommendations you were not aware of and help share a more local experience. You'll be surprised to learn about all the exciting things that are in your new backyard that you'd never known about! This list should continue to grow as you settle in abroad and continue to give you new excitement in your daily life.
Now that I am more comfortable moving abroad, I like to leave more room for local recommendations and surprises. However, I still make my list, and it usually consists of vegetarian restaurants to try and small towns and countries nearby I want to travel to. Social media is also a great place to get recommendations from other travelers and expats from all over the world. I love getting inspiration from TikTok, so my list is ever-growing.
Tip: On the days you feel down or alone, pull out your list and see what is something you have not done and try to get yourself out of your room. This will also help with inspiration for tip number 4.
3. Create a routine as soon as possible
Not all, but most people who take the leap to move abroad are looking for a change, something different from their routine. They're interested in breaking out of the mold of their day-to-day life and want their future to look different from their present.
So, making a routine almost feels counterintuitive, right?
However, creating a routine or habits can be very helpful when you move to a new city, especially in the early stages or if it's your first time living abroad.
Creating and having a routine keeps you grounded. As described in the previous tip, there is a lot of newness and excitement when settling abroad. Eventually, that excitement will subside, and the realization of "this is my new home" will set in.
That feeling can be overwhelming.
Having something in place that keeps you grounded, like a routine, is helpful to counteract anxiety and loneliness. It does not have to be anything similar to your old routine; create an entirely different one if you'd like but still have one. This routine will really help you deal with the fact that so many things generally feel out of control in a new city but this one thing is within your power.
The foundation of my routine is journaling while drinking my coffee. That habit is one I do whether I am in New York, Barcelona, or Chile. It might look a little different depending on where I am, but that is the basis of my routine as an expat.
Getting a routine just right takes time, so I prefer imperfect consistency over nothing. After my journaling, I will do some reading and meditating, and I like to get some movement in before I begin my day and head to class.
Whether it's a morning or night routine, it helps give a bit of structure to the period of adjustment where there is anything but structure.
A Few Tips For Your Routine:
- Make it around something you like doing and something you already do. For me, that's journaling, for you, it could be going to the gym, or going for a walk.
- Give yourself a non-negotiable, use that as your foundation and build a routine around that.
- Be flexible because a new life abroad will demand you to be flexible.
4. Take yourself on solo dates
Some days living abroad can be difficult, and some days you'll want to pinch yourself because you're actually living out your dream. Naturally, living in a city or country different from the one you are used to, with a different culture, new language, and way of life, changes you. Maybe not immediately, but it's only a matter of time.
Sometimes we wait for an experience to be over to see how we have changed. Still, significant changes require time to process and carving out solo dates once a month, for example, is an excellent point to start and check in with yourself.
Going on solo dates to a cafe, a day at the beach, or exploring hidden gems in your new city, however you decide to do it, is something that helps you assess and reflect on the living abroad experience. This is an intimate way to check the quality of life you're experiencing and make sure you're in the best place for yourself.
I did not put this into practice until I moved to Barcelona. It is definitely something I wish someone had told me when I was living in Chile, especially since it was my first experience living abroad. Now, living in Barcelona, I take myself on solo dates at least once a month to do something I love, reconnect with myself, and check in on how I am doing. It's not only a good practice for your emotional and mental wellbeing, it's also a really fun way to get to know your new city.
Remember, this is a great time to put all that research you did for Tip 2 into practice. You'll love giving yourself a chance to visit new places, try different food, or put your new language skills into practice.
Tip: This can be particularly helpful if you are only abroad for a certain period and plan to return home. Reverse culture shock can be complex and challenging. Doing some work while living abroad can be very useful and ease the shock when you return home. There are plenty of tips for dealing with reserve culture shock but the more you're in tune with yourself, the easier it'll be.
5. Capture your experience
The key with this one is to be intentional by giving meaning to the experience. Pictures on your camera roll can get lost or forgotten about, but adding meaning to them is what encapsulates the experience.
How you capture it is up to you.
Some ideas are:
- having a journal
- creating a social media account for your time abroad
- creating monthly reels
- downloading apps like 1 Second Everday
Whichever path you choose, capture the good, funny, bad, and ugly. Trust me; you want to remember it all. It's all part of the learning curve and something you'll want to remember for a long time to come.
Personally, I have done a couple of things. I have made YouTube videos of my time in Chile and I journaled in a few places around the world. This time around, it is a combination of journaling, making a monthly reel, and writing a caption of what that month was like for me and the lessons learned.
It is nice to go back and see your life and who you were a year or even a month ago. Trust me, personal growth happens at an expedited rate for so many people who live abroad. Seeing that in yourself is such a powerful experience that you won't want to ignore or overlook.
Tip: Capturing your expat life does not have to be anything intricate and should be something that comes naturally. It is not about adding extra work but something you enjoy doing.
In the end, they are your memories, and how you want to remember them is up to you.
I hope these tips help you prepare for and adjust to your life abroad! Settling abroad can be a big step, especially if it's your first time. If you ever need encouragement or want to connect with a fellow expat, don't hesitate to reach out to me on Instagram.