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7 Tips to Living Abroad in Southeast Asia

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A lot of people dream of going to different Southeast Asian countries to get a taste of its majestic beaches, breathtaking natural sceneries, and rich culture. But only a few ever decide on moving to the region, and it’s easy to see why this is the case. After all, packing up your life and moving to another country — in Southeast Asia or elsewhere — is a very big step many are not brave enough to make.

However, if like me, you're determined enough to weather the many complexities and challenges of moving to this beautiful region, it only makes sense for you to gather as many tips as you can. This way, you can better acclimate yourself to the country you'll soon reside in.

I chose Philippines as my home abroad but other expats are drawn towards Singapore, Thailand, or Vietnam instead.

To help you out a bit, here are 7 tips that will help you to adjust to life in Southeast Asia.

Tip 1: Pay closer attention to your skin

Your perspective and outlook in life aren’t the only things that are going to be changed by your big move — your skin will, too.

While air travel can sap moisture out of your skin, the sudden change in diet can lead to acne breakouts and other skin irritations. The difference in climate, pollution levels, and water, on the other hand, can cause imbalances in hydration and oil production, much like sleep and stress. Because of all these, you have to pay closer attention to your skin, especially during the first few months.

Since Southeast Asia is a tropical region, the best way you can keep your skin healthy is by having a moisturizer handy.

Marie Claire’s write-up on Olay Luminous Whip noted how lightweight moisturizers are more ideal for those who are living in hot climates because they can keep the skin supple and hydrated without clogging the pores. Another way you can keep your skin at its tiptop shape is by taking collagen supplements.

PrettyMe’s article on the Frozen Collagen Supplement mentioned how this highly abundant protein will not only help increase skin hydration, but also reduce the appearance of fine lines, tighten the skin, and eliminate free radicals that cause premature skin aging.

Tip 2: Negotiate and haggle whenever possible

In most Southeast Asian countries, there is this thing called “tawad” (what it is locally referred to here in the Philippines) that can be loosely translated to a discount.

However, unlike other forms of discount, this one isn’t outrightly showcased and can only be enjoyed by people who know how to negotiate and renegotiate. So if you are aiming for cheaper rent — you have to learn how to haggle.

To keep locals from giving you raised tourist prices, an article by International Living suggests telling people that you are someone who just moved and plan on buying a wide collection of things from them.

Tip 3: Shop like a local

Another way you can save money is by shopping locally.

Unlike most Western countries where the go-to places for shopping are expensive outlet malls, Southeast Asian nations offer a lot of shopping options. Countries within this region are peppered with wet and dry markets where you can find plenty of fresh produce, meat, and fish at a cheaper price. After all, food systems in Southeast Asia are composed of a mix of traditional, modern, and intermediate retail stores.

Markets like these also have a lot of other things aside from food, such as clothes, slippers, and pretty much anything you can ever need in your new home.
a woman sitting on a rock overlooking a rocky coastline in southeast asia
Southeast Asia is home to some of the most unique and beautiful landscapes

Tip 4: Take a class and get to know your neighbors

There is no better way to adjust to a country than by learning the language widely spoken there. That's because languages are gateways to cultures. So if you haven’t taken a language class yet, immediately get one.

Then, to easily enhance your proficiency, take the time to get to know your neighborhood. As mentioned, shop locally and try to mimic some of the things locals do.

If you also chose the Philippines as your new home, do not be afraid to take the jeep when going places. This way, you are not only practicing the language you are learning, but also getting more acquainted with the different cultural practices locals abide by.

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Tip 5: Think long and hard about your new home

Due to the large disparity in property prices, it can be incredibly tempting to outrightly buy a house in the city you are now living in. After all, Southeast Asia is home to some of the cities with the cheapest real estate. Keep in mind though, not all countries will allow foreigners to own property.

However, it really isn't advisable to rush into buying one.

Instead, what you would want to do is to first rent in the area you think you want to settle in. Then, give yourself enough time to really see what it's like to live there. If it's been, say, a year, and you didn't bump into any serious trouble and had no problem living there, then go ahead and buy a property.

Before renting a house, make sure that you are able to explore all your options first. A lot of people prefer renting a place for the long-term because of how hassle-free it can be. However, a long-term lease can be very limiting. If after a month you realize that the neighborhood you are in isn't the right one for you, it would be difficult for you to move if you signed a long-term lease.

Aside from going for short-term rental agreements, it would also be important to remember not to rent a place you haven't been to physically.

Giving yourself the opportunity to see each house, condominium unit, or room up close can help you get a better feel for the place and the neighborhood. It can also give you a chance to negotiate the terms and maybe even the price.

Megacity skyline in southeast asia on a cloudy afternoon
It's hard to know where in these megacities to move to without visiting first

Tip 6: Make friend with other expats

One of the most straightforward ways you can better adjust to your new home is by making friends with other expats.

As individuals who are also trying to build a life outside of their native country, expats will be more than capable of guiding you and providing you with vital tips. Friend groups composed of expats like yourself can also help you feel less homesick, as well as allow you to find people who will surely understand your struggles.

Nowadays, finding other expats is easier than ever before. There are sites like Internations.org where you can choose the city you are moving to, get in touch with other expats, and ask questions to those who already live there.

Most of the time, expat communities have events and gatherings you can join, too.

Tip 7: Keep an open mind

No two countries are the same. Sometimes, no matter how much you love your new home, you would find a lot of things fascinating, questionable, or downright weird.

This is the reason why it's incredibly important for expats like you and me to keep an open mind at all times.

To fully understand another culture, you have to leave all your prejudices behind. This is the only way you can observe and really take in the cultural knowledge locals are using to organize their behavior and conduct themselves.

With a positive attitude, pay close attention to the world views of the people around you and choose to learn from them everyday.

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