Expat Living: Proven Tips For Creating The Life You’ll Love

They say a picture is worth a thousand words…

But sometimes, a thousand words can save you a lot more in terms of time and frustration!

.Graphic showing how to pack for a trip abroad )How many oair of underwear specifically)

Thanks to many of our expat bloggers and readers, we’re going to share some real gems of advice on how to (and maybe more importantly, how NOT to) realize your dream to go abroad and become an expat.

We define being an expat as living and/or working in a place that is not your passport country, or what you would normally call home. (That last bit applies to some, like Americans who may technically still be in the United States but who find themselves in a “foreign” culture that causes similar issues as being “abroad”.)

So you want to be an Expat?

You’ve got the idea, now how to make it happen. Generally, it happens through work or your own “life-change” decision.

If your job requires or requests a move, they will usually handle your visa issues and get you started. But keep reading because as we have found, there are good transitions and then there are hapless helpers.

Need Tips To Make The Jump On Your Own?

If it’s a life-change decision, read Miss Footloose (aka Karen Van Der Zee of Life in the Expat Lane)’s recent post, 13 Ways To Drive Yourself Nuts  here.

If you’re having questions on what the Visa process may entail, follow Molly (The Move to America) here as she gives a good step by step read on what her process was like changing from a long-distance relationship with her new husband to finally moving from the UK to the USA.

Here’s how Margo Lestz (Curious Rambler) explained the “life-change” decision she and her husband, Jeff, made:

[After moving to London on a business related move] …“in 2007, at age 50, I decided that it was time to stop working in a sector that I didn’t especially enjoy and to start doing the things that I loved.  We bought an apartment in Nice, France and now I divide my time between London and Nice, that is, when I am not travelling to other parts of the world.”

Here’s my own take on the process of moving abroad, from Houston, Texas to Baku, Azerbaijan- written as part of one of The Expat Experience challenges.

My  Top Tips include:

  1. Developing Relationships– having a go-to person in case you need help or to provide context in the new place.
  2. Understanding your Reason(s) for wanting to move abroad. It can be lots of fun, but it’s a whole lot of hard work sustaining the life. Ask Alice Keys (AliceKeysMD.com)
  3. Assessing Reality– Is this a viable option for this point in your life?

 What Comes Next?

You can find all manner of expat blogs talking about day-to-day life in as many countries as you care to name. But they will all have certain elements in common:

  1. Things they didn’t expect/Things they did expect that aren’t…
  2. Experiences that confuse them at first, but (maybe) become familiar traditions after a time
  3. People they meet and compare/become friends with/learn to avoid/or other lessons
  4. Places they visit and fall in love with/move them with compassion
  5. Realization that at some point they will need to repatriate/move on/make expat living permanent

In other words, People, Places, and Things make up only part of the Expat Experience. Having a plan and keeping track of life involves more than a physical move.
Photo graphic image: Stack of Advice Books for Expat Transition

Knowing the transition phases (what to expect from yourself in a huge transition: read Lisa+World for a good take on this) will help you understand your energy levels and moods. Here is a good list version with explanations from Transitions Abroad, Adapting to Life As An Expatriate.

Transitions Abroad also has a good Expatriate Survival Guide -here. (See also the list of Sources below for more Guides).

Because I had lots of friends already in town, my transition abroad wasn’t very abrupt. At times, I did get tired of constantly being “on” but that was more the job than the transition. It happens when you are the only one of your kind (only female business owner, only English teacher, only blonde family in a country of dark-haired folks, etc.)

However… Upon coming back to the USA, because I moved to a completely different area (Washington, DC versus Texas- could it be much different?), and had literally not one person I knew here (I did have a couple in Maryland, within an hour or so drive, but they knew virtually nothing about Alexandria, Virginia), the cultural shock and loneliness were overwhelming at times. And the adjustment lasted almost as long as I had been away, because I denied it for so long!

Because I had so little trouble going, I never- ever- considered “coming home” was going to be an issue at all… epic fail!  Please, don’t let that same mistake befall you! Assume that you will have some adjustment each time you move to a new location, whether old home or new home.

If you’re planning to be away for a very long time, take a moment and read my re-entry post here. It may help you see items you will need to consider upon coming home, or arrangements you can make ahead of time, to make the transition/repatriation go a little more smoothly.

Living the Life To The Max

Some tips I learned after the fact. Some I discovered the hard way… (that’s why this blog is called Life Lessons… What The World Taught Me!)

I hope these tips help you make the most of your travels and expatriate adventures while you’re abroad, not afterward!

  1. Remember that you are only “new” in a place once. Write down what that feels like to you. I had fun looking back over my few notes- here is one comment I liked:

    “After I got over how many exclamation points I used in this first journal note- everything seemed to be a crisis on that first day- and saw what I was fretting over, I thought to myself, “If only that self had known what was coming down the pike, these things would have been laughable!”

  2. Now that we have digital everything, taking photos should be second nature. A quote I read yesterday on a photo blog struck me- “get into the moment; put away your telephoto and be in the moment”. She was saying, don’t take photos of things, take photos of moments that tell your story. Be close to people and emotions. Get to know what makes these people and places so special.
    I didn’t have a digital camera and, because I mistakenly thought “there is always tomorrow”, I am left to rely on a very few old film images I can scan to help convey my story. Don’t let that happen to you!
  3. If you’re an expat on a working assignment, please find time to be a tourist. Take the guided tours of the old town, even if you already know everything there is to know. It gives you a new perspective and a chance to see your town through others’ eyes. I started doing this here in Washington, DC based on something expat Naomi Hattaway  said, and it has been eye-opening.
  4. You don’t have to buy every tourist trinket you see, but do bring home some things that will forever remind you of your experience.
  5. More than physical mementoes, though, bring home knowledge as well. Get to know the places you live and work. Be more than just a “taking tourist”, be a “giving part of living” by knowing things about your chosen city and country that you can share (as a blogger, subject matter expert, insightful writer, columnist, adventure guide for others?)
    The tours and discussions I had with local historian Fuad Akhundov are some of the most interesting parts of my years in Azerbaijan. They have helped me find perspective and understanding beyond what I would have cultivated by going to work each day.
  6. Stay in touch with home. Having an exit plan is just plain smart. No one knows what tomorrow will bring, least of all expats out of their element. You may think you’re never going home, but experience shows that eventually you’ll have an emergency, want move on, or travel further afield, and need money/ credit/ references for financial dealings (maybe you want to buy property abroad? Take time to read Alice Keys, MD and Margo Lestz‘ perspectives of the dream life in France) and be prepared.Give yourself options. It may cost a little to maintain, but better to have a lifeline home if you need it, than to be stranded in time of war or other catastrophe.

Now It’s Your Turn…

Start to finish, the expat experience is one worth having, for a little time or a lifetime.

To make the most of your time, prepare and know what is right for you. Things will change, and repatriation is not an experience that happens easily. Taking the experiences of others into consideration is a good place to start.

Two of my favorites not mentioned yet are Gallivance, the travel experiences of James & Terri Vance and AG&HT (A Girl & Her Travels) by expat Polly Heath (@ppollyheath and @likealocalamag). These two perspectives will give you a good feel for travel as a lifestyle, and international work as a life.

So there you have it, sports fans. I hope you like the differing views and tips here.

Let us know if you have other ideas, a resource we can share, or your best advice to give! It’s all good and very helpful to pass along, so please do!


#Longreads #ExpatExperience


Check It Out!  More Resources:

Expat’s Survival Guide 2: Searching for International Jobs
Expat’s Survival Guide 3: Women and International Jobs
Expat’s Survival Guide 4: Surviving Change and Uncertainty Abroad
Expat’s Survival Guide 5: Finding an International Job Post Crisis — I Did It!

7 thoughts on “Expat Living: Proven Tips For Creating The Life You’ll Love

  1. Jonelle, this post is very comprehensive, and it all rings true from our expat experiences both abroad and on a couple of re-entries. We were the classic “tossed into the deep end” expats, and the guide you’ve developed would have been a wonderful resource. Thanks very much for the link to our blog; we’re flattered be included. ~James


    • Thank you for the kind words, James! Coming from you and Terri, that means a lot.

      Like many expats, I read dozens of other expat and international blogs. Some ring true to trying to impart travel and experiential information and some, well not so much.

      The ones I find myself drawn to time and again, the ones I comment on, are the ones, like yours, that make me want to share this experience *and* help me believe I too could do it.

      So thank you and Terri for providing such rich material for newbies, wannabes, and oldies. I look forward to each new post, and I hope many new travelers discover you as well!

      Happy travels!


    • Polly,
      I’m so glad this resource adds something to the knowledge you’re sharing with the world.

      I’ve been drawn to your writing since I first discovered your blog. Your approach is very fresh, and I enjoy seeing places through your eyes.

      Being able to connect what you’ve shared, along with other writers, travelers, and expatriates that I follow, makes for a pretty good base of advice for those thinking about taking the huge leap of faith.

      I hope you’re getting your Moscow city rhythm back and are feeling more at home after the sadly disconcerting flight.

      Best to you and the Russky!


  2. The first line reads: “You’ve got the idea, now how to make it happen.” And this is the start of a road which can bring so many new experiences. However, potential expats and ‘wanabe expats’ are two completely different things. Emotionally, people have to be extremely strong to ensure they can have no problems with new food, culture, surroundings and languages.


    • You’re quite right , Allan. There are many emotional considerations as well. Several expat friends who post and comment here will be among the first to admit they often underestimate how hard the transition. And that’s what firms the basis for many of my “Life Lessons” that I write about

      Thanks for the reminder!


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