Advice & Tips if You Plan to Move Abroad

Advice for Moving Abroad

So, you're thinking about moving abroad? 

Living abroad has been one the most incredible decisions my husband and I made and definitely the most life changing (well, duh). There are hurdles that come with this new life and looking back on the whole process, it was surprisingly not as stressful as I expected. Don't get me wrong, I have my days where I feel like a total foreigner and helpless trying to order and find things.  But overall, with an encouraging family, a few good friends, preparation, and the right mindset making the transition of living abroad is totally doable! 

It's been only 6 months since we planted ourselves in Western Germany, so I am definitely no expert on the matter of living abroad.  However, I did want to share a few things that I found extremely helpful in our transition.  Plus, I have come a long way since I wrote this post on my first month of living in Germany.

Make a really, really good local friend.

This is the best advice I can give you. Seriously. Make a friend ASAP and everything else will fall into place.

I was lucky enough that on the day we arrived that friend was waiting for me at my apartment and we connected immediately. My friend Nikola, aka my guardian angel, has been the biggest help since our move abroad.  From showing me my way around and translating for me on the daily to holding my hand through obtaining a residence permit and bank card, figuring out how to shop, and all the other things that come with moving abroad she's been vital. Without her I honestly don't know what we would have done.  I could right a novel about how great this woman is.

So, for you that might look like finding someone at your work or an organization you're apart of. There are apps and other forums for expats that's also a great way to connect with others.  But knowing someone in the community you live in to give you advice, explain the culture, and be there for you in case of an emergency is huge. Plus, who wants to live somewhere and not have any friends? At least for the sake of your sanity and well-being you should make some!

Do your research before moving abroad.

Read blogs, talk to other expats and natives, learn about the social norms and culture.  

I am a total people pleaser, so I knew before moving abroad I better learn and understand the social norms.  For example, in Germany, it's totally weird if you strike up small talk with the cashier at the grocery or talk to strangers about the weather and how many children they have. Coming from the South, where southern hospitality was part of my daily interactions, I knew I'd have to hold back a bit.

For me these were the most important topics to research:

  • Etiquette/Taboos (i.e. how to greet people, social interactions)
  • Driving Rules & Regulations
  • Payment (does the country use cash or card more?)
  • Hours of Operations (everything in Germany closes at 6:30 p.m. and on Sundays)
  • Navigation
  • Laws (I read that Germans aren't allowed to mow their grass on Sundays which made me giggle)

I am sure there are many other topics you could read about, but for me it was really great going in to Germany having an idea of what the people were like. I am a firm believer that when you're living as an expat, you should remind yourself that you're a guest in the country you're living in. 

Don't be overly ethnocentric.

My husband and I are pretty openminded and I honestly didn't think we'd struggle with being ethnocentric.  Well, it can happen to the best of us. Especially when you're desperately wanting to find a burrito or buy ice-cream on a Sunday.

Starting from when we found out the grocery stores are all closed on Sundays we both angrily said, "In America we have stores open for 24 hours, what do you mean they are closed?!" Or that it was illegal to ride your bike on certain sides of the road.  Or that there is NO Mexican food. 

Thankfully, we vented in the privacy of our homes, but we were so quick to judge Germany instead of trying to understand why they operate differently. Okay, I know Mexico isn't nearby, so of course they don't have Mexican food, but I still think this is a blasphemy.

Nowadays, we try to remember to embrace the differences in culture and not get stuck in the way we were raised.  I know a handful of people that import so much from the US to Germany because they refuse to embrace certain things here.  To me, what's the point of moving abroad if you're going to bring your old life over with you?  I found that if I stretch myself and try new things, I might even like them better!

Stay positive & laugh about the little things.

My sweet friend and German Tutor once told me that her favorite English saying is, "Don't cry over spilled milk."

I think this is true in whatever stage of life you're in, but especially so if you're living abroad; because there is going to be a lot of spilled milk.  

There have been times we've purchased the wrong train ticket and gotten yelled at by the conductor, gotten lost at the hospital, not been able to properly communicate with others (this is on the daily), and just the other day I ruined my credit card because I put it in the wrong machine because I didn't read the German sign properly.

Instead of getting upset, I found it's better to just brush it off and move on.  I know that in our time here we are going to constantly mess-up and do things incorrectly, but we learn from them and keep going.  

Staying positive while living abroad is huge. You'll have days where you just want to communicate in your native tongue and the thought of running errands sounds way more stressful than it should be.  But continue to remember all of the wonderful experiences you're having and the memories you're making. Living in another country is a rare and unique opportunity! Don't forget that.

If you have any tips, questions, or feedback about living abroad please let me know in the comments below.  I am constantly learning and growing, so will update this as necessary!