Moving abroad is an important decision that comes with a thorough evaluation. You will (or have you already?) research the best countries to live in, consider aspects such as the political situation, healthcare, job market, visa regulations. Before you go, you may want to talk to other expats out there, ask them to share their experience living away from home - preferably some who have chosen the same destination that you are thinking about.
One question that we definitely recommend is about the things they wish they knew before moving abroad. We learn the best from our mistakes, and there is no better teacher than personal experience. Someone who has lived abroad for a while will probably have a handful of tips for you - concerning aspects that would have most likely never considered otherwise.
Don’t know anyone that you can ask personally? Don’t worry, we’ve got your back! As a team of expats, we have gotten together to share our collective advice concerning things you wish you knew before moving abroad.
This is the one thing that nobody ever tells you, but it’s sadly very true. When going abroad, we are mostly excited about the possibility to polish our language skills. However, until your destination is somewhere where English is the native tongue, the odds are, the various mistakes typical for the local people will probably join your grammar and vocabulary bank over time.
For example, after I had spent 6 months in Spain, one of my British friends pointed out that my English has gotten worse. Aside from my language skills getting rusty due to using them less, I have adopted mistakes my colleagues made. In Spanish, the word “people” is singular. Therefore, “la gente es” translates into “people are”, but literally means “people is”. In the back of my mind, I know this is technically wrong, but I just can’t help using it - the same way I never fail to add the adorable “no?” at the end of the sentence now (rather than “isn’t it?”). And you know what? No matter what my puritan friends say, those little things make me who I am and are a testament to my time spent abroad, so I couldn’t care less (and you shouldn’t either)!
Even if your English does get worse - so what? You don’t speak the local language like a pro - who cares? The main point behind learning languages is to be able to communicate, right? As long as you can get your point across - using broken grammar, words that don’t necessarily exist in a particular language, or even gestures, you’re crushing it.
Stressing about the language barrier will hold you back in many social situations. I don’t know if it’s the case in other countries, but we Polish people (even though quite competent when it comes to learning foreign languages) are rather shy about advertising our skills. It’s very hard to get the notion of perfectionism out of a Pole. Many of us believe that if we don’t speak a language like natives, we’re better off not speaking it at all.
No, no, NO!
If you struggle with the same issues, go back to the beginning of this paragraph and read it again carefully. It doesn’t matter if you need to perform a whole choreography to express a concept physically if you’re lacking in the verbal department. Staying silent and missing out is much worse than feeling silly.
Give other people some credit. Even if you start putting words together with no regard for grammar or conjugation, they will most likely still understand you. What’s more, they will probably be sympathetic and try to help you express yourself as much as they can. And in time, you will get better as well, so just push through the hard beginnings!
Initially, I had thought it was just me and was ashamed to talk about it because I’d believed it made me a horrible person. But then I opened up about it to fellow expats, and turned out - there were more of us!
Yes, it is true it’s the expat’s choice to move abroad. And yes, we do leave loved ones behind and have no right to expect them to put their lives on hold just because we’re gone. Still, you will feel that pang in your chest whenever you see pictures or videos of your friends or family having fun without you. Regardless of the adventure awaiting you, it is hard to accept that somewhere, life moves on despite you not being there - and it’s okay to feel that way.
It doesn’t matter if you feel a deeper connection with your home country or not - you will get excited at the sight of something that is typical for where you are from, or from hearing someone speaking your mother tongue in the street when you travel.
A personal example: after living in the UK and then in Spain for a while, I started grinning like a lunatic when I spotted sauerkraut in a supermarket in Switzerland. I’m from Poland and yes, I have a special spot for sauerkraut in my heart, no matter how much others try to prove to me that it’s disgusting. Mentioning it was unimaginable in Spain, not so much in the UK, but it wasn’t incredibly popular. Finding it just lying around on a shelf filled me with so much joy, I had to take a moment to calm down. So keep in mind that being an expat, something as simple as sauerkraut can make you happy.
I didn’t buy the sauerkraut (I’m not obsessively in love with it), so I can’t confirm whether it was good enough for me or not. But it’s just like buying pain au chocolat anywhere outside of a French-speaking country. Pointless. Tasteless.
Of course, finding food as good as your Nana’s or your Mum’s anywhere other than your family home is generally impossible. But even if your standards are a little bit lower, and you’re just craving something that’s not extremely popular in the culture of the place you’ve moved to, once you eventually find it, you can end up severely disappointed.
The example I believe would illustrate my point best is Bulgarians complaining about yoghurt. Now, I can’t really speak from personal experience here because I’m not Bulgarian and I don’t particularly like yoghurt, but I have heard that complaint so many times, delivered with such passion by many different people, that something must be up. If you’re Bulgarian and share this sentiment, then I believe there are a few people in our office willing to create a club. You can message us at [email protected] if you wish to join.
The first few weeks in a new place might feel a bit like a holiday. Everything is new and shiny, and you are probably dedicating every free moment to exploring and indulging in the local culture. In this phase, the new place definitely won’t feel like home.
In time, your excitement will begin to fade. You’ve been there, done that, got a t-shirt. It’s time to go home. No, wait, this is your home now. If it still doesn’t feel like it - don’t worry, it’s completely normal. Films and all those accounts by ecstatic fellow expats out there might make you feel like you’re supposed to fall in love with the new place at a first sight. It may (and probably will) take some time, so avoid pressuring yourself to feel more than you naturally do. It will come to you, so don’t worry.
Just like mentioned in the previous point, don’t force anything. Let your life unfold at its own pace. You won’t necessarily meet your best friends the moment you step off the plane, so don’t feel like it’s something that should happen.
That is not to say don’t be social - give yourself a chance to meet people, go out, attend events, join expat communities. Just be aware that finding a close-knit group might still take a while. The people you initially hang out with often won’t be those whom you will call your closest friends a few months later, and that’s okay. Life is dynamic - especially so if you decide to move abroad - so let it run your own rhythm. You will cross paths with the right people eventually.
If you travel around Europe, this will be less of an issue as you will encounter the euro in many countries. However, not in all of them - below, you can find a list of countries that haven’t adapted the universal currency, despite being member states of the European Union:
If you do move to a country whose money you’re not familiar with, you will find the habit of calculating prices very hard to get rid of. This can be particularly annoying if you’d travelled from somewhere where the cost of living tends to be a little bit lower. Coming from Poland, where the currency is Polish zloty and prices - up until recently - have been rather low, converting euro, pounds or Swiss franks (especially given the cost of living in Switzerland!) into my home country’s currency oftentimes left me with a severe headache and increased heart rate.
After a while, you will get used to the local prices, find all the cheapest shops, and, consequentially, stop the complicated calculations accompanying every trip to the supermarket. Just be aware that it is something you will most likely experience, and try not to drive yourself crazy performing quantum physics just to buy bread.
Top tip: when abroad, look for popular international chains you know from home. Supermarkets such as Tesco, Lidl, or Aldi are prominent in many European countries, and the cost of products, although not exactly the same, will be similar.
Especially if you’re friends with locals, this phrase will come up every now and then. British people love their Wispas, Flakes, Mini Eggs, and other Cadbury products. I got a LOT of judgmental looks upon admitting to having no idea what Curly Wurly Swirlies are (excuse-moi).
Those who attack you with that question don’t necessarily mean to be offensive. Sometimes, it’s just the issue of taking certain things typical for your country for granted. Many of us don’t realise that something we’d say is iconic for where we’re from has never been spotted outside of the borders of its country of origin. And, hey, if people are shocked upon hearing you’re not familiar with an element of the local culture, it means they’ve most likely forgotten that you’re an expat. Blending in done well!
Take a deep breath. Consider it a compliment. Ask them to explain. After all, it’s just another opportunity to learn!
This is one of the elements of moving to another place that hits you the hardest, so we’re hoping to lessen the impact by hitting you with it first: home will no longer feel like home.
You might feel like a stranger in your hometown, in your own home - even in your very bed you’ve spent years sleeping in. Especially if you’ve been away from home for a longer time without visiting, the first few days back will be dominated by this painful realisation. In time, you will begin readjusting again - no worries, you won’t feel that way forever. It is a phenomenon that does occur, however, and it is better to be aware of it before you go.
The more you travel, the more homes you create for yourself abroad. After a while, you might start feeling like you can’t say you belong in one particular place anymore. It may sound scary, but it’s not a bad thing. It requires a mentality shift, for sure, but it shouldn’t scare you off if the life of a digital nomad appeals to you.
Sad but true. Nobody likes paperwork in any form, but even though annoying, you can somewhat get used to the way it’s handled - eventually. The problem with moving countries is that this way things work - the one we have barely just learned and accepted - it changes. And every time you think it can’t possibly get any worse, you visit a new place, and it does.
Of course, this is just the issue of getting used to a new routine abroad. It’s harder to accept unpleasant processes, and since bureaucracy generally belongs in the unpleasant category worldwide, finding your way around a new administration system can be bothersome.
But bothersome doesn’t mean impossible. Stay strong. We believe in you.
This may seem like a very trivial thing, but expats bring it up a lot as one of the things they wish they knew before moving (something I 100% agree with myself). Depending on where you are from, you might find it very odd that shops abroad are either closed or open on Sundays.
Not really a problem if they’re open. Definitely a problem if they’re closed. Those of you who are smirking, thinking how irrelevant this point is - mark our words when you find yourself performing the walk of shame after having tried to do your weekly groceries on a Sunday.
When moments of melancholy come, you will find your mind skipping to the most random elements of your life back home. That road full of potholes you had to cross every day on your way to work, hating every moment? You’ll feel the sudden urge to go back there and drive back and forth with a smile. The healthcare system you always thought was annoying? You’ll begin to appreciate it, trying to wrap your head around a whole new one.
You’ll even think back to all the habits typical for your loved ones that you’ve never been particularly fond of. Your Mum asking questions about every part of your day, your boyfriend cracking his knuckles, your friend making jokes in the least appropriate moments. You may find it hard to believe now, but there will be a time or two when you think: “man, I wish they were here to annoy me now”.
We have come to the bottom of our list, but we’re sure there are tons of other tips digital nomads around the world could share. If you’re a seasoned expat willing to speak up about your experience, the comments section is your playground!
We hope we have opened the eyes of those considering a move abroad to certain issues they might have overlooked up until now. At a first glance, some of the points might sound scary, or even discouraging, but remember: you are aware of them now, and you can prepare accordingly. Therefore, you’re already one step ahead of where we had been in your shoes!
We wish everyone the best of luck with their relocation, and we are always here to lend a helping hand!