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How can I prepare for life as an Expat?

Expat Preparation Checklist

So you’ve made the big decision to move overseas and become a citizen of the globe. You’ve decided to explore and experience a new culture, taste new foods, immerse yourself in the context of a different language, currency, and an overall new way of life as an expat.

For many, this will be a truly mind opening and expanding experience, but of course, there will be many challenges that will be part and parcel of this wonderful experience. In most cases, the path will have been well trodden before us so we can learn from our predecessors and prepare for the better-known but lesser-mentioned challenges that we are almost guaranteed to face.

Emotional

If you are leaving loved one’s behind you will inevitably miss them. The quick drink after work with trusted, long-term, pals; the cup of tea at the drop of a hat round at your parents house. All those relationships you have spent years nurturing, the people who know you and your history and make for easy short-hand conversation are no longer to hand. The physical presence of these relationships at least, won’t be quite as accessible once you are overseas and the longing for these familiar and easy social get-togethers can not be overestimated. To make up for this gap – set up regular face-to-face skype time. It can be challenging if the time difference is vast so it’s best to bite the bullet and set the wheels in motion as soon as possible. If you’re grandparents or parents aren’t so tech savvy, set them up and train them up before you leave as once you are overseas, it will be a lot more complicated.

The best antidote to missing your friends is of course to seek out new friends to share experiences and socialise with. Building a new circle of friends is however, easier said than done. Help yourself to make headway by using this tech-rich world – research meet-ups in advance, for things that you are interested in be it crypto-currency, book-clubs, triathlons, mums groups, or other ex-pats. There are meet-ups for every conceivable group under the sun and it is often commented on that interest groups are more agnostic of one’s cultural background as there is pre-established common ground.

Cultural

The more you know about your destination and it’s culture, the less anxiety you’ll feel when dealing with your new surroundings.

Learn the positives and the negatives, so find out where the hotspots are for things you enjoy doing – be it dining out, bars, galleries, or exercising, but also be savvy and know the no-go areas.

Read up about your host country’s history so as to have a basic understanding of it’s origins and arrival at it’s present day situation. Singapore, for example, is a melting pot of people and cultures. The Malays were the original settlers, with subsesquent migration of Chinese and Indians which now make up the largest and third largest ethnic groups in Singapore. Combine this with 144 years of British control in the 19th-20th centuries and you have a truely ethnically diverse population.

As a result, Mandarin and English are the main languages spoken, but Tamil, and various chinese dialects are also commonly heard. The informal English that you will hear is quite unique and has even garnered it’s own identity “Singlish”. So, if you are moving to Singapore, be prepared for a linguistic smorgasbord, the variety of which is also reflected in the diverse and delicious food.

As a general, if you are moving to a foreign language speaking country, learning the basics is fun and your efforts won’t go unnoticed. Even just to be able to say “Good morning”,”hello”, “thank-you”, will open you up to forming relationships and learning the language. In my experience, locals everywhere are always amused and keen to help foreigners learn the local language.

In summary, being informed about the culture of the country that you are moving to, and allowing yourself time to adjust to it, is the best action you can take to counteract the shock of the new.

Financials

Once you know that you are going to be living overseas for a spell, start to plan how you will pay for your living costs both home and away. For example, if you are being paid in the local currency and have financial commitments back home (e.g. mortgage, credit card payments, etc) then you will, most likely, be sending money home on a regular basis through an International Money Transfer (IMT). Alternatively, you might be receiving your salary in the home currency, in which case, you will likely need to make an international money transfer to cover your costs in the host country.

Either way, it’s a good idea to start tracking currency exchange rates as soon as possible so that you get a feel for what is a good exchange rate for your regular money transfer.  It’s also worth looking at options outside of your bank i.e. specialist FX providers such as World First or OFX, both of which are regulated, established and trusted service providers who will look at tailoring a solution with you. More often than not, they will have no fees, take a much smaller margin on the exchange rate than a bank, be able to offer you a Forward or Spot contract, and be able to provide customer service with specialist knowledge of the IMT market.

Try our comparison table to find the best FX specialist for your specific requirements.

Getting to know and trust an FX provider is a worthwhile activity for an expat, as if and when your term overseas draws to a close, you may want to bring back your funds and earnings to your home country.

Logistical

Many ex-pats will be taking overseas posts for organisations that will take care of the work visa requirements, health insurance, removalists and accommodation. To avoid any confusion, get clarity from your employer of what they will include in the package and be sure to understand if there are any expectations of you to submit forms or push through any applications.

As well as letting all your friends know you are moving overseas, you should also notify your bank at home, credit card issuers, insurance providers, local tax authority. If you want to continue to have your say back home, be sure to register for overseas voting.

It’s also worth checking in with your embassy to see if you can register to receive alerts for any emergency news in your destination country.

 

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