When people ask me where I’m from, I take a breath and assess how long an answer they actually want…
Long story short, I was born in England (and remain a proud Brit), moved to Sydney, Australia (my Aunt and Grandparents had emigrated) and returned again, several times, but the last time was for 10 years and I got my citizenship… Then moved to Melbourne to be with my husband, but he was always away on cruise ships for work, so we moved to an apartment in Penang, Malaysia, which was easier/cheaper to lock-up and walk away from and for me to join him on the ships, doing contracts of 3-4 months on board. Penang has been our home for over two years now, however, we’re currently back in Melbourne, due to Covid. Get all that?! Please never ask me for my last 10 years of addresses!
So, needless to say, I’m no stranger to moving overseas, and living an expat life!
Becoming an expat isn’t for everyone. It sounds so exciting and glamorous – setting up in a new country, doing fabulous new activities, living in a new home which is probably better than in your own country – or at least is perceived to be. Meeting new friends and getting out and about socialising and doing new activities.
However, what many people don’t think about is the other side of this transition. So, if you’re investigating how to move overseas, consider these first…
Connect with a local for advice
I had the advantage of family to help me when I moved to Australia for the first time, but we joined Facebook groups before moving to Penang in order to connect with other expats who could answer some of our questions. They can tell you what items are hard to buy there and what you can get more cheaply than shipping. They can also put you in touch with local sell and swap pages to get an idea of what’s available from a furniture and kitchen equipment perspective, and advise on things such as whether it’s worth buying a car, shipping one, or using local transport.
Be open to changing your ways
You need to be comfortable being uncomfortable. You can’t expect to transport your life as it is and continue in a new country. It just doesn’t work like that. Even when you’re moving to a country with a similar culture and the same language, I can promise you that local ways will be different from what you’re used to. To get the most from your life, be prepared and willing to adapt.
For example, what are the local working hours? Do they have a siesta? What customs do you need to be aware of – is shaking hands acceptable? What role do women play in this culture? Which holidays are observed? What religious customs do you need to be mindful of? If you are willing to embrace these new ideals, you’ll find your experience much more rewarding!
FaceTime will be your favourite thing
Make sure you get your phone sorted asap. Getting a local sim is usually your best bet with plenty of data or international calls so you can call home when it all gets too overwhelming – and it will!
Try to work out times with your friends that make sense with the timezones and keep these call ‘dates’ so you can stay connected. Coming home after several years away can be really difficult when you’ve missed big events in your friend’s lives and haven’t kept this communication up.
I usually pick up a ‘pay as you go’ sim at the airport when I land, and then use this for a few days until I can work out what we actually need (asking your new expat friends will help), and can go into a proper store to sort the best value package.
Don’t go out and buy everything you think you need immediately
You may find that your habits change in your new home. That toastie maker you think you can’t live without may just not be something you need when you have access to cheap healthy foods from local markets, or if the bread isn’t what you’re used to it’s just not the same anyway!
Get the essentials, sure, but then just spend a few weeks getting used to your new home, creating new habits and deciding what you really need.
Consider clothing changes
When you’re researching how to move overseas, you should probably think about clothing. What you’re used to wearing at home may not be appropriate in your new country. If you move somewhere where Islam is the main religion, you will need to consider dressing more conservatively, keeping your shoulders and knees covered, or you may even be required to wear a full body/face covering. Would you be ok with that?
If you’re a very smart dresser, you may be going somewhere more casual, or temperature may make suits inappropriate.
In Australia, pretty much anything goes, but in Malaysia, I’m conscious of not wearing anything too revealing, and heels have become a thing of the past with the uneven and rough walkways.
Be careful with contracts/memberships
You will generally get a better deal on things like phone deals, internet and rent if you sign a longer term contract, but are you sure you want to be in that country for 2+ years? Is your work stable, and have you checked that you will be happy staying for that period?
If this is your first time heading overseas for a long period, you may want to test the waters with short-term contracts to check you’re happy to be there longer.
That said, whilst Australia’s contracts are pretty solid, in Malaysia you can often ‘sell’ the remainder of a contract or sports membership, in which case go nuts with the cheaper deal, knowing you can probably pass it on to another expat on a shorter stay if you need to leave!
This can be tricky when you move away. Depending on where you go, you may find it challenging to get the meds you’re used to. If this is important to you/necessary, you may want to try to stock up before you go…however, check what is allowed to be brought into the country, as many places don’t allow more than 30 days worth of meds. You might want to get local information on this one though, you can be, ummm, creative…depending on what security is like! I would never try to ‘sneak’ anything into Australia, but Malaysia…?
Most countries have good health care or a reciprocal medical system, so this is another occasion when reaching out to fellow expats will help you. I’ve been lucky in that Australia has great medical care, but it’s expensive if you can’t access Medicare, and Malaysia is also fantastic with the bonus of being very cheap too!
If you have specific medical requirements, this definitely needs to be part of your research on how to move overseas.
Being away from home can get very lonely. The best thing about ex-pat communities is that they understand, because they’re in the same situation. You can make life-long friends from your time overseas as you tend to trust and lean on each other more than you would with the people you meet at home.
Join every group that’s available and of interest to you. Accept every invitation and check out your local Internations group which is an international organisation which helps expats come together and feel supported whilst away from home. If you make the effort from the start, you’ll find life much easier!
Allow time/budget for visits time
The thought of heading overseas will be less stressful when you have dates in the diary of when you’re next going home to catch up with your family and friends. When things are tough, this gives you something to hold on to!
In the case of Australia, flights which originate in the UK are cheaper than those which originate in Australia (go figure), so for me, I made sure that I always had a return flight booked within the permitted 12 month window. Usually, you can change the date for a small fee, so don’t stress if you don’t have plans locked in, but just having that ticket available can be comforting.
For trips between Australia and Malaysia, AirAsia is our friend! Their great deals mean we can fly back and forth fairly often and pretty cheaply too, which made the decision to move there much easier.
Go with the right attitude
Whilst I’ve mentioned some of the bad things to be aware of, moving overseas and starting a new life is also very exciting! Go with a positive attitude, an open mind, and throw yourself into every opportunity that comes your way and you will have a ball!
Have you every moved overseas and lived as an Expat? How did you find it? Are there any other tips you can add to my list?
Thanks for reading – see you next time!
Wendy A x
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