The Expat Survival Guide

Moving overseas? Whether it’s your first relocation or your fifth, a move overseas can be both exhilarating and terrifying. The key to survival is preparation.

Before you leave

Minimise. As consumers in a capitalist society, the collection of things seem innate in our nature. But what are you going to do with all that stuff you’ve accrued over the years? If you have a willing relative who is happy to keep your things for you, excellent. If not, really explore your options. How long are you relocating for? Are you staying in one place? Or planning to move around.

On my first overseas move, I kept everything I owned including my car. In hindsight, a quick sale of a depreciating motor vehicle would have given me backup funds in case of an emergency or would have sustained me during some extra travel.

Consider what you really need to keep, and what you need to store.

If storing in your home city, check with your chosen storage company. They may have a deal for paying in advance, for example, pay five months upfront and get the sixth for free.

When you pack your belongings for storage, ensure they are packed and organised for shipping. Know what is in each box. Label them. If your move becomes permanent it is then easy for you to have your belongings shipped to your chosen destination.

Planning a permanent move? Look into shipping from the outset. The long-term costs of keeping unused items at home usually far outweighs the initial cost of shipping everything, not including the continued frustration of buying something in your new country knowing full well you already own three of them at home.

Make sure all of your vaccinations are up to date and that you have enough of your prescription medications.

Have enough foreign cash that if it was taken from you, you could survive without it, but enough to sustain you between ATM withdrawals. Overseas withdrawals are usually charged at a percentage of the total amount plus an overseas ATM withdrawal fee. Inform your bank that you are travelling and ensure that they put notes on your file so your cards won’t be cancelled when transactions are suddenly appearing in a different country. Keep your bank’s overseas phone number in a safe place in case your cards are stolen or you have any issues transacting overseas.

Invest in a handheld travel scale and weigh your luggage. Call the airline ahead to book extra bags if you’re over the airline weight limit. Fees are markedly less if you book additional luggage in advance.

Know where you are going from the airport and how to get there. There is nothing like landing in a foreign country with no idea how to get to your hotel/hostel to start ringing the “what the hell was I thinking” alarm bells. Get to your hotel, take a breath and work out where you are in relation to everything else. Once you have a home base, even if only a hotel room, you will be in a better position to begin branching out.

When you arrive

Sort out the basics. What number do you need to reach the emergency services? I still have dreams where something bad is happening, I don’t know which country I am in and I don’t know which emergency number to call. Write it down somewhere you can see it if you ever need it. Australians have been known to call 911 by accident after repeatedly seeing the number dialed in US dramas. Know who to call.

Where is your nearest hospital? A quick google search can resolve this quickly.

Know where your embassy is and how to contact them. If your passport is lost or stolen, this should be your first port of call.

Make sure your insurances are in order. How long does your travel insurance cover you? Do you need additional health cover to receive medical assistance while you’re in your new country?

Find and register with a GP and locate your local pharmacy.

Get out of the house/room/hotel/hostel.

Find free events in your city or try an immersion course. This is especially important if living in a country where English is not the primarily spoken language. Build your network. Ground yourself. Develop a routine. Are you a gym junkie? Find a gym and go, even if only one day a week.

Religious? Find a church and go every Sunday.

Find one activity that will stay fixed in your week to give you a sense of routine and stability while getting settled. Avoid cabin fever. If you’ve moved on your own, filling the hours while looking for work can become a challenge in itself. Get out and meet people.

Haven’t arrived with a job or can’t find work immediately? Volunteer.

During a year in Singapore, I studied hard and in my spare time walked around taking in different areas of the city. One of my biggest regrets was not making more of this time by contributing in a meaningful way. Volunteering will keep you busy while job hunting and will give you work experience in the country you are living in.

If you’ve moved with a partner, be patient with each other.

Whether you’ve lived together before or not, you cannot be prepared for the sudden importance you will have in each other’s lives. In a very short space of time you will begin to fill roles for each other that are usually occupied by best friends, brothers, sisters and parents.

Give each other space to adapt in your new surroundings while finding ways to grow together.

Move for the right reasons.

“Where ever you go, there you are” and so are your problems. Even if it seems possible to completely reinvent yourself by moving somewhere else, what you are chasing only exists within you. If you don’t change the behaviours that led you to past problems, you will find yourself with all the same issues in a new place.


If you realise one thing while living out of suitcases, it is that you can get by with very little. When you return home, you won’t even be able to explain why you kept half of what you did.

Budget. Make your money last.

Understand that everything comes with a price. Realistically understand what you are giving up to be abroad. Know how far you will be from home and how much it will cost to get back. Understand that weddings, birthdays and family events often pop up while you are away that you will likely miss out on. Be prepared for the associated feelings of guilt and isolation that come with moving away from what is familiar to you. The loss of a family member I hadn’t seen in eighteen months was a stark reminder of the time I miss with loved ones while away. So stay connected with home, but…

Don’t try to live between two places.

If you are always thinking about home you won’t be able to live fully in your chosen city. If you can’t fully immerse yourself in the life you have chosen for yourself, you will find yourself constantly torn between two places which is unsustainable.

Keep records.

Whilst in the middle of your experience, you can’t imagine that you could possibly forget a single moment of your trip. You will. Take photos. Write a travel diary. Keep tickets and mementos. You can’t yet comprehend what they will mean to you later.

Most importantly, enjoy yourself.

Relocating to an entirely new country is an incredibly difficult step to take. If you’ve come this far, you deserve the opportunity to make the most of every minute. Be free from guilt. Soak it all in and know that in the best possible way you will never be the same again.

JAGGAR International

JAGGAR International is the ultimate resource for the discerning, ambitious woman. It seeks to inspire and motivate young women into their careers, to help them build self confidence and go confidently in the direction of their dreams. It seeks to mentor young women and seasoned female executives in the pursuit of success and entrepreneurship.

Back to top