Once you’re finished reading this guide, you’ll have a better understanding of how to become an expat based on an expatriate’s experience.
First, I’ll give you general tips that I use to survive. And afterward, I’ll provide additional tidbits that I’ve learned over time to help me survive.
Please note that most of the resources in this guide will help expats from any country. However, some resources and websites will best suit American expats.
1. Figure Out the Basics of Being an Expat
When I refer to the basics of becoming an expat, I’m talking about figuring out everything you’ll need to know about the country you intend on relocating to. This information includes:
- Public transportation
- Visas and residency certificates
- Local laws
- Finding a place to live
- Learning about the country’s cultural dos and don’ts
- How you’ll deal with healthcare
2. Stay on Budget When Moving to Another Country
Unless you have limitless sums to throw at everything, you’ll need to create a budget to protect yourself and your family from most of what life throws at you. That includes determining a set amount you’ll spend on bills, food, utilities, entertainment, etc.
The most important part of your budget is having an emergency fund. You can build this from existing funds or set aside a portion of each paycheck/payment. I recommend saving at least six months of your total monthly living expenses for the best protection.
Beware of the “Expat Tax”
If you’re a United States citizen, you’ll still have to pay taxes overseas. Moreover, you’ll have to pay the taxes of the country you’re staying in if you have a work permit or residential certificate.
However, as a US citizen, you also have access to Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE) and Foreign Tax Credit, both of which significantly reduce the amount you’ll need to pay. However, I recommend talking to an accountant to learn more about these credits.
3. Build a Social Circle
Meet people. Mingle with the locals.
If you don’t understand the country’s language, you can attempt to communicate with locals you encounter daily until you can form entire conversations. Maybe that conversation will lead to a night on the town or a day trip somewhere new.
If you’re a digital nomad, it’s still important to make friends or acquaintances. Because over time, as you continually sit in your office alone working on projects, you may lose your mind. Even if you’re an introvert.
4. Figure Out What You Can Eat
When moving to a new country, you’ll likely not have access to the dishes you’re used to. That’s why you’ll need to understand the local cuisine and product availability before you move.
Here’s one example, if you can only consume Kosher foods, you’ll want to inquire forums or religious figures in the country you’re visiting to see where you can find food that conforms to Jewish dietary restrictions.
Or, if you’re a vegetarian/vegan, consult forums or applications like HappyCow to find vegan- and vegetarian-friendly establishments.
Moreover, if you have allergies to certain ingredients, you’ll need to understand what the locals use for their dishes—ensure they don’t use ingredients that’ll send you to the hospital.
If you have the time, patience, and space, I recommend cooking at home and, on occasion, partaking in the local cuisine.
5. Do You Need To Learn the Local Language?
If you’re moving into a country where they primarily speak English, skip this section. However, if you’re moving to a country where English isn’t the main language, I recommend trying to learn the language if you’re going to be there for a while.
Not only does it show the locals that you’re attempting to integrate yourself with their culture, but it’ll also make life significantly easier for you since you can communicate without Google Translate.
6. Connect With the Expat Community
Whether you’re not the most sociable person or a social butterfly, I recommend finding a friend or two who’s an expat. If possible, find a community that meets up weekly or monthly.
Not only will you build a relationship, but you can also gain a better understanding of typical issues people in similar situations have endured.
7. Be Flexible With Your Lifestyle and Habits
If you have habits that you’re used to doing every day in the country you came from, those will likely change when you move somewhere new. So, as an expatriate, you must learn how to open your mind to new experiences and create new habits.
It’ll take a while, but you’ll get used to it. To create new habits, I use gamification to-do list mobile applications.
8. The Biggest Myth of Living in Another Country
While many myths surround living in another country, to me, the biggest myth is that you need a ton of money to move abroad. I didn’t start with much while first moving out of the country, and I certainly don’t have much now.
However, I have managed to build a life for myself that I enjoy. If you put enough planning into your plan to move abroad, you can experience the same.
9. Websites and Resources for Expatriates
The most important information to keep in mind as an expat is to utilize everything available. That’s why I’ve built a list of tools that I use to help you throughout your journey:
- VPN subscription: helps you access websites and services in your home country
- Country-based expat forums: whether you’re an intro- or extrovert, skimming forums or subreddits for information and engaging with other expats in your country can be a lifesaver
- News websites in other countries: they’ll help you remain up-to-date with laws, changes in foreign policy—and hence visas—and events
- STEP service: allows you to register for alerts from the US government
- Visa List: a free alternative to Nomad List that gives you important information about whatever country you want to visit
- Wise (formerly Transferwise): great for receiving payments and transferring money
- International Calling Codes: gives you all of the information you could need for dialing into other countries
Expat Frequently Asked Questions
You likely still have a million questions flooding your mind. To help you, I grouped questions other expatriates have asked to further prepare you for your move.
What Is the Difference Between an Immigrant and an Expatriate?
An immigrant is someone who permanently moves to a new country, whereas an expat is someone who moves away from their native country. So technically, if you’re an expat, you’re both an expat and an immigrant.
Learn More About Becoming an Expat
If you’re interested in expatriating, you’ll need to ensure you’re ready. Otherwise, you’re in for a dangerous and disappointing journey. Use the tips that I mentioned and engage with other expats in the country you’re moving to prepare yourself for your move.