Earlier this year, the Telegraph published an article on the British rush for Australian visas in pursuit of a move Down Under.
This month, I’ve been away from the motherland for nine years and I thought it timely to share a few things I’ve learned from living overseas for those folk thinking of a life adventure either to Oz or elsewhere.
If you’re reading this as a fellow expat, I’d also appreciate your own insights from a life lived abroad.
If you had your time again, what do you wish someone had told you to help ease the transition? If you were given five minutes to divulge your top three tips for a successful international life, what would they be?
Here are a few of mine.
|Photo credit: Tiger Pixel (Flickr Creative Commons)|
Leave your baggage behind
Do you have friends who regularly compare their life abroad to living in their homeland, who think that things aren’t better in their new home than they were before, who make statements wishing things were more like back home?
I see it in the status updates on Facebook all the time.
The thing is nobody likes a whinger. The ‘locals’ don’t want to hear a recent arrival complain. Things will be different and they will feel strange but, sooner or later, you’ll have to open that can of ‘toughen up’.
I remember arriving in Canada in the summer of 2003. I had no immediate contact with family back home, I’d quit my corporate job for a return to university, and I was living temporarily with relatives I hadn’t seen in many years. At first, every day was unfamiliar, every experience unsettling, but I’d signed up to this way of life and I tried hard not to complain.
If I negatively compared life in my new home to the way things were in the UK, I saw a certain look pass across the face of my host. A mix of pity and annoyance. I soon learned to forget unnecessary comparisons, positively acknowledge the differences, and accept the choice I’d made. For if I didn’t like that choice, it would be easy to pack up and return home.
Did you struggle in those early days of expat life? Have you seen the expat who likes to complain and compare all of the time?
Get up to speed fast
Did you arrive in your new home and only then begin to properly understand how the housing market works or what to do with your money or where to find the best schools for your kids? Or did you have it all planned out before moving?
I found that advance planning was only one part of a successful transition overseas. The other part was on-the-ground, local knowledge, which had to be gained quickly and in some detail.
In Australia, no amount of planning prepared me for the shock and awe of the Sydney housing market – how expensive the houses were, where the affordable suburbs were, and how to finalise a mortgage as a recent immigrant with no credit history. My wife, a true blue Aussie, had been away for seven years, yet even she struggled to get credit from the banks. We had to work fast to understand how to achieve financial security.
I knew about Medicare and thought it was similar to the UK’s National Health Service. However, there were subtle differences that needed to be understood. For example, given our combined salaries, we needed private health insurance to ensure full healthcare coverage and to avoid paying additional taxes at the end of the financial year. Our research hadn’t revealed this so we needed to quickly understand the available products.
And so the list went on:
- Where were the local favourite eating spots?
- How should we tip in Sydney?
- Where to find the best coffee?
- Would our dog need special vaccinations?
- Where to wear my thongs?!
From the absurd to the crucial, I’ve learned the importance of being on the ground and moving quickly to understand the local environment in terms of finances, housing, healthcare, schools, jobs, etc., etc. Planning is great but planning isn’t perfect. I’d advise you to hit the road fast upon arrival and get up to speed as soon as you can.
What have been your own expat experiences? Did you encounter any pleasant/unpleasant surprises?
Ditch the guilt
Call it separation guilt, unease at leaving loved ones to move to the other side of the world or feeling bad at enjoying my environment, I’ve experienced it. I know I’m not alone because I’ve spoken to others who’ve shared their personal stories of guilt at the decision to move overseas.
Have you felt guilty at moving abroad? Have you ever doubted your decision to leave or considered returning as a result?
Living abroad can be a double-edged sword.
You explore wonderfully different places, meet fascinating people, try extraordinary things. Yet you do this away from the comfort of your original family home and you may feel guilty or uncomfortable in doing so.
You start to feel settled and established, then perhaps a sly comment or an unguarded word from a loved one made you reflect on your decision to leave. It’s Christmas and you had to miss the annual family reunion. Maybe you chose a local holiday rather than fly back to where you’re from. If your parents are ageing or someone is sick in the family, your decisions to abandon the family in pursuit of a better life can seem difficult to reconcile.
It’s possible to replace feelings of guilt with a belief that the choice you made to move was the right one. In my experience, make the decision to leave, believe in it, and find peace with that decision – or face a future of uncertainty and unease.
These are just a few of my thoughts so over to you fellow expats, travellers or international movers-to-be.
What are your top expat tips for a life overseas? What have you learned from living abroad? If you’re thinking of moving, what else would you like to know?