Settling abroad: How to make the most of your scouting trip

Article
Published 2019-08-05 12:41

A scouting expat trip is a process of testing the waters before making a life-changing decision to move (or not) to a country. At first, it may sound unreasonable to spend all this money and time to visit a place where you are most likely relocating to anyway. But it’s actually a wise choice and a thoughtful investment towards your expatriation project. In the long term, it can save you a whole lot of hustle. So, don’t take someone else’s word for your prospecting expat country; find out for yourself. Here’s a primer on how to make the most of your scouting trip.

Maria Iotova

I'm a freelance journalist and editor for the travel, non-profit, and news sectors. Among others, I have written for the Huffington Post, the Culture Trip, and the Financial Times. After intensively exploring my home country of Greece and the UK as a journalism graduate, I have lived in Ghana, South Korea, Mauritius, and currently in Rwanda doing what I love the most: getting out of my comfort zone.

Get organised

An expat scouting trip is a project by itself, meaning that to be successful and help you make an informed decision about your expat destination, it has to be well-planned. One thing to consider before taking off is: “What are my goals during this scouting trip?” In other words, be clear about what you want to achieve while you stay in your prospecting expat country. A strategic to-do list is a way to go. Even though it may be tempting to spend your days visiting tourist sights and chilling at boutique cafés, keep in mind that a scouting trip shouldn’t feel like a holiday. So, make sure your schedule is packed with ways to collect information about the country — from face to face meetings with locals and expats to neighbourhood visits and window shopping. A well-thought scouting trip can open your eyes about the culture, cost of living, health, and safety in the country — all the factors that will determine the quality of your expat life. 

What to look out for during a scouting trip

Let’s be realistic; a scouting trip cannot be as revealing about a country as living there. However, there’s plenty of guaranteed knowledge you can obtain during your visit. First, try to stay in a neighbourhood that isn’t crammed with tourists, is within your budget, and close to your future workplace (if you have secured a job already). Book a flat or a shared house instead of a hotel, as this will give you the chance to do some shopping, cook for yourself with local produce, and maybe interact with other expats or nationals. 

Pick up a morning weekday and get out and about to check out different neighbourhoods, do some shopping, and visit your new office (if a job is the reason for your move). How long does it take to travel from A to B? Is it faster and more pleasant to walk around or use public transport? What are the transport fares, and are there travel passes to reduce the monthly travel costs? 

Take a break at a coffee shop, and take some time to read the local news. Even if you are unfamiliar with the national language, there is always at least one print edition available in English. What are the current and international affairs affecting the country? How stable is the economy, and are there reports on crime? Reading or watching the local news will give you a context, as you will learn about the country’s background and future plans. 

This next plan of action might be wearying, but it’s worth implementing. Try to visit a couple of banks, and speak to their customer service to find out what are the requirements to open a bank account and what kind of bonuses do they offer. Do the same with telecom service providers to get an idea of monthly internet, mobile phone, and pay television fares. Lastly, visit a few real estate agencies to find out about accommodation types, availability, and prices of course.  

If you are moving with children, it’s a must to visit your top preferable (remember the research and checklists you created before departure) schools. International schools have high fees, and by now, you should probably know if your employer is willing to cover some of the education costs. Depending on the country you are moving to, public schools may be a good option as well. Speaking directly with the head of school will give you an insight into the education system and teachers’ behaviours.

Try to interact with nationals as much as possible, even if it’s just small talk. Are they friendly and willing to go the extra mile to help you? If you don’t speak the same language, are locals comfortable with using one of the widely spoken languages such as English, French, or Spanish? Do you see yourself learning the national language?

Overall, an important question to ask yourself every now and then during your scouting trip is: “Do I see myself living here in the long run?” How do you feel among the crowd? Is the culture shock (if any) giving you a sense of excitement to explore the traditions or disengaging you? Of course, this is a lot to take in, and one should remain as true to their values as possible, without however lacking an open mind. It’s not necessary to answer all the questions at once. Instead, take this food for thought with you back home, and take some time to process the outcome of your scouting trip.  

Can’t go on a scouting trip? No worries!

No matter how useful a scouting trip may prove, not everyone can afford the time and money required for such an expedition. If a scouting trip sounds like a luxury to you, don’t fret. Thanks to the internet and websites such as Expat.com, you can bring your expat destination to your screen within seconds. You can create a spreadsheet organised in tabs such as cost of living, accommodation, schools, visa requirements, banking, healthcare, etc. Once you are aware of the type of information you are after, you can start your research by reading blogs and articles, and reaching out to expats who are already living in the country. Expat.com for example has an awesome community of expats, whom you can talk to in private or start discussions in the forum.