Welcome to your first weeks as an expat. Just don’t throw-up

  • young man exploring the city
Published 2020-01-13 12:00

Home is not a place. It's a feeling. The air smells funny. People drive on the wrong side of the street. Vendors sell bread on the sidewalk. The prices are in local money so quick mental calculations must be made.

People grow tired of you saying, “But in America…” and you get tired of hearing, “But you’re not in America.”

The stress may seem overwhelming but don’t make yourself sick. Throwing up in your new landlady’s gardenia garden is not how you win friends and influence people.

Instead, pat yourself on the back as you make it through another day.

Congratulations! You have entered the dichotomous world of being an expat. The first few weeks will be among the most startling and yet the introduction to the most sublime, period of your life.

If you make it.

Find a place to live

There’s no place like home, and it can be tricky to set up in advance. Most newly-minted expats have three options:

1. Company-sponsored

The least stress-filled way as company-sponsored housing is often set up for you. The housing provided for you may be smaller and temporary. That’s fine. When you’re ‘settled,’ find a larger place.

2. Online search

In most cities, it is possible to find rentals online. The challenges of renting a place sight-unseen. Restrict your search to reputable realty services and stay alert for common scams.

3. Stay with a friend

Staying with a friend is a temporary measure, but is often needed as many countries require a ‘permanent’ address to get a job, register to vote, acquire a driver’s license, rent a home and so on.

How do you get a permanent address if you don’t have a permanent address but need to have a permanent address to get a permanent address? The classic Catch-22. Staying with a friend can often resolve this dilemma.

The first few weeks of expat life are both stressful and fascinating. Making a home, finding out how to get on the bus and start exploring. With some patience, a sense of humour and these dynamite tips from an experienced expat, you can get the very best.

How to begin your expat life

Use the first weeks to settle in and explore. Everything is new and will hit you at the same time. This is the time when living in a foreign country is still an adventure.

Some will be overwhelmed to be in a new environment. The to-do-list is seemingly endless, and what were once easy tasks become major challenges. Relax. Breathe. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Get comfortable

Hotel rooms are sterile and impersonal. The same boring pictures are on all the walls, and clean sheets and towels are standard. But even if you’ll be in a hotel for just a few days, get comfortable.

Unpack and put some pictures of your own out. If you’re already in an apartment, arrange the furniture accounting to your tastes and begin unpacking. Bouncing from cardboard box to cardboard box isn’t fun, so get comfortable even as you sort everything and arrange items to your satisfaction.

Explore the neighbourhood

Once you have settled in, go exploring. Every town has maps and information on life in different neighbourhoods, and most towns have a local tourist office which seems to cater to expats.

Remember though, you are here to say. At least for a while. So find out where the nearest grocery store is, how far is the nearest park and where is the local coffee shop. Learning your neighbourhood will make life easier as well as helping form new friendships.


Walk out your front door. Turn left and keep walking. Just one rule for your first outing — don’t cross the street. When you get to an intersection, turn left and keep walking. Repeat this until you have circled the block. Of course, you are not idly walking, but you are paying attention to the stores, shops and people as you stroll. Step every 50-feet or so and look across the street. What shops and stores are over there?

Wait a few weeks to begin to travel and explore your new country. Waiting can give you room to settle in, and you have something to look forward to.

Public transportation

Figure out how public transportation works. Each country has a different system, and sometimes different cities within the same nation vary as well.

Fares and operating times are different as well, so get informed. Go online or visit the information centre at the local station.

Make a ‘trial-run’ of a route before actually having to use it. For example, if you have to take the bus to work on Monday, make a trial-run on Saturday. Keep in mind travel times may differ between weekdays and weekends, but at least a trial run will help you learn the route.

The takeaway

Whatever you do during the first days and weeks of your new life, don’t let the situation overwhelm you. Keep in mind what drove you to start a new life abroad, and before long you will begin to feel right at home.

Be proud. You’re brave and strong. Sure, the transition may be tough, but you got this! The benefits of living abroad outweigh the challenges, and you are part of a pretty cool club.