You’re getting ready to uproot your life and move abroad. Huzzah! That’s no easy feat, and we couldn’t be more excited for all of the adventures that lie ahead. Working abroad, getting paid to travel, meeting other adventurous souls like yours—yeah, it’s as good as it sounds!
Moving abroad is NOT the same as going on a vacation. There are a lot of small things, like say, whether or not stores are open on Sunday, that you’re going to want to know before you go. Turn off your vacation goggles and let’s get REAL about what it’s actually like to live in another country.
Here are ten things you should probably know before moving abroad—it’ll make those first few weeks run a little smoother (perfect for when almost everything feels oppressively unfamiliar!).
Before you move abroad, you…
1. Should learn some local lingo.
I wouldn’t repeat my strategy of learning “Take your pants off” in every foreign language (although it did make for some funny conversations with foreigners expecting to hear me say something like “One more beer” or “Cheers” when I told them I had a few words of their language). However, before you plop yourself at a foreign address, we recommend knowing how to say the following phrases:
- Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, good night. A simple ”Hello” is too mainstream and touristy.
- Can you please help me?
- Your address. I also recommend writing this down in the local language (i.e. Mandarin characters) AND in a way you can pronounce (i.e. pinyin) in case of an emergency.
- My name is…
- Thank you. ← This is a big one.
2. Should know your visa information.
Sometimes visas can be complicated, and it’s up to you, the visa-holder, to understand what you can and cannot do with a given visa status. You might be eligible for work, for instance, or it could be entirely illegal and grounds for deportation. The responsibility falls on YOU to know and understand it.
3. Should know the weather.
*Thinks back to that time in New Zealand when it started snowing unexpectedly.* Prepare well in advance to pack the necessary clothes and gear to cover you for the climate of your TEFL destination. If you are staying long term, create a plan for securing next season’s clothes while abroad or by shipping a box of your items from home at a future date.
Pro tip: Pack an umbrella. No matter where you’re going.
4. Should research the local customs.
It’s REALLY rude in China to gift a watch and you should never point with your forefinger in Indonesia. While some grace is offered to foreigners, you don’t want to be culturally insensitive, do you? Research manners and no-no’s in your TEFL destination to avoid any awkward run in’s or accidental offenses.
5. Should understand what’s coming for your belly.
If you hate spicy food, how are you going to survive in Korea? If rice and beans make your stomach upset, are you just going to starve in Colombia?
Make sure you process in advance what your food situation will be abroad. If you are concerned about access to your favorite foods, make a game plan for bringing some along or research stores in advance where you might be able to stock up on your favorite foods from home.
If you’re a vegetarian en route to, say, Argentina, read blogs and tips from other vegetarian travelers and expats to give yourself a realistic view of what your dining options will be like.
6. Should research the tourist attractions.
All work and no play? NO WAY! Start daydreaming about your soon-to-be-checked-off-the-bucketlist experiences that you want to have abroad. Learn the history of vampires in Romania or who the heck is Chiang Kai Shek? It’s fun to have some context and factoids to drop/impress your friends while making memories in these exciting tourist destinations. You can also use geotags on Instagram to see inspiring real-life photos from people like you, too!
7. Should pack sunscreen & other personal medical needs.
While you can often find most items abroad, some replacement products just won’t cut it. That’s why we recommend that you pack a decent supply of your necessary medicine and other specialized products (such as hair mousse or sunscreen) before moving abroad. This will give you a few weeks at least to find a suitable replacement product for many items (or to make a plan to have mom and dad ship you some backups from home!).
8. Should have a transportation game plan.
Planes, trains, and automobiles. And is it motorbikes, tuk-tuks, and rickshaws? Or just walking on your own two feet? Wherever you’re going, do some quick research on public transit options and for tips/advice from other expats about how best to use the system. Learn about possible transportation cards and monthly passes, or if you should download specialized transportation apps, like Grab in Thailand.
9. Should have your emergency contacts digitally stored and on your person.
Getting stuck in a bad situation abroad without access to your emergency contact numbers and information, would suck, right? That’s why you should be ultra-organized when storing information like your travel health insurance, your emergency contacts, your passport, and other related documents before moving abroad. Email secure copies to important family members, keep a digital copy of each in your cloud, and print a couple of copies to have on hand.
10. Should know when shops close!
As I mentioned in our introduction, it can be a real let-down to head to the store on a Sunday or at 2pm in Spain just to realize it’s closed (#SiestaWoes). If you know generally when shops are opened or closed, you can save yourself from a real let-down/emergency overpriced Snickers bar to make you feel better.
You’re ready to move to another country
Moving to another country is a big deal, but if you follow the pointers above, you’ll be rocking out to your new TEFL life and answering tourists’ questions in no time.