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Our top ten tips for expats settling in to a new country

Written by E4E Editor on 28 October 2014

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With more people moving abroad than ever, and for a wide range of reasons, ensuring that you settle into your new home as soon as possible is very important.

During a relocation project, so much emphasis is understandably put on the move itself and we’ve created our moving abroad checklist to help with this.

However, it’s equally important to prepare yourself for what happens next to ensure that you new home feels like home as quickly as possible. Failing to do so can lead to increased stress and anxiety which can impact on all elements of yours and your family’s life.

Here are our top ten tips to help you settle in to your new home, and remember, it’s never too soon to start planning how to settle in.

Understand the stages of settling in

Whether you’re expecting it or not, you are likely to experience both culture shock and homesickness during the stages of your relocation. For international relocation there is an accepted “settlement curve” which has four distinct stages: fun, fright, flight and fit. It is important to understand these stages in advance so that you can prepare and deal with each stage as they happen.

In the early stages of your relocation, the excitement and positive feeling around your move are likely to lead to you feeling that things are “fun”. You will feel positive as your explore and investigate your new surroundings.

Then, at some stage something may happen which leads to fright, whether that’s some bad news, or maybe a member of your family hasn’t quite settled in. Whatever the cause, the realisation that you’re living in a new country could make you think wistfully about life back home.

At this stage, you are likely to at least consider relocating. It’s always helpful to have a plan in place agreed with your employer and family to address this.

Finally, once you’ve overcome the fight stage and you’ve stuck with your move, you’re likely to start to fit in where things will feel less demanding and routines start to stick. Maybe your understanding of culture and language improve and make you feel more at home.

Learn and understand the language

If you’re moving to a country where English is not the primary language, even if English is widely spoken, it is important that you are able to understand the basics before you move. This will allow you to meet people, discuss key things about your new home and assist when shopping when you first arrive.

Even if English is the primary language, it’s also important to understand the basic differences. Even in the UK, each region has subtle differences, so when you move abroad, having a basic understanding of some of the more important language differences is important.

Keep in touch with friends and family

Keeping in touch with your friends and family is especially important if you are moving alone. Even amidst the excitement of the move, a new home in a foreign country can all too soon become a lonely place. To help ensure that you avoid any loneliness, don’t be too proud to call your family or friends to have a chat.

With modern technology, such as social media and Skype, this has been made a lot simpler and cost effective than twenty years ago, however making the effort is still very important. You may also want to purchase an international SIM card which allows you to be contacted by people back home and ensure that you can stay abreast of the latest news.

Join online expat forums

When you move abroad, you’re joining an exclusive community of expats, some of whom are in the same boat and others who have been there and seen it.

In most cases, people are very happy to share their experiences and help you settle in to your new life. Forums and communities such as BritishExpats.com and Internations.org are fantastic starting places, but also search for more localised groups and sites which offer more tailored advice.

Join local clubs and get to know people as soon as possible

The sooner you start meeting local people, the more quickly you are likely to settle in. For children, school offers a ready-made route for families to meet. However, if you don’t have children, seek out local clubs.

If you’re unsure where to start, as soon as possible meet your neighbours. We all know that British people can be a little aloof, but local people are likely to be a lot more open and friendly towards newcomers to the neighbourhood.

Understand the local customs

Nothing can cause embarrassment quite as much as not understanding local customs. For example, difficult cultures have different ways to introduce and behave in social situations from greetings, to meal times and saying goodbye.

While most people will be forgiving if you’re not aware of the cultures, you can ensure that you’re not left feeling embarrassed for not following typical customs by researching in advance.

Things which are important to consider including the drinking culture, smoking behaviour and even understanding about personal space and friendly touching. Things which are engrained in your subconscious need to be understood – and in some cases eradicated to ensure that you do not create awkward situations.

Proper preparation prevents…

One of the key things to settling in is to ensure that what we define as the basics are in place before you move. This includes setting up a bank account (if possible), pre-arranging utilities (such as internet, phone) and of course your living arrangements.

Make sure you’ve visited a few times before you arrive, understand where the key shops are,  restaurants and other essential activities so that you can slot into your new life from the moment you arrive.

It won’t always be possible to make everything happen until you are there, but as long as you understand your surroundings and have things in place, it will reduce the fear of being somewhere new.

Know the office culture

If you are moving for a career change, the office culture is likely to be very different to what you are used to at home. From meeting cultures, timeliness and general behaviour, it is important to understand what is expected of you.

To help with this speak to your new colleagues in advance and get to know them on a personal level as soon as possible. Arrange for out of office meetings after hours to speak to your colleagues and understand office etiquette.

Ask and observe

Above all else, the most important thing to remember is that if you are unsure about anything, ask someone. If you cannot ask, then observe how others act and follow suit, more often than not, someone will lend a friendly word to help you along.

Be patient

Even the most confident and prepared people don’t settle in immediately. You cannot prepare for every eventuality and it is impossible to fully understand the culture.

Being patient is so important, don’t expect it all at once and try things before saying know. If you give your new home time, you will settle in and be able to embrace all the elements which expat living brings.

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