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Expat Advice: Tips for Living Abroad

By Betsy Burlingame

Summary: Advice from other expats is invaluable when you are living abroad. We started a topic on each of our country forums asking expatriates to share tips for living overseas. Here are some highlights.

Tips for Living Abroad - Country-by-Country

Tips for Living in Argentina

  • Always keep coins handy. The buses only accept coins, and, oddly enough, there is a shortage of coins here.
  • Be extra careful when you are crossing the streets as there are hardly any Stop signs, and drivers drive very fast.
  • Always hold onto your valuables tight! Buenos Aires is safe, but you still need to keep your wits about you.
  • Argentina's Castellano Spanish is unique in the Spanish-speaking world for its grammar, accent, and vocabulary.
  • Argentina has many public hospitals and (relatively inexpensive) private hospitals/clinics that you can take advantage of if you do not have health insurance.
  • Great Public Universities...the best ones known all over the world......FOR FREE!!!

More Tips from Expats about Living in Argentina

Tips for Living in Australia

  • Get involved with activities here - so that you can meet new people and create new networks.
  • In Australia, we do not really have 'expatriate' communities (or if we do, they are usually very small groups because of our smaller population), so the best way to enjoy living here is to enjoy the plethora of activities on offer and mix with other multicultural Australians (preferably in a sport/interest that you are already passionate about).
More Tips from Expats about Living in Australia

Tips for Living in Bahamas

  • There is no specific law for vehicles, technical inspection is easy. Road tax and insurance are moderate.
  • Food an drinks, due to transportation, tax, lack of consumer representation and competition is expensive and needs selection.
  • Power, telephone and cable are very expensive for the same reasons.
  • Cable internet is very good and reliable - what I cannot say about the DSL connection of Batelco.
  • Schools are many, but the level of education needs to be checked, especially if you consider a temporary stay.
  • Religion: Churches of all kind all over the island. Most Christian but also Synagogue- Masons- Roman Catholic- Reformed. No Greek Orthodox or Mosque by my knowledge.
  • When renting - security and hurricane protection might pose an issue to consider.
  • The right way to drive in the Bahamas is on the left side of the road. Where your steering wheel is doesn't matter - (best in the car of course)
More Tips from Expats about Living in Bahamas

Tips for Living in Belgium

  • pick up at least a few flemish words. no matter what.
  • Get used to bureaucracy. You need an ID card for a lot of things. To get that, you need to get registered. It's not too difficult (go to your local council office or the central registry in Brussels), but depending where you are it can take some time until you finally get your card.
  • Be prepared to take a number and wait. In Brussels it can easily take up to an hour to buy a stamp at the post office if you're unlucky. Get used to it. If you're grumpy to the clerk after waiting for an hour and a half they have no qualms to ignore you and send you away without any stamps at all. If you need to go to the central registry office in Brussels in person during a busy time you may find that you have to wait in line to get a number, which will allocate you a place in the queue to get another number for the actual queue.
More Tips from Expats about Living in Belgium

Tips for Living in Bulgaria

  • Learn at least some Bulgarian
  • Be extremely patient
  • Do not compare it with the western countries
  • Do not fall in the vicious circle of complaining about Bulgarians and Bulgaria
More Tips from Expats about Living in Bulgaria

Tips for Living in Colombia

  • Learn Spanish
  • Make friends both locals and expats
  • Bring lots of books from home
  • Truly learn the meaning of flexibility, not only its spelling
  • Some banks won't allow you to open a savings account until you become a resident (3 yrs). Exception: Davivienda
  • There are 6 economic levels for selecting places to rent. Most security at levels 4-6. Northern Bogota is a good area. Choose near common bus routes or TransMilenio.
  • Be prepared to photocopy everything. Someone is going to need a copy of your passport or cedula or a receipt.
  • Get used to the food being different. Good pizza has proven hard to find.
More Tips from Expats about Living in Colombia

Tips for Living in Cyprus

  • The most important thing is to forget how things are done the UK, accept how they are done in Cyprus and dont get up everyones nose moaning about the differences. You chose to come here so accept things the way they are.
More Tips from Expats about Living in Cyprus

Tips for Living in Denmark

  • Have someone explain the social etiquette in Denmark and listen very carefully. Once you know the social codes, and accept them, life is a lot easier to navigate. Otherwise just keep quiet and smile and nod a lot.
  • On parenting: If you are a parent, get used to the fact that 'stranger danger' is an unknown concept in Denmark. Not because it is any safer than anywhere else, but just that it is not something the children are taught. If you are overheard coaching your kids about stranger safety you will be looked at like you are utterly insane.
  • When you see a very small child strapped into a baby carriage in the middle of winter screaming it's head off while the parents sit inside a cafe - this is no reason to call child protection, this is how a child 'gets a proper airing' in denmark. The habit of airing kids in prams is quite normal here, as is letting them scream to sleep.
  • Do not mistake the cycle paths for sidewalk, the cyclists will not stop and will prefer to plough into you to make a point.
More Tips from Expats about Living in Denmark

Tips for Living in Ecuador

  • Don't be a Dreamer. Keep both feet planted and your eyes wide open (not: "Eyes Wide Shut)
  • Don't spend like crazy. Save your money. Don't invest in land if it's too good to be true.....
  • Maintain your money in a U.S. bank. Open an acct in an Ecuadorean bank but just enough to have "escape" cash for you and your family. You have heard of keeping your cash under your mattress this is not a bad idea in Latin America. Things can change quick and not always for the best.
  • Schools. Choose the correct school. I taught English at various schools and the inmates run the assylum. These schools are privately owned and the "students" pay $400 a month in tuition so the owner being a good businessman will protect his investment.
  • 10) Have fun. See the country little by little. Always travel in the daytime and use common sense.
  • Driver's licenses are a biggy in Ecuador especially if you are not fluent in Spanish. According to the police, once you become a resident you have 30 days until you are required to have an Ecuadorian driver's license to drive legally. That entails going to driving school which requires you to have 16 hours of behind the wheel instruction and two weeks of classroom instruction. Finally, there is a test in Spanish (all the classes in Imbabura province at least are also only in Spanish). After having driven 40 plus years, it makes me feel like I am back in HS again. Also, don't purchase a vehicle until you have your censo/cedula because you can not register it.
  • Best single piece of advice as a former resident for one year in Quito is to know some spanish before you get there or start learning fast. (immersion really helps) I have a website located here: which used to have active real estate listings when I was a broker there, but is now geared primarily with the travel aspects of Ecuador with many articles by persons who have traveled or lived there. Feel free to check it out, and send me an email if you have any questions or would like to write an article there to be published. I had some of the greatest experiences of my life as a resident there, and hope to someday return as a retiree.
  • Respect the local customs just as you would expect folks to do in your own country. Don't expect the "smooth" life we have in the more developed countries or get upset when things go a little slow. I often find myself "forgetting" similar problems here when I am there. And please leave your arrogance and feelings of superiority at home. I can usually spot a "gringo" a mile off by their rudeness and contempt to the locals! Viva Quito Viva Ecuador!
More Tips from Expats about Living in Ecuador

Tips for Living in El Salvador

  • If you are looking for an active outdoor lifestyle than I would rule San Salvador out. It is a nice city where you can find most any western ammenities that you are looking for but crime is an issue and because of that most expats and upper income locals are security obsessed. Forget about parks unless you are referring to the large playlands that all the fast food places have.
  • The people are great and so is the surf.
  • Car definitely makes life easier. The bus system seems to work well but most expats would not consider using it because of safety issues.
  • I myself have lived for years in San Salvador on a modest pension and get by quite well normally on $600-$700 month, years ago I drove, had a vehicle here, was a guide based in both city Guatemala and El Salvador, however San Salvador is generally congested with traffic weekdays through Saturday Noon, after you get established would recommend you purchasing a vehicle locally when you depart, sell it.
  • San Salvador's climate is tropical, although the weather can vary; the nights may be cool (especially in December), however, most of the time it is sunny and warm. Wearing t-shirts, jeans, and possibly a light rain jacket is usually sufficient.
  • Don't walk on streets that look abandoned and dark.
  • Use only licensed taxis or rent a car. If you're adventurous, watch your valuables and put away jewelry when using the public buses. Most major hotels have taxis that they have approved as safe and legitimate. If unsure about a taxi, call your hotel and they can generally have a safe taxi dispatched to your location.
  • If you go out of the city into some national parks, volcanoes or the country and such, it is better to hire an armed escort or guide because you can get robbed. There is much gang violence in El Salvador, especially in San Salvador and in its poorer neighborhoods; but in the downtown areas, the malls, the Zona Rosa, most tourist attractions, and the upmarket neighborhoods where the hotels are it's generally safe.
More Tips from Expats about Living in El Salvador

Tips for Living in Fiji

  • If you are negotiating in business or otherwise it helps to employ a local to do it for you. You will then avoid paying "european tax"!
  • Outside hotels forget the credit card its mostly cash.
  • Lots of peppermint tea helps you to deal with the heat
  • Be aware of pickpocketing in Suva - its rampant and children work in 3's or 4's
  • Get firm prices at start of negotiations - whether on car hire or room hire - tend to think Europeans are all very wealthy
  • Always use the Fruit & Vegie Markets (expecially in Sigatoka), freshly picked that morning - can't beat it!
More Tips from Expats about Living in Fiji

Tips for Living in Finland

  • Do not expect to find any work if you don't know Finnish or Swedish. If you don't know the language you need very good contacts to get a job. When you fill in job applications, you better get someone to write it for you in Finnish. In many cases the elderly people who process the applications don't know English.
  • The people are silent and not so social. In winter, the life is quiet and people spend most of their time indoors due to the darkness and cold weather. To make friends is not so easy.
  • To see something very beautiful, do wandering in Lapland in autumn.
  • Study. Education is free.
  • Bring lots of books, expats are very lonely in Finland
  • Plan many trips to southern countries
More Tips from Expats about Living in Finland

Tips for Living in France

  • Don't be surprised if people at work are friendly but keep their distance. It is not common to mix family life and work life.
  • As a general rule of thumb, it costs around 20 euros per square meter to rent an appartment in Paris for a long term rental.
More Tips from Expats about Living in France

Tips for Living in Germany

  • Choose the right city for you! Germany is a diverse country, so make sure you know what you want and where you can get it.
  • Expenses are quite high, apartments are hard to find. You need to be prepared to put down a very high deposit for the apartment akin to 3-5 times the monthly rental cost. Rental cost at the moment is about 10 euros/square meter. The government will require you to have an apartment large enough for all of your family, and if not, they will tell you to get a bigger one.
  • So far, I have no friends here. I have colleagues, but no friends. Virtually no one will talk on the street spontaneously. I've been testing this by saying Hello to people at certain street corners and locations each morning, and they look at you, but rarely respond. On the other hand, people in shops, and on trains are more open.
  • Bring your own shopping bag when you go shopping, or you will buy one on the way out.
  • Get out of your city and see what there is to see. Germany itself has great diversity and landmarks to explore, but it also shares its border with 9 other countries, each of which has a unique set of cultures and adventures.
More Tips from Expats about Living in Germany

Tips for Living in Indonesia

  • Be patient about everything.
  • When you come to Indonesia you will see why plastic is such a horrible, horrible blight on the environment.
  • Do not miss to report your arrival to Immigration Office, local goverment and police, there are many legal documents that you should fulfill regarding your living in Indonesia.
  • Try to rent the vehicles at first year living. It is good to avoid about the insurance claim for your vehicles.
  • Find the right hospital that suit you and your family as soon as possible.
  • Be friendly but not too friendly, the key is to be genuine. Respect their culture and they will respond the same way.
  • Respect for people with a uniform is a absolute must in Indonesia, keep smiling!
  • Enjoy the food, sun, smiles, nature, culture and all that makes Indonesia one of the most facinating and beautiful countries
More Tips from Expats about Living in Indonesia

Tips for Living in Israel

  • Do not be afraid to negociate everything everywhere with everyone.. but be fair.
  • Do not wait for people to call you back. Be proactive.
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  • Always have a detailed map of roads network in your car... you do not want to get lost.
  • Winter is cold! Take warm clothes!
  • Enjoy your life. Israel is a great country where you can live your life at 200%.
More Tips from Expats about Living in Israel

Tips for Living in Italy

  • My tip is to learn PATIENCE. Italy is very bureaucratic and you should keep in mind that, whenever you go to do something, you probably won't succeed the first time. In addition, every little thing seems unnecessarily complicated. For example, depending on the type of store, it will be closed from 12:30 to 2:30, 1:00 to 3:00 or 1:30 to 3:30 except that some stores don't reopen until 4:30 or 5:00, are closed Monday mornings or Thursday afternoons. I've been living here five years and I still find stores closed when I go to buy something. Pharmacies take turns staying open on Sunday. If you find yours closed, you need to look on the notice to see which pharmacy is open, and so on and so forth.
  • Learn about visas, work permits and the like before you plan to go - it's a harder process than you think
  • Find anyone who has been there before to give you ideas of what they needed and not take less than you think you'll need - you use far less than you think you do in a day
  • Your cravings for the food you grew up with will probably get weaker as the years pass and you get used to eating Italian style, so don't stock up too much on things... I still have a lot of food items that are just sitting in my cupboard (like dry miso soup mix) because i'm out of the habit of eating it now.
  • If you live in a city, be security conscious, especially at home, the break-ins are not just horror stories they happen and depending where you come from in the world, this may be much worser than you are used to.
More Tips from Expats about Living in Italy

Tips for Living in Jamaica

  • Don't move into an expat bubble. Living in Jamaica should mean living Jamaican with Jamaicans. Some of us find a safe place away from reality here in Jamaica and we miss out on the beauty of Jamaica.
  • My number one tip for moving to Jamaica is to pack well. Ensure you have everything you need.. I strongly suggest packing extra patience.
  • Get used to the food, which rocks... come on a nice plate of stew peas beats a burger any day.
  • Learn to slow down. Everything in Jamaica is slower paced and it's the hardest thing for me to get used to.
  • When using a taxi-- find a regular radio taxi and never accept a ride from someone you don't know.
More Tips from Expats about Living in Jamaica

Tips for Living in Kuwait

  • Jay walking is legal in Kuwait.
  • Bargain Taxi fare prior to riding.
  • When in doubt use the word Inshallah.
  • Do not stare at people. This is how most fights start here.
  • When shopping at souks bargain, bargain, bargain ..for fun and profit.
  • During Ramadan, DO NOT EAT, DRINK, SMOKE, CHEW GUM, OR KISS YOUR GIRLFRIEND/BOYFRIEND IN PUBLIC. It's a one-way ticket to jail.
  • Refrain from any alcohol consumption. If you need it, fly to Dubai for the weekend.
More Tips from Expats about Living in Kuwait

Tips for Living in Kyrgyzstan

  • I would suggest you to buy friday issue of vecherny Bishkek newspaper, there you can find plenty of ads, it's better to choose an real estate agency there and contact them. I dont know now what kind of agencies now, I dont remember the names.
  • I have been in Bishkek city for 10 months, the cost of a taxi is 100 com this will get you all most anywhere they do not use meters. Be aware that as soon as you speak English, the fare will double or even triple you may have to ask 2 or 3 taxi but 100 com is the rate (about $2.40 American) ...this is going to happen almost anywhere you go except for the larger stores where the price is marked and they use bar codes.
  • If bringing cash, use brand new USD currency only, a visa card for a purchase is useless. Money exchange is everywhere but take the time to look around you will find big differences in exchange from one to the other
More Tips from Expats about Living in Kyrgyzstan

Tips for Living in Laos

  • Buy appliances in Thailand -- if you are moving here from Bangkok, DON'T sell your appliances like I did. Bring them! They are more expensive and generally lower quality here (imported from T-land or China).
  • Cheapest way to move: by train! I loaded 150 kg on the train and it only cost 800 baht -- less than my first class ticket!
  • Be warned -- there are very few car taxis, you will travel by "jumbo" (tuktuk), motorcycle (dangerous!), or if you can afford it, there are expensive cars to rent. There are also cute cheap small cars available to buy from Chery, Honda, and other dealers -- or 2nd hand nicer cars from expats.
  • As far as buying furniture, it's cheap enough here to buy NEW! Try the "Furniture Street" near the Novotel Hotel.
  • Don't go there if you cannot stand heat
  • You don't have to bring truck loads of stuff, everything is for sale here or otherwise just across the border in Thailand
  • If looking for cars, houses, maids, friends/other expats: join the Women's International Group (WIG)
  • When travelling from Laos, fly from Udon Thani, much cheaper and closeby.
  • Bring a dehumidifier or run the aircon during the wet season
  • Check the electricity and water meter when you move in your new house and keep track for a while
More Tips from Expats about Living in Laos

Tips for Living in Latvia

  • Weather - is rather cold with very long winters and high humidity. Very tough for people with rheumatic or other inflamatory joint problems, for example.
  • Latvians are sensittive to topics related to their relationship with their eastern neighbour, Russia.
More Tips from Expats about Living in Latvia

Tips for Living in Lithuania

  • Learn Lithuanian, even if just 1000 words. (The list is published by the Lithuanian Language Institute.) Not only will it help to make your stay more interesting, but it will also sharply increase your chances of finding a job.
  • Learn how to walk on ice. There used to be plenty of city workers to spead sand on ice, but now many jobs have been replaced by machinery. Basically, take small steps to keep your weight over them, don't pick up your feet to help keep from pushing off, walk on the grass where possible, and avoid slick surfaces like manhole covers.
  • Always call for a taxi on your telephone (mobile or fixed line) even if you are standing next to a taxi. The rates are usually half the price and if you just climb into a taxi, you are more likely to be cheated, esp. if you do not speak Lithuanian.
More Tips from Expats about Living in Lithuania

Tips for Living in Madagascar

  • Get yourself a copy of the book "Where there is no doctor," and use it before you go to a pharmacy. They often don't have the brand name medicine you're looking for, and in rural sites, there is not usually a pharmacist on-site to help identify the "itch." So, if you walk in with the main ingredients written down, they can often help you.
  • Heat rash: Good luck! There is medicated powder available at the pharmacy.
  • Docs in order: Anticipate bureaucratic details and bring as much info and docs as might possibly be necessary to any interview. Don't hesitate to investigate beforehand what they might want, as the Malagasy have started posting lists to facilitate processing.
  • Buy your cellphone here. They are not linked to any contract, and the local services are pretty good. In fact, if you bring an unlocked phone, bring the cable and the software that will enable you to connect with the Internet from your laptop, and you'll be much happier. (I use a Nokia with their PC Suite.)
  • Bring a lot of patience sprinkled with optimism, because while things don't go very fast here, people are nice about it. (Heck, even people who lie to you or are outright criminal will smile as they do their bit.) And BTW: the definition of a pessimist is an experienced optimist, so, grow with it.
More Tips from Expats about Living in Madagascar

Tips for Living in Malaysia

  • Be prepared for 24 hour loudspeaker noise from mosques. Malaysians have no sense of nor respect for aural privacy. Various Malay, Chinese, Indian holidays are celebrated, complete with most intrusive noise--including powerful fireworks (think small bombs), electronically amplified 'music', yelling, screaming, offkey barage of chants. Sensory assault that feels like you're living in a war zone. Bring good earplugs.
  • But one thing is important, don´t compare your home country with Malaysia! With constantly doing so, you will never be happy (in any country). Enjoy the difference.
  • The other thing foreigners need to remember is that anyone with a white face is often charged extra. This doesn't just apply to markets, but also to national attractions. For example, if you1 take the Big Bus trip or visit Aquaria, which I highly recommend, the admission will be 38 rm for you if your skin is white, but probably half or 2/3 the price if you look Malaysian. So always travel with your identity card -- it's the law -- and show them you're here working and living on a legal visa Then I get Malaysia price.
  • KL is a vibrant, beautiful city with tons to do, whether you enjoy jazz, theatre, jogging, biking, charity work...there's plenty!
  • Malaysia costs less ... so save your money and enjoy!
More Tips from Expats about Living in Malaysia

Tips for Living in Mexico

  • Learn as much Spanish as possible. You can never learn too little or too much.
  • Read about the history of the specific city, region, state to which you'll be moving. Get to know the national holidays, the cultural heroes, etc.
  • If you're already fluent in Spanish, read any law that you hear of, or that you find referenced anywhere in your applications, research, etc. For that matter, read any law that you can!
  • Expect things to be different and people to do things differently. (this is a good thing or we might as well stay in our home country). Don't try to change anything. It does not need changing - only our perception does.
  • Treat people with respect and they will respect you.
  • If you are even thinking about retiring in Mexico, my suggestion would be to come down first and find a vacation home rental in a community where you are considering and spend a month minimum there. Once the new car smell wears off you will have a better chance to see the country for what it really is, with all its warts and cultural charm together.
  • In Mexico real estate agents are not certified as in USA, and they get paid by the owner of the property so they will always show you what they have available and not really what you are looking for.
  • Rentals run for a minimum of 12 months, but as an expat you must add a clause that say that if you leave the country before the 12 month contract, you can do so with one month penalty and giving one month notice. (it is called the diplomatic clause).
  • Saying "NO" for a Mexican is difficult, so a "YES" not always means "YES". If they are trying to explain that something cannot be done, it won’t be done even if you get a "YES" at the end. A "Maybe" can be translated as "NO".
  • In social events punctuality is very relaxed, so if you invite Mexicans to your house, expect them to arrive one hour later.
More Tips from Expats about Living in Mexico

Tips for Living Abroad (Part 2)

About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder of Expat Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Some of Betsy's more popular articles include 6 Best Places to Live in Costa Rica, 12 Things to Know Before Moving to The Dominican Republic and 7 Tips for Obtaining Residence in Italy. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.

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Comments about this Article

Dec 5, 2012 22:53

I bought the Philippine Expat Survival Guide on riemocndateon of a friend, and after reading it, I took him out for dinner and beers! The Survival Guide opened my eyes and made it easy to get organized and prepared for my move. I never even thought about leaving a power of attorney behind! That alone saved me thousands in flight costs.

Dec 8, 2012 01:41

I was happy that I had so much to fall back on in 2001 when I quit my corporate job. I ptnired maps and hotels just in case something went wrong, contacted people via newsgroups (sounds a bit like facebook and other like sites now) and tried to reach out and get to know people that I could meet in a new town. What I do know is that I knew I was in a good enough situation to just go with it all. In the end, it works out. And if it doesn't, we learn from our mistakes and move onward!It's funny, I don't search for local expats here in Canada in real life. I'm more interested in finding people who have the same interests, whomever they are. I guess it's a shift back into society perhaps?

Feb 8, 2015 07:29

tips for living in Japan? or at least how to prepare to move/work there?

First Published: May 04, 2010

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