Moving to a new home abroad is often accompanied by an array of emotions. The fear of the unknown, excitement for new experiences, and the anticipation of what unknown adventures lie before you.
While most expats will have made an informed decision before relocating their life, there will always be unforeseen circumstances which sometimes make your move abroad different to what you might expect.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know as an expat – helping you make the most of your adventures and enhance your overall quality of life. Whether it's exploring all the sights, immersing yourself in the culture or getting healthcare advice, this guide has got you covered.
An introduction to life as an expat
What makes an expat?
Every year millions of people migrate from one country to another, in search of a new adventure. For those lucky enough to embrace a new lifestyle abroad, they’re given the name “expatriates”, or “expats” for short. But what do the numbers tell us about this breed of exciting go-getters?
Stats released in November of 2021 show that as many as 281 million people are currently immigrants of another country. That’s a staggering 3.6% of the entire world population. Of this total, 135 million were female, and 146 million were male.
And when it comes to reasons for a move there were a lot. Some of the most popular were:
13% (of respondents)
To look for work abroad independently
They were recruited internationally
To live with a partner from another country
They were sent by an employer
For a better quality of life
To attend school or university
Simply to challenge themselves
Source: William Russell data
For those looking for a higher standard of living, the 2023 Quality of Life Index revealed that the ideal destination was The Hague, in the Netherlands. The top 10 locations to move to were as follows:
The Hague (Netherlands)
Luxembourg City (Luxembourg)
When it came to Brits abroad, a huge percentage of UK residents seemed to stick to what they know – with more than 60% choosing regions who speak English as a first language. The data found the following countries to be the most popular spots for British expats:
In the EU, Spain stood out as the most enticing destination for Brits. 293,500 of them called the country home at the last check, while France (152,900), Germany (96,500), and the Netherlands (45,300) were the next closest.
Despite this, in the wake of Brexit, it’s little surprise that the UK has fewer migrants to EU countries than any nation in the Union. The 25.8% of expats found in the EU is some way shy of second-to-bottom Malta, where 33.6% of migrants moved to another EU country.
At the other end of the scale, Luxembourg (89.1%), Romania (86.9%), Slovakia (86.8%), the Czech Republic (84.1%), and Poland (78.3%) led the way for internal immigration amongst EU countries.
Top 3 destinations for Brits in the EU
A checklist for moving abroad
There’s a lot that goes into upping sticks and relocating your life. Before you head away on the next chapter, you’ll want to make sure that you’ve done all you can to prepare. Everyone’s circumstances will be totally unique, but there are often core hoops which every soon-to-be expat will have to jump through before they travel.
Some of the most important include:
Make sure you’re applying for the right visa
If you're early on into your application process, try not to stumble at the first hurdle. No matter what country you’re intending to move to, there will be loads of different application types which apply. Do your research and find which best applies to your situation.
Once you do begin the application, expect to wait for anywhere up to a year (or more) to be accepted. That doesn’t mean you can’t move to your new nation ahead of time, though. In fact, it actually gives you the time you need to complete the rest of this checklist.
Decide what you need to bring
It might be tempting to bring as much as you can with you, but the key here is to decide what is or isn’t a priority. Create a list of what you know you’re going to need, what you would like to have as a luxury, and what you can buy when you’re abroad. Essentially things like identifying documents, prescriptions, power adapters, sentimental items, and supplies for any dependents, whether they’re human or furry.
Find somewhere to live
It’s always a relief to know you have a roof over your head. Finding accommodation should be the priority when starting a new life overseas. This will vary depending on where you’re headed. In some countries it can be difficult to rent without any sort of financial footprint, so be sure to research your individual options ahead of time. If you’re moving for work, talk to your company about the options available. They should be able to help.
Work out how you’re going to get about
Are you going to drive, or will you be more reliant on public transport? How will this impact your ability to do things like shop, visit existing friends, or see different parts of the country? If you have a pre-existing driving licence in your home country, work out how to exchange it.
Notify energy suppliers, student finance and the taxman
Any financial responsibilities you have need to be taken care of before you leave. That means contacting the relevant authorities to let them know you’ve moved abroad. Your failure to take these measures could result in a fine.
Understand what impact moving away is going to have on your existing pension, as well as what the state pension of your next country looks like. You might also want to see how any private pension pots could be affected by your move. In some instances, you may be able to transfer the money over to a sister account in your new home.
Challenges of life as an expat
While nobody expects to hop off the plane and instantly feel at home, it’s also not unheard of to overlook the potential hurdles of expat life. After all, this is an exciting time. It’s understandable that the last thing you want to consider are any potential roadblocks.
Despite that, it’s in your best interest to educate yourself on some of the most common challenges those moving abroad face. Knowing these ahead of your move will give you the best shot of overcoming them quicker.
Paperwork and bureaucracy
Don’t expect your shiny new visa to arrive within a few months of applying. There are a lot of hurdles that expats need to jump through in order to be accepted somewhere new. What’s more, even once you’re in, there will still be hours of paperwork you need to fill out for things like residency cards, a driver’s licence, financial ID, and, eventually, your new passport.
Potential language barriers
If you do choose to move somewhere where English isn’t the native tongue, it’s going to be harder to adjust to your new home. While people are generally open and welcoming, it’s only natural to feel hesitant to start up a conversation with someone who doesn’t communicate in the same language as you.
It’s easy to make friends when you’re young, but not so much as an adult. That’s particularly true if you work from home, are introverted, or don’t play any sports. While nobody will go out of their way to exclude you, you could inadvertently feel left out – especially when you see your friends having fun without you back home.
And on that note, it’s reasonable to feel a little homesick and disconnected from your old life. While social media and the internet has made it significantly easier to keep in touch than a few decades ago, the lack of physical presence can begin to weigh on you over time.
Balancing time between countries
It’s unlikely you have no intentions of ever returning to your native country. But it’s also improbable that transport between those two places is going to be cheap. Finding a balance which doesn’t mean you’re neglecting your old life, or failing to engage in your new one, can be tough.
Some of these challenges might sound scary – or even off-putting. But don’t worry. As we’re about to discover, there’s lots that can be done to make assimilating to your new nation easier than you might imagine.
30 tips for expats embracing a new home
Now that we’ve looked at what you’ll need to do before moving, as well as some of the biggest challenges, it’s time to explore how to best adjust to life in your new home. As we’ve seen, everyone’s journey is different. But there are basic snippets of advice which apply in practically any situation. Here are some of the best.
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Let everyone know
An often overlooked aspect of moving away is telling everyone you’re doing it – both your loved ones, and the necessary authorities. In terms of the latter, you’ll need to reach out to all of the following:
The UK embassy (to discuss voting in elections from abroad)
HM Revenue and Customs (for tax purposes)
The Student Loans Company
The International Pension Centre (if you’re retiring abroad)
Your local council (if you’re retiring abroad)
In most instances, they’ll have a direct service you can contact to quickly let them know that you’ve relocated.
Telling friends and family is (or at least, should be) a lot more fun. You can reach out directly, leave a collective social media post, or even choose to have them find out after you’ve moved (in the case of wider friendship circles).
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Find a job
If you’re moving abroad without a job offer, and you aren’t staying in your current role, finding a position of employment (and a steady income) is crucial. It can be hard to know where to start when looking for a career in somewhere totally foreign, but some of the best places to start would be:
Localise your CV
Either to another language, or to highlight the skills which might be looked favourably on in your new home
Attend job fairs
Look for organised events where prospective employees are on hand looking for employees
Use social media platforms like LinkedIn to reach out and ask for opportunities or nudges in the right direction
Just as with any country, you can turn to professionals whose career it is to help you find work
Dedicated expat job sites
You’ll find certain cities and countries will provide job seeker websites specifically for expats
Expat forums will often post job listings, or have resources available to point people in the right direction when it comes to specific sectors
Cold call and email
As a final option, reach out directly to businesses to see if they are prepared to offer you a position
Having a job lined up before you move is always the best approach as an expat, but, if it isn’t possible, follow these steps to reduce the amount of time you’ll be living abroad without any sort of financial backing.
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Adopt a minimalist approach
The less clutter you have, the easier it will be to relocate your life – whether that’s moving to your new country, or returning to your homeland. This is particularly helpful in the case of the former, where moving an entire life might add huge excess costs and stress to what is already a challenging process.
Some advice for expats trying to scale down on what they own would be to:
Work out what is an essential (something that offers practical use, or makes you happy) and what can be gotten rid of
Create categories to group different items into
Take a moment to think about what you’re buying – do you actually need it? Will it make your life better in any way in the long term?
Look at old clothing and decide if any of it is something you’d want to wear again. Donate anything that you won’t
Digitally downsize – that means streamlining all devices to as few pieces of hardware as possible
A minimalist approach can be useful at any point, but particularly for someone who is likely to be moving between countries a lot.
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Bring some home comforts
Just because you’ve left your motherland, it doesn’t mean you’ve cut all emotional ties. It’s natural to feel homesick at times, even if you’re having a really good time in your new country. One of the best ways to tackle that is by bringing items with you that give you a much-needed boost of endorphins on days when you’re feeling low.
Only you will know what that exactly looks like on a personal level, but some good examples are things like:
A particular stuffed toy animal
Certain items of clothing
Knick-knacks which remind you of a person or place
Make sure that what you bring is kept safe, and put it in a place where you can easily see it on the days you need an emotional pat on the back.
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Make your house a home
Unless you know you’re only staying in your accommodation for a few months, it’s a good idea to decorate your house as much as possible to make it feel like it really is personal to you. Your home needs to be a haven – especially if you feel a little disconnected at the beginning of your new adventure.
Think about stuff like:
Hanging your own photos on the wall
Adding furniture which you like
Decorating the walls
Shuffling the layout of the home around to your liking
There will obviously be restrictions on what you can or can‘t do if you’re in rented accommodation. But even in these instances, you should be able to add enough personal touches to help stamp it out as your home base.
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Set yourself up financially
While it won’t be possible immediately, you should make it a priority to create a financial footprint for yourself as quickly as you can. When moving abroad, that means things like:
Attaining a financial client account number for your new country (such as a NI number in the UK)
Opening a bank account
Getting a credit card
Building your credit score
(your score does not usually carry over with you from your home country)
Paying into pensions funds
Having a job lined up before you move is always the best approach as an expat, but, if it isn’t possible, follow these steps to reduce the amount of time you’ll be living abroad without any sort of financial backing.
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Create a savings fund
Once you’ve got a financial footing, it’s time to start looking to the future – be it immediate or long term. It’s always good to have a pot of money sitting around which you can dip into in case of an emergency. This can be for anything as simple as an unexpected expense, or future goals like saving for a home.
You can choose to deposit funds into a regular bank account for safekeeping, or research what kind of investing accounts your new country has to offer. If your existing bank has an international branch, it might be smart to use them (as you’ll be able to transfer money easily between them without as many administration fees).
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Understand what taxes you need to pay
Nobody likes taxes. Unfortunately, just because you’ve moved abroad doesn’t mean you can escape them. You’ll need to work out what, when and where to pay taxes in your new country, as well as any you may still owe to your homeland.
There are a number of different scenarios which you’ll need to keep in mind:
Earning UK income in a foreign country
Earning foreign income in a foreign country
Earning both UK and foreign income in a foreign country
Some countries have a double taxation treaty with the UK (which means you won’t be charged tax twice for what you earn). If you’re working in a freelance role in your new country, you’ll have to pay all the tax yourself in one lump sum, at the end of the tax year.
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Get expat insurance
If you move abroad but don’t have any intention of becoming a permanent resident or citizen of the country you’re in, you’ll find that costs can be massive if you need to be rushed to the hospital, or suffer a sudden loss of income.
Luckily, dedicated expat insurance policies exist to protect you in the unlikely event that you find yourself in an emergency. Policy types will vary depending on what you’re looking to get cover for – whether it be financial or health-related policies.
You’ll usually have to take out the policy before you move abroad, and can expect to pay monthly premiums to keep it activated. Some companies will even offer life insurance to expats.
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Understand how to send money back home
Global remittances (sending money back to your home country) are now believed to account for anywhere up to a combined 4% of all lower income countries’ total GDP. Whether you’re sending money home to support your family, pay a bill, or pay a business expense, it’s important to find a way to do so cost-effectively.
While direct transfers through banks were the most popular option in the past, there are now alternatives which will charge a fraction of the cost of sending money in this fashion. International money transfer services let people from all over the world send money at a fixed exchange rate, with minimal fees.
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Plan your meals out every week
While it might not seem like a particularly important step, meal planning will have a variety of benefits for someone moving to a new country. Just some of the reasons why this 15-minute weekly task can help include:
Saving money on groceries
Ensuring you aren’t eating out too much at a time when it’s easy and tempting to
Making it easier to find some sort of routine as you adjust to a new environment
Guaranteeing you get a balanced mix of nutrition in your weekly diet
It’s a lot easier heading to a foreign supermarket knowing exactly what you need. That’s not to say you can’t pick up snacks and other exciting items to try. Just try to limit these if you’re worried about money, or your health.
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Learn the language
If you’ve been brave enough to move to a country where they don’t speak the same language as you, it’s important to make a conscious effort to learn it. This will not only provide practical value, but will also go a long way in the eyes of a lot of locals.
Just some of the benefits of picking up a new language are:
Opening up potential job opportunities
Making it easier to acclimatise and make new friends
Boosting your confidence when abroad
Keeping your brain active and engaged
You should be able to find lessons for non-native speakers in your new home, or in a city nearby if you’re living in a more remote area. Failing that, there are online programs available through either personal tutors, or language websites like Babel.
You should be able to find lessons for non-native speakers in your new home, or in a city nearby if you’re living in a more remote area.
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Immerse yourself in the culture
It can be easy to retreat to a bubble which you know and feel comfortable with. It may be that you already have a close group of friends who share your culture, or that you just choose to do activities which you were accustomed to back home.
While it can be tough if you’re naturally introverted, it’s important to push your limits and try something which you might not have considered in the past. That could be anything from:
Joining a particular social club or group
Playing a new sport where you engage with others
Taking a class (such as cooking, pottery, or a language course)
Taking the time to study and understand more about the new culture you’re in
Also think about avoiding the mainstream stores and shopping centres, and instead opting for things like local markets.
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Actively try to make friends
This is another tricky one for those who are more naturally reserved. If you don’t have a specific reason to interact with people (like going to school or working in an office), it can be hard to put yourself out there and break the ice with people. This is especially true if they don’t speak the same native tongue as you.
Some tips for making new friends abroad would be to:
Put yourself in social situations where you could meet people (clubs, classes and sports teams)
Do voluntary work you feel genuinely passionate about
Engage with locals on social media
Join a dedicated expats group (online or in person)
It’s unlikely, although not impossible, that friends are going to magically come into your life. You need to put in some effort in the early stages of your move in order to find people to connect with.
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Explore where you’re living
Just because you live there doesn’t mean your new home doesn’t have secrets which are ready to be discovered. Get out on foot and find out more about where you’re living by seeing it for yourself. This will give you a deeper appreciation for the area, while also helping you bed in and feel more confident.
Hop on a bus and get off at a random stop, walk in a random direction for a certain period of time, or even just get a cab to a local landmark. Get out and immerse yourself in what the area has to offer. Just be sure to keep your phone on you so you don’t get lost.
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Look into phone packages and data
On that note, it’s vitally important to understand what kind of packages (and what limitations) there are in your new country. While most nations have adopted 4G to some extent at this point, countries like Belarus (48%), Senegal (54.5%), and the Ivory Coast (55%) don’t have total network coverage.
Even if you’re moving to somewhere which has a wide 4G net, you’ll still want to do research on things like:
What data packages are available to expats
How much data costs there
If it’s more cost effective to get a new SIM for your current phone, or a new phone altogether
Some countries will check your credit score to see if they can offer you a phone contract. As we’ve discussed, this can be an issue for an expat without a score to speak of. As such, you may have to opt for monthly pay-as-you go contracts instead.
Some countries will check your credit score to see if they can offer you a phone contract.
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Find other expats
While it’s important to explore your new country as much as possible, there’s no harm in turning to a fellow expat to serve as a tour guide. After all, they’re most likely best placed to help give you a grounding in the dos and don’ts of your new country.
The knowledge that someone else in your position can bring could prove invaluable, and help you avoid making rookie mistakes which are easy to fall into. Even if they’re as inexperienced as you are, it’s nice to have someone else to share this new journey with. There’s comfort in camaraderie.
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Think about making a personal contact at your embassy
While perhaps not something which you would have considered, it can be very useful to have a personal contact at your country’s embassy. That doesn’t mean a best friend you go to dinner with, but rather a professional contact you can get in touch with when you have questions or concerns.
This immediate channel of communication could prove to be very useful if you have questions about your visa, a work permit, travel restrictions, or any other kind of official business which you might not be able to find an immediate answer or resolution to on the internet.
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Address homesickness and find cures
It’s only natural to miss home from time to time. After all, it’s likely you spent a large portion (if not all) of your childhood there. You’ll have family and friends who can’t ever be replaced, no matter how close you grow to people you’ve met abroad.
One of the most effective ways to deal with this is by developing coping mechanisms to help you overcome the issue. This is another factor which is going to differ on a person-by-person basis. What works for you might not for someone else, and vice versa. That in mind, some common techniques include:
Call a friend or family member from home
Watch a movie, TV show, or YouTube video that you can get absorbed in
Do something active, like yoga, going for a walk, or jogging
Listen to music
Write about how you’re feeling in a journal
Try these out, and find one which helps to chase away the blues. Ultimately, it’s important to remind yourself that missing home is totally normal
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Don’t forget your power adapters
Very few countries have the same plug sockets as the UK. That means you’re going to need to bring adapters with you. While it might be possible to find these overseas, you won’t want to rely on finding one in the first few hours after stepping off the plane.
Make sure you have enough for all your different chargers. If it’s easier, make a list of the devices which are going to need them. Those being things like:
Tablets and other smart devices
Make sure you have enough for all your different chargers.
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Bring your own medication with you
Scrambling to find medication in a foreign country isn’t fun, and can be very expensive. Make sure to bring enough from home to be able to take care of your medical needs while you’re away. Understandably, it might be confusing to know what you can and can’t take through customs.
Some basic guidelines for this would be to:
Always carry medical equipment in its original casing
Put all medicine in your hand luggage
Check that your medication is legal in the country you’re moving to
If you’re travelling to a warm country, ask your doctor how best to transport your meds
Bring medical information with you to show any border guards
Ask for a letter from your GP as evidence certain countries have very strict rules on what can be taken in so this is always a good extra protection.
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Prepare for and educate yourself on culture shock
Culture shock is the phenomenon associated with travelling to a new country, and finding the customs and social etiquette which you’re used to aren’t quite the same. While this is something to expect when moving from somewhere like the UK to China, culture shock can strike even if you move to a country with a familiar culture like the US.
Just as with homesickness, creating coping methods can be very beneficial when it comes to culture shock. Some tips for adjusting to this kind of feeling are:
Focusing on the positive differences, rather than the negatives
Don’t compare your experience to others, who might be finding it easier
See the differences as a challenge
Understand that it will always take time to adjust to something new
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Don’t forget to stay in touch with life back home
If you do find yourself fully engaging in your new life overseas, it can be easy to accidentally let contact with your friends and family back home slip. Fortunately, this is easier to do than ever before, with social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter making it easy to keep up with what’s going on.
Communication services like WhatsApp and Zoom will also make it easier to chat. Make sure to schedule regular calls. If you, or they, have a particularly active lifestyle which makes that hard, then try to pick out a specific day of every month for a call.
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Understand your public transport options
As anyone who’s been abroad will tell you, public transport varies greatly from country to country. While getting about in a major city shouldn’t be too difficult, the same might not be true if you’re headed to a remote village or town.
This is something you’ll want to have total knowledge of before you move. If you turn up and suddenly discover that leaving a 5-mile radius is going to involve a lot of legwork, it’s going to leave you in a sticky situation.
If you do move somewhere where getting around is going to be more of a challenge, make sure to look into rental car options. Some advice for renting a car overseas would be to:
Make sure to read the contract in full
Look for any additional charges
Understand what is covered by insurance
Take photos of all damage (if any occurs, or if it was already on the vehicle)
Make sure your vehicle has safety equipment and a spare tyre
While getting about in a major city shouldn’t be too difficult, the same might not be true if you’re headed to a remote village or town.
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Make sure to prioritise hobbies
Whether it’s something totally new, or a hobby which you were already passionate about, it’s important not to not forsake the things which bring you the most joy in life. In some instances – like hiking, jogging, or possible swimming – it will be quite easy to translate across to a new environment.
More complex pursuits – such as team sports or anything which requires dedicated equipment – may take a little more planning. Look into what options are available ahead of time, and reach out on forums to find out how active the community for your hobby is in the area.
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Create a sense of structure in your life
During any period of uncertainty, structure is one of the two key pillars of managing your situation (the other being empathy). Having set rules and a rough guideline in place gives you a sense of balance and order – which is hugely important when you find yourself somewhere totally foreign (literally). Some good tips include:
Having a set time you get up and go to sleep
Creating a schedule around working out or going to the gym
Finding a class, sports team, or group meet which takes place on certain nights
Assigning particular days to certain tasks or errands
If you’re feeling up to it, create a personal calendar for yourself. Having it all written out will make it a lot easier to both remember and follow. Build in free time to make sure your life doesn’t become too regimented. While structure is nice, you still need a little bit of freedom to feel alive.
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Lean on social media platforms
If you’re finding yourself a little lost, social media is a surprisingly useful place to turn. While you always need to be very careful about meeting with anyone from the internet, some platforms provide channels through which to reach out directly to other expats, or even just like-minded people.
Good examples include places like:
Dedicated expat forums
Sub reddits for the area you’re moving to
YouTube channels which focus on the town or city you live in
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Keep an eye on your passport
While it might not be something you give much thought to once you finish the travelling portion of your time away, your passport is actually the most important possession you own when you’re in another country. Some of the most important reasons to keep it safe include:
It serves as an international form of ID
It verifies your citizenship in your home nation
It allows you to travel between countries
What’s more, you also need to guarantee that it hasn’t or won’t expire while you’re away. An expired passport is effectively useless – and it will be a lot harder to renew or replace yours while you’re overseas.
An expired passport is effectively useless – and it will be a lot harder to renew or replace yours while you’re overseas.
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If you feel like you’re struggling to acclimatise to your new surroundings, don’t immediately panic or lose hope. A common belief amongst most expats is that there’s a 6-month slump when you first bed into your new home. In reality, it can take much longer than that (sometimes even years).
It’s important to understand that everyone’s journey will be completely individual. If you’re someone who is particularly not a fan of change, it could take longer to feel at home than a person who’s spent most of their life moving from one place to another.
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Understand that this doesn’t have to be a forever decision
And, if all else fails, it’s important to remember that living abroad doesn’t have to be permanent. While you should always make a good go of any time spent away, if you’re feeling truly unhappy it’s possible to return home again (after your commitments have been upheld).
Useful links & resources
Even with all of these fantastic tips, there may still be more about moving abroad you want to discover or better understand. Be sure to consult this handy list of secondary sources for further information ahead of your move.