Overseas moving is a big step for even the most well-traveled people. Here are some important things to consider before deciding if becoming an ex-pat is the best decision for you.
Moving overseas is not as easy as packing your bags and buying a one-wayticket to wherever your heart desires. Many of Americans would love to head outto an unknown land, picked like Cher's character in themovie Mermaids—by throwing a dart at a map and hoping for the best. But we arenot in a Hollywood movie and we are bound by strictinternational laws that dictate who, what where, when, why and how we canrelocate. Here are a few tips to help you decide if you're meant to be anex-pat and at the same time keep on the right side of the law and culture inany corner of the world.
Get a Passport and Visa
Before anyone sets foot out of the country, you'll need a passport. Apassport is recognized world-wide as an official form of national and personalidentification for travel between countries. Americans can only get a passportfrom the US Department of State, however there are roughly 6,000 locationsnation-wide that can process your information. You'll need 2 passport sizedphotos (can be taken at many photo shops and pharmacies), proof of your UScitizenship, like a birth certificate, and lastly, a recent photo ID like alicense. First time passport seekers will need to appear in person to apply,but if you are looking to renew a passport that is undamaged and in yourpossession you can reapply by mail. Both processes take about 6 weeks. For moreinformation check out the US Department ofState.
Once you get a passport,you will need a proper visa. The type of visa youwill need is extremely important, and the requirements differ by country and bythe purpose of your relocation. Make sure you do not get a tourist visa as youwill likely be staying longer than the 30 days generally allowed by touristvisas. Different countries have different agreements with the USA.Generally speaking, you must first be hired and sponsored by a company locatedin the country you wish to move to. It is unwise to first move to a country.You won't be able to stay more than 90 days maximum as a tourist, and gettingforcibly removed from a country is not the best way to become a thrivingex-pat. Each country will have its own qualifications, and those should becarefully scrutinized before buying a plane ticket. A simple web search for theconsulate or embassy of the country you are looking at will provide you withall the information you need.
Local Laws and Customs
Familiarize yourself with local laws and customs. The worst thing that canhappen to a new ex-pat is deportation because of a legal misunderstanding. Forexample, Singaporehas strict laws and fines over everything from jaywalking and graffiti tochewing gum. Each can carry hefty fines and possibly a jail sentence or caning.(Remember the 1993 Michael Fay graffiti incident?) A good rule to follow is, ifyou are unsure about anything, don't do it. Most foreign countries considerpeople guilty until proven innocent, and the U.S.might not be able (or willing) to help you.
Being aware of local customs can be a good way to secure some alliances inyour new home. Knowing the difference between the okay sign and profanity couldstrongly help with any of the obstacles you'll have to overcome to achieve anysense of normalcy. Many locals have been more than happy to assist me when Ineeded help, but they have only paid attention because I was able to offer somesign of respect. A simple bow or pleasantry in the native tongue has made methe lucky recipient of many a helping hand. Read up on things such as bodylanguage and ordinary courtesies and be aware of at least a few of the mostcommon translations (hello, excuse me, I don't understand, etc…)
Find the Other Ex-pats
This step is best when done before you leave. That one person from home (orat least from an English speaking country) will likely be your most valuableresource. There are many good websites and foreigner-run magazines withcontacts and articles meant to help you. Time Out © is a great sourcefor everything from entertainment to classifieds and is found in most majorcities. Don't forget, the web is loaded with information about travelers andsuggestions. Reading all the travel guides in the world is a great start, butto find that perfect piece of pizza or a place to get a decent haircut, youmight need a more current primary source.
Unless you've got thousands of dollars to spend, pack as little as possible.If you're not moving overseas for more than a couple of years, I recommend leaving allvaluable and sentimental items behind. Many foreigners find that once they getused to their new surroundings, they would prefer to relocate to a morefamiliar or convenient part of town. The less you have, the easier the move andthe more you can accumulate from your subsequent travels.
Have a Plan
Why are you in this country? Knowing why you are there and having anattainable goal is a great way to make the most out of your ex-patriotism.Having a timeline is the best way to set realistic expectations. For example,when I moved to Japan,I had no idea how long I wanted to stay or what I had hoped to achieve out ofmy visit. It wasn't until I had been there for 8 months that I came up with agame plan. By that time, I was crunched for time to travel and had enduredneedless nights on an uncomfortable futon because I couldn't justify buying acheap bed if I didn't know when I would leave. Had I set a manageable timelinefor myself, buying things to make my apartment feel more like a home and lesslike a dorm room would have created a much more relaxed sojourn. Decisions youmake early on can set the tone for your stay. Plans can always change, but somuch more can be accomplished when you know what to expect.
Toss All Stereotypes and Expectations
Even in the most frequently visited countries that have close relations withthe US, you arebound to experience culture shock. Daily life is far different from that we seeon the news and in magazines. Living in a country is different than visiting andcan be both rewarding and highly frustrating, especially if you don't speak thelanguage. Having as few expectations as possible will allow you to see thecountry as it is, unbiased by a preformed opinion of your new homeland. Nomatter why you enter into the country, you are likely to experience manydifferent emotions. For me and my friends, living abroad has conjured upseveral different reactions:
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