You may have thought packing and informing your family of your move abroad was the hardest part but setting up a household and a “home” where you feel safe and comfortable abroad can be a daunting task. Here are 10 steps to help you once you land are setting up your new life.
Get a SIM Card
Hopefully, before you left home, you unlocked your smartphone—allowing it to take SIM cards from other carriers. Numerous online services can help you unlock your phone if your carrier is unwilling to provide the code. Some countries, like Cabo Verde, have started distributing SIM cards to people on arrival. Pre-paid cards normally require you to show your passport and can be topped up just about anywhere. If you are getting residency, you may opt for a post-paid on top of the pre-paid card. Carrying two phones is commonplace.
Register with the Embassy
A simple online process, registering with the local US Embassy means that in the case of a national emergency they will come and get you. You will also get periodic alerts about regional and global safety issues. In Benin when there was civil unrest because my friend registered with the embassy, they sent a French helicopter crew to get him from a remote location where he was working.
Get Your Internet Set Up
Setting up internet service at home may be an as simple as a phone call and a visit from a technician, but overseas it can be a long, long process. Some providers will require you to have residency and/or a local bank account. Others will want a 3–6month upfront deposit plus a high service, or you may need a letter from the owner of the apartment/house stating it is okay for you to turn on internet service. Paying the fees and meeting the requirements can still mean a 2–12 week wait for service installation. In most places, you can purchase a USB modem and data SIM card to get you through the waiting period.
Sort Out Grocery Shopping
Coming from a capitalist country, we are accustomed to a wide variety of products at the grocery store or price club. Get used to it, as it is not always the case abroad, especially in developing nations. You may need to visit multiple locations such as the fruit market, butcher, pharmacy, bakery, and grocery store to purchase all of the items you might find at your local Whole Foods. Things can become even more complicated if you are gluten-free, vegan, or have nut allergies. Moreover, opening hours may vary. My local market in Mauritius closed at 8:00 PM on weekdays 5:00 pm on Saturdays and 1:00 PM on Sundays.
Get to Know the Local Brands
You spent a lifetime picking out your favorite brand of yogurt, laundry detergent, and toothpaste. While some of the American brands are available overseas, don’t skip out on the opportunity to get to know less expensive local and regional alternatives. While I was quick to try out spices and cooking pastes, I was a die-hard Colgate Whitening fan, to the point that when my friends were visiting, I would have them bring me six packs from Costco. That was until I moved to Kenya where my friend introduced me to Miswak.
Find Your Local Café or Bar
Each place has it’s own flavor whether it’s where you get your morning espresso in Rome and smile at your neighbors or enjoy a glass of wine in Fish Hoek along the waterfront—it’s nice to have a local spot. As you become a regular soon, you will find yourself making new friends and getting into the rhythm of your new home. While you may not be Norm from Cheers, these neighborhood spots can become an integral part of your life from reading the paper to working out of the office.
Get House Help
Let’s face it most of us are used to having a washing machine and dryer and in many parts of the world having a housekeeper is not the luxury that it is in America. Ask around at work or from friends to find someone who is trustworthy. Spend the first few days going over how you like things done but also recognize that they may know better than you how to deal with humid, seaside, or sandy conditions. Pay them a fair market rate. There are plenty of data which show paying an inflated rate is detrimental to the community in the long run. With this said, if the going rate in the building for a full-time housekeeper is $300 per month then I typically pay $350 to assuage my guilt at having someone iron and do my shopping.
Get a Safe
When you move, the immigration authority or your employer may require you to bring your original diploma(s), birth certificate, old passports, or other documents. When combined with the fact some places still function more on cash than check cards—you can often find yourself with large amounts of bills. Some furnished rentals come with a closet safe. If yours does not, or you are renting an unfurnished place ask your super where you can find the nearest hardware store. Make sure the person installing the safe is reputable and did not make a copy of the key or code.
Go to an Event
There are plenty of Facebook groups and other social networks organizing events for expats and recent arrivals. Check out ASmallWorld, Internations, and MeetUp for one near you. An entrepreneur friend has faithfully used MeetUp and some of the expat women’s groups to build her local networks in Mozambique, South Africa, and even New Orleans. Internations typically hosts a new member happy hour every month in each of their 150+ communities. You never know who you might meet.
Get on a schedule
Timezones, local cuisine, a new office, and creating a social life can be hard. The best thing you can do for your body is to try to get in sync with your new location’s seasons and meal times. It can be hard but getting back to your gym and breakfast routine can do wonders in making your new life feel like home.