Having travelled, studied and worked abroad in a wide variety of countries I have a lot of ridiculous stories that come with the territory of throwing yourself across the globe. These experiences were undoubtedly some of the best and in some cases worst of my life, but have taught me a lot. So, from these experiences I have some thoughts and advice for anyone thinking of doing the same.
1. Applications are a nightmare but super necessary.
Lots of people (myself included) are not used to filling out thousands of pages just to see a doctor – thank you NHS! But if your moving abroad especially to work you will have to get better at this whether you want to or not. Depending on where you go will differ massively about what level of bureaucracy the country has for example – Hong Kong is famous for it!? Whereas you will have less of a problem with this in lets say Spain.
2. Learn some of the language.
Whether it’s Duo Lingo, Pleco or good old-fashioned language classes and books for God’s sake do it. I say this not from a high horse at all, I moved to rural china with little more than “Ni hao ma?” and I learned my lesson the hard way. Although there are definite advantages to the diving in at the deep end technique when it comes to learning a language I advise you to be kinder to yourself and save yourself a lot of stress and panic. Along with this, actually being able to speak the local language will make those around you more comfortable and in turn help you really enjoy your new country. Also if Jamie can learn Portuguese in matter of weeks for Aurelia we can all learn “is this the right platform or am I totally lost?”
3. Prepare to be embarrassed.
This is really just good life advice but specifically, if you are planning on moving abroad, everything about this experience you will humble you because frankly – for the first week/month/year you have no idea what you’re doing.
4. Give yourself lots of time at the airport.
Some airports are bigger than you could ever imagine – Schiphol airport (Amsterdam’s main airport) is almost 11 square miles – that is a LOT of football fields. Often it’s not just the sheer size of these places but how much security checks can take place You do not want to be hung overly running through that amount of space attempting to cobble together a few words in a language you don’t know.
5. Take your time looking for somewhere to live.
Trust me on this one, arrive a week early look up that old school/family contact you haven’t spoken to in years, beg for a bed and then hit the pavements. This tactic stops you from being so scared of spending too much on accommodation that you take the first absolute shambles of a flat you see. Which brings me onto the fact that there is no trusting online flat pictures, you’re going to want to make sure the front door actually closes, that the water reaches your 6th floor flat and that you’re not going to poisoned with a gas leak – maybe a bit too specific?- just trust me on this one.
6. Some embassies are more lenient than others.
This is important to know before departure, when you are applying for the right visas you should check before you go how long does it normally take to be accepted? Sometimes it is easier but more expensive to go to the nearest embassy to you and put the papers in then collect your passport the next day. Like I said some embassies need every single detail in triplicated and if you have misspelled one thing or not signed in the right place you could be in for a very infuriating conversation, however through my own experience of being a hungover idiot the Vietnamese embassy in London let me apply for my tourist visa with a scanned photocopy of my passport that I always keep on my computer – this is not the case for some embassies. I once spent 9 hours in a far eastern embassy sweating profusely and seriously confused only to be told that I didn’t have the correct form – this particular embassy also did not allow food or water in it – in short do your homework and don’t drink before you head to an embassy.
7. Transport trains, planes, underground, taxis – learn your new city.
I can honestly now say I am good at navigating myself around new cities underground, however literally any of my friends can give you horrendously stupid and embarrassing stories where I clearly knew nothing about the underground, I got lost in Milan underground for hours only to find out where I needed to be was were I had started, spent hours with a friend going the wrong way in the Tokyo underground and famously called the London oyster card “a lobster card”. Take your time with the underground! Do not just get onto the train because everyone else is and totally ignore the myth that some cities inhabitants our so cold that you can’t ask anyone for help – that is just not true.
8. Your pace of life might drastically change.
Hong Kong is a traditionally very fast paced city and a day off is often unheard of whereas lots of people are horrified to find most places in Italy or Spain are closed on a Sunday and no amount of complaining will change that. Once you have learned to stop fighting this new pace of life everything will become easier, if that means staying out all night and getting 4am dim sum with the locals or siestas in the afternoon – just enjoy it.
9. Check out the cities APPS before you go.
Whether its uber, or VPNs research your new city and see what the locals know. Language apps, underground trackers, best restaurant apps are a must for the first few weeks! And on that note check out the local online magazine, whether that is the List, or Timeout you will know what the locals know – I lived by SassyHongKong when I was there.
10. Cultural differences might hit you harder than you think.
Everyone likes to consider themselves a cultural connoisseur and chameleon and in theory that is easy to do, but believe me when nobody queues, people spit, personal space is a fond memory and you become the alien in the room this comfortable image might be harder to keep up. This is inevitable, I don’t say this to scare people off, but you need to dive into a culture to understand it more and even if that feels like walking on mars for the first couple of weeks then keep going, find common ground – my advice is check out the food – really good food makes us all happy.
11. If you have the time – write.
This is just for your own enjoyment but it’s really amazing looking back from start to finish and seeing how much as a person you have grown – or frankly how stupid/ scared witless you were at the start.
And finally, just go for it! You can plan and plan and plan and sometimes things just go to shit, you miss your flight, they don’t get that flat you wanted or your late for your first day at work – you will survive! It will all be okay if Boris Johnson can forget the title to his own book and live to fight another day you can too.