Travel the world! Meet new people! Experience different languages, cultures, cuisines! Sounds idyllic, alluring. And while many of us travel occasionally, it is quite different when you become an expat. Being an expat is more complicated. There is more paperwork, time and legal requirements. But lest that scare you away from becoming one, never fear! The rewards far outweigh the “risks” especially if you follow the tips below.
First, Do Your Homework Want to have an easier time becoming an expat? Do your research! And when you think you are done doing research, do even more! You can never be too prepared. This is exciting and also a big deal, so it makes sense to figure out what it entails. Ask all the questions you can think of such as: How do you get a visa/work permit? Where can you take language courses? How can you set up a bank account? Do you need to learn how to open a business? How about finding a job or a house in your new country? What about taxes? Yes, taxes. Expats still have to file with the IRS, even if they don’t actually pay anything. Be sure to find out about tax breaks and foreign tax credits. Tax credits can be used after 6 months of living abroad, when your new country of residence begins taxing you in addition to the US. But those little tax credits will allow you to save money in the long run, so it pays to know the details beforehand.
Then be a tourist Before becoming an expat, take an extended vacation as a tourist. Maybe you will find your dream country is not all that dreamy. Perhaps you will find a better one. See the pros and cons of your new nation and spend time gaining insight to boost your confidence when you are ready to make the move.
This will also give you a chance to be sure your passport is valid. Remember some countries such as China, and Russia require passports be valid for six months past the date of your flight home. Others require it be three months.
Being a tourist will also help you with money. Many foreign countries don’t use credit cards like the US. So, convert your dollars to yen, pounds or pesos early. Have some currency on hand before landing in another country. Having the right cash makes travel much easier and helps you avoid long lines when you arrive.
Embrace the Culture If you really want a rich experience in your newly adopted land concentrate on the culture. Most important, learn the language. Even if you don’t know a single word at first, make the effort. You will be immersed in the language now, so you are bound to become more fluent daily. Embrace it. Practice it. Stumble with it. Learn from it. Soon you will be able to understand all the subtleties and the humor – like a local.
The culture of a country includes the customs, habits and the flow of a day. Know when businesses and stores are open. For example, some countries’ close-up shop in the middle of the day for siesta, others consider Thursday and Friday their weekends and it will be hard to find an open shop anywhere.
If you are doing business in other countries, understand your new countries’ business etiquette. In the US, we have short meetings, elevator pitches, and transactions done over simple texts or email. This is not the case in many other countries. In Japan, you may have a few long lunches where not a single word of business is spoken. There you need to build relationships before conducting business.
Know Your Rights If you are working overseas as an expat, know your rights as an employee. Is your stay decided by the length of your contract? If so, what will you do when your contract ends? What about the job market? Is it volatile or is your position steady? Which brings us to ….
Be frugal No matter the nature of the job market or economy, being frugal with your money is a good plan when it comes to being an expat. Be sure to have an emergency fund available for any unexpected problems.
These tips will help you be more confident in your expat adventure and hopefully help you find work and build an overseas network. A lot of research and a little preparation will go a long way to making your life as an expat safe and enjoyable. Bon voyage!
By Ilona Knudson