Ok, you’ve taken the plunge, you have decided to move abroad … so, what can you do to help yourself adapt? I moved 30 years ago, and it’s been very successful — but some thought and planning can make things go a little smoother and anticipate challenges.

BEFORE YOU LEAVE — what do you need to know before arriving?

The earlier you start the process, the better.

1. Find out all you can about what you will need during your 1st 2 weeks, your first month, your first 6 months. Anticipating and making a plan will keep you focussed and reduce the number of surprises.

2. Especially if you are moving for work — research as much as you can about where will live. Have you been provided with housing? What costs will you have each months for utilities? How much storage to you have available to you? Where are the nearest stores?

3. Are there any networking opportunities in the international community wher you are going? Find out where to find them before leaving home.

4. If at all possible, start learning the local language … at least some basics. With Youtube and other online resources this is often free and quite easy. Do this as a family in anticipation and preparation together. Don’t leave each other alone to sort through emotions. Be each others’ support system.

AS SOON AS YOU ARRIVE — hopfully you already followed step 1 … so, now you need to put your plan into action.

5. The paperwork … you will need to do paperwork, sorry 🙁 it sucks, true, but get it done. You may need a tax number, register with immigration, open a bank account, get utilities set up at your home, get a cell phone with internet access … all these are things to do within your first week of arriving. You may be lucky and have a local representative at your company who can help make this process go smoother.

6. My personal advice about language learning is don’t take a class right away. There are practical ways to begin learning — buying groceries, saying hello to neighbours, watching local TV — just get used to sounds and work on saything words with good pronunciation. A language course will probably work much better if you do this during the first 3–4 months!

7. Make friends … there are probably others who have moved to the same place who you can make friends with. Chat with neighbours. Say hello. Say “good morning” and “good afternoon” — learn local greetings and smile at people (if it’s culturally appropriate.

8. Become more culturally aware — adapting to the new culture means realizing that there are new and strange things that people do and the way they live. And you begin to realize that your way of living is strange to everyone else in the world. So, become a cultural learner. Don’t judge. Be curious. Try things out. Read my articles on the different stages of cultural adaptation.

9. If you have relocated as a family, there will be significant challenges. Don’t leave them to chance. Be intentional about your life. Talk to each other about things you appreciate or don’t appreciate about the new culture. If you did step 4 before leaving home, continue! Each member of the family will go through different stages of adapting and different times. Expect it, plan for it, and support each other through it. Spending all your time on Facebook, Facetime, Skype, Whatsapp and so on will not help you adapt.

Contacts back home can be part of what keeps you sane sometimes. But you need to actually arrive at your new destination emotionally and mentally, not just physically. If you want to be successful, create a local support system. And corners of your home that can be your “home escape” places. That may mean decoration which reminds you of home culture, or food or something special you have with you — not something that’s thousands of miles away.

10. Remember those who have gone before you. It is possible. It is doable. And it can be amazing. The first year is key. The main thing, and I am repeating here — be intentional, think, talk, plan … and remember, although you can be rational about as much as you like — in the end, there are a lot of emotions to work through, so, as well as cultural intelligence, you would be wise to learn all about emotional intelligence, too.

Read more about adapting to a new culture in my other articles.

The 4 stages are — Honeymoon · Culture Shock · Adjustment · Adaptation


Intercultural & Leadership Coach and Trainer