Tips for Settling into a New Country
After all the weeks of planning (and stress) involved in an international move, finally arriving in your new home can be a moment of real excitement.
But what if instead of feeling ready to throw yourself into your new life, you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, anxious and homesick instead? Have you done the right thing? Will this strange place ever feel like home? Navigating your way through an unfamiliar culture can be extremely disorientating - they don't call it a culture shock for anything!
Before you panic and start booking that return flight, reassure yourself with the fact that these feelings happen to even the most seasoned expats. And they will pass. Settling into a new country takes time and a bit of effort.
So here’s 10 handy tips for settling in to help you on your way:
Learn the language
If you have moved to a country that speaks a different language, it really pays to learn at least the basics. You might not need to speak it fluently, especially if you are working for an international company, but learning enough to be able to confidently eat, shop, travel and exchange pleasantries will definitely help you feel more at home. Enrol in some language classes or throw yourself in with just a phrase book and a friendly smile.
Allow yourself to be touristy
As much as you may want cultivate the breezy exterior of a resident, don’t deny yourself the pleasure of being a tourist in your new country. At least to start with! See the sights, take some tours and revel in the fact that, unlike your tourist companions, you don’t have to fly home at the end of the week.
Taking in the top tourist attractions is a great start to settling in. Think of it as giving yourself a general overview of your new location. From there, you can dig deeper and deeper as time goes on.
Join clubs or sports teams to get to know people
Bonding over a shared interest or hobby is a fantastic way to meet new, like-minded people, whether there’s a language barrier in play or not. It’s certainly much easier than making awkward small talk. Seek out classes, teams and groups in your local area you can join. Enjoy playing your favourite sports, de-stress with some crafts or throw yourself into learning a local pastime.
If you’re moving with children, having them join sports teams or clubs is a great way to soften their transition away from their friends at home. It will also provide them with opportunities to make new friends. Read our guide for more tips to settling in kids to a new home abroad
Figure out the transport system
Nothing makes you feel less like ‘a local’ than being unable to get around. Make figuring out your local transport system a priority, whether that’s trains, buses or tuk-tuks. Having the know-how to make your way around town without being ripped off by tourist taxis will boost your confidence no end.
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Research the local customs
Take the fear out of interacting in your new country by finding out about the local customs. You want to find out about social customs, such as greetings, eating and gestures, as well as national religious customs and beliefs.
It’s also useful to know about potential sources of offence, including clothing, drinking, smoking and personal space. Of course, you’ll pick up the subtler nuances of local customs along the way – but knowing enough to prevent you from getting arrested or grievously offending anyone is a good start!
Jump into your new culture with both feet
It can be comforting to gravitate towards places and people that remind us of home, from familiar foods to expat communities. There’s nothing wrong with that, but try to add in tastes of the local culture as well. Be brave - try the food, talk to the people and approach your new culture with an open mind.
Embrace the differences and you’ll be treated to a host of exhilarating new tastes, sights and sounds. You won’t love them all, but you’ll be glad you experienced them.
Get set-up financially
Okay, we admit it, this is not the most thrilling task on the list. But trust us, sorting out your new banking arrangements is an essential part of the settling in process. Get things started as soon as you can, as it can take several weeks before your new accounts are ready to go. And in the meantime, you’re losing money paying those international transaction fees. Not to mention some local administrative processes may require you to have a local bank account. For example, you’ll be hard pressed to rent a flat in the UK without opening a UK bank account.
Keep in touch with friends with family
Take some time out from all that throwing yourself into your new life to stay in touch with your family and friends back home. You might get the post-Skype blues for a while, but regular contact with people who know and love you has been shown to help combat any feelings of loneliness you might be experiencing while settling in. Not only will it help with your own homesickness, but you can bet they’re all dying to hear about your adventures.
Sometimes it’s only when you’re telling someone back home about the things you have learnt and experienced that you realise just how far you’ve come. It can also be enormously helpful to hear about the rubbish weather back home if you’re enjoying a new sunshine climate!
Lean on the expat community
Often, the most useful advice can be from the expat community. After all, they’ve been exactly where you are right now – and the fact they’re still here proves it is worth persisting with your settling in challenges.
Having the wisdom and experience of an expat community behind you can be hugely helpful while you’re finding your feet. From online expat forums to local expat groups, make sure you tap into that invaluable mine of information. And who knows, you’ll probably find a few friends along the way.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
It can be tempting to soldier on and pretend everything is fine. But it’s so much easier to ask for help. Whether you need directions, recommendations of places to go or advice on local customs, speak to the people who know best. Both locals and expats are usually thrilled to impart their knowledge and help you settle in. And never be ashamed to admit you’re feeling homesick – especially to other new expats. Showing a bit of vulnerability will actually help you make friends quicker and you’ll probably be relieved to find everyone is in the same boat and just wishing they were brave enough to speak up.
And our final bonus tip is to give it time. Give yourself permission to make mistakes, learn as you go and enjoy the highs and lows of the ride. You’re collecting stories you’ll be telling for years to come – even on your bad days.