Tips to make your expat arrival run smoothly
The key to success from the start of your expat life is to prepare before you leave your current home.
With insider tips on what to pack in your suitcases to make sure your entire family settle quickly to expert advice on what to do in the first day or so after arriving at your destination.
The tips and tricks in this episode will ensure you’re ready to hit the ground running in your new home country, and help you and your family’s smooth transition to expat life.
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Advice on what to pack for your first days, important points to note for immediate arrival, plus expert tips on how to organise UNpacking day, and more!
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Welcome aboard the Expatability Chat podcast, helping expat parents navigate the challenges of moving and living overseas. With Carole Hallett Mobbs, Expat Life Mentor and Consultant and founder of ExpatChild.com.
Hi, welcome to episode 5 of Expatability Chat. I'm Carole, and the noises you hear next to me will be Sumi [my cat!] trying to join in... There we go. And today I'm going to be talking about arriving well.
If you followed me across the Internet for any length of time, you'll know that one of my key points is preparing really well before you move overseas. It's the preparation for becoming an expat that makes it a success for the whole family.
Knowing what to prepare for is another matter, and that's what I'm here to help you with. So, today's episode is all about preparing for your arrival in a new country before you even leave your old country.
Whether you're a seasoned pro at seeking out pastures new or it's your first time relocating, here's my top advice for keeping the whole move as stress free as possible once you've arrived. To arrive well, you need to prepare in advance.
How do you envision your arrival into your new home country? I like this idea. You arrive mid morning, refreshed after a stress-free flight. You breeze through the airport, the heady scents of your new country lifting you up as you step outside to your new life. There's a large taxi waiting for you with plenty of room for all your luggage, and you gaze out the windows with excitement as you head off towards your new home. Perhaps you've booked into a hotel for a few days. Maybe you're staying at a lovely temporary AirBnB for a week or two, or maybe you're going straight to your new house.
It's all so exciting! You get to your accommodation to be greeted by a happy, smiling local agent who speaks your language, perhaps a destination or relocation representative, or somebody from the company. Maybe it's the estate agent. You have a quick look around the rooms, a quick cup of tea or coffee, a wonderful welcome pack to keep you and your family going until you can get to the shops. Relevant information is shared, in writing as well as in talking; useful information such as where the nearest supermarket is. The keys are handed over and then you can finally take a breath. You've done it! you're here at last.
I bet you don't imagine arriving at one o'clock in the morning after a 36 hour journey due to severe flight delays, like we did for one move. Arriving at a foreign airport with no staff, a dozen suitcases and no trolleys available to use. There are no cabs because it's one o'clock in the morning. So you wait and wait. And you're waiting with an exhausted and grumpy child.
Finally, a cab arrives, but it's too small to get all your luggage in. So you have to try and get the driver to call another for you so you can go in two cars. Obviously, nobody was going to meet us at that time of night, so how were we going to get into our new house? We got really lucky in that particular event. Our liaison chap went above and beyond the call of duty and actually did meet us at our new house.
He'd kindly made up the beds for us, got milk and tea in, and left us to recover. He single-handedly made a really rough few weeks, and an international move, so much easier.
If you're relying on yourself, then it's up to you to make an international move easier. Another move we arrived at about lunchtime. This time, we were met at our temporary home by what seemed like a house full of people. They were all work colleagues of my husband, each of whom had an agenda to impart their own information to my husband at once.
There were no drinks or refreshments, and my daughter and I were pretty much ignored. In the end, after about two hours of this, I had to get - shall we say assertive? And insist on somebody driving us to the supermarket to buy food before the shops shut. This didn't go down well, but I got my own way. Incidentally, if you're in the Global Mobility, Destination Service or H.R. business, please do take into account the whole family, not just the worker. We're important too and without us, your staff might not even be there.
There are worse tales to be told too. For instance, arriving at your new home to find the previous tenants haven't actually left yet, as happened to somebody I know. Or arriving to find that the company hasn't actually sorted out your visas yet. So you can't even move into your new home because a visa is needed for bureaucratic reasons and to set up important things like electricity. You end up staying in a hotel for over two months, while the company attempts to sort it out. And there are so many more stories like this.
So, as ever, my advice is to be prepared. Be prepared for all eventualities, if at all possible, and make a pledge to yourself not to get stressed out if and when things go wrong.
In this particular episode, I'm going to talk about what to pack in your luggage so that your arrival goes as smoothly as possible.
There's a peculiar limbo about the first few weeks after you arrive in a new country, you may be accommodated in a hotel or temporary quarters for a while and your container of everything won't arrive for a few weeks yet.
So you exist on whatever you brought with you, whatever you've got in your luggage. It's not quite like a holiday and it's not yet like living somewhere. You'll also be tired from the flight, jet lagged, shell shocked and pretty much all over the place.
So first, my top tip, try and get some coins for the airport trolleys. This isn't particularly easy to do, but some airports, particularly in Europe, need coins to release each trolley. And it's not fun trying to move a dozen suitcases between two exhausted adults and a child through an airport at 1a.m. without a trolley. Believe me. A couple of one euro coins would have made these first steps in a new country much easier.
So the suitcases for your move overseas; what to pack in them? Well, normal suitcase stuff that you'd use on holiday? Yeah, and the rest! You'll be amazed at how much ends up in your suitcases. So these are the cases that you're taking on the plane and hopefully your luggage will arrive with you. I've left off obvious items such as clothing, wash bags and so on.
Quick tip. Don't forget to take note of the climate in your new country and pack accordingly. I didn't expect South Africa to get quite so cold in winter when we arrived and I left all my warm clothing back in the UK because, Africa = hot... No!
So pack the things that you'll need right away, but things that you can live without if your luggage gets lost. So nothing valuable or really, really important. That's the kind of stuff you carry in your hand luggage.
Spread each family member's items across all the suitcases, so if one suitcase goes missing, they will still have something to wear. Check your baggage allowances with the airline. They can change at any moment. And check for every leg of your journey. So if you're on more than one flight to your destination, check for each leg, check for each flight, because you don't want to have to pay excess baggage fees halfway there. Also, check the rules for liquids and so on. These rules and allowances change a lot so make sure you're up to date.
Bedding is another thing to put in the suitcases, especially if you have young children. Don't underestimate the comfort that familiar bedding has on the whole family, but particularly for children. A good night's sleep is a must for everyone and having a favourite pillowcase in your luggage can be a trump card. Bringing an entire set will be wonderful. Make up the kids beds first so they have somewhere to be while you sort out everything else.
A shower after a long flight is wonderful. Not having anything bigger than a hand towel available is not wonderful. So consider packing a towel as well.
Toilet paper. Oh, the theme of the year. I try to carry tissues instead. A bumper pack of tissues. You put them in your hand luggage as well. And that's useful for when your child tips an entire glass of orange juice all over you before you've even taken off on a 12 hour flight. Can you tell I've had experience of this? the reason I use tissues instead is because they're easier to pack than toilet rolls. You can slip in packets of these everywhere.
Don't forget kids' stuff, I'm just grouping all offspring together here, regardless of the age. There are full lists for different age groups on ExpatChild.com. I'll put a link in the show notes for you. So kids' stuff such as favourite toy, books, something to keep them occupied on the flight, something that they need when they arrive, Teddy... You know the sort of thing.
And don't forget baby supplies; nappies, diapers, wipes, lots. You don't want to be running around somewhere unfamiliar looking for these an hour after you arrive. Any formula, any snacks that your toddler will eat.
Take more changes of clothing than you think are necessary. And don't forget, again, to consider the different climate.
When you're travelling with kids, always make sure you know where Teddy is. If you're travelling with older kids, teenagers, make sure you have a spare phone or tablet charger and an adaptor or six. Most of the things that keep an expat connected to friends and family need a constant power source. Keep at least one adaptor in your hand luggage. And remember, this will be your teenager's life support system, so it's really important. Something else I can recommend is a spare set of earphones, headphones for when the tiny little things get lost or broken.
Entertainment for the plane and entertainment for arrival. A favourite book or two is good for all ages. You know your children, so this ball is in your court. Just have something to hand for the "I'm bored" moments. Select an item that you feel confident will calm them down, like a favourite movie downloaded onto your phone or tablet.
Food is another important thing to include in your luggage. A few good filling snacks can be a bonus once you've arrived and you don't know quite where they're going to eat. Useful on the plane as well, particularly if you arrive late at night or are delayed, your little ones or picky older ones will appreciate familiar snacks.
Something else that's incredibly useful to take if you have little kids and / or picky eaters is breakfast cereal. Not all breakfast cereals are available all around the world. So if you have a favourite bung a pack in your suitcase. You don't need food battles at the moment.
Coffee and tea, of course. No explanation needed.
A tourist guide book and map is also quite useful. Your phone apps may not immediately work and it's a good old fashioned way to see what's around your local area. It's a quick way to find places of interest near you. Helps you find your way around. You will need to occupy your kids in happy ways in their new hometown. So the tourist route is a good start.
And a few other little tips of things to pack in your luggage;
Scissors. These have countless uses, from opening over-sealed food packets, a new well packaged toy for a bored child, cutting plaster's - you can guarantee somebody is going to get hurt on the first day! And to open your shipment when it arrives. And many other things that you may not have thought about.
A sharp knife is recommended by many seasoned re-locators. Until you've tried to cut food with plastic or blunt cutlery, you may not think of this.
I also recommend taking a torch with you, finding your way around in an unfamiliar house if the power cuts out is not fun. And this will also be useful when you're wide awake at three o'clock in the morning with jet lag and don't want to disturb the rest of the family.
Pens and notebooks are always useful. And also a multi-tool knife or similar. Screwdriver, penknife, pliers. hoof-pick... Oh, and of course, the corkscrew and bottle opener, and tin opener as well for the emergency meal. So if you don't have a multi-tool knife, take a corkscrew, tin opener and bottle opener.
Something else we make full use of because I seem to have an accident prone family, a small first aid kit. A selection of necessities so you don't have to search for a pharmacy on the day you arrive because you have a thumping headache. And you just know somebody will hurt themselves in the evening when the shops are shut.
If you have little ones, Calpol. This is a medicine brand for British parents - it's a liquid paracetamol for kids. It's fluorescent pink and fixes a multitude of problems. Take whatever version you have in your country.
One for the women. Certain sanitary products are high on the list of many women's requirements because they're not always available everywhere, or may be very expensive.
If you're moving with pets, take a little bit of pet food with you. They'll be stressed out on arrival and may not want food. But it's useful to have something, you know, that they will eat at some point. And it's one less thing that you have to search for on arrival. If you're moving with cats, a nice new litter tray. It takes up very little space in a suitcase. And cats can't be let out in a new location for some considerable time. Don't bother with litter if they're arriving soon after you. Soil works just as well in an emergency.
As you can see, there's a lot of stuff to try and cram in your suitcase. It's nothing like packing for a couple of weeks holiday. Maximise your packing space by having everyone in your party use the maximum number of suitcases.
So you've just arrived in your new country, it's a new adventure. Yes, you will be exhausted and apprehensive, but I expect your adrenaline is still going. Unless you're like me, and a long flight has a tendency to make me slightly murderous, in which case keep social interactions to a minimum until you're better rested.
Steps the first few days to help you ease into your new life successfully.
If you're living in a hotel temporarily, try to treat this time as a holiday. It can be hard work when you're all living in the same room, but it's the easiest way of coping for a short while. Just spend your days out and about as much as possible. You'll soon move into your new home and begin to make your new life your own.
If you start off in other temporary accommodation, sort out the sleeping arrangements first. Exhaustion and jet lag can hit at unexpected moments, and you'll welcome a comfortable place to sleep.
Depending on the time of day or night you arrive, it may be easier for you to all crash out in the same room for a night. Your basic needs for the first 24 hours are eating and sleeping.
Child proof your accommodation. This is best done as soon as you arrive, but if seriously jet lagged, have another look around when you're more refreshed too. And quickly on the topic of jet lag, it may be that your kids will be fully awake at three o'clock in the morning so do ensure they can't hurt themselves if they just take off around the house on their own at that time.
Make sure everybody knows where the bathroom is! perhaps leave a light on.
As an expat arriving in a new country, there are so many new things to learn and organise that you may forget something extremely important, something that could actually be a matter of life or death.
Forget the unpacking for now. The very first thing you need to do when you arrive in your new home country is find out how to contact the emergency services.
Write down the numbers for your country's emergency services; give a copy to everyone in your family and leave a copy by the phone and memorise the numbers, too. If you haven't already done so, teach your children how to deal with an emergency.
Many countries have different numbers for the separate emergency services. For example, in Germany, it was 110 for the police and 112 for a fire or ambulance. In some countries, the numbers to call are completely different depending on if you're calling from a mobile phone or a landline. So do double check that.
On my website, I intended to list all the different emergency numbers for all the countries in the world, but it's turned out to be an impossible task as there were just so many variants. There's actually an entry on Wikipedia with them all. It's fascinating! Search for 'list of emergency telephone numbers'. So, did you know that there's a telephone number in South Korea that you can use to report spies? And in Turkey, there are numbers to call three different types of police. So anyway, it's fun.
Once you've done that, locate your nearest hospital with an emergency department. Google Maps works well for this. Pop it into your GPS, your satnav and your phone as soon as possible. A few days after arrival in Germany, my daughter had an accident and we had to drive to accident and emergency as she'd broken her hand. That experience exercises all intercultural and language skills, I can tell you if you!
If you have pets, find and register with a vet as soon as possible.
We arrived in Japan with two beautiful young cats. A week after we arrived, one of them collapsed and eventually died. At that point, we hadn't met the neighbours, but they were incredibly helpful. It's not a story I want to go into detail here, but it was incredibly traumatic and just awful. So find a vet, find out if they speak your language.
Memorise your address and write it down too. Spell it phonetically if necessary and give everybody a copy. This was fun when I lived in Japan, but I asked a work colleague to write it in Japanese for me so I could get directions when lost. And it was also very useful to show it to the taxi drivers.
If you've been fortunate enough to move straight into your new home, you have to live in a near empty house until your shipment arrives, which is a weird experience, but you get used to it very, very quickly. Perhaps buy some plants or a bunch of flowers to help make a temporarily empty house look more homely.
There's plenty to do to keep you occupied and help you settle while you wait for your belongings.
Well, the first thing you're going to go out and do is shopping, of course. So check out your local shops, find out what the opening hours are, because it's a shock to discover early closing days on Saturdays. Explore the area, find interesting places in your new town, scout out routes to play areas, shop, work, school. Find out what there is to do. Just get a feel for the neighbourhood.
Another key one is finding where the pharmacy is and checking their opening hours. Some countries pharmacies have a siesta, some close at night and some work around the clock.
Next on your list is to work out how all the utilities work and things like when the garbage is collected and all the recycling rules, which will be incredibly complicated, I'm sure. Find out where the water stopcock shut-off point is, find the main fuse box / circuit breaker. Work out how to use all the other equipment in the house, the cooker, the garage door, the air conditioning and so on.
Actually, you probably should have done that when you first arrived, but you get the idea.
And now you and your family. Acknowledge all the emotions that you'll be feeling right now. Try and make everything fun and exciting, but do respect everybody else's emotions. It's perfectly acceptable for them to feel unsettled and anxious. So this should be acknowledged and worked through.
This doesn't just apply to kids. Be gentle with yourself, too. You've just made an enormous life change. Moving house is considered one of the most stressful times of your life. You've not only moved house, you've moved countries too. So please do give yourself a bit of a break from time to time if you're feeling overwhelmed.
Hopefully these very quick tips will help you prepare for a smooth arrival, or at least more like the one you envisioned rather than the arrival hell-tales.
Don't forget your planning. Think of what's important to you and your children before you get caught up in the panic of leaving. What makes you all happy and calm? Focus on making that thing happen, whether it's a tangible object or a method of dealing with stress. Remember this thing as a priority. It may be that you find calm with scents and a candle will be all you need or a good bubble bath. Maybe your child likes a specific childhood movie that just helps them calm down and relax.
Maybe your teenager needs to listen to really loud music to calm down. Get good headphones! So, work out what triggers each member of your family and what helps calm them down.
While it may all feel like a holiday for a few weeks after you arrive, it's important to retain as much normality as possible. Live normally. Keep to your routines, particularly if you have little kids. It will help them settle more quickly if they recognise early on that this is not a holiday; so they don't expect to go home after a short time.
Of course, have fun while recognising that that fun can't be everything and every day and the only thing that you do there. Eventually life will get back to normal. School will happen. Work will happen. Doctor visits will happen. Dentist visits will happen.
What I mean is a few weeks of no kindergarten or school, plus trips to Disneyland, excursions to the beach every day can confuse little ones into thinking that that's what life is like in your new country all the time. And it will be a big shock when life has to be normal.
The most important thing to remember is that right after the move, you might be very stressed and tired and end up seeing your new home, either the town or the new home building itself, in a negative light. Let it pass and try not to make snap judgements. Things always look better after you've had a rest.
In another episode, I'll go into more details on thriving in your first few weeks in your new country. For now, make sure you take a look at how you can help make your arrival smooth for the whole family, using the tips I've just gone through.
As ever, if there's anything that you'd like to know, you can contact me at hello [@] expatability [dot] net, or get in contact using any of the options that you'll find in the show notes.
Check out the lists that are available on ExpatChild. Again, there'll be a link for you and all the very best planning your move overseas.
I look forward to talking with you again soon. Take care.
Thank you for listening to the Expatability podcast, please check out ExpatChild.com for more free information and resources and follow me on your favourite social media. Don't forget to join me next week for another episode. Until then, bye bye.