Expat ‘look-see’ trips

The Expatability Chat Podcast

Nailing Your ‘Look-See’ Trip

How to make the most of your look-see trip

The “Look-See” Trip is an exploratory visit to the country you’re moving to – an exploratory visit or a pre-location visit.

It is important to make sure that your look-see trip is planned efficiently so you can get as much done as possible on the visit

There’s a lot to achieve in a relatively small period of time, so I hope this guide will help you to make a fool-proof plan.

Hopefully, you’ll come away from the “Look-See” trip armed with valuable insight into your soon-to-be-life, schools, and neighbourhoods. 

To help you make the most of your Look-See Trip, I can give you the gift of time by doing the research on your behalf. Cut down your overwhelm and mental load by using someone with efficiency and insight to sort through the multitude of options you may have.

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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 back to Expatability Chat. I'm Carole, and today I want to talk about what to look for on your look see trip. The 'Look See' trip is an exploratory visit to the country you're moving to. Now, this is particularly relevant if you're moving overseas as a work assignment. I would expect if you're emigrating or if you've chosen to live abroad, you've already got some actual experience of the country you're moving to. But that's not an assumption; I know that people do move somewhere they've never been before, but for a work assignment, there's generally a quick look-see visit included for many businesses.

Sometimes you get a chance to visit your future destination before you decide whether or not to accept the overseas assignment. For most expats, though, it comes after you've accepted the move abroad. In addition to giving you the chance to look at housing options and local schools in person, a look see visit can also help alleviate culture shock upon moving. You can take all the virtual tools you want. You can read brochures and look at endless photos, read blogs and info sites about your new home.

But until you actually go and see for yourself, you don't truly understand what you need to plan for. And not everyone gets an opportunity for a look see trip. And that's OK too. Sometimes it may work out better for you not to know, especially if you have no choice in your move.

We don't ever get a look see trip as part of our relocations. We don't even get to choose our own home. Well, we could visit the city, I guess, if we paid for it ourselves and could find the time to do it, but we could never manage it as a family. Husband has always travelled all over the world with his work, so he usually knew somebody there and the basic layout of the area. Well, the office and which restaurants to go to anyway. But living there as a family is very different than working there for a few weeks at a time.

In our last posting, we were placed in temporary accommodation for a few weeks and for once I had the chance to view my new home before moving into it. It was just down the road of the compound, but I chose not to look because I had no choice where I lived. So if I didn't like the place, it would spoil things and depress me before I made that final move. It turns out I was right not to look! I have no options, so I just have to make the best of it. And that's what I did.

Either way, the look see trip is just that. It gives you a chance to get a glimpse into your new life and see what it will be like in that area. So a look see trip is exactly what it says on the tin; a chance to look around your prospective new home and to see what's there, and what isn't.

Someone once said to me, you don't know what you don't know until you find out. And honestly, that is so true. So in this episode, I want to give you tips on what to look for, what to look and what to see and how to get the most out of your visit.

So what to consider when making this visit? It's important to make sure that your look see trip is planned efficiently so that you can get as much done as possible on the visit. There is a lot to achieve in a relatively small period of time. So I hope this will help you make a fool proof plan.

Your look see visit should be all about familiarisation. Get to sample the culture a little bit, get a sense for the local style, habits and etiquette, as well as finding out where school is, where work is and where you may like to live. Observing local habits, the way people greet and interact with each other and even the way they dress can help guide your packing, your expectations and your social understanding of the area.

You should plan to be asking questions, search out all the local facilities and make connections. Making a few expat or local contacts can give you a tremendous sense of security as you prepare to make the move abroad. If you've been talking to expats in your future destination, try to meet up with them while you're actually there. It makes a huge difference to the first few days of your new life if you have someone familiar nearby. Hopefully, you'll come away from the look see trip armed with valuable insight into your soon to be life, your soon to be schools and your soon to be neighbourhood. Or you may feel more confused and overwhelmed because the school neighbourhood your research showed would be best may not be right after all.

At the very least, this now gives you an opportunity to rectify your plans and to look for a different school or a different home area. Try to make lists of pros and cons for everything while you're there. These lists can be very helpful when you have to make decisions before you move, and it's ever so easy to forget things once you've been there. So keep a little diary.

So your look see is booked. What are you going to do with it? Organisation and preparation are key to ensuring a successful and productive look see visit.

By its nature, the look see is quick. Too quick, some would say, and it can feel like a real whirlwind. You may have just a few days to make what feels like really, really, really important decisions about the rest of your life or your life for the next few years. Before you leave research things like finding the addresses of the places that you need to visit and make appointments. Arriving with an itinerary in hand can give each day structure, which is especially important considering everything you have to cram into a short space of time.

Include in your itinerary, things like familiarisation. So getting used to what the place is like, what the culture is like, or the climate is like, make sure to ask as many questions as you can and make a note of the answers in case your memory is like mine and you forget! Check out local facilities and make connections if you can.

So there are certain things to consider with regards to planning your particular look see visit, one of which is jet lag. Factor it in. There is little point planning a really important meeting as soon as you land if you don't know which way is up. Jet lag can last around about 24 hours, if not longer. So try and keep the really important meetings for the next day. And also try to go for more than just a weekend. It's really advisable that your visit includes at least one weekday, not a public holiday, an actual working week day, so that you can visit schools when they're in session and get a feel for the local atmosphere during the working week. Make sure you build in some free time to explore.

While much of your visit may be filled with meetings and appointments do set aside time to simply explore and enjoy the area. So create an itinerary that you can use to maximise your time. But as a confusing alternative, don't try to do too much. So focus on the essentials that you can deal with in the amount of time that you have. Your essentials are yours, not mine, but as a guidance, I'd include; employment where you have to go to work, the commute, the schools. If you have to go and look around different schools, make sure you have appointments that you can visit without a rush, public transport, or will you have to have a car? Local facilities, food shopping? Where are you going to find your groceries? Are you going to be able to get them home easily? What's the neighbourhood like? What kind of social life can you expect to have? And if you have specific hobbies, see if they're available nearby as well.

If you're starting a new job, contact your manager in advance of your trip to see if you can meet your colleagues. You may be able to schedule a meet and greet session and a tour of your workplace. And this will help you feel far more comfortable on your first official day of employment. With schools, allow at least a full day to visit prospective local or international schools and make those appointments well in advance or you may well be disappointed.

Arrange a visit to your child's new school or potential school if you've already chosen one. Ask if you're allowed to take photos so that you can show it to your kids. That's if they're not with you, of course. Consider making a little photo book or video journal of important points to show your children if that's at all possible and relevant. The classroom, the cloakroom, the lunchroom, etc.. So your children get a feel for where to go, what to expect. It's the little things that can help a child with this huge transition.

With the facilities scout out the grocery stores, the local bank, the shopping malls, the parks, entertainment venues, cafes, petrol stations, hospitals, doctors, surgeries and pharmacies. OK, most of those can be done on a map, but sometimes it's useful to get a feel of them; you don't want to be schlepping around all the doctor's surgeries and hospitals. But find out if all the things that you need are going to be readily available. Plan any alternatives if the answer is no.

The more information you can gather now, the more prepared you'll be. It's too late after you move to discover that you can't obtain a specific medicine there, or find that the local store doesn't stock anything your child will eat. Or if there's nothing for you to do in the area that you've chosen. How are you going to move about in your new location? Will you be driving? Will you have a car, will you have two cars, or will you have to rely on public transport?

How long is the school run going to take? Take a tip from a hideous experience of mine and don't assume a handful of stops on the Metro will be a short journey, especially if there are changes of line involved. Our first few weeks journey to school in Tokyo took two and a half hours each way. Two and a half hours! It was horrendous with a five year old. And then a lovely new friend told me about the buses and we shortened that journey down to a happy hour each way. Once I got a car, However, it only took 20 minutes. So distances can be confusing. Public transport can make journeys a hell of a lot longer or a hell of a lot quicker. It depends on the country, it depends on the town, and it depends where you live.

Research the local transport links and take a few trips to and from the important places to get a feel for traffic flow and the amount of time you might need to allow for travel. Try to get out and about in the rush hour too as these can vary hugely from location to location and you need to know what you're up against.

With your neighbourhood, do research prior to your trip to find out which neighbourhoods interest you. Try to narrow this down as much as possible. Leave house-hunting till last. By the time you've seen and done all the above, you'll have a much better idea of where you'd like to live. On your trip, spend as much time in each of these neighbourhoods living like a local. If possible, stay in a hotel or rent a home in the neighbourhood that interests you most.

Having said that, you're only going to be there for a few days, so you will be doing lots of travelling. But if you look see visit is longer than maybe you can hop around neighbourhoods. Walk around each area and visit the local restaurants and hang outs, so that you can interact with the locals and see who's living in the area. Moving overseas is a massive commitment and you need to know whether or not you'll be able to fit into the local rhythm and social etiquette.

What will your social life be like? Try to make some connections with other expats? You may not want to restrict your social circle to the same people after you move, but to start with, they'll be a huge help for you. They will also be a valuable source of insight and information. Talk to the locals too. Try engaging in conversation with shop owners, passers by and neighbours. Be a bit weird for a while! Get a feel for the culture and see how easy it will be to build social connections.

One key point with a look see visit - and people are very divided on this - is to whether to take the children or not? Children can benefit greatly from a pre-move visit to their new home. There are several things to consider before you rush out and book family tickets. If you take the children with you on your look see visit. How likely is it that the whole trip will revolve around their needs and their wants? You may feel obliged to go to the tourist spots, the fun parks, Disneyland and so on, and the important things that you need to know may get neglected.

Remember, the look see visit isn't a sightseeing trip. So if the answer is very likely, then you may want to consider leaving them at home and plan how best to communicate your findings when you get back. Another consideration is what if the trip doesn't go to plan? What if the kids get bored or stressed or see something they don't like? There's a real risk that this might put them off the move and cause big problems down the line. You may be better off telling them all the great things about their new home instead of letting them experience it too soon.

Most families do all go together. One of my lovely group members, Lucille, says, "yes, taking the kids is hard work and they are dragged around to schools and houses. But we do fun things with them, too and I feel it's important for them to be part of the process and feel like their opinions matter too. My kids are 8 and 10 so still young enough for me to spin some magic. I can't speak for teenagers. So the tone of the trip is less, let's go and see if we like it but more, this is our next home. Let's explore it together. My kids have never hated a location on a look see trip, but that doesn't mean they've always wanted to move. It's a fine balance."

And because I personally have never been on a look-see trip, I threw the question open to my group, so I'll share some of their valuable experience and advice to you now. This is advice from Marta;

"Really ask yourself, could I live here and be happy, outside of work? Be clear about what your priorities are and think of the obvious ones as well as the mundane ones too. Safety, health care, cost of living, retirement, career advancement, culture, nightlife, schools, restaurants, even things like are there good hair salons, are they affordable? Some of these may not be deal breakers, but they will help you make a more informed decision should you choose to move there. Priorities and quality of life and not a cookie cutter thing. Really ask yourself what this means to you. Also, remember that everything will look better on a look see than it really is. If a company has invested in arranging a look see trip for you, they really want to convince you to live there. It's kind of like dating someone new - we all show our best qualities. Lastly, be clear on what the company will pay and what they won't, as well as the timing. Is this a shorter term assignment, i.e., will you go back home after two years? Or is this a definite relocation? It's a huge decision and it's not always easy, but it is a privilege to have the option of being able to choose where to live and work."

And here's some advice from Annabel:

I needed to picture how life could be and if I could picture the kids living there. During a look, see, it is a whirlwind. You see neighbourhoods, but you have no idea where they are compared to each other. You visit schools, which was the most important part for me, and it allowed us to pick the school we really liked. The company usually takes you to the nice neighbourhoods to wow you. Do get in touch with expats living there beforehand so you can get an idea of what the neighbourhoods and schools are like. And also double check the commute and the school run. The relocation company may have you visit places that will actually be really far from work or not doable as a commute. So it's best to have insider info."

Actually on the topic of relocation companies, or destination services and many other descriptors, if you are fortunate enough to have someone on the ground there, make sure they fully understand your needs. I have heard of so many destination service agents who have never even moved out of that area. Let alone moved and lived overseas as an expat. They're just ticking boxes and earning their fee. Another tip is to make sure your agent truly understands what it's like to be a parent. Kids and their needs and requirements are often left out of the itinerary.

And some more advice from Lucille:

"Educate yourself about areas and schools as much as possible. Don't just rely on the relocation agent to present their version of what they think an expat wants, just because it's what everybody else does. If you've seen a bunch of houses and the agent just isn't getting it right, ask for someone new, will start looking online yourself and give a list of houses that you'd like a relocation agent to go for. Don't be afraid to break rank. Go with an open mind, ask loads of questions, even if you think that they're daft, and schedule in some fun time too. But remind yourself that look see life and real life are very different."

And from Alice:

"I like to go to grocery stores and wet markets to see what's available and how much it costs. That way you can better prepare for things you might need or want to bring with you. A certain spice or face cream, for example."

And Rebecca says,

"My big tip would be to try and find a Facebook group for local mums prior to your visit. I was able to join one beforehand, so I already had some tips from locals on places to see and where to eat. And I got a really good feel for the area when we arrived.

So that's some great advice from people who have been on look see visits. So to summarise, I just want to say, plan ahead, create an itinerary, research where and what you want to see and when you want to see it. Make a contact list, make appointments in advance with schools and so on. And remember that look see life and real life are different; good, but different.

Go for as long as you can and make sure you include weekdays too. Allow yourself free time to explore and have fun. Maximise your time, but don't do too much.

And as I said before, your look see visit is all about familiarisation and getting a sense of the culture climate in general, day to day life. All of this can help you plan your packing, manage your expectations and boost your understanding of the area and also help prevent any culture shock or at least minimise the culture shock.

I do hope you get a chance to have a look see visit all the very best, take care and I'll talk to you again soon. Bye bye.

Thank you for listening to the Expatability Chat 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.

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