What is an Expat? Six Steps to Living Your Best International Life

. 5 min read

According to Wikipedia and the Oxford dictionary, an expatriate (more commonly known as an expat) is:

"Someone who lives outside their native country, either temporarily or permanently."

To qualify as an expat, you could be a migratory worker on assignment in another country across the border from your homeland, or you could be a retiree who moved overseas across the equator.

You may have plans to:

  • Return to your native land eventually to reunite with family and/or friends
  • Live a nomadic life for the rest of your days
  • Put down roots in a new country permanently
  • Buy a pair of vagabond shoes which are longing to stray

If you can foresee any of these scenarios as a potential long-term or short-term future for yourself, your significant other, and your family - congratulations! You seem to have what it takes to be an expat. I hope your passport is valid, you have some savings in the bank, and your bags are packed.

No way, you say? These are just some of the items on the following expat checklist of many things to do before moving abroad. You'll find an exhaustive list in the infographic checklist at the end of this post.  

  1. Make visa arrangements for your destination country

If you are planning to apply for a work visa or visitor visa for another country, you are wise to make these arrangements before you leave your homeland. The procedures and time frames for getting a visa depends on several factors:

  1. Your country of origin, and the destination country
  2. Whether you have already made working arrangements in another country, or if you plan to apply for a job when you get there
  3. Are you looking for a tourist visa for pleasure or a student visa to attend university or college in your destination country?
  4. Immigration or naturalisation visas are for those who plan on staying in a country on a permanent basis. If you have family in your destination country, such as a fiancée or spouse, the odds are increasingly in your favour.

We'll be publishing some guidance on local insights on how to arrange for a visa soon. In the meantime, PassportIndex.org is a great resource.

2. Decide on a place to live, and whether you will buy or rent a home

It's evident that you'll either need to invest in real estate or rent a home when you arrive in what I like to call New Xeland, which is my euphemism for your destination country. There are many considerations to make when buying a property overseas, and we will publish several of them on this blog shortly.  

Helpful resources to choose a suitable country include InterNations, Experts for Expats, and if you stay tuned to the XE blog, we'll be sharing pearls of wisdom about many immigration expat-friendly destinations around the world, such as Spain, Dubai, Canada and Mexico.  

3. Make initial connections in and travel your chosen country

Discover where you can connect with locals and a community of your expat peers. Some resources include Meetup.com and InterNations. We've published a great article on the pros and cons of expat communities.  

If you have family members, friends, or friends of friends in the country to where you're headed, it's always a good idea to connect with them before and after your move, as they can help you settle into your new environment.

You should book your flight, evaluate housing prices and ensure you have all of your financial and identification paperwork in order as far ahead of time as possible.

4. Make Arrangements for Banking On Both Ends of Your Journey

Before you depart for your new life, be sure to notify your bank, insurance company and credit card companies of your life change. Even if you plan to continue banking with your existing account, financial services companies can advise you on how to best handle pre-authorized debits from your account, such as retirement savings plans.

If you plan to live and work abroad for a determined period of time, keeping an account open in your home country is critical to preserving your credit rating. If you never plan return to your native land, you can close your financial interests to avoid service charges. Once you have an account set up in the country you emigrate to, and transfer your funds over, of course. Some banks offer international accounts, though there are often foreign purchase fees for debit transactions, and the exchange rates are often significantly inflated.

5. Making arrangements for relocating or re-homing pets

If you have a family pet, be it of the avian, canine, feline, reptile, or aquatic variety, your move abroad will require you and your family to decide on the future of your furry, feathered and/or scaly friends. Though your first inclination will be to take your dog or cat with you and make them an"expet," the stress of adjusting to a new country is often traumatic for pets and will cause anxiety.

Beyond air travel, many expats move from a home with property into a smaller space like an apartment. This sort of scenario can be especially stress-inducing for a dog. As much as you love your pet, it may be in their best interest to have a friend or neighbour adopt them until you return, or for the rest of their days. We'll revisit this topic in a future post to discuss options, but in the meantime, InterNations offers some wise insights on whether to bring your pet with you or how to transition them to a new home.

6. Learn the Language and Cultural Norms

There are many resources available for you to learn at least the basics of your destination country's language and cultural customs before you arrive. Consider Babbel, Duolingo and Rosetta Stone to name a few. Learning how to introduce yourself to your new neighbours, and how to interact with people in restaurants and retail will make your life a lot easier.

The more you make an effort to adapt and fit into your new environment, the more you'll find people more welcoming to you. Research cultural traditions such as eye contact, handshakes, hugging and gender-specific greetings. Trying to impose your home country's culture norms on your new community is generally counter-productive, and can be viewed as insulting.

Beyond the preparation ideas listed above, here is a comprehensive checklist of activities you should address to put you on a path to expat success.

XE Emigration Checklist

XE Expat Emigration Checklist

Are there items we've missed on our emigration checklist, or topics you'd like us to dive deeper into? Connect with us on Twitter, LinkedIn and/or Facebook, and @ us about it! We're always looking for inspiring ways to help people live their best international lives, or grow their business into international markets.