What Does the Expat Need to Know Before Moving Abroad?

In June 2013, I sold my house and cars, quit my job, and moved to a small town in the highlands of Costa Rica with my husband and 2 children.  As exciting and glamorous as it sounds, I also found the process scary, unnerving, and exhausting.  Below are some pearls the expat should know to best prepare for moving abroad.

1)    Make a friend.  After you get your financial /home/work situation squared away, you need to identify a contact person in your home country.  In fact, I suggest you make two new friends before you move: an expat from your home country (if possible!) as well as a local who has lived in your new town for at least a few years.  Both contacts will be very important resources of information, but they will have different areas of expertise.  For example, your expat contact will be able to tell you what you need to do regarding visa runs while your local contact may not, since they don’t have to do visa runs.  Your local contact will be able to give you more practical information regarding day to day living.  If your move is a result of a job transfer, your company should be able to put you in touch with someone who can be your resource.

2)    Familiarize yourself with culture shock.  You think you won’t experience it, but you will.  I was fortunate that we moved to a country where I speak the language, which helps ease the hostility or crisis phase.  But the culture is different enough, that I sometimes do feel twinges of culture shock.  The more familiar you are with culture shock, its signs, symptoms, and how to deal with it, you will be more prepared when it strikes.

3)    Make a secure plan to find housing.  Most countries do not have an MLS system the way the USA does.  Homes for sell or rent are found through word of mouth.  Ideally, your company, school, or one of your local contacts will help you find a house. Before you set foot on a plane have an appointment ready with whoever is going to help you find housing.  Don’t rent or buy a house until you get there.  Pictures are not reliable!  I felt completely vulnerable knowing I was moving to another country and did not have housing waiting for me.  The wait was worth the extra money spent on a hotel for a week,  and we are very happy with the home we found.

This is the view of the house as you drive up to it.

This is the view of the house as you drive up to it.

The house has an open feel and lots of windows. I feel I am outside even when I am indoors.

The house has an open feel and lots of windows. I feel I am outside even when I am indoors.

4)   Stay connected with friends and family in your country of origin.   Before you move, make sure you establish an easy, inexpensive way to communicate with your friends and family back home, such as FaceTime, Skype, or Magic Jack.  This is especially important if you have older parents, like mine, who are not comfortable with technology.  Set up their Skype account and have a trial Skype session before you leave.  Invest in a premium Skype account where you can do multiple video chats for a small fee.  This has been such a wonderful tool for us.

5)   Plan to play!  Pack a deck of cards, dominos, and other unplugged games to play.  Games and toys may not be readily available in your new country or may be very expensive.  It is very easy to fall into the same rut of depending on electronics if you move to a country where electricity and internet are available.  Make sure you take some activities that you can share with your family and new friends that don’t involve either.  Also, electricity and internet are not always reliable in other countries, so there are times where you will need to find alternate forms of entertainment whether you want to or not.

6)  Learn about your new country.  As any new situation, you will find it more pleasant and less jarring if you are well informed beforehand.  We read a few books about living in Costa Rica prior to moving here.  I am so glad that I did.  I did not freak out when I realized that meeting times were a suggestion and that punctuality is not the strongest Tico quality.  The more you learn about your destination country, the easier you will find to adapt to the new culture.

7)  Arm yourself with patience and a good sense of humor.  Life will be very different when you arrive at your new destination.   Take a deep breath and say “Pura Vida”.

Pura Vida!

About Noemi Gamel

Noemi Gamel is a physician who prefers writing diverse children's fantasy stories instead of medical charts. She is a geeky nomad, too.
This entry was posted in A Question Worth Answering, Becoming an Expat, Redesigning Your Life and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to What Does the Expat Need to Know Before Moving Abroad?

  1. Amy R says:

    Number 4 has to be one of the most important things to remember. Sometimes when I miss my family a lot I tend to avoid getting in touch with them, but obviously that only makes me feel worse. Keeping up regular contact is so helpful to your well being, especially when you’re new to expat life.

    • Noemi Gamel says:


      For sure! Even though I see my parents a lot less now than when we used to live a 4 hour drive away, I actually communicate with them more regularly. Technology has made it easy and cheap!


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