I have spent a fair amount of time waxing lyrical to future or potential expats about what they really, really (no, seriously) need to do before, or even after, they move countries. Things to be thought of and deeply considered before making the jump, or good ways for acclimating one’s self post-move. You can even see a few of my contributions to a campaign over at the HiFX expat resources page regarding this very thing, if you’re so interested. This campaign is actually what got me thinking about the things that I didn’t expect before moving, that now have (or have had) a lasting effect on my life. Things that you never see coming, and that no one else seems to talk about.
Part of this comes from having been what I like to call a “serial expat”-a person who lived the expat life in different countries here and there for extended periods of time, but always with the intent to end up back at home, some day, eventually. But then I married an Englishman, and suddenly my adventures in expatdom became my permanent everyday life.
Now I toe the line of an American in England, and while it’s a lot easier than it was when I first hopped off the proverbial boat, there are some issues I have encountered that never even crossed my mind! Here are just a few of those problems – write them down, and learn from my mistakes!
1) Keep your driver’s license up to date
This makes everything so much easier when renting cars when you travel or return home. In most American states you can actually update your license up to six months before your birthday (something I didn’t know until it was already too late!). You also have 6 months after your birthday. So plan ahead and do this! Renewing from abroad is almost impossible, unless you’re military or can prove that you are still a resident in your home state who is only living abroad temporarily.
2) Bank Account Shenanigans…
I have both an American and a UK bank account. Having the American one makes trips back to the USA a ton easier for me, and sadly, I also have to keep paying my US federal student loans (the Feds still don’t have a way to do that from an overseas account, believe it or not). The downside here is that, at least with my bank, you get charged for not using your account a certain minimum amount of times per month. So if you only use it to pay your student loans – like me – you get charged an extra few pounds every single month. It’s not cool, but as of yet, there isn’t a way around this.
3) You’re the only one who knows where you are!
No one is going to remember the timezone for your new homeland. No one. Not your Mom and Dad, not your friends… not a soul. No matter how many times you tell them. You’ll think that they will, but they won’t. So get used to thinking in multiple time zones for the foreseeable future. Sorry!
4) Every culture’s a different culture.
I have lived in several countries where I was very obviously different – the Marshall Islands, South Korea, and even France for a brief summer. In all of these places, I knew I stood out. Sometimes more than others. But when planning for my life in England, I never really thought about how different the culture would be. But it’s so different, mind-bogglingly so sometimes. The greetings, the food, the seasons. My advice is to make the effort to really recognize that everywhere is different than where you’re from, even if you speak the same language. Roll with it, and do your best to adapt while staying authentic to the parts of your own culture that mean something to you.