My finances, my projects, my life
November 26, 2020

Five tips for a successful expatriate experience

  Compiled by myLIFE team me&myFAMILY September 15, 2020 18

It’s official. Max just found out that he is being transferred abroad. The whole family is moving to Singapore. His wife Sophie knew that this might happen, but she wasn’t really ready to leave her job, her friends and start a new life. Will she find a new job? Make new friends? Get used to this new environment? Here are a few ideas to help her acclimate to her new life as an expat.

The good news is that most of the paperwork and administrative formalities for entering the country will be taken care of by Max’s company. Luckily for Sophie, she won’t have to register at the consulate, look for housing, worry about health coverage or find a school for their son. Once she gets there, however, she feels a little disoriented. Max started his new job right away and he’s very busy. She is all alone, trying to plan out her days. How can she deal with all of these changes? Here are five ways she can transform her forced expatriation into a fulfilling life experience.

1. Take stock of your career

It is often the case for expat couples that one is assigned to a new job abroad, and the other follows. The first uproots their life for a positive career change and better pay, while the second has to leave their job, usually without professional support. Even though they knew that expatriation was a possibility, being the follower can quickly become frustrating.

But, upon reflection, this can be an opportunity for Sophie to take stock of her career. Does she want to find a job similar to the one she left? Will she start her own company? She can also sign up for a training programme and learn new skills. Or she can decide to put her career on hold for a while and spend more time with her son.

Whatever choice she makes, Sophie needs to take advantage of this opportunity to enrich her experience. Her decision will depend on the couple’s financial situation, her new country’s administrative regulations (getting a work permit is difficult in some places), the job market, training programmes available on site and entrepreneurship opportunities in her adopted country.

What’s important is that Sophie takes stock of her goals and finds a new balance between her personal and professional life.

→ If she wants to find a new job, she can use support systems for finding a job abroad or get information from the consulate, her new country’s Chamber of Commerce, online or her husband’s company, which may have a support programme for spouses.

Learning your new country’s language is essential for integration and understanding local customs.

2. Learn a new language

Learning your new country’s language is essential for integration and understanding local customs. In Singapore, English and Mandarin are the most commonly used languages. A great opportunity for Sophie to fill any gaps in her knowledge of the language of Shakespeare and learn some basics in Chinese. She’s up to the challenge!

Choosing language classes with a teacher is a first option. Sophie can also join foreign language conversation groups and talk with native speakers in a relaxed environment. She can use mobile applications and listen to local TV to supplement her learning.

Spending time with people who speak the language will help her get used to intonations, improve her vocabulary and meet new people, expanding her network!

→ To find conversation groups, Sophie can ask schools and universities in her neighbourhood or town or go through an expat network or platforms like Meetup that organise meetings based on common interests.

3. Meet new people

Her husband Max may have made friends with his colleagues in the first few weeks, but Sophie is having a hard time meeting new people. She is shy by nature and doesn’t feel comfortable approaching her neighbours, especially since she doesn’t think her English is good enough for real conversations yet. To help her socialise, especially if she doesn’t work, it would be a good idea for Sophie to get involved in an activity so she isn’t stuck at home.

She can volunteer, join an association or community of expats, or just sign up for a gym. She will naturally make connections with the people around her, which will help her to better understand the culture of her adopted country. A great way to make integration easier!

→ There are online portals for volunteering and networks for getting in touch with expats around the world, like the Internations network, for example.

An expat needs to keep an open mind and stay inquisitive and tolerant!

4. Explore your new environment

Sophie should explore her new environment and get to know her surroundings. There is plenty to discover in Singapore! She can take advantage of everything the island has to offer: visiting monuments, museums, parks, markets and temples, sampling the local cuisine and exploring historical sites in and around the city. An expat needs to keep an open mind and stay inquisitive and tolerant! This is a great way to better understand your new country and its culture.

→ Be careful with safety in some countries. Singapore is one of the safest cities in the world, but this is not the case with all destinations. Before heading out on your adventure, you should verify the country’s safety level.

It’s normal to go through different phases as an expat. The excitement of being in a new place can be followed by periods of doubt or discouragement.

5. Be patient!

Moving to a new country, getting settled and integrating into a new culture that may be very different from your own can be difficult, after all. Getting used to a new way of life, different foods, different hygiene… it’s a long-term project. Give yourself time to acclimate.

It’s normal to go through different phases as an expat. The excitement of being in a new place can be followed by periods of doubt or discouragement. This is what we call culture shock. It happened to Sophie. After the first few exciting days, she felt lost. She missed her family, her friends, even her house. Everything seemed hard and she felt frustrated in this new country, so far from home.

Her reaction is normal. Researchers have even identified four distinct phases of this phenomenon:

  • the honeymoon phase: the expat will be amazed by their new surroundings
  • the crisis/shock phase: the cultural differences make them feel anxious and they may even reject their adopted country
  • the adaptation phase: the expat accepts the changes and adapts to them
  • the maturity phase: the expat feels more and more comfortable in their new environment and has adapted to local culture.

Understanding these steps will help Sophie put her experience into perspective and make it through difficult periods. She needs to be patient and take this situation as an opportunity of which she should take full advantage. A woman of conviction, Sophie knows that perseverance is the key to success!

After a few months, Sophie may feel more comfortable as an expat wife, especially if she immerses herself in local customs and gets to know her neighbours. As she builds a new daily routine, she may even learn to love her new life!

* The J.S. Black and Mark Mendenhall U-curve of adjustment.