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Moving Abroad: 11 Things to Pack and Prepare for
By Brycie Gold | On 15 Jan, 2014
Deciding to move abroad for a year or longer is no easy task. However, deciding what to pack and how to get ready for that move can be especially hard.
When I made the decision to move to China, I didn’t give myself a lot of time to mentally process everything. I wanted to be out of my parents’ home and I wanted to begin my adventure straight away. So, I only gave myself two weeks to prepare, which wasn’t a lot of time.
In hindsight, I would advise taking a bit more time to plan your move abroad. But now that I’ve done it, I can give you a head start by providing this list of things to consider before packing your suitcase:
1. Do you need a visa?
A lot of countries allow you to get a tourist visa on arrival with just your passport, but there aren’t many countries that will allow foreigners to live and work in the country without a visa of some sort, so it’s a good idea to learn the rules and do your research on visas in advance. You can also get a lot of information you need from Facebook groups for travelers or ESL forums like ESLCafe.com.
The best people to ask for visa advice are the ones who have done it themselves. If you’re planning to enter the country on a tourist visa and just see if you can get work while you’re there, get on the forums and ask people working in the country how easy this is. This will give you an idea of how much time you need to buy before you get a job.
If you’ve secured a job in advance, ask currently employed teachers at your school what the process is like or make sure your employer explains the process to you. China, for instance, requires you to get a travel visa just to enter the country and it’s not cheap for Americans. Regardless of whether you want to go for one day or one month, it’s the same cost. If you want to work in China, you’ll need to arrive with a single-entry work visa and register with the public security bureau for a residence permit. Not knowing the process can cause errors that could lead to deportation or blacklisting.
But the most important mistake to avoid is working for an illegitimate establishment. Talk to the people working there already before accepting a job. Are they there legally? Is there anything sketchy about their work visa situation? China is especially notorious for counterfeiting documents. Visa costs and processes can also help you determine if you’d actually like to commit to moving to the country. Some things are timely and expensive and you should know what you’re getting yourself into beforehand. Do the research!
2. Do you need shots or immunizations?
Check with your local travel clinic about recommended inoculations for your preferred destination. Some shots are actually required to enter a country. But even if they’re not required, find out what is recommended for the country you’re going to and get them — a few extra bucks before you depart may decrease your chances of getting sick after you arrive. Also, consider getting traveler’s health insurance. Some countries require you to have it to enter.
Living in a foreign country can have its downsides when foreign bacteria enters your system. Getting sick is not fun anywhere, but it’s especially not fun when the doctors don’t speak your language. Finding out where the English-speaking doctors and expat medical centers are beforehand will not only help you feel more at ease, but if and when you need help, they can be lifesavers.
Before I moved to China, I went to a clinic that was able to give me an extensive list of U.S. approved clinics in China. I have gotten sick more times than I would have liked living abroad and being able to explain to a doctor in English what my symptoms are and have them give an explanation and response in English is just an incredibly comforting luxury.
I’ve stayed in Chinese hospitals before where none of the doctors speak English and it is such an irritating, frustrating and overwhelming experience. Hospitals operate differently in every country, and things are so foreign in China. The last thing you want when you’re sick is to be in an uncomfortable and unfamiliar environment.
3. What do you know about your soon-to-be-new home?
Read up on your new city and country and learn about the history. Immerse yourself via films and literature in the culture. This will help you know what to expect and ease the potential culture shock. It may also help you avoid doing something unintentionally insulting. At the bare minimum, get a guidebook to your country. I chose Lonely Planet and National Geographic. I also bought several books on Chinese culture, and a few Chinese phrasebooks.
4. What clothes should you bring?
Deciding what clothes to bring should be based upon what you need for work, as well as with what best suits the weather. Ask currently employed teachers about weather conditions and any school dress codes, because they’ll hopefully be able to answer honestly and accurately. Don’t always trust what you read online, because some countries don’t give honest reports. For instance, China lies about how hot it really is in Fuzhou.
My own personal suitcase was packed with the following when I went to China: one week’s worth of professional work outfits (2 pairs of trousers, 2 skirts, 4 blouses, and 3 dresses), 2 jackets (1 light and 1 heavy), 5 sweaters, workout clothes, a bathing suit, 3 casual travel outfits, and 3 going-out fancy outfits.
I also packed things like a year’s supply of contact lenses and medicine. It’s important to have everything you need. In some countries it may be easy to just buy toiletries upon arrival, but in others you might want to bring your own. You can get most medications you need in any country, but if you have certain preferred or specialized medication, you may want to buy a large supply of it to be safe. For example, I have horrible insomnia and am prescribed Ambien, which is illegal in China and impossible to get. So are things like ADHD medications. Things like this, which are important for your own health, are definitely things you should get sorted before arriving. One of my coworkers has TMZ and the medication she needs to deal with the day-to-day pain isn’t available in China. Bring the things you cannot survive without.
5. Make scanned copies of important documents!
With crimes and lost baggage in mind, email yourself and a trusted parent, guardian or friend scanned copies of your passport photo page and visas and all your credit and debit cards with hotline numbers to call in case of theft. If you ever lose a document, having a scanned copy along with photocopies will be of big help, especially if you need to cancel stolen cards or renew an ID.
6. Any on-going bills?
Talk with your phone provider, your cable company, internet service, and other companies that may try to bill you while you’re away. Cancel or suspend any ongoing accounts you don’t need or want to keep open. As for cars or houses: sell them, rent them out or have a friend watch over things for you. For bills you don’t want to cancel, find out how you can pay them while abroad. Most companies offer and prefer online payment options these days. Make sure you also let your bank know where you’re going to be so you can use your cards while there.
7. Save your pennies!
You should arrive in your destination with at least the equivalent of your first month’s wage. If you can’t manage to live off of that for the first month you’re there, then you’re likely going to need to re-assess your expenditures, because otherwise you’ll be in negative amounts soon. You need to learn to live comfortably off of that wage anyway, so I recommend doing that as a minimum safety amount. Do not go to a country with $0 to your name.
8. Useful electronics to consider.
Smartphones, tablets and laptops are great resources. Arriving in your new country with a GSM unlocked smartphone (so you can buy a sim card and data package on arrival), or at the very least something that allows you to pick up WiFi is definitely my recommendation. That way, if there’s an issue when you arrive, you can make calls via Skype to contact whoever you need. Smartphones are also great for keeping in touch with friends and family back home, along with loads of language learning apps that help you study on the go.
9. Make a contact list.
Create a list of important numbers and emails. Definitely have at least one person to contact in the place you’re headed towards. For me, I had an email and number for the Dean of Studies at my school. Other numbers to consider are your country’s embassy’s emergency hotline number and local emergency numbers (police station, fire station, poison control, etc.). Hopefully you won’t need the emergency numbers, but it pays to have them just in case.
10. Say goodbye to friends and family (and stay in touch).
Make sure you tell at least one person that you’re leaving the country for X amount of time. Let someone know where you’ll be staying and working. If you really don’t have someone to tell, you should contact your embassy and register with them so they know where you are and what you’re doing. Throw yourself a going-away party. Create a blog to update friends and family on all your adventures, or monthly email blasts. Whatever you see fit. It’s easy to feel homesick while living abroad, and keeping in touch with people back home has definitely helped ease the homesickness for me.
11. Remember teaching is more than a job – it’s part of the adventure.
Many people choose to teach abroad as a way to earn money to travel, however I have found the teaching component to be an adventure all its own. Although I do travel, I spend most of my time working. Teaching is not only incredibly rewarding, it is also a great opportunity for a cultural exchange. I have learned so much about China from my teaching assistants and students.
Living abroad is definitely not easy, and it’s a day-by-day kind of thing. Some days are going to be more challenging than others, but regardless if you’re miserable or on cloud nine, it will be a life altering, unforgettable experience. I have learned a lot about China, but I’ve also learned a lot about myself. I have learned about my tolerance levels and have pushed myself well out of my comfort zone. I feel as though I can handle anything that comes my way now.
Staying in touch with family and friends and blogging about my adventures and mishaps definitely help to keep me grounded. Even after a terrible day, I can reflect upon it at the end of the day and accept it as part of the whole learning experience of life abroad and life in general. Your adventure is what you make of it. Whenever you hit a rough patch, take a breath and keep things in perspective. Don’t let one thing destroy your whole experience. Cherish all the wonderful little moments. Those are the ones that can make the most lasting impact. Traveling is great, but remember: it’s always the people you meet that can really make or break a place.
And once you have prepared yourself for those 11 things and you’ve called a taxi or your friend or family member to take you to the airport, last, but not least, make sure you know where you’re going when you arrive and how you’ll be getting there. Have any and all addresses written down, and get ready to begin your adventure!
Brycie did her CELTA at Teaching House New York, looking for an adventure abroad. Just two weeks after completing the course, she flew to Fuzhou, Fujian, China to teach ESL to children at York English, where she has been teaching ever since. Not only did she discover a passion for teaching and travel, but she also found her future husband.
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