About Being an Expat

Moving to a new country alone

Making the decision to move abroad on your own is a big step. It’s the perfect opportunity to go off and explore the world, boost your self-confidence, and make new friends. But it can also seem intimidating and scary at the same time. Don’t be put off by the difficulties; moving to a new country alone could be the best decision of your life.

Moving to a new country alone

By Carol Moore

Updated 29-2-2024

There are several important steps you can follow to prepare yourself for moving to a new country alone. We look at some invaluable pointers and tips for planning your move, embracing the new culture and enjoying your new life abroad.

Prepare yourself before moving

Whether you’ve visited the country previously, or just seen it on TV, you’ve fallen in love with the idea of living there. Before you pack up your luggage, it’s a good idea to take the time to properly research your options before moving abroad.

Research the country thoroughly

If you are thinking of moving abroad alone, make sure you thoroughly research the new country. This doesn’t just mean how much a cup of coffee will cost, but also the health and safety aspects. Thanks to the Internet, there is a wealth of resources available online that you can check, starting with Expatica – that’s what we do! Our country sites are ripe with invaluable information to help you before and after your move. Numbeo also provides a good idea of what you should expect the cost of living to be. Women emigrating alone should also research the general safety level and gender equality in said country.

Be ruthless with your finances

You’ll need to get a good grip on your personal finances when you are looking at moving to a new country alone. As you don’t have the luxury of having a partner’s second income to fall back on, it’s imperative that you have enough money to support yourself. Perhaps you’ve already secured a job abroad or are happy to take the plunge with the backup of some savings. Either way, you need to establish how much money you will need to pay your rent, bills, and other costs, to enjoy a good standard of living. Also bear in mind the expatriate tax implications in your home country as well as those in your host country.

Get a job upfront or be prepared to support yourself indefinitely

Whether you’ve already got your dream job or have decided to go it alone on the career front, you should look carefully at your employment options. Some expats are invited to live in a different country for a new job, which takes away the worry of independently looking for a new job. But if you have decided to wait till you get there and find a job yourself, you should familiarize yourself with job opportunities in your new country. Take the time to research job portals and recruitment agencies to see if your skills and experience match up to the job opportunities out there.

Research local housing and good neighborhoods

It’s an all too romantic notion to imagine that you’ll be living smack bang in the middle of your new city. Nevertheless, the financial reality can be altogether different when you are moving to a new country alone. Have a good look at real estate agents and rental agencies to see what you can realistically afford and where the best areas might be for you to live. It’s wise to avoid areas far away from where local businesses and bars and restaurants would be; living near only office buildings will leave you feeling ostracized. You’ll find expert advice, tips and ideas for where might suit you best on many forums and portals on the internet. You may also be considering whether to rent or buy, depending on your duration of stay and should do your math carefully beforehand.

Budget your relocation costs

Your own level of costs depends on whether your adventurous next step is being facilitated by a company or if you’re self-financing your move. If this is a career step, relocation costs are often taken care of by your employer. Ensure that you understand the terms of what’s included in your move. If you’re covering the costs yourself, research different relocation companies to get an idea of how much stuff you can bring. It’s also wise to make a checklist of what the absolute necessities will be and what you can easily buy there instead.

Your checklist upon arrival

Once your plane touches down and you’re over the giddy excitement of arriving at your new home, your first few days are key to starting your new life smoothly. Understanding the rules and bureaucracies upfront can take away a lot of anxiety and unexpected integration issues.

Tackle the administration

When you first arrive at your new digs, try and get through the mandatory and important tasks first. Depending on what country you are moving to, you’ll need to register with the authorities or local government upon arrival. Make sure you have all your paperwork in order beforehand and have photocopies of your documents. You also might need to arrange your ID/tax number as this may be important to set up your official identity in your new country.

Man at passport control

Perhaps some essentials have already been taken care of by your employer, but things like opening a bank account, getting the right insurances, buying a new SIM card, and locating the closest ATM are high priority. If you find physically shopping around for these to be too time-consuming, do as much research as you can online.

Find your way around

Since you moved to a new country alone, you can afford to be a little adventurous; learn to ride a bicycle or figure out how to get around with the local transport. Getting lost in your new city is one of the best ways to familiarize yourself with your surroundings; just don’t put yourself in unnecessary danger by traveling late at night or to areas that are strictly off-limits. Be curious and don’t worry if you have trouble understanding the street signs or the ticket machines for the metro; this is all part of the process of embracing your new life abroad. Apps like Google Maps will become your best friend while navigating your new home. Lastly, do a trial run to your new workplace. This will save any embarrassment on your first day should there be any unexpected diversions or complications on the way.

Locate a grocery store or market

Food and drink in your new country is likely to be different from where you came from. That means this is the perfect time to branch out and experiment! Since you’re on your own, you can afford to be both selfish and adventurous in the choices you make. You’ll get a sense of achievement when you fill your new fridge with local delicacies. Check out the opening times of stores, too; it may come as shock if you discover that local stores are closed on Sundays or during prayer times if that’s not what you’re used to. If perchance you happen across a café on your way home from the supermarket, then this is the perfect opportunity to pop in and have a coffee. You’ll familiarize yourself with the locals and may even end up making new friends!

Embrace the new culture and get out of your comfort zone

Make finding friends a priority

Making friends is a major concern for people moving to a new country alone. Once you’ve settled into your new home and started your new job, you’ll want to meet new people and expand your social circle. Explore the local papers or lifestyle websites to get an idea of the events, restaurants, cafés, bars, and expat meetups happening in your new city. You’ll usually find a good variety of local and expat meetup groups online that offer a wide selection of activities. Keep an open mind and try as many of these as possible.

Connect with the locals as well as expats

It’s easy to gravitate towards your fellow countrymen and women when you have moved to a different country. There’s a sense of comfort in the familiarity of talking with people who speak your language and understand your culture. They’ll also be able to offer you a shoulder to cry on and have similar stories and experiences of expat life that you will identify with.

Friends drinking beer

Nevertheless, since you have made the move abroad on your own, it’s highly recommendable to make friends with the local residents. This will not only help you learn the local language but also fast-track your integration process and understanding of your new country’s culture.

Learn the local language (and practice daily)

Moving to a new country alone is the perfect opportunity to learn a new language. It will push your boundaries of grappling with something you might not have experienced since school. But it will also catapult your level of integration to new heights. Even if it seems difficult, practicing daily is high on the list for settling into your new country quickly and smoothly. If your budget allows, take private lessons with a professional tutor. But if you’re on a tight budget, you can make good use of the many free foreign language apps that are available online.

Adapt to local traditions and customs

You’ll have a lack of knowledge about this when you first move; expect to feel like an outsider at first. Remain open and show an interest in learning about your new country’s culture. Read up on public holidays in your new country and find out how they represent the cultural landscape there. Some of them are a great excuse for a party, so you can get ahead of the game and suggest a social get-together! Word of advice: try to be open-minded about the local culture if you’re given an unfamiliar gift or greeting. A polite smile and nod will go a long way to avoid offending people.

Anticipate a few bumps along the way

Allow time to settle in and adjust

Moving overseas on your own is a big step. It’s likely something you have thought long and hard about but realize that now you’re there, things operate differently in another country. That said, it takes time to readjust, settle in, and really feel at home in your new country. Be patient with fitting in, understanding the new culture, and trying to feel like one of the locals. Keeping a diary is a good way to document your thoughts and feelings and can be funny to look back on after a certain period of time. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, so neither will your new expat life.

Embrace being alone

You’ve decided to move to a new country alone and may sometimes wonder if you have made the right choice. Now is the time to embrace being alone and investigate how to invent your new life.

Woman walking in the city

Take full advantage of being out of your comfort zone; channel your energy into taking up new hobbies and trying new things. Going for a walk in the park, watching a movie, or visiting an art gallery are all perfectly acceptable things to do alone. If you push yourself a little, you’ll be surprised about what you can achieve and how much stronger, self-confident, and independent you’ll become.

Prepare for homesickness

Your life in a new country will probably turn out very different to what you originally envisaged. There will be many bumps and scrapes along the way that will make you feel extremely homesick. Now that the rose-tinted glasses have been taken off, it’s a good idea to practice kindness and patience with yourself. It’s healthy to connect with fellow expats and discuss together, as you’ll find each person will have gone through similar experiences and talking about it really helps. Bring one or two favorite items with you from home and ask family or friends back home to send you a care package from time to time. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional if you feel like things are just too much.

Learn from mistakes

However many mistakes you think you’ll make – double that. The unexpected can and will happen and is all part of the process of moving to a new country alone. Expect to make many mistakes in your new life and use this experience as part of the steep learning curve of living abroad on your own. Some experiences will turn out to be positive and some painfully negative, but remember this is all part of the process and will make for great stories to tell your friends back home. Write some of them on a sticky note and put it on your fridge; in time, you’ll eventually look back on them and chuckle.

Keep friends back home a priority

When you’re caught up in the whirlwind of your new life overseas, it can be easy to forget about and keep contact with your friends and family back home. Staying in touch with friends and family from your home country will keep you balanced; it can also help you feel grounded in your new expat life. With all the technological advances just sitting on your mobile phone, it’s easy to use apps such as FaceTime or Skype to catch up with your pals back home. Make a date in your agendas and share stories on the good, the bad, and the ugly of your new life abroad. It can also help ease your homesickness if you hear about the humdrum, simple aspects of life back in your home country.