Moving Abroad Alone: How to Survive and Thrive in a New Country
Thinking about packing up and moving to a foreign country? We don’t blame you!
For many of us, the prospect of moving overseas is hard to resist.
With new culture, food and language at every turn, immersing yourself in a new country can turn each day into a brand new adventure.
But if you’re moving abroad alone, the challenge can seem a little daunting at first. With no friends or family by your side, the idea of being by yourself in a whole new environment might seem scary.
However, if you have the right mindset and a few handy tools, it can be one of the most exciting and enriching experiences you’ll ever have.
We’ve compiled a few tips to help you embrace your new life and make moving abroad alone the best thing you’ll ever do.
Moving Abroad Alone: How to Survive and Thrive in a New Country
Prepare Before Moving Abroad
1. Learn the language
Still have a few months before you board your flight? The first thing on your moving abroad checklist should be to learn the language.
By becoming conversational, you’ll be able to talk with the locals and handle everything from ordering lunch to opening a new bank account.
Using FluentU is a fun way to learn a new language. FluentU takes real-world videos—like TV shows, movie trailers, news broadcasts and inspiring talks—and turns them into language learning experiences.
Whether you’re staying in France or backpacking around Asia, you can access all FluentU’s languages with just one account. Learn with music videos, audio recordings and flashcards. You’ll be impressing locals before you know it! Try FluentU for free for 15 days.
But just in case you find yourself in a situation where you can’t communicate, having a translation app already downloaded can be a lifesaver.
2. Connect with expat communities
Sure, you can read travel blogs to learn about your new country. But joining an online community before you head out provides you with insights travel blogs lack.
A quick search on Facebook will usually give you plenty of groups of join. You’ll likely see posts about common expat problems that aren’t mentioned elsewhere, as well as ways to get around them.
For example, in France, you’ll need a bank account before you get an apartment. But you’ll need an apartment before you can get a bank account. Go figure.
Luckily, there are tons of savvy expats who’ve faced the same issues and can help you find a solution. You might also find a few virtual friends to hang out with once you’ve settled in your new home.
3. Know where your money’s coming from
You’ll just find a job when you get there, right? Well, probably not. At least not immediately.
To avoid the stress of a dwindling bank balance while living abroad, it’s best to sort your financial situation ahead of time.
You’ll either need to find a job before you land or have a few months’ worth of savings to see you through. Expat forums are a great way to get an idea of how much things cost so you can make a budget.
4. Research your new neighborhood
Doing a bit of research can make moving abroad much easier and help you pick a place that’s right for you.
If you’re looking to make friends and see the local nightlife, there’s nothing worse than ending up on that quiet family neighborhood on the edge of town. Or if you like the countryside, you don’t want to be stuck in a crowded apartment building downtown.
5. Pack a manageable amount
Especially if you’re going to Europe. There are some seriously high stairways in those old buildings. And there’s almost never an elevator.
If you can’t carry your bag out to an airport taxi, how are you going to haul it up four flights of stairs?
Don’t forget, unless you’re going somewhere remote, you skip packing things like shampoo and pick them up at a store when you arrive.
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
6. Make finding new friends a priority
Once you get settled, you’ll need to find a new tribe to hang out with. It’s also great to find new friends going through the same thing you are.
Try looking for meetups that match your interests. In most big cities, you’ll find expat events being hosted almost every day.
7. Embrace being alone
While it’s important to find new friends, now’s also the time to enjoy your new independence. Visiting a gallery, going to the movies or taking a walk in the park are all great things you can do alone without feeling awkward.
Nervous about eating out on your own? Take a book, or be brave and chat with the bartender.
8. Practice speaking daily
Speaking a new language can be scary, but it’s by far the quickest way to fluency. That’s why it’s important to use your new lingo every single day.
Try speaking to people in bars or searching for a language swap partner online or in person. If you can’t find a partner or are a little too shy, don’t worry! There are plenty of other techniques you can start out with.
Embrace the New Culture
9. Try new things
You didn’t move abroad to do the same old stuff, right? Now’s your chance to dive headfirst into the culture you’ve probably been obsessing about for months.
Find things to do! Look out for flyers for local festivals and cultural events. Or do a quick search online.
If new flavors are your thing, head down to the market to check out the produce. Vendors can often give you great tips on how to prepare the food and make simple, traditional dishes.
10. Adapt to local customs
Stick to your old ways, and you’re bound to encounter some bewildered locals. Take signals from the people around you to get to grips with local customs.
It might be haggling, queuing or simply saying hello. From bowing in Japan to la bise (the kiss) in France, what might feel strange at first will be second nature in a few months.
11. Stay with the natives
When looking for accommodation, try to avoid sticking with expats. Rooming with natives is the best way to improve your language skills and make great friends who can teach you all about the new culture.
Try popular community boards and accommodation sites. Most countries have at least one popular accommodation site, so ask around to find the best one.
Anticipate a Few Bumps Along the Way
12. Prepare for homesickness
While it can often feel like an adventure, moving abroad alone can sometimes bring inevitable feelings of homesickness.
Make sure to schedule regular video calls with friends and family, and ask them to send occasional care packages with your favorite foods and goodies from back home.
You might not have access to all your usual websites in a new country. So download a virtual private network (VPN) to connect to any site you want.
Using a VPN such as HideMyAss! can help you unwind with TV shows in your native language and keep you connected to your home country. Check out HideMyAss! here.
13. Have a support network in place
This is where your new expat friends from Meetup come in handy. If you need to vent about your new home, which happens to the best of us, these guys will know exactly where you’re coming from.
Many communities have messenger groups that’ll connect you with people in the same boat.
14. Expect the unexpected
No matter how much you prepare, the unexpected will happen!
You might get lost. You might face some surprise upfront costs. You might think you’re going for a drink and end up at an all-night rave. Instead of letting it stress you out, embrace it.
These experiences turn into stories you’ll be telling around the dinner table back home. And they’re usually hilarious in hindsight!
15. Learn from your mistakes
You can’t expect to get it right all the time.
Especially in the early days, you will make some language mistakes. And yes, they can be embarrassing! Don’t let it get you down. Believe us, everyone that’s learned a second language has been there.
After a few months, that tricky grammar and complex vocabulary will be rolling off the tongue. Just brush it off, move on and try not to make the same mistake next time!
With a bit of preparation and an open mind, you can stop feeling anxious and see every day as an adventure when you’re moving abroad alone.
And, if your language skills are on point, there’s no reason you can’t make tons of new friends along the way. Good luck!
And One More Thing…
If you’re excited to move abroad and meet new people, you’ll love using FluentU. FluentU makes it possible to learn languages from music videos, commercials, news and inspiring talks.
With FluentU, you learn real languages—the same way that natives speak them. FluentU has a wide variety of videos like movie trailers, funny commercials and web series, as you can see here:
FluentU has interactive captions that let you tap on any word to see an image, definition, audio and useful examples. Now native language content is within reach with interactive transcripts.
Didn’t catch something? Go back and listen again. Missed a word? Hover your mouse over the subtitles to instantly view definitions.
You can learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s “quiz mode.” Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
And FluentU always keeps track of vocabulary that you’re learning. It uses that vocab to give you a 100% personalized experience by recommending videos and examples.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store or from the Google Play store.
Emma Brooke is a travel writer and serial expat currently living in Paris.