Oftentimes, expats are preoccupied with business meetings, administrational issues and spending time with their family and expat friends. It is not always easy to set some time aside to settle in your neighborhood and really arrive in your host country.
Some of you may be in it for a few months or a year only. Others, however, may indeed have planned to spend many years abroad or maybe even the rest of their lives. If that is the case, then getting ready for an indefinite stay abroad is especially important.
During the first weeks in your new home, you will probably not have much time to explore your new environment. You will be too busy making yourself at home in your new apartment and starting your new job. But, at some point, you will have time for a breather, and you’ll realize that you actually do not know your own neighborhood that well.
When Luciana (28) from Porto had finally settled into her new life in Toronto, she took some time to wander around her neighborhood without going anywhere in particular. “I just strolled through Forest Hill and came across some tiny shops I’d always walked right past before,” she says.
On her walks she also came across what later became her favorite coffee shop. When she comes home from her work as a computer graphic artist, she enjoys spending her evenings there. “They make the best organic spiced latte,” she says with a big smile and then she adds “If you are open to new things and pay close attention, you’ll feel at home in no time.”
To know the culture of your host country means to immerse yourself in it. No matter what corner of the earth you end up in, there will be a lot to discover about the history, social customs, national holidays, festivities and traditions of your host country.
Some of your non-expat friends may even invite you to a festival or a holiday dinner. This depends on how formal or close personal relationships are in your host culture. It is also a perfect opportunity, of course, to find out how people celebrate in your host country. The casual and relaxed atmosphere of a party among friends will help you to break down the barriers between different nationalities.
Expats often feel like they are just “passing through”. Those who lead a busy expat life, working a few months here and half a year there, may find it particularly hard to really “arrive” anywhere and make themselves at home.
Majed (36) moved from Dubai to Berlin to be with his Dutch girlfriend Mareike, another expat living in Germany. In Berlin, he felt like he had finally found a place where he wanted to spend more than just six or twelve months.
So he and Mareike started to plan their life together. Majed found full-time employment as a systems analyst with a global data-mining company after a while. “They pay me quite well,” he says, visibly pleased, “so we’ll soon move into a great loft near Schloss Charlottenburg. We’re even thinking about starting a family here in Germany.”
Planning an indefinite stay like Majed and Mareike is an exciting step towards your future abroad. However, keep in mind that it can also involve having your work contract changed from an expat contract to a local one. With a change of fiscal residency and depending on where you live you may have to pay lower taxes, but you could also lose some of your benefits. If there is no social security agreement between your previous and your new home, you may lose out on social security and retirement benefits you’ve paid into in your old home country.
Losing your exclusive expat status can be a huge step towards assimilation if you don’t want to go back any time soon. However, actively planning for that future is then all the more important. Pension planning in particular is something you should tackle quickly if you haven’t already done so. You will need to think about your options on how to best finance your life after work. Check out our articles on international savings and pension planning for expatriates to learn what some of those options are.