Preparing for an Expat Relocation? Don’t panic, with the right support it can be easy!

Young couple resting from moving into a new home

There are many things that need to be done in preparation for any expat relocation. No matter where you are relocating to, and no matter how long, it will undoubtedly be an exciting time tinged with some trepidation and perhaps not a little fear. This article highlights the preparations you need to make before you leave, both in practical terms, but also how you can prepare yourself in other ways for the big move.

Learning about your new home

The details of your move have been confirmed, but where do you start in getting yourself prepared, both in practical terms but also with regards to gaining some insight and understanding of the community and society in which you are about to immerse yourself?

At least a cursory understanding of the history of the city and country you’re moving to is a must, especially if you’re coming from a western country that has experienced relative stability since the end of WWII. So many other countries in the intervening years have gone through tremendous political upheavals in that time—even somewhere as seemingly calm and stable as Singapore, for instance—that in many cases it’s impossible even to begin to get to know people without an understanding of the forces that have shaped their society. To this end, I would always encourage reading widely, both fiction and non-fiction, subscribing to some blogs by writers living in your destination city, and watching films that are set in the city to which you are about to move or are made by filmmakers who hail from there.

Language of course is always a confronting issue for expats. As someone who has experienced at first-hand the difficulties of trying to engage in and fully experience a culture without speaking the language, I can’t recommend highly enough the importance of at least getting to grips with some basics before you leave. No-one, least of all yourself, would or should expect you to know more than a few basic phrases before you arrive, but getting hold of a phrasebook is a positive start. And do some research online about the language courses and learning opportunities that will be available once you arrive. You will surprised to find that in big cities like Beijing or Shanghai, for instance, just how many courses there are, or community groups that you can join that will enable you to learn, practise and use your new language.

Practical Preparations

In practical terms, during this period there will be many, many things to organise. These will be things at home, as well as in your destination city.

There will be visa and work permits to sort out, of course. But there are any number of other things to consider. You may need to get some vaccinations, and if so the timetable of these needs to be planned in advance. Will you be taking pets with you? If so, you will need to acquaint yourself with the sometimes quite complex procedures involved in taking them abroad.

Couple looking at their new house.

Couple looking at their new house.

For most soon-to-be expats, however, housing and education are the areas that cause the most stress. In terms of the the former, I would always recommend doing some specific research geared towards exploring the different neighbourhoods in your destination city in order to find the one with the best amenities to suit your needs. All cities, no matter where they are in the world, have districts with very distinct characteristics. Some neighbourhoods will have a more suburban feel, ideal for family life, while others may be more suited to the inner-city lifestyle. Getting to know the expat neighbourhoods in advance is also an ideal way to give yourself some peace of mind, learn about the city, and to prepare yourself for what to expect when you finally move.

If you are relocating with school age children, a seamless continuation of their education will no doubt be a priority. You will want to look at all of the options available, and fortunately there are plenty of good sources of information in this regard. Choosing the right school can be a time-consuming procedure, not to mention a bit daunting, but with some diligent research you can feel confident about narrowing the choices down to a handful of possible options. Joining expat forums is also a very effective way of learning more about schools, as you can often get the inside story in a way that you might not from more official sources.

Most importantly—don’t panic!

Assuming that you have sufficient time to prepare for your relocation, and make some efforts to be organised and have a timetable in place, you will find that there are enough resources out there to answer the many questions that you no doubt have. Don’t forget, many others have experienced this too and most expats are more than happy to share their experiences with others. Take advantage of this, learn from others, and never be afraid to ask questions.


Mark Angus is the Online Editor at Expat Essentials. Expat Essentials publish online relocation guides for expat families moving to Singapore, Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. Expat Essentials guides are designed to provide comprehensive information on international schools and the education systems in these cities, to help expats to learn more about neighbourhoods and the housing options that are available. In addition, you can find medical and healthcare providers, many of whom you will also find listed here on Medihoo.