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356 expats speak: “What I wish I’d known before moving abroad!”

Aetna International understands the challenges of moving abroad.

Our understanding comes not only from working directly with hundreds of thousands of individuals, but also from research such as this.

As part of our 2018 Expat Experiences Survey, we asked 500 expats what they wish they’d known before moving abroad. Of those asked, 356 wrote comments, and the data to follow is drawn from these.

First, we gathered the comments into topics (as listed) to quantify the most common themes within the things they wish they’d known. Some of these topics had sub-themes (also described).

This article not only explores the reasons for these comments, but gives advice on how to prepare for an international relocation.

Key findings

The expats surveyed called out the following main themes as the most important considerations before moving abroad:

16.5% – Support network
15.5% – Culture
11% – Money
7% – Relocation and logistics
7% – Personal/miscellaneous
6.5% – Family
6.5% – General
6% – Specific regional knowledge
6% – Housing
5% – Health care
4.5% – Career and work
4% – Legal
1.5% – Traffic and commuting
1.5% – Weather and climate

NB: All figures rounded (1.5% lost in rounding).

Of the culture themes, the sub-themes were:

54% – Culture shock
12.5% – Political landscape
12.5% – Language
7% – Location

1. The importance of a support network

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It comes as no surprise that the most common theme our expat respondents wish they’d known relates to:

  • Missing their family and friends
  • Loneliness and the challenges of finding and making new friends and community
  • Difficulties settling in — especially how long it can take
  • A general lack of support

Many people don’t put enough time and energy into integration and building support networks when moving abroad, prioritising housing, banking and logistics instead. As such, many people find themselves alone and without the support they need in a new and often different environment. This can often lead to stress, depression and other mental health conditions — some that can even result in the termination of assignments and a return home.

The good news is that those moving abroad can get support to help build the networks they need to ensure success from health care providers such as Aetna International who offer comprehensive relocation support.

Advice: How to build a support network quickly

It is essential to prepare the support network aspects of relocation, from regular contact with friends and family at home, to building new relationships and knowing where to go for support in the new country.

Research local expat communities — social media is a good place to start. Technology is a great way to stay in touch. Use free video call software such as Skype to connect with family and friends back home.

Read our helpful article, Expatriate mental health: Key things to know before you go for advice on how to look after your mental health while away — with sections on the importance of setting up a support network ahead of time.

Aetna International have pre-trip planning services to help people set themselves up for success in their new home, so we can help people build the support networks they need. Read more about pre-trip planning here.

You may also find this article useful: Expatriate stress: Top 5 pressure points

2. Culture — assimilation and integration

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The second most common thing our respondents said they wish they’d known, relates to culture — in particular ‘culture shock’ and language.

Respondents said that they didn’t realise how different their new life would be. They also said that they wished they’d learned a bit of the new language before they made the move.

All of the comments came down to a lack of knowledge and/or experience. But it doesn’t have to be like this.

Advice: ‘Try before you buy’

It is a great idea to visit your new country ahead of the move, especially if you are moving with children. It can be very productive to turn your move into a new hobby — researching your new home:

  • What religion is the country’s population and how does that impact culture broadly?
  • What language do they speak and what key phrases would be useful to learn?
  • What is considered polite behaviour? Research how to be polite and how to read social gestures and cues correctly. What are local customs?
  • What is the political system?
  • What’s going on in the country at the moment? What’s in the local news?

Aetna International’s pre-trip planning services include cultural insights to aid settling in and reduce culture shock. Read our Destination Guides on different countries for useful information on culture and various aspects of etiquette.

Read our article: Overseas assignment success: adapting to new cultures

3. Anticipating money-related stress

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Forty respondents said they wish they’d known more about a variety of financial issues, but the main one was a better understanding of the cost of living. Other comments included: independent financial, banking and tax advice.

Advice: Research the cost of living and get financial advice

The advice again comes down to knowledge and preparation. Budgeting correctly can mitigate one of the biggest stresses of moving to a new country, so it’s important to get as much clarity on costs in your new home as possible.

Use cost of living websites such as Numbeo to compare the prices of various aspects of life in every country around the world.

4. Preparing for the duration and rigours of relocation logistics

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Many people said they wish they’d known how hard it would be to move.

  • “It takes a long time”
  • “Start earlier”/“Plan ahead”
  • Customs issues
  • Don’t rush the move”

Advice: Get organised as early in the process as possible

As part of some policies, Aetna International offer pre-trip planning advice which helps people prepare, from logistics to cultural awareness.

Print and keep our Moving Abroad Checklist to help you plan everything you need in good time.

5. Personal and general challenges

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Many respondents said they wish they’d known:

  • “That it would all be ok in the end”
  • “To try and enjoy every minute”
  • “That it would be difficult/takes effort to make it work”

Advice: Be positive!

While the more personal comments are broader and rarely suggest the need for specific knowledge or advice, it is worth reiterating the value of support network, community and integration. With the emotional support new expats need, everything else is easier to deal with, but let your mental health suffer and surmountable obstacles can seem like immovable objects.

For those who found it more challenging than they’d expected, it would have been a good idea to do more research into expat living more broadly. There are dozens of expat blogs and social media channels that allow people to hear what life is like and the challenges that await, so they can better prepare for life in their new home.

6. Facing up to the realities of moving with a family in tow

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From the comments it’s clear that many people didn’t foresee many of the challenges of moving with a family — especially finding good schools for children. People also said they wish they’d known how hard it would be to move with children as there were no family and friends to help with child care.

A key challenge is staying in touch with family. Another is how hard it is for the whole family to settle in.

Advice: Education, location, collaboration and acclimatization

Read our article from the same survey, which offers 26 pieces of advice from expat parents.

7. Challenge-related specific regional knowledge

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The eighth most common comment topic relates to specific information about locations: the city, the region, where to stay/live, things to see and do, places of interest, local information.

Advice: Get to know the country before you move

It is easy to get distracted by the logistics and paperwork involved in a move — from visas and permits to banking and accommodation. Researching where you’ll be living and the environs is not only an important part of pre-trip planning, but it can be exciting and enjoyable. Think of your favourite places to go, things to do as well as eateries and facilities, and then research them in your new home. This could include restaurants and bars, sporting venues, shops and markets and entertainments.

8. Finding the right home at the right price

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The three themes people wish they’d known that came through in the Housing topic, were:

  • Good areas to live
  • How to rent/how to buy
  • The extent of housing costs

Advice: Do your research and seek expert advice

The ‘price on the ticket’ doesn’t always include a range of costs that can vary from country to country, from cleaning costs to legal fees and deposits. Many people budget for one thing, only to find they need to pay for other things they hadn’t expected.

Finding a ‘nice area’ to live in is a key challenge of moving abroad but you can read our Destination Guides on 16 different countries for information on areas, including expat communities.

9. Navigating the complexities of foreign health care systems

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Health care is often an afterthought for those moving abroad. Even those managing chronic conditions may fail to prepare: is your medication legal in your new home? Will you have access to public health? Is it of good quality? Do you need international private medical insurance (iPMI)?

Our survey reflects this with comments including sentiments such as:

  • I wish I’d known more about how to access health care — including mental health provision
  • I wish I’d understood the health care system better
  • I wish I’d known about the quality of care
  • I wish I’d known the importance of health insurance as well as details of how it works

When it comes to health care, it really doesn’t have to be like this.

Advice: Define the services you will have access to and what you may need to supplement that

Before moving to a new country, it is essential to assess the quality of care and your access to it. What level of care do you want? And how can you ensure you get it?

This is our area of expertise. Aetna International provide quality care to thousands of expats around the world, ensuring they have access to care when they need it, wherever they are. We have extensive experience of building plans for groups, individuals and families using our comprehensive regional knowledge and a network of global partners that helps us deliver high quality care wherever expats are, whenever they need it.

You can get a quote for international private medical insurance (iPMI) here, or visit our Destination Guides which contain information on the health care systems of more than a dozen countries. These guides will help you make the best decision about what health insurance, if any, you will need in your new home.

10. The pitfalls of career ‘moves’

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Many people move abroad for improved quality of life, and this is often driven by the opportunity to earn more money. Our respondents said that they wish they’d known:

  • How hard finding work would be
  • More about business practices and regulations
  • That the job they were moving for was what was bad or not what was promised
  • More about tax

Advice: Learn about organisations and business practices and processes

Many of the respondents could have researched these issues to get a better understanding of them before moving. This can often drive decisions such as where to move, when to move and even whether to move at all.

Our Destination Guides contain overviews of the types of work and the working culture in a number of different countries with information on key industries, online recruitment agencies, permits, visas and frequent pitfalls.

11. Knowing the law

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Many people said they wish they’d known about visas, permits and immigration rules.

Advice: Educate yourself and seek expert advice

Laws can be complex and confusing, but it’s essential to be prepared as failure to comply can result in having to move home or even criminal charges — depending on what you’ve done and where you’ve done it. Take the time to research the legal system as applies to expats. This can include specific rules laid down by the country you’re moving to, based on where you’re coming from.

Our Moving Abroad Checklist can help guide you through the pre-trip planning stage with details of permits and visas, while our Destination Guides contain overviews of the laws as they apply to expats — including details of work permits and entry conditions.

12. Dealing with traffic and the new commute

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A few people’s comments dealt with aspects of travel within the country — from cycling to length of commute.

Advice: Research transport between work and home

Research where you’ll be living and working as well as the best modes of transport, from public trains and buses to cars and parking.

13. Dealing with weather in a new climate

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Comments reveal that some people hadn’t assessed the impact of the climate in their new home. While heat and humidity can affect those from colder climes, those from tropical countries can find the far north colder and less sunny than they’re used to.

Advice: Visit your new home

Research is important, but the best way to make sure you’ll be happy with the weather and climate in your new home is to spend some time there.

Download all of the comments here:

https://www.aetnainternational.com/content/dam/aetna/pdfs/aetna-international/Explorer/2018-Expat-Experiences-Survey-Results.pdf

14. Be prepared!

Aetna International understands the needs of people moving abroad for the first time as well as seasoned globally mobile individuals. We know how to help you live healthy, happy lives abroad. We provide access to quality health care and services such as pre-trip planning to help people thrive overseas and to take away many of the stresses the survey’s respondents faced when they moved. We can help make sure you’re not someone who says: “I wish I’d known that!”.

If you’re ready to move abroad and want Aetna International to support you, you can get a quote for international private medical insurance (iPMI) here.

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