5 Tips for the Would-Be Expatriate

Lately I’ve been getting emails from friends and friends of friends who are moving to Germany. They’re curious as to what they should do to prepare for the move. I’m no expert, but here are a few tips I shared about what to do before you go:

1) Run, don’t walk, to a language class.

If you’re moving for a job, this would often be covered by your employer or your spouse’s employer. Having some language skills under your belt when you arrive is so worth the time and trouble. When you arrive, you’ll be busy settling in and may not have time to study again for awhile. For me, the better my German skills, the more at home and independent I feel here.

2) Read up:

Learn something about the culture you’re entering and the expat experience. You can’t avoid culture shock, but you can prepare yourself a little bit.
The Expert Expat : Soooo worth reading!
Culture Shock! Germany  : This series includes books for many countries.
First Thousand Words in German : It’s a kids’ book but great for the visually oriented—a cross between a picture dictionary and Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever in German. Also available in other languages. It seems to be out of print, but I’ve linked to a used book site above.

Reading books and watching films that take place in your host country can also be very instructive.

3) Clean out your closets.

It would be almost unheard of to have closets here in Germany, and the wardrobes they use instead are way smaller. This was the hardest thing about fitting our things into our new space. The more you get rid of, the easier this part will be. I imagine this is a helpful step no matter what country you’re moving to.

4) Get an internet phone service.

Do this while still in the U.S. and bring the box with you. Yes, Skype is great, but there will be times when you need to call businesses (or have them call you) and times when Skype just isn’t practical. Also, this way, friends and family can call you without having to pay for an international call, and without having to leave your computer on all the time.

5) Think through electronics.

Some will work in your host country with a transformer (blender, sewing machine), some will not or may be a little risky (tv, dvd player).

Before we came, we bought a dual-voltage TV so the TV would work when we bring it back to the US. It was also much cheaper than buying one in Europe. If you’re moving with a firm, you’ll most likely get an allowance to buy things like large appliances. For the most part, it will make sense to buy them in your host country, but it’s worth thinking this through before you go.

We’re celebrating one year in Deutschland today! What a wild and wonderful ride it’s been.

Also, NEWSFLASH! Spring has arrived. I’ve switched from my parka to my wool coat (yes, it’s THAT warm!), the sun has been making appearances, and  flowers are popping up. The best part is that we no longer wake up and come home in the dark.

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10 thoughts on “5 Tips for the Would-Be Expatriate

  1. Wow! You have taken to Germany so gracefully. I love your short little posts about food, and craft, and daily life. You must have been born for this.

    I’m coming soon. Can’t wait. Studying German like crazy. Know lots of vocab but wow – sentence construction! Challenging!

  2. Emily, how and where do you get an internet phone service? Our kids have been begging us to do that but I have NO idea how to do it. Don’t want a Skype phone as the UAE blocks Skype form time to time.

    Good call on the closets! You can never pare down too much. And congrats on surviving your first year!! You’d be surprised at how many families dont’ make it that far.

  3. The trick with the clothes is not that they have less clothes here but they pack them away season by season. Every season has its pack of clothes and they get super laundered and put away (basement, under the bed, etc) the minute each season is over!!

    • Interesting. That would be a useful strategy for us if we had more usable storage here, but unfortunately we don’t. We Americans are used to hoarding a bunch of stuff we don’t use in our gargantuan oversized closets, attics, and basements, so it’s a good exercise in paring down for us 🙂

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