How To Live As An Expat In A Foreign Country

After having lived as an expat for the last 22 years in 5 different countries, I am starting to get the idea!

There are rules expats should always live by, no matter where they’re from and where they now live. Those rules are simple and basic but so very important. First, picture the expats that live in your own town or city and ask yourself what you expect of them.

-Learn the language
-Respect the culture(s)
-Do not criticize (as you would think of an expat in your city that dislikes and criticizes everything… if you don’t like it, then leave!)
-Adapt (you don’t have to lose your own culture, but there are times when you must adapt or back off. As an example for me, I live in a Mennonite community, therefore when I walk on the road or go to my neighbors’ house, I cover myself below the knees, below the elbows and no cleavage…
-Be open minded whether it is cuisine, traditions etc.
-Be aware of the laws and respect them
-Be aware of the way you make yourself portrayed

Then, simply apply those rules to yourself!

As an expat you will stand out. You can be disliked quickly (remember, there is no second chance to make a “first impression”) and it can be hard to recover. So approach your new life slowly, be reserved, listen and observe more than speak at first. This will help you understand the people and their culture, and will prevent you to judge too quickly.

Depending on where you are moving to, the language is often the most difficult thing to conquer. If you only speak English and are not inclined to learn, then it would be wise to choose an English speaking country. But if you wish to learn a language, immersion beats any school, books, CDs etc. Immersion is, as far as I’m concerned, the best way to learn. You need to be patient at first as it will be slow going. But once you are starting to be able to communicate you will learn faster and faster. Again, don’t get discourage as it will slow at first, which is totally normal.

Your main tool is your dictionary. Start by making a thorough list of keywords (I suggest about 50 to start with) and learn them. So if you are going to build a house for example, your list should include such words as; hammer, saw, pliers, wrench, pick ax, screwdriver, nails, screws, feet, inches, wood, cement… To learn these words, set a reasonable goal for yourself. You can start with 5 words per day and adjust as you go.

You also need a list of the main verbs; have, doing, to be, need, looking for, how much, going, to go…

You then integrate a verb with a word. Let’s take “need” and “hammer”. With only those 2 words you can safely go to a hardware store and ask for a hammer!

As time goes, you learn more words from the people around you and eventually, by listening, you can start making sentences. Shyness is the biggest deterrent and you should not be. You will make mistakes for sure (it is impossible not to), but the local people will appreciate your efforts and will eventually become your best teachers! And what better way to make friends than those people who are enthralled to help and coach you.

And remember that every day is a new learning experience, especially in a foreign country!


Other Posts:

1 ~ Living Comfortably In The Jungle Of Central America!
2 ~ Producing And Storing Your Own Electricity, You Have The Power To!
3 ~ Building Off-Grid In The Jungle, Fun But Challenging
4 ~ Easy Broadband Satellite Internet Access
5 ~ Water Supply Considerations, Off-Grid In The Jungle
6 ~ The Domestic Cats’ Life In The Jungle
7 ~ The Belize Mennonite’s Lifestyle
8 ~ The Invasion Of The Flood Flies
9 ~ Living in Paradise! But… Where Is It?
10 ~ Solar Panels Placement & Sun Chart Creator
11 ~ Health Issues When Living Abroad
12 ~ Telecommunication Challenges In A 3rd World Country
13 ~ Fleas & Ticks In The Jungle
14 ~ The Dangers Of The Black Poisonwood Tree
15 ~ To Buy Or To Rent When Moving Abroad
16 ~ Home Schooling When Living Abroad
17 ~ Tips & Hints On Things To Watch Out For During Construction – Part 1 of 2
18 ~ Tips & Hints On Things To Watch Out For During Construction – Part 2


12 Responses

  1. WOW! TropiCat,

    Another great article. More expats ought to read your simple rules and stop making fools of themselves over at foreign lands.

    I have been fortunate to travel, work and live in a few foreign lands in my productive work years. And I totally endorse each and every simple rule that you have written at this article.

    Ironically, it is so simple and yet experienced expats that I have known over they years just cannot get it into their thick skull.

    Having been an “expat” myself, I can say just how much easier those simple rules made my life while coming to terms with language and culture and cuisine and interpersonal relationships while I was abroad.

    Kudos! down-to-earth plain truth from you!


    I have been rather busy of late. Read your last email but failed to reply. Hope this makes up for it dear!

  2. Thank you WindMill for your great comment!

    No worries on the email… quite busy myself, I am also very much behind 🙂

  3. How is banking done or what rules should i use? email

  4. Hello Goldstar,

    Banking is quite simple with good banks like Scotiabank, Belize Bank, Atlantic Bank…. They also all have internet banking. To open a bank account, they require quite a bit of papers such as certified copy of passport, original reference letters from your current bank sent from the bank directly to them… and some other requirements, which are listed on their website. Once your account is open, it’s just like any other bank.

  5. I think this is a great experience in life, if you take your choice and go to another country with your fam! But there would be also good times/ alot of new things you learn/understand.
    My friend wents to Afcrica ( kapstadt), and he´s a german guy… The first 3 years he always says : I wouldnt adapt …
    But now he´s glad, and he says this was the best decision on his life to change the place to life in.
    I hope you will have a nice time, i wish you nice high days.

  6. Moving abroad is definitely fun and a total learning experience. Everyone will have an adaptation period, but depending on the person and the place you move to, this adaptation period time can vary tremendously. Even moving from one town to another in your own country brings in some type of adaptation to your new place.

    The ‘living abroad’ experience, being positive or negative, is guarantee to enrich anyone’s life!

  7. great information very important for people to consider

  8. I live in Ecuador and it is a wonderful country. Its people are so nice and kind, they will give you the most warming welcome. I have put together a helpful fact sheet, and also an article on Ecuadorian manners and customs

    • Hi Sara,

      Glad to read that you are enjoying your life abroad! Your are welcome to post your link to your fact sheet and article, as it would give my readers more insight on other countries and how life is in a foreign land.

      Have a great day 🙂

  9. […] Via Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  10. Greetings,
    Moving to BZ for a year soon. Stayed there in 2012 for two weeks loved it, stayed at a Hostel – only person there. Hostess was great, people in Dangriga welcoming, used their public transportation – met many locals, got their contact information and will reconnect with them once I return. I knew I would return. I will eventually make BZ my home. Not sure yet which city – still researching. Hostel hostess now has a furnished apartment I can rent.

    Only glitch I had was my phone service. Hostess has internet ; but I had to purchase minutes in order to use my phone.

    Is there a phone service I can get before I get to BZ and not have to buy minutes?

    I will check with hostess to see whether they have SKYPE capability

    Met many retirees from states who are having ss deposited, gave me tips and showed me ropes. Many locals took me under their wing and provided information and directions.

    Would really have liked to have a cold soda or water in the middle of the night. Ice I purchased daily had always melted by then. But I realize – that is a want not a need. Tootles

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