Taxes and financial planning for the expat

Getting a good grip on your financial situation is one of the most important things you can do in preparation for a move abroad. Usually, this means making a budget based on known income and expenses and then building on that by figuring out how much you want to save, what your possible extra costs are, etc. Additionally, it involves figuring out your new tax obligations. In truth, most of what you should prepare for when moving abroad are the same things you should have a plan for at home as well. The difference being that a move abroad typically comes with some unknowns and a steep learning curve in terms of knowing true cost of living, figuring out the financial language and learning the tax rules.

The best place to start is with the basics. Find out what the general cost of living is in your area by using a cost-of-living calculator. It won’t be perfect but it will give you an idea of what you are dealing with and it will help with getting an overview of what your new financial situation will look like. Once you have a general budget, you can start thinking about your financial goals – savings, retirement, schooling, etc. Keep in mind that living abroad might add some costs that you would otherwise not have, such as extra travel expenses, health insurance or private school tuition, for example.

Once you have your budget down, the big logistical piece for many expats is figuring out taxes – what will your tax obligations be, in your new country, at home? Rules for taxation vary depending on country and it may very well be worth seeing a professional tax advisor before moving so that you know for sure where you stand with your home country. Once you are in place you’ll have to decide if you need to see a local tax expert as well. If you are considering hiring a tax advisor think about what kind of help you need:

  • Someone to just help file your taxes
  • Someone who can give financial advice in regards to your current situation
  • Someone who has strong knowledge of all the tax laws you are required to follow

It is important to find someone with the right credentials and knowledge. Most countries have strict requirements for certifying financial planners and accountants so do your research and make sure whomever you pick is accredited. If you don’t know where to start your search, ask some colleagues or friends for recommendations.

For your own sake, learn some of the basics about the tax laws in your new country such as how and when to file taxes, whether or not you can get extensions and if you can file jointly with your spouse if you are married. What about late tax payments – will you be fined for a late filing or payment, if so how much?

I would also recommend learning some of the ‘financial language’. This will be useful not just for tax purposes but in general when you are first settling in a foreign country. Having a working understanding of words and expressions will come in handy as there will be plenty of instances where you’ll be asked to provide a specific piece of information or document, or to decide on one option versus another. It is always good to know what is actually being asked of you, and to recognize what is being presented to you.

It’s overwhelming enough to figure out your new personal financial situation, add to that learning about new tax laws and it can feel downright impossible to get a grip on everything you need to know. That’s why it’s important to do some due diligence and learn the basics before you head out. There are several books on the subject and most countries have official websites for taxation issues. Also, there are countless expat websites and personal blogs for additional points of view and advice.

Books:

  • Working Abroad: The Complete Guide to Overseas Employment by Jonathan Reuvid
  • Expat Entrepreneur: How To Create and Maintain Your Own Portable Career Anywhere In The World by Jo Parfitt and Debbie Jenkins
  • The Global Expatriate’s Guide to Investing: From Millionaire Teacher to Millionaire Expat by Andrew Hallam

Online sources:

By: Felicia Shermis

Financial planning for expat life

When it comes to preparing financially for expat life I hardly did a thing — no comparative living expense exercise, no travel budget. I gave no consideration to cost of healthcare or daycare or rent or buying a TV, never mind a car. There was no thought to taxes or saving money. I did the bare minimum, which meant I took care of the necessary paperwork, and little else. My husband and I took his salary at face value without putting it in a larger context of real life in the new location. Looking back, I wish I had spent some time thinking about what our new financial situation would mean in actual terms, and how it would impact our quality of life.

Because I didn’t have a clue about the financial impact on everyday life, the first few years overseas were pretty bumpy. I learned quickly that even everyday comforts would be a stretch for us. Calling family overseas was not a given, and when it did happen it was with a kitchen timer next to me, counting down the 10 minutes I had given myself. For many months we could not afford to get health insurance and I had to delay going to community college because we simply couldn’t afford it.

My husband was making good money as a contractor but being a contractor meant we had to pay for everything out of pocket — I had no idea that this was the case. The area where we lived was expensive and whatever money we had covered the basics, but not much more. It took us a year to save up for a TV, and two before we could even think of getting a car. I could live with that, reading books instead of watching TV is perfectly ok, and a bike sufficed in getting me where I needed to be most of the time. But still, it would have been good to know what we were getting ourselves into.

Other considerations that, in hindsight, should have been part of a responsible calculation, include long term savings, as well as having a short term cushion for emergencies. We had none of this and so had to make difficult decisions with regards to travel back home, fixing the car (once we got one), and getting health insurance.

A more benign aspect of money awareness (or lack thereof) during those first years was how long it took me to get used to feeling like I knew what things cost. For years, I would translate prices to my home currency. For years I would think “this is so much cheaper/more expensive than at home”. It wasn’t necessarily a problem but it did create a sense of uncertainty.

I don’t have any tips for how to go about familiarizing yourself with your new financial situation. Every move and every individual is different. However, I would encourage actively learning as much as possible before leaving, and taking advantage of any resources offered. Below are links to expat specific financial articles.

By: Felicia Shermis

BBC: The real reasons expats may find themselves worse off

Get Rich Slowly: Best tips for managing money as an expat

Creveling & Creveling: How exchange rates affect your expat currency decisions

Creveling & Creveling: Overcome mental roadblocks and get started saving

All I want for Christmas …

It may seem too early to think about the holidays just yet, but for anyone who’s been to a grocery or department store lately, the signs are all around. There is no ignoring it – Halloween candy, Thanksgiving decorations and Christmas goodies are all competing for our attention on store shelves right now.

If the idea is that this mishmash of holiday goods is supposed to spur a shopping spree, then it’s not working on me. However, I do find that it’s a powerful, if somewhat stressful, reminder that it’s time to get the family’s holiday plans together.

My stress has mostly to do with logistics as I am trying to figure out how to get the family to be in the same place at the same time for at least part of the holiday season, and how to accomplish that without breaking the bank completely. Travel during the holidays is not cheap.

Sad part is, I’m not even thinking about extended family or friends yet – I’m just trying to plot out my children’s whereabouts. With two of them attending school on opposite ends of the planet and a third at home wanting nothing more than to join her best friend in Hawaii for the holidays, we have some juggling to do. You’d think Hawaii would be appealing to everyone (problem solved, let’s all meet in Hawaii), but that’s the last place my oldest wants to go to – it is where she goes to school. She really just wants to be home with the dog and the cat – and the rest of us, I think…

My son wants to come home but he doesn’t know yet when he can leave, so we wait and we wait. We wait with buying tickets and making definite plans. What he does know is that he won’t be home for Thanksgiving – no time off in his schedule to fly from Europe to California for a few days of Thanksgiving get-togethers.

Holiday planning can be stressful for anyone – whether living abroad or not. However, the added burden of international travel with its expenses and time constraints further complicates the puzzle of making the season a happy one for all involved.

In addition to making sure you have the time and the money, many international families struggle with satisfying the wishes and needs of family back home, while also trying to figure out how to fulfill their own desires. There is no one solution that works for all. Most of us end up with compromises that are perhaps not ideal but at least satisfactory.

I have friends who’ve made the decision to travel someplace new each holiday season and not worry about going home or seeing family. I know others who have decided on a one-year on, one-year off schedule, and others yet who’ve decided to stay in place and build new traditions in their new country. There is no right or wrong, only what works for you.

After over 20 years of living abroad and trying every holiday scenario possible, I still don’t know what the ultimate solution is. I do know that it usually works out somehow in the end, and that for the most part we can look back and say: “Well, that was a pretty good one!”

By: Felicia Shermis

Meeting people, making friends

I recently got the question from a friend of mine: What will you do once your kids are out of the house? Will you stay in the area, move back home? Go someplace else entirely? My initial reaction was that it’s a little early to be thinking about this just yet, but after some further consideration I wonder if she’s not on to something. If nothing else, it’s an interesting thought experiment because it forces you to really ponder what it is that makes you tick. What are the most important pieces to a fulfilled existence?

The past 20 years have been about planning life with my kids’ interests in mind: schools, friends, their activities and their opportunities have been in focus. I may still have some time before becoming an empty nester, but if the past is any indication, these next four years will go by quickly. Maybe it’s not too soon after all to ask: what are my pieces to a fulfilled existence?

Once all the basics are taken care of – family, health, job, home, etc. I land on friends. Having good friends is really important. As I look back on what it’s like arriving in a foreign country and starting a new life, making friends has always been the toughest part of the journey. Starting new in a place where you don’t know anyone is difficult.

I also know from experience that the feeling of loneliness is one of the hardest to overcome. Being lonely and isolated can have a negative spiral effect on your ability to get settled– it’s tougher to go out and meet new people when you are without your familiar support system. Likewise, dealing with issues that are typically easily resolved back home may all of a sudden become harder as you struggle to make sense of your new surroundings.

I remember thinking when I left for the US that I knew something about the American temperament – the stereotypical American I knew about was loud, friendly and perhaps a bit superficial. I am not sure that I’ve ever met a stereotypical American. However, I do remember being puzzled about the extreme friendliness I encountered, say in the park for example. Mothers I had never met before would chat about most everything and when it came time to leave we would exchange phone numbers and email addresses and promise to get together soon again.

The get-togethers would rarely take place and I came to learn that the process for making friends here is different from back home. I learned to take the extreme friendliness with a grain of salt and I remembered that making real friends takes time and work.

It took me years before I had made friends I felt at home with, friends who knew me and whom I knew and shared a history with. In the interim, I had acquaintances, I had good friends in the making and, important to notice – I had many opportunities to meet with, and learn from, new people in a new culture.

By: Felicia Shermis

The active work of finding your groove

What do you do if your partner or children are having a hard time getting settled in your new location, if they are struggling to the point of not wanting to stay? It’s a common enough problem. As a matter of fact, the inability of loved ones to adjust to the destination country is one of the top reasons for a failed assignment. But why is this the case, and what can you do to proactively work toward a different outcome? There is no “one way” to do it, but in almost all cases curiosity, deliberate work, and support, are basic ingredients.

Language barriers and cultural differences are two of the main obstacles to feeling settled and immersed in a new community. Learning the language is an obvious place to start, but it takes dedication and a willingness to put in the effort. However, the rewards of knowing your local language, even if it’s just a little bit, are substantial. Author John le Carré says it best in this recent article from The Guardian: “The decision to learn a foreign language is to me an act of friendship. It is indeed a holding out of the hand. It’s not just a route to negotiation. It’s also to get to know you better, to draw closer to you and your culture, your social manners and your way of thinking.”

Cross-cultural training as a concept is a bit vague and undefined. It can be difficult to know how to “work on” your cultural adaptation. Most of us figure that if we only give it time, things will naturally fall into place. To some degree that’s true – over time you will get to know your community and the culture, at least a little bit. The problem is that when you don’t actively set out to learn about your surroundings, or try to understand why people are the way they are, you will never get deeper than a scratch to the surface.

Many companies offer practical support to expat employees and their families, some also offer cross-cultural training. It’s common for assignees to leverage the practical help, such as assistance with finding a place to live and to fill out applications. But the more intangible, like cross-cultural adaptation training is often met with skepticism, as many can’t see what it can do for them.

Cultural adaptation means different things to different people. It can mean learning how to build a social network, or figuring out parenting practices in your new country. For an accompanying partner it may mean getting help with career decisions, setting goals and making networking plans. For a working partner it may be focused on work culture and social norms in the workplace.

I interviewed an acquaintance of mine recently (read full interview here). She relocated with her family seven years ago when her husband’s company offered him a position in their Silicon Valley office. There were two things in particular she talked about that stuck with me. One was that from the very get-go they viewed their relocation as a family project. This was not a move to further her husband’s career. This was for the whole family and the goal was to make it work for everyone. They were actively engaged. They took advantage of the company’s support services such as tutoring. In their case, they used the tutoring hours to get a head start on language learning and to make sure their kids were caught up on math, which they knew was going to be a challenge once school started.

The other thing they did was to seek out people with experience of international relocation. Talking to those who have gone before is an excellent way to get insights to your new country and to your new life. Because of course, you are not only getting used to life in a new country, you are also getting used to life away from your old surroundings. You are getting used to life without regular support networks of friends and family, without favorite comfort foods, places to go and activities to engage in. In a way it’s a double whammy – setting up the new while not being able to lean on the old.

By: Felicia Shermis

Moving day — the end of planning, preparing and packing, or so you thought…

Last time I moved was an across-town affair about six months ago and it really shouldn’t have been that big of a deal. After all, it was just across town. But, because this was a downsizing move after having sent two of our three kids to college, there was a lot to sort through and many decisions to make on what to keep, what to store and what to donate. We had lived in this house for almost ten years and, unsurprisingly, we had managed to accumulate “stuff”. It turned out to be a much bigger effort than I had anticipated.

And even though I thought we were in pretty good “moving shape”, in hindsight that was not true at all. One of the reasons was that we didn’t have a hard cut-off date. So, even though we had a moving day where most of the furniture and boxes were taken, it still became a long drawn-out process. It was like a battle on two fronts – dealing with unpacking and settling at the new house, while still taking care of the last of everything at the old place. I think I prefer the pressure of the up-front stress, to the long drawn-out process we ended up having.

One of the reasons moving day is so stressful is that it typically marks the end of a period of planning and packing and trying to figure out logistics. It’s the day when everything has to be ready! In reality however, it doesn’t really stop there, because once you are out you have to hit the ground running setting up your new home. I think this is especially true if you are relocating to a new country. I remember when we first moved to the US and were trying to get our home up and running with basics such as phone service, cable, trash and gas – it was stressful and sometimes very confusing.

First of all, every phone call was a bit of a nightmare as I wasn’t sure I would be able to follow along in what the person on the other end was asking of me. I was new to the specific lingo of whatever industry I was talking to, so names and expressions often didn’t make sense. To top it off, I didn’t have full check on things like zip code, area code and gate code, or whatever other codes and numbers they were asking for. I didn’t even have a social security number the first few months, which was a problem in itself.

Sometimes when I got stressed, I couldn’t remember any of it and just hung up and started over. Sometimes when being asked to pick the level of service that best matched our needs, I just picked the middle option because that’s all I could think to do. In addition to all this I was living in a sea of boxes, trying to locate necessities and comforts alike, without much luck. It was a mess!

I spoke to a friend the other day who has a lot of experience moving, both internationally and locally. She told me about the “moving box” cataloging system she has developed and I was mighty impressed. She has worked out a system for labeling boxes and tracking every item in a spreadsheet. She told me the story of her college-aged son calling her from school to see if she had his back-up glasses as he had misplaced his regular ones. The glasses were buried deep in a box, placed in a stack of boxes. A quick consultation with the spreadsheet and she could easily locate the glasses. She sent them the next day. If only those were my boxes in my garage right now!

I hope my next move is still a ways away. But when that day comes, I vow to be better organized, to stay on top of paperwork, be smarter about time and be more willing to apply the “if you haven’t used within the last year, you can get rid of”-rule. For now, I will focus on the more pleasant aspects of moving, namely the possibility of forging new connections, meeting neighbors and getting to know a new community – even if it’s just across town.

By: Felicia Shermis

Home

As someone who’s been living far away from home for most of my adult life, I have spent a lot of time thinking about where “home” is and what it is that makes home “home”. Lately, I’ve been thinking about what it means to us at different stages of life and under different life circumstances. The last couple of weeks, the whole concept has been nagging at me even more as I have followed the news on the devastation caused by natural disasters – hurricanes Harvey and Irma, an earthquake in Mexico, wildfires – all causing massive destruction, loss of lives and displacement.

This kind of catastrophic displacement makes you think twice about your own feelings of “displacement” as an expat far away from home. There is no comparing the two in any way. If anything, it becomes a reminder that sometimes home is literally where your heart is, because that’s all you have at that given moment. It’s also a reminder that “home” means something different to all of us.

I saw an interview on TV a few days ago with a woman who opened up her home to some ten people during the recent storms in Texas. What struck me wasn’t the fact that she offered complete strangers a place to stay, but rather what she said about how it has affected her to share her home with people she doesn’t know. She said that the decision to take them in was not a hard one, it seemed the only human thing to do. They had no safe place to stay and she did. In the interview, she is not suggesting it’s been easy. However, as taxing as it has been, it has been just as enriching. She attributed part of that to the fact that they have had shared experiences under extreme circumstances, but also that she got to know people she would not normally meet, they broadened her world in a way she didn’t expect.

An extreme weather event brought these people together and obviously that is not an ideal shared experience. But as grim as the experience has been, the woman in the interview said she could not imagine what it would have been like to go through the storm without them. As expats, shared experiences is an intangible that we can’t rely on when arriving in a new country. We have different cultural backgrounds, different foods, languages and points of reference and there is no immediate fix to bridge all these. It takes a little time.

I have never experienced forced displacement and for that I am grateful. I do have experience with the self-imposed kind, and while I have never feared for my life, I have felt worried about how I am going to make a go of the new situation, will I ever make friends, learn the societal codes? Feel at home?

Moving abroad can be a challenge, but as expats we have the good fortune of time to plan and research, and we can prepare mentally for what is to come. But, while there are many resources, you also have to be willing to put yourself “out there”. You have to be interested in getting to know your neighbors and learn about traditions. What I’ve learned with time is that it is the small and intangible that eventually makes you feel at home – like getting a joke with cultural references that you would not have gotten before, or knowing how to order a bagel like the locals, or a shared experience with others in your community.

How we think about home changes over time and with circumstance; it can be a bit fluid, it can be many places at once and mean different things depending on where you are and with whom. As one of my favorite Swedish authors, Henning Mankell, said: “You can have more than one home. You can carry your roots with you, and decide where they grow.”

By: Felicia Shermis

Planning for the unexpected

I know, it sounds counterintuitive to plan for the unexpected, but just hear me out – there is a case to be made for doing just that. One of the big questions for anyone relocating to a foreign country is how to handle relationships and practical matters back home. It’s an issue that gets easily lost in the hustle and bustle of pre-departure preparations and hit-the-ground-running mentality upon arrival. However, giving some thought to how you’ll deal with an emergency back home is an exercise worth undertaking. Likewise, pondering how you’ll feel about missing some of the fun stuff, such as birthday parties or holidays, is an equally worthwhile exercise. It all comes down to being well prepared.

The good news is that actually keeping in touch with people is pretty easy and affordable these days, so staying informed should not be a problem. However, anyone living abroad for an extended period of time will eventually be in a situation where a decision has to be made to go home unexpectedly for an emergency, or figure out if there is time and money to attend a family event. When that happens you’re not only up against time, but finances and practical issues such as who-will-pick-up-the-kids-from-school-when-I-am-gone-without-having-had-time-to-make-arrangements, will also come into play.

I’ve been living abroad for over 20 years and I have been mostly lucky. Only once has there been a true emergency, where circumstances were dire enough that all I could do was hop on the first flight out, without thought to money or kids or appointments, and hope for the best on all ends.

I got the call during my daughter’s birthday party, saying my brother had been in a life threatening car accident (I’ll spare you the agony and let you know right here that everything ended well). However, the panic and helplessness I felt were intense. There was nothing I could do. I was a 12-hour plane flight away. Not only could I not get home fast enough, but the travel itself was excruciating as I had no idea what was happening while I was in transition.

You can never prepare emotionally for this kind of phone call and circumstance. It will always be a shock and if you live on the other side of the planet, you’ll likely end up feeling helpless and scared, like I did. However, there are some things you can do to be prepared, such as making sure you have an emergency travel fund and a plan for who takes care of everyday stuff at home while you are gone. Do you have a support network that can help with your kids for example? Who walks the dog? Can you take time off work, if so how much, and what is the procedure?

There are other times when you may have to miss out on the fun stuff – either because of timing or money or both. And while it’s not as traumatic as a medical emergency, it can still sting to have to say no to a family reunion, a holiday celebration, a 50th birthday bash, or a friend’s wedding – all of this I know from experience.

In the early days these kinds of decisions came down to money for us, and more often than not did we not have the extra cash to spare on a trip. Later on it was time and timing, and being pregnant or having a newborn, or school or work or …, well, you get the picture – it’s hard to get away when life is in full motion. What you can do: make plans for that which you can control, give some thought to that which you can’t.

By: Felicia Shermis

Building a social life as a new arrival

Building new friendships as an adult can be difficult, and being a new arrival in a foreign country only adds to the difficulty. Ironically, this is also the time when you have a real need to meet people and make new friends. As a new arrival, you have left your support network of friends and family behind. Establishing friendships in your local area becomes crucial in order to have a successful stay in your new environment.

Couples with kids often find that they have a natural way of getting to know people as they meet other parents and bond around their kids’ friendships. Also, arriving as a couple, you have each other to rely on. But for a single person without kids, there aren’t many natural ways of meeting people, except for perhaps at work. So what do you do if you are single and newly arrived in a foreign country? How do you strike out on your own without a support network to help you?

There are three conditions, identified by sociologists in the 1950’s, that are considered crucial to making close friends:

  • Proximity – you need to be near each other.
  • Unplanned reactions – chance that you run into each other by accident.
  • Privacy – you’re in situations where you can confide in one another.

There are few situations where all three of these are present at the same time. So, according to sociologists, if you want to build an environment conducive to making friends, you will have to be deliberate.

The good news these days is that there are many avenues for meeting people. The Internet makes it easy to find out if there are groups from your native country in the area, for example. There are a number of dating apps for those looking for a partner, and online sites such as Meetup.com are great if you want to meet locals who share your interests — be it hiking, playing scrabble or wine tasting.

Thinking back on my own single-and-looking-to-meet-new-people days, in the dark ages before Internet life, I can only conclude that there are so many ways to connect with people today that perhaps the biggest problem is figuring out which ‘way to go’ and then building up the courage to do it.

However, for many new arrivals there are barriers other than the question of ‘where do I go?’ to overcome. There are language issues, cultural traditions and social cues to learn about. These can be major hurdles, as can the fact that many view their overseas assignment as temporary and thus feel there is no point in putting the effort into making new friends. Also, as a newcomer it’s easy to get so immersed in work that you feel you don’t have the time or energy to engage with people outside of the office.

As someone who has always been shy in new social settings and a little hesitant to just ‘dive in’ I can appreciate how hard it is to meet and get to know new people. I can’t remember any instances however, where I have regretted venturing out — be it to go to a party, to join a tennis team or take a class. Sure, I have gone to parties and I have felt awkward and not had all that much fun. And yes, I have taken classes that have been so-so and dropped them after a few weeks. Most of the time though, something good has come out of these ventures. So, if my experience tells me anything, it is that you have nothing to lose by trying!

By: Felicia Shermis

A Goal Check to Stay on Track

While cleaning out an old moving box recently I found a list tucked inside an old diary. It was a to-do list of sorts and the three top items said:

  1. Get a summer job
  2. Buy/find/make a pair of black pants
  3. Cut hair short

I was 14 when I wrote this list and I did get a summer job and I sewed myself a pair of black pants. I am not so sure about the third item, I think I cut my hair the following summer. But still, two out of three goals achieved, isn’t all that bad.

Most of us have goals of various kinds, long-term and short-term, big and small. Some of us write down what we want to accomplish, how to go about it and by when. Taking stock of our goals however, is something that often falls by the wayside as we get busy with everyday life. So what better time to think about the things you’d like to do, change and experience than during summer vacation? After all, this is the time when routines are shifted and time slows down just a little bit, leaving room for reflection.

As an expat you may feel like you have to examine most everything in your life and reconsider all of your previously set goals. Perhaps you are thinking that since your circumstances have changed drastically, maybe your goals should as well.

That can be a jarring and overwhelming thought and I would say one that isn’t really true. Sure, you may find that some goals need to be adjusted, and you may discover a whole new set of goals simply because you have new perspectives and inspirations. For many however, the immediate goal when first arriving in a new country is pretty given as you are trying to adjust to a new culture and learn to speak a foreign language.

However, once the moving dust has settled, taking a closer look at your goals is a good idea. There are a few questions you can ask yourself to get started, such as:

  • What are my short-term goals?
  • What are my long-term goals?
  • What goals have I achieved so far this year?
  • What am I struggling with in terms of reaching set goals?
  • What kind of adjustments do I want to make?

Lastly, having a plan for how to achieve your goals is important. Goals without plans become wishes more than anything else, and wishes are subject to luck and the benevolence of others. A goal with a plan is your own creation all together, and one you can make happen!

By: Felicia Shermis

Communication between expat partners – sometimes fragile, always crucial

At about halfway through the summer each year, I start noticing newspaper articles discussing the strain vacation puts on couples. The gist of most of these articles is that heightened expectations (that are not well communicated), in combination with spending extended time together without the regular framework of everyday life, exposes communication deficiencies within a relationship. One could argue that this is the exact situation expats living abroad experience. Only in their case, the everyday framework has been turned upside down completely with a new job, foreign language and different culture all at once.

I read a fair share of articles and blog posts chronicling expat life and it appears to me that one of the big stumbling blocks for couples is that they enter life abroad with completely different expectations of what it will be like. Often times, there is a working partner and an accompanying partner and their realities, once in place are pretty different.

The working partner has to quickly get into the new job and focus on getting to know coworkers, work culture and procedures while the partner staying home is left with the practical matters of getting settled. Both partners may have a difficult time understanding the other’s perspective.

I remember the early days abroad as very isolated and lonely. My husband worked long days and was absorbed with something new and exciting from the get-go. I spent the days making sure things worked at home – dealing with paperwork and making phone calls to institutions of various kinds. At the end of the day my husband was filled with impressions while I was a little starved for real interaction. He was making social connections at work while I was mostly speaking to anonymous clerks and officials. He had instant access to a new and exciting world while I had the more mundane task of setting up “everyday life”. Considering all this, it’s not so surprising that a couple can end up with completely different experiences of life abroad, at least initially.

Complicating matters further is the idea that you are supposed to be happy and excited – after all, you’re on the adventure of a lifetime! Expressing unhappiness or doubt, or letting your partner know how out of place you feel, or how overwhelmed at work you really are, is not an easy thing to do. Speaking about the experience to your regular support network of friends and family back home can be equally difficult – leaving you feeling doubly isolated.

It’s impossible to know beforehand how you will react to your new life situation, but acknowledgement that change is coming and frank discussion about what you are thinking is a good start.

As with all communication you have to be willing to be open and honest in disclosing how you feel. Likewise, you have to be willing to listen and acknowledge that this is how the other person experiences the situation. Lastly, as is almost always the case with international relocation – there is much help and insight to gain from those who have gone before. So, if you get a chance, speak to someone about what his or her experience of life abroad has been – it is invaluable!

By: Felicia Shermis

Summer reading – it’s not just for school kids

This month has been all about communication and language and the impact both have on those settling someplace new. It struck me that the two have a lot to do with one of my favorite pastimes: reading. And since we’re in the middle of summer vacation, I figured – what better time to share some ideas for books to read? After all, books, from whatever genre – fiction, memoir, travelogue, etc. have the power to transport and illuminate, by examining cultures and simply offering different perspectives on life. Sometimes, they remind us of home, and that can be good too.

There are of course several expat-oriented books that explicitly deal with the experience of moving to a new country and adapting to life there. There are guide books and travel books that can be immensely helpful to someone moving abroad, as can any number of expat oriented websites and blogs. This post won’t really talk about those, other than to provide some links at the very end.

What this post will discuss are a few books that deal with transition, moving, and life changes in general. Whether you pick up one of these, or something else, it doesn’t really matter. It’s all about reading something – anything – that fits your needs, tickles your fancy and suits your taste. Here are some that I like:

The Emigrants by Vilhelm Moberg: this series of four books is perhaps the ultimate tale of what it’s like to leave your home and settle in a foreign place. It describes the long and hard journey of a family of emigrants leaving behind their poverty stricken lives in rural Sweden to settle in the United States in the 1850s. Clearly, moving across the globe these days is very different from back then. However, the feelings of loss and wonder are timeless, universal and relatable.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan: this book describes the lives of four Asian women who had to leave China in the 1940s and the relationship with their four adult, very Americanized daughters. A central question in the story, and one I believe resonates with many global citizens: how do you maintain familial bonds across cultural and generational gaps?

The price of water in Finistère by Bodil Malmsten: beautifully and poetically written about the author’s struggles and joys when settling in a new country and all that that entails: picking up a new language, finding reliable help with fixing up a house, learning how to behave at the grocery store and the post office in order not to offend anyone. It’s funny and touching.

Paris in Love: A Memoir by Eloisa James: author Eloisa James took a year long sabbatical from her job in the US and moved her family to Paris. This memoir describes her day-to-day life, the obstacles and successes and it gives intriguing glimpses of Paris as the author slowly but surely “discovers” the city.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss: this may be a children’s book but anyone entering a new phase of life can gain insights from its simple but powerful messages. The fun illustrations and rhymes add to the reading experience.

While on the topic of reading books – joining (or starting) a book club is a wonderful way to meet people and make social connections. “Book clubs are the great leveler in expatriate life. It’s where you can talk to the head of a huge multinational and still discuss things on an equal footing,” says Catherine Gough, a member of a Tokyo book club (from the article “Tips for starting an expatriate book club”, The Telegraph).

By: Felicia Shermis

Expat reading tips:

The Expert Expat: Your Guide to Successful Relocation Abroad by Melissa Brayer Hess and Patricia Linderman

Expat Women: Confessions – 50 Answers to Your Real-Life Questions about Living Abroad by Andrea Martins and Victoria Hepworth

The Expats: A Novel by Chris Pavone

Moving Without Shaking: The guide to expat life success (from women to women) by Yelena Parker

Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds by Davis C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken