What You Should Know: Setting Up Home in a New Country

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You’ve decided to move yourself and your family halfway around the world . It may be a country you’ve been to before or it may be a place you’ve hardly heard of. Before major apoplexy sets in here are a few tips to help make a big international move successful.

Moving so far from home can be thrilling and terrifying. What do we bring? What should we not bring? What if they don’t have our favorite (clothing, medicines, toothpaste, etc)? Setting up home, especially in a new country, can be daunting. Not knowing where to find things in your new location can be worrisome, especially if you or your family have special needs or requirements. Here are some tips and ideas I’ve gathered from my expat friends as well as my own personal experience.

Find a friend: If you are being moved by your employer you may be given a relocation specialist to talk to about the actual logistics of the move (housing, schools, banking, etc.). But specialist or not, it's most helpful to find a person currently living in your new home country and use them as a resource and a reality-check. Before I moved to Singapore I connected with another mom (friend of a friend) who had one year under her belt and she immediately set my mind as ease. Not only did she give suggestions as to what items were necessary to bring but also what things weren’t necessary. She was also enormously helpful when I needed recommendations for doctors, dentists and other specialists.

Shipping and sending: Depending on your budget or moving parameters you may be able to bring a small portion of your house or perhaps most of your house. I’ve known families to bring as little as their clothing and personal affects as well as families that literally bring every single vase, photo frame and end table to their new country. Be sure you verify how much you’re allowed to bring with you (i.e. the size of your shipping container) as well as what the typical housing size for your new destination. Think carefully about your prized possessions or furniture and be honest about what you must have versus what you want to have. We avoided bringing precious wood pieces because of the severe humidity and declined to bring irreplaceable items in case of breakage during the move.

Stock up: We had been advised by our new Singapore friends that certain items, although easy to find here, were much more expensive. So we stocked up on sunblock, preferred medicines, contact lenses and the like. Having a several month supply of necessary items gave us some time to look for these things upon settling in. Remember, after moving so far from home and suffering the inevitable jet lag, it’s nice to not have to search all over town for something that you or a family member absolutely needs.

Make connections: Most major cities have international organizations to help with your transition. Usually the local US Embassy can connect you with social or professional clubs and serve as a resource for expats. Having served as an expat outpost for over a century, Singapore has several well-established and well populated clubs like the American Association that offer professional advice, social events and serve as a local resource in our native language. Most of the time these organizations are the perfect place to gather information about where to live, what to do, where to go and can offer a nice home-away-from-home.

Finding furnishings: Even if you are able to bring furniture from home with you you may still need, or want, to purchase items for your new home. Never underestimate the influence of a new country on your own personal style. I’ve known plenty of people to eschew the idea of Asian furniture only to come back from living in Asia with a huge collection of Buddha sculptures. Living abroad will give you the unique opportunity to slowly shop the local style and bring back pieces that are both interesting and meaningful. That being said, expats are usually glad that resources like Ikea are available world-wide; especially when all you need is a table lamp, garbage can or linens. Local expat clubs and organizations are also a good resource for needed items. Often times expats are leaving the country just as fast as new expats are arriving and there are plenty of opportunities to find used items at good prices.

Electricity: Before our move I’d never given two thoughts about transformers, adapters or wattage numbers. Inevitably you’ll be bringing electronics with you and it will be important for you to learn the wattage as well as the plug configuration prior to your move. Much of the world functions with 220 wattage while the US is 120 watts. If your appliance is designed for both 120 as well as 220 then it should work, however you’ll still need a plug adapter (to make the plug actually fit in the new plug configuration) and possibly a transformer. As a general rule, appliances with motors (hair dryers, blenders, etc.) may work but probably won’t work well over time so try to buy those items in your new country. It’s a good idea to bring at least one plug adapter and transformer before you leave as you’ll need to immediately charge equipment like cellular phones and laptops. Once you are settled in you’ll have time to make sure you’re purchasing the correct equipment for your own household needs. Here is a comprehensive guide about electrical systems internationally.

Creature comforts: Even with the most minimal of moving you’ll probably want to have certain items that remind you of home. For my own children, precious stuffed animals and toys as well as their own bedding were an absolute must for our move. In an instant their new room looked almost like their old room and provided them a good sense of security. As adults our “toys” may translate into favorite books, tchotchkies or photos and usually don’t take up too much room. Our new home, stylistically, doesn’t look at all like our old home. But bringing some of our favorite decorative items give our new place a sense of comfort.

We’d love to hear about your own advice about setting up home in a new country! What items were you most glad to have brought with you? Which items do you regret bringing with you?

Image: TheMuuj via Flickr licensed under Creative Commons