An Expat Survival Guide

Emigration is unquestionably daunting, but we reap so many rewards from living in another country, from understanding alternative cultures to making new friends. If this is your first time, try starting somewhere your family & friends can easily reach, like Madrid or Barcelona; flights arrive at these cities from across the UK all year round, & are usually cheap enough to make frequent weekends with your loved ones affordable, even on a low budget.

Of course, you might be itching to put as much distance between yourself & your in-laws as possible, in which case you can head somewhere more remote. Either way, here are our top tips for getting to grips with ex-pat life:

1) Bother to learn the language

While many Spanish people do speak English,living in Spain & not speaking Spanish is like watching black & white TV in a digital HDTV showroom. You can get by with smiles, gestures a few ‘por favor’s & ‘gracias’. But you will only be getting by. Not only is learning Spanish (& even some Catalan or Basque) respectful to your hosts; it will open a thousand doors, from conversing with local people in mountain villages to bargaining for your fish at the market.

2) Things are different – not wrong!

Constant criticism & negative comparisons with home are offensive & will make you unhappy. If you find yourself repeatedly using the phrases “In England…” or “They….”, take some time out & think about why you’re here & what you originally wanted. The road to homesickness & bitter ex-pat-dom lies in the presumption that your way is right.

3) Embrace the culture with gusto, from the start

At home or abroad, it’s easy to get tied up in daily life & put off the museums, theatres & sights that define a country. If you’ve always wanted to go to a bullfight, don’t wait until your last month in Spain to do so. If you love Spanish food, don’t waste time eating pasta at home; do a local cookery course & try every local restaurant.

4) You’re not alone

Modern technology has changed ex-pat life dramatically in the past 10 years. Skype, email, Twitter & Facebook make it easy & cheap to keep in touch with folks back home, while internet forums let you reach out & get advice. Whether you’re job-hunting, transferring money or buying land, forums are a font of other ex-pats, who’ve “been there” & are willing to share the experience. If technology is not your thing, there’s almost always a bar where fellow foreigners congregate. While you may not want to be there every night, it is sometimes a relief to hang out with people who speak English & know what Only Fools & Horses is!

5) Coming home can be harder than going away.

While you’re gone, your friends will continue their lives – they’ll get married, have children, get divorced… When (if) you return, they will be happy to see you, but they won’t want to see all your pictures or hear endless stories about Spain. That is hard in itself, but it’s more than that: living abroad will change you. For many people, it’s the start of an irresistible nomadic life; but don’t exclude the possibility that you’ll realise your home town actually contains everything you want.