Survival Tips for Living Abroad

Posted on 22 March 2010 by Sasha

Taking the plunge to live and work abroad in a country where they don’t speak your language is a huge and daunting step. You are away from your friends, family and the familiarity of home.  The communication barrier can be a frustrating challenge. I can say from experience that all the reading up on culture and other people’s experiences cannot truly prepare you for what is to come. Being the only foreigner for miles can be incredibly stressful and lonely, but with the right outlook it is an incredibly exciting and amazing experience.

These are my Survival Tips for Living Abroad in a place where they don’t speak your language.


1. Lower your expectations

Don’t expect it to be at all like the image you had pictured in your head. If you don’t expect too much then you won’t have far to fall and it will be much easier to cope and adapt when things aren’t ideal.

2. Give it time

Don’t instantly give up and buy a ticket to fly back home. Most likely things will improve and your new life will just become the norm. Wait it out, give yourself the time to really settle in, you may even find that you fall in love with the place.

3. Let it all out

So you’re feeling incredibly emotional, sad, lonely and way out of your comfort zone. Fork out the cash for that expensive international phonecall and call someone you can vent to. Just hearing a familiar friendly voice is a huge comfort.

4. Get out there and explore

Go outside the confines of what you have come to view as your prison and really get to know the area. Find the local supermarket, local hangouts, local park and just people watch. The process of exploring and discovering how the locals live may re-ignite that excitement and exhilaration that comes with travel.

5. Have a routine

Routine can be so boring but it also speeds up the settling in process. It is extremely comforting to have some consistency like going for a walk every evening or every morning cleaning up the pool of water on the living room floor that has leaked from the shower. Maybe you could have one night a week where you can indulge in your western food craving or every Friday night watch pirate copy DVDs.

6. Make the space your own

Now chances are you didn’t get much choice in where you live and even less choice in the furniture and décor. But the good news is unless the furniture is bolted onto the floor it can always be moved around to your liking. If you have a particular eye for interior design you can always get new bedding and a few cheap accessories to really make the place feel like your own.

7. Travel, travel, travel

Unless you are literally in the middle of nowhere with civilisation days away then weekend trips should definitely be on your survival agenda. Getting away for the weekend, travelling and meeting other foreigners is a great way to put the spark back into living abroad. If you have something to look forward to than the days will fly by!

8. Stay connected

Write emails, keep a blog, call people and Skype away. Staying connected with friends and family is what will keep you sane! You may be the only foreigner in person but at least you can talk with others who fluently speak the same language as you. You will realise that you are not completely alone!

9. Learn the language

Now no one expects you to become fluent but knowing a few phrases can make a huge difference. If you at least try you will earn brownie points among the locals even if you fail most will be very understanding.

10. Treat yourself

What’s your luxury? Maybe you love a good cappuccino or just a nice slice of toast. Find somewhere where you can treat yourself to this luxury and give you some connection to the life you had back home.

11. Make new friends

Make the effort to make friends with fellow work colleges or the people that live around you.  Find the local expat hangout, join a sports team or take a class.  The more people you meet the more potential new friends you will have.

12. Remember why you came

What were your reasons for originally deciding to live abroad?  Was it to travel, have a change of scenery, have an exciting new adventure and get an in depth look into the culture.  Either way it’s important to keep those reasons insight they will help you realise all the positives of your situation.

How have you coped when living abroad?  I’d love to read your stories and tips in the comments!!!


You can read all about my experience transitioning into life in China in my blog post the only foreigner for miles.

If you want to follow my journey teaching, living and travelling in China then please subscribe to the RSS feed!!!

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1 Comments For This Post

  1. Chris - The Aussie Nomad
    Twitter: theaussienomad

    great tips Sasha. Even thought I’m off to Europe I’m sure I’ll find myself surrounded by people who won’t understand me.

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