55 Tips for the New (and Seasoned) Expat

A while back I started an “Expat Tip of the Day” Twitter campaign to give advice to fellow expats.

Some of these were specific to South Africa (All expats/foreigners HAVE to apply for a Traffic Register Number to buy a car in South Africa), and some were universal expat concerns (Make a spreadsheet of family passport numbers and expiration dates; schedule expiration dates in your calendar).

Since Twitter is not really my thing, this never got a huge following. But I diligently collected all my Twitter tips, thinking I’d one day have enough to publish as a list.

Then I promptly forgot about it.

expat tips

Until just a few days ago, I came across the hashtag #expatproblems. I thought that #Expattips would make a nice complement to that. Got problems? I got tips!

Without further ado, here is my collected wisdom from collectively 5 years of expat life in Asia and Africa:

#ExpatTip 1:  Make a spreadsheet of family passport numbers and expiration dates; schedule expiration dates in your calendar.

#ExpatTip 2: Make (and keep in a file on your computer) a moving checklist; check out this sample

#ExpatTip 3:  If you don’t have a visa, you’re not a person, at least in South Africa; apply early, Home Affairs is slooooow! 

#ExpatTip 4:  Carry a passport copy with you when signing up for new services; In SA you’ll also need your lease agreement.

#ExpatTip 5: Fly with a folder of family documents (birth certificates, immunization records, etc) rather than shipping them in the container. This is also a good place to mention things you should NOT be putting into your container. Like potatoes. Since they will arrive as #rottenpotatoes #ewwwholdsnose 

#ExpatTip 6: All expats/foreigners HAVE to apply for a Traffic Register Number to buy a car in South Africa.

#ExpatTip 7: Expats in Johannesburg: apply for a Traffic Register Number (TRN) for your car at the Randburg Licensing Office on Wednesdays from 7:30 to 10:00 am. This at the risk of them changing the times yet again, and some reader yelling at me that I gave terrible advice. To which I can say, you get what you pay for, guys! Donation to my blog, anyone?

#ExpatTip 8:  Make a spreadsheet with all personal numbers (ID/passport, drivers license, health insurance)

#ExpatTip 9: Foreigners can’t obtain a South African driver’s license unless they are permanent residents.

#ExpatTip 10: A foreign driver’s license is valid in South Africa (if in English, current, with picture). The challenge is to keep it current. You may have to travel half around the world to renew it!

#ExpatTip 11: Don’t drive in South Africa without a copy of the SA National Road Traffic Act

#ExpatTip 12:  Keep a postal address in your home country and have sensitive information (bank statements) sent there http://bit.ly/1a4cf70. Or you will have someone intercept your mail and next thing you know, your overseas bank rep, who, being German, is a very diligent bank rep, call you and wants to know, do you REALLY want 11,000 Euros transferred to an account in Nigeria?

#ExpatTip 13: Do not send anything valuable (any package) to South Africa via regular 

#ExpatTip 14: Do NOT bribe a cop who is telling you your foreign driver’s license is not sufficient; wait it out. Who knows, you might get lucky so you can finally blog about a South African jail from the inside. 

#ExpatTip 15: Keep an address, bank, and credit card in your home country.

#ExpatTip 16: Start exploring immediately; don’t wait till the last box is unpacked and your house is perfect. Or you will leave three years later with a perfect house but no exciting adventures to show for. If you’re looking for travel tips for South Africa, here is a start

#ExpatTip 17: Make a list of attractions in your new city/country for visitors; see Joburg Expat’s list about things to do in Joburg here.

#ExpatTip 18: Even the bad parts can have their charm; it helps to write about them. 

#ExpatTip 19: Start a blog for your future self and people back home; and remember, the crappier your mishap, the better the story! Become an #expatblogger. 

#ExpatTip 20: Buy yourself and your kids a Kindle before moving overseas. Not every country has nice libraries. See Your Kindle in South Africa.

#ExpatTip 21: Go out of your shell to make new friends. Other expats are in the same boat and happy to meet you.

#ExpatTip 22: Reduce your baggage. The less you have, the easier it is to move. And you’ll learn that you don’t really need all that stuff.

#ExpatTip 23: Don’t wait to find a doctor and dentist until you have an emergency. Do some research so you know who to call when you need one.

#ExpatTip 24: Don’t be #GrumpyExpat; be #SuccessfulExpat. Here’s how

#ExpatTip 25: Enroll your kids in a local school if that’s an option; continuity is overrated; novelty and adaptability provide better life lessons.

#ExpatTip 26: Understand which voltage is used in your new country. U.S. = 110V, most of rest of world = 220V.

#ExpatTip 27: When in doubt, laughThe difference between dysfunctional and quirky is only a matter of mindset. Can I enter this into a philosophy contest?

#ExpatTip 28: When the power goes out, have coffee with a friend. Here are some of Joburg’s places for coffee. 

#ExpatTip 29: Research a new country using a website catering to expats such as @expatarrivals

#ExpatTip 30: When your container is packed, set aside an empty room in the house for items outside of the packers’ reach.

#ExpatTip 31: Discuss with your kids who gets which room before moving, or you may never hear the end of it in future years. In fact, it might be best to take notarized statements from everyone.

#ExpatTip 32: Expat spouse? Sign up for services in YOUR name, or you may not be able to access your account. See I’m Only the Spouse.

#ExpatTip 33: Think of the bright side. I may never have received a promised callback in South Africa, but our toilets were never clogged!

#ExpatTip 34: If renting a house in South Africa, take a water and electricity meter reading as soon as you move in. See Digging for the Water Meter

#ExpatTip 35: Make sure your passport contains several blank pages. A tale of warning if it doesn’t.

#ExpatTip 36: Have a choice between expat locations? Pick the one where you can get domestic help!

#ExpatTip 37: Be informed about hiring domestic help. Here is what it looks like in South Africa.

#ExpatTip 38: Find a provider for Uncapped Internet, or you might run out of data quickly. See I finally Have Uncapped Internet for more.

#ExpatTip 39: Remember that if you want a house with sun exposure in the Southern hemisphere, it needs to be a North-facing house.

#ExpatTip 40: Research and make a list of things to buy before moving. Read 19 Things to Put On Your Shopping List for South Africa.

#ExpatTip 41: DVD players (if you still use them) have different region codes. Best buy a multi-system one before your expat move. 

#ExpatTip 42: Open a local bank account in your new country. 

#ExpatTip 43: Buy plenty of universal adapter plugs and extension strips before your move – see My Top Expat Tips for more.

#ExpatTip 44: Buy a cheap prepaid cell phone when you arrive in new country; research the perfect plan later when there is more time.

#ExpatTip 45: Before you buy a new Kindle charger for your new country, see if you don’t have a Blackberry or Samsung one. They all use a USB compatible charger.

#ExpatTip 46: If you plan to travel in South Africa, let the agent know you are Sout African residents and not from the U.S.,or you’ll be overcharged. Ask for the South African price!

#ExpatTip 47: How to make sure you have the right Kindle charger in South Africa. See Which Charger Should I Get for my Kindle in South Africa.

#ExpatTip 48: Get to know your city – a great way for #Johannesburg is the Johannesburg in your Pocket guide.

#ExpatTip 49: Research pet import rules to cut down on costs, even if you use a relocation service. South Africa pet relocation advice.

#ExpatTip 50: What should be on my Expat Moving Checklist? See The Ultimate Expat Moving Checklist.

#ExpatTip 51: Don’t listen to your mother. DO talk to strangers!

#ExpatTip 52: How Much is Enough – Expat Tips on Tipping 

#ExpatTip 53: Regarding travel again, when visiting Namibia, fly to Windhoek & book rental car FIRST b4 booking flight. MUST get 4×4 vehicle.

#ExpatTip 54 on #petrelocation, check with airline if size of crate fits into cargo hatch. More on moving pets to SA: http://bit.ly/ZHdxju

#ExpatTip 55: Choose the right post office box location wisely. 

I hope you’ve been able to find something useful on this list. As always, please leave a comment if I’ve forgotten anything or accidentally gave the wrong information. Good luck to all future expats in South Africa and beyond!

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