Living Abroad (for Beginners), Part 1

So, you decided to go abroad. Congratulations! Whether you’re taking an internship, studying your master’s, or doing some volunteer work for a couple of months, this experience will surely change your world view. It is also an opportunity to grow and challenge yourself with new things. Are you ready for the adventure?

If this is your first time, you are probably wondering about your new life and fussing over a lot of annoying little details about your trip. “What should I pack?”, “What will the weather be like?”, “How will I find my way in a new city?”.

Yes, getting to know a new system can be stressful. But don’t you worry! After a while, you’ll get the hang of it. In the mean time, here are a few tips that will make your experience much easier:

1. Don’t assume, ask! This is the golden rule. When traveling to another country, don’t take anything for granted. Dialing local numbers, finding a public telephone or taking the subway may be very different in your destination country, so don’t be afraid to ask about details.

2. Visa and Transportation: Get legal issues in order before you buy your plane ticket or ask for flexible departure dates. Visa procedures can be complicated since every country has a different way of doing things. Make sure you apply for the correct visa type in a timely manner. Depending on the country, visas can take from 2 – 6 months and costs may vary. Don’t forget to include these expenses in your budget!

3. Insurance: You are probably not planning to get sick or getting into an accident, but health insurance is VERY important. Ask the embassy about minimum coverage as long term visas usually require different types of insurance. You can also ask friends that have been abroad, as they can recommend a couple of good insurance companies you can compare with real life feedback. Make sure that your insurance covers repatriation of remains, as well as both major (surgeries, emergencies, etc) and minor (regular checkups and medicine for common illnesses) medical expenses.

4. Health: Yes, some countries may require a visit to the doctor for a general check up or even to get a necessary shots. Ask the embassy about these issues in advance and don’t forget to put the vaccination booklet/medical report in your carry-on. If you don’t know your blood type, it is also advisable to have a blood type test done before you leave. Keep the results folded in your passport or local ID and carry with it ALWAYS.

5. Packing:
Time to pack!:

* Suitcases: 4 wheel suitcases are VERY convenient when traveling, since you don’t have a lot of space to maneuver along tiny corridors. Buying a quality 4-wheel suitcase can save you a lot of hassle.
* Place your name and contact information (both home and new address, phone number with country code) INSIDE your suitcase for extra security. The airline will provide name tags to put outside your suitcase, at the airport.
* Miniatures: No need to take the whole bottle of shampoo. Find smaller versions to save space and weight for more important things.
* Pack shoes in individual bags and place them at around the bottom of the suitcase. Use the inside to store other small articles such as socks or underwear.
* Pack delicate articles (glass bottles, souvenirs, etc) in bubble wrap and place them in the middle of the suitcase, protected by layers of clothes on all sides.

Before making a packing list:
* Check a weather overview for the period you’re going to be abroad.
* Ask locals about key articles they never go without. Ask them about prices and seasonal sales before adding it to your shopping list. Some things are just easier to buy on site.
* If you plan to travel to other cities, make a small list of the places you want to go and the activities you plan to do for extra items you usually wouldn’t need (bathing suits, sleeping bags, etc.)
* Find out about customs policies and packaging requirements for liquids and other articles.
* Ask your airline about the number of pieces of luggage allowed, size and weight restrictions and overweight costs. Find out if they offer discounts for prepaid overweight.
* Contact adapters and voltage regulators can come in handy. Find out if you will need them, before you leave. You’re electronic devices will appreciate it 🙂

The packing list:
* Find a pre-made packing list you like and add to it.
* Prioritize: Highlight what you NEED and identify things you can go without.
* Create a separate list for each piece of luggage and keep it with your travel documents.
* DON’T FOLD. Lay clothes flat on the bottom of the suitcase or roll articles to prevent wrinkling. Learn more about the “wrapping technique”.
* Carry-on: Pack a pair of jeans, a couple of tops and two sets of underwear in case your suitcase gets lost. Important medicine, contact lenses, eyeglasses, camera, basic toiletries to freshen up (tooth paste, tooth brush, perfume, deodorant, etc) and any valuables should be packed in your carry on.
* Important documents, money and other valuables: Keep these articles with you at all times. Money Belts are advisable, specially when traveling on night trains or in shared compartments. However, you can also sew pockets inside your clothes or wear make special ankle packs that can be concealed underneath your pants or in your boot.

Stay tuned for more tips on “LIVING ABROAD FOR BEGINNERS!”

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