How To Prepare For An International Move: 7 Survival Tactics

Bloody hell.. who said moving was fun? These 7 survival tactics will help you prepare for what can be a harsh reality in comparison with pictured expectations of an international move.

Okay let's be honest, moving is not fun.

Most people I have asked agree that moving is stressful, hectic and places you well out of your comfort zone. If it were possible, I’m sure you would choose to simply wake up in your new location to find all your belongings had moved for you, easily and effortlessly - and that’s just for everyday moves. So what happens in international moves? Does moving abroad double the stress, or can it be less worrisome?

Now, I am someone who likes change. I love exploring other countries and I love living abroad - but I do not like moving. Optimistic as I am, there always seems to be some downside; such as not being able to find your favourite shirt, or forgetting where you left the screws for your bed, meaning you have to spend another night on the floor! Having said that I’ve found that moving internationally can be a breeze. This is why.

Let's start with the beginning: the relocator. In an international move, you will typically benefit from the services of a relocator. Should you find yourself a good one (who is reliable, packs everything for you and does this systematically), moving is a piece of cake. Let's be honest most of the stress of moving is caused by packing, so if you can have a relocator do this for you, isn’t that the best deal ever?

Of course there’s more to moving internationally than just packing. Preparation and starting the process on time is the greatest tactic for lowering your stress levels and managing your expectations of the move.

International Move Preparation and Survival Tactics
It’s important to prepare yourself and be ready to face the unexpected. Below are other preparation tactics to help you make the most of your own international moves. These tips have been written based on my experience of moving to the United Emirates, specifically Dubai. However, they can apply to any other international move.

1. Read up on your new destination
To set your expectations, you’re going to need to do some background research into your destination. As you’re planning a move, not a visit, you’ll need to take your investigation a bit broader than the normal facts like climate, religion, culture, safety and people. Typically you will need to find background information on the best places to live, schools to attend, school systems, standards of living, costs of living, safe areas and commuting.

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg, as once you are there, you will need to be ready to understand how the local systems work; which means you need to do your homework. Be aware that some online expat forums can be quite negative and may not necessarily provide an accurate picture. If you can, it’s a good idea to connect with someone who lives or used to live in your new destination, to gather some real-life insights.

2. Use a check-list
Although I’m not a big fan of check-lists myself, I’ve found they are a highly useful and recommended tactic to help you survive a move. There is so much to do and so much to think about it is almost undoable without a check-list. This is especially true if you are moving with a family and need to remember things like cancelling your son's soccer club as well as your own gym membership.

Most international relocators can provide excellent check-lists, so it’s wise to ask them for one before starting from scratch; you don’t need to invent the wheel!

3. Go for a targeted pre-visit
If you are able to go on a pre-visit to your new destination this can be a very helpful survival tactic to keep your stress levels low. A pre-visit is most beneficial once you’ve mapped your move to a specific area; so you can explore where you want to live, see how your commute may look, or see where you’d like your children to attend school.

The pre-visit is an excellent method to see whether reality matches your expectations. Try to obtain a full picture: traffic, parking, distance to work, shops, schools as well as people in the neighbourhood and financial impact. This is a crucial tactic in making sure reality aligns with your plans.

4. Accept culture training assistance - it’s gold!
When moving from a Western country to an Emirates country such as Dubai, culture training or cultural research is crucial. My research told me that the people who were most successful in their adjustment, had prepared well and had stayed open minded.

Taking experience from others, one lady told me that she dealt with the adjustment to a different culture by working 'to accept that we are all humans’. All that mattered to her was a person’s character. This is also true of another friend’s experience; he told me that to have the best experience, he 'always stayed open minded' and 'remembered to stay respectful at the same time'.

5. Treat the first couple of weeks as a holiday
Fast-forward to a certain point in time where you have survived the move and are there! Wow! At this point, many of your personal belongings will not have arrived, your children will be missing their friends (as well as that one missing toy) and you will all feel a little disjointed. So for the first few weeks of adjustment, try to make things as much fun as possible by treating the move as if you are on holiday.

Everybody who has ever been on holiday, rented a house or stayed in an Airbnb knows: it might be nice but it is not the same as home. You may be missing your favourite cooking equipment, or other things that you couldn’t bring with you on the plane. But as those things are temporary, try to treat the situation like a holiday while you wait for your belongings container to arrive.

6. Get into a routine as fast as possible
To help yourself and your children adjust, try to get into a routine as quickly as possible. The best way to deal with disruption like an international move, is to make daily life as normal as you can. So even if your children have not yet started school, or you have not started work, make sure things happen with a rhythm. It will provide the structure you have lost by moving and will make everyone more at ease with the situation.

7. Stay in contact with the 'home' country
Adjusting to a new situation is easier when you have a support system in place such as friends or family who can help you see the sunny side of a situation. It can also be a great help if you have children who have reluctantly said goodbye to their friends. Let them reconnect with these friends now and again. With all modern technology like Skype, WhatsApp Video and FaceTime the world has just become a smaller place.

Lastly the final coping tactic to move with as little stress as possible is to simply remember the reason for your move. Was it a great sense of adventure and your urge to explore new worlds that got you here? Whatever your reason for the move, you have succeeded in reaching that goal. Well done and welcome to your new home country. ENJOY!


About Yvonne Dam: Yvonne is an expatriate, assignee and the owner of Amaze Yourself online coaching. She helps people with busy lives to focus on what they really want, thus returning balance and energy to their lives so they can start enjoying themselves. Furthermore she helps people in finding the job they have always wanted. Yvonne is Dutch and currently lives in the UK, having lived in 4 different countries and worked all over the world.