Pursuing Life's Daring Adventure

Monday, January 25, 2010

Ten Must-Haves for Expats Living Abroad

We have lived in Prague, Czech Republic, for six months now, and I thought I would write out a list of the top ten things we feel we can’t live without, as US expats living in a non-English-speaking country.



So far, our experiences have been exhilarating, stretching beyond what we thought possible, and more unexpected than what we thought before coming. Some friends and former expats gave us advice on Must-Haves before we left Cincinnati, and my hope is that this list helps others along in their adventures abroad, as well. Please leave any items you would add in the comments section, below.

Ten Must-Haves for Expats

1. iPhone:

I’m sure other cell phones work well, too, but my iPhone has been my constant companion. The email, internet, weather, text messaging, music, video, contacts, and other standard functions have worked when every other function in our home (i.e. Internet, phone, etc.) has failed. Skype is wonderfully handy when on wi-fi. Also, the active maps function, along with units conversions, and just about every other app imaginable have saved the day for us many times. Note: US-bought iPhones usually are bound to US phone companies with high international rates. After our US iPhone fried (literally), we bought an unlocked iPhone, which can use any prepaid SIM card in any country.
My suggestion: Do a bit of research before you invest, and be sure your iPhone is factory unlocked.

2. Skype:

Wow! This has been our lifesaver, for connecting with family and friends, and even business back in the States. The standard Skype is free through a standard internet connection, but for only a few dollars a month, Skype offers US phone numbers for purchase, with the same per/minute rate being free. This allows us to have a US phone number that folks in the US can call like a normal phone call without the international rates. My suggestion: set up a Skype phone number through your home country so you can stay in touch as if you were at home, in country.

3. A great digital camera:

Photographs have come so far in so little time, it’s hard to imagine the technology getting any better. For expats, going digital means having the ability to download the photographs and share them with family and friends instantly, back home.
My suggestion: a digital D-SLR like the Nikon D-40, a great starter, or my favorite, the Nikon D-90, with 18-200mm lens.

4. A great computer:

Buy a great computer in the States before venturing abroad, unless your new locale is renowned for better prices. Here in Prague, computers cost at least two times more than in the US. A great computer can serve as your entertainment depot, a means of uploading current movies, music, news, and television from the US. My suggestion: buy the fastest laptop you can afford, with the largest memory. Then load it up with iTunes (television, movies, music), Picasa (for photo-sharing), and Facebook (to easily stay in touch with friends around the world).

5. A good pocket-sized phrase book / dictionary:

This is one thing we carry with us at all times, especially in a country with a highly-difficult and complex language. Usually, they’re fairly easy to find in bookstores in the US, based on the English language. But once in country, the phrasebooks are usually backward (Czech to English), which only frustrates efforts to communicate.

6. Bose speakers:

An expat friend recommended we buy one of these pricey speaker systems before we moved. We thought and thought, but eventually bought one. It has turned out to be one of the best comforts (great music!) in a foreign country, and is one of the few appliances that has lasted.
My suggestion: Find the nearest Bose outlet in the US and save a few dollars by buying one there.

7. Outlet converters:

Electrical outlets are different all around the world, and sometimes it’s difficult to find out what type you might need. For laptop computers, and other adaptable appliances, these are a must-have.
My suggestion: Buy a few more than you think you’ll need at your local Radio Shack. The type we need is unavailable here in Prague, though they carry converters for other nearer countries.

8. Medications / vitamins / over-the-counter aids:

My experience: Buying basics at the Czech Lekarna is not easy. Besides the language barrier, we have to go through a pharmacist to get even simple needs like ibuprofen.
My suggestion: Stock up.

9. International Driver’s License:

Costs less than $20 at an AAA in the US, and takes less than ten minutes.
My suggestion: Check on the regional driving rules, but apply for one before you leave the States.

10. Garmin:

This tiny screen that mounts inside any car for giving accurate directions and maps has opened up worlds and countries without which we never could have found, and seen.
My suggestion: Buy the downloadable maps for your target country before you leave the States.

Finally, one thing that is needed more than all the others, but the one that money can’t buy: an open mind.

Everything is different in a foreign country—the language, the roads, the food, the customs, the drink—even the way they take out the trash. To succeed, an expat must have an open mind, a flexibility to the things that are different, and a heart happy to explore and try something new—even when everything is new.

The Prague Post has published oodles of shocking human rights news stories, including rampant discrimination, human trafficking, and forced sterilizations. It is heartbreaking. And in this post-Communist country, customer service has very little value, if at all. Nothing here is the same. Nothing here is easy. But, we are guests in their country, and believe we are here to help influence change for the better, one day and one person at a time. We have one huge hope for when we leave: that we will help leave the Czech Republic a better place, and that we also will leave bettered by our experiences here as well.

Starting the Conversation: (add your thoughts by clicking on the comments link below): What would you add to the list? What have I missed?

Have a great week!

-JK

A big P.S.: I apologize for all the problems I've had with the comments program I had running. After weeks of working with their coding experts, and not gaining a solution, I've uninstalled ... so we're back to basics. I'm hoping this continues to work, as working comments are essential to having the conversation go two-ways. Thanks for your patience!

4 comments:

  1. Jennifer, very nice list. I have posted a link to it from my blog. I never would have thought of the Bose speakers!

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  2. Thank you, FutureExpat, for your link ... and for others who may want to see your website, the address is: http://futureexpats.com/

    Great site! -Jennifer

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  3. Thank you Jennifer. We're packing now and will be there in a few weeks with a toddler in tow! Thank you for the advise!

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