Rage Against the Host Country

I visited some friends last April who, like myself, have a multicultural family. She is American and her husband is Austrian. After living for almost twenty years in Austria she called in her “marker” that she could someday return to the USA. So they packed up the family and left fabulous Austria behind for Texas. My situation is similar in that I am American but moved to Germany with my German husband. I asked her Austrian husband, now living in Texas , how his adjustment has been. He mentioned that he has had to do some soul searching in order in order not to be angry at America. Wait what? He was angry with America? How could he be angry with America if I was angry with Europe? Wasn’t Germany to blame for all my frustrations and America was perfect?

He helped me realize that maybe sometimes Expats have some displaced anger. It is not easy by any means to learn a new culture. The little things can set you off.  I remember one day feeling particularly annoyed at the lack of a line system in a bakery. For a country with so many processes and rules, how can Germans not know how to queue up properly? I was feeling empowered and gave the twenty-year-old bakery guy my philosophy on queuing up! He looked very embarrassed and didn’t seem to know what to do with me and replied: “that’s the way it is”. Then that got me started on a whole new annoyance, the lack of customer service in my host country. I walked away grumbling under my breath about Germany. 

So I have come up with some simple ideas for overcoming “Rage Against your Host” (country). Foremost, figure out what you are personally angry about. Is it the queue at the bakery, or are you angry that you followed a partner on an adventure that is less adventure and somewhat stressful? Either way, all expats should be on this journey to learn about other cultures and learn about ourselves in the process. I apparently like a good clear queue/line.

Photo Courtesy of Pexels.com

Don’t forget to smile! I was terribly lost and upset on the train system last week and was exiting the train looking at the train schedule on my phone. An old man got quite snippy with me in German. He sneered at me “Are you getting on or off the train”. I turned around and started yelling at him in German “ You know you could be nice”. I have been on a kick lately to tell people in my city to be nicer. But then I stopped to think, am I the one not being nice by confronting them and their culture? I ever so slightly bumped into a woman this morning and she gave me a death stare. I smiled at her and completely disarmed her! It worked much better then confronting unsuspecting victims.

Learn the language. My German is pretty kick ass but I still get myself in difficult situations where I think I understand but completely do not! I get frustrated and angry but after some introspection I believe I am angrier at myself for not studying more, not listening to German TV and using the translate button on Google Chrome way too often.

So breathe and give it a try! No country is perfect, learning a little patience might be helpful for us all.

Budgeting when moving overseas

Figuring out your cost of living in your newly adopted country can be difficult for Expats. I still don’t know if there is an easy answer. However, before you plan to move overseas do some careful research into cost of living details.

Check the fine print. Of course, we all know to check how much an apartment might cost in your new city but below is a checklist of items that may throw your budget off if you are not prepared.

Gasoline or public transport expensesPublic television/radio fees (as in Germany)
Costs of Visas or mandated language classesHealth Insurance
Private schoolsAuto insurance and or new drivers license
Groceries and SundriesEntertainment
After school care, clubs, activitiesHair and beauty expenses

In my book Moving Overseas , I refer to the problems for Expats to work out a new budget before moving overseas. For us, it is still hard to calculate if the USA is a cheaper standard of living or Europe. Our housing is about the same, the groceries here in Germany are definitely cheaper but go on a car trip and you will pay triple what you are used to paying for gas. A useful tool to help may be Expatisan, https://www.expatistan.com/cost-of-living

Factoring in the cost of living changes is essential before excepting an overseas job opportunity. I have even heard of some families getting an added bonus for the loss of value when they had to sell their cars to move. Or companies that will help pay for private schooling. Do your homework first then negotiate your contract and salary.

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Expats: Deciding Where to Move

I recently saw a post on Quora from someone wanting to leave the United States. He said something like “I can’t stay here forever, where should I move”. Well, that’s a tall order. If you can pick anywhere in the world, where would you relocate? Well, the world is a tad big. So let’s narrow that down.

Passion. The first question should be to ask yourself if you have a passion for any particular place? Most people seem to have a particular place that speaks to them. Some people I think are even better suited to cultures that they were not born into. I had a friend in my study abroad program that I thought fit better into the Austrian culture then she did her own native American culture. Now is your chance to experiment.

Cost of Living. Seriously check this out before moving to another country. Below is a list of the ten most expensive places to be an expat/expatriate. You should, however, be wary of deals that are too good to be true. For example, is it a great cost of living but you’ll have to put your kids in private school. Check here for further details

1. Hong Kong (China)

2. Tokyo (Japan)

3. Singapore

4. Seoul (South Korea)

5. Zurich (Switzerland)

6. Shanghai (China)

7. Ashgabat (Turkmenistan)

8. Beijing (China)

9. New York City (USA)

10. Shenzhen (China)

Weather. This seems like a silly one but consider the weather about it before moving. If you are a beach person and move to Germany those long winters might be hard on you. How much rain does your new home country have per year, will that depress you? Please take this advice from someone who moved from Texas to Germany. I had a Vitamin D deficiency and depression during the first year.

Photo by Gabriela Palai from Pexels

Standard of Living. Will you maintain the same standard of living in your new home? Perhaps you could have a higher standard of living? For us, on our move, I would say we lowered our standard of living but improved our work-life balance. That was a win in my book.Family. If you have a family take their needs into account also, or you will have an unsuccessful venture. Schooling, work opportunities and socialization all have to be considered before deciding to move overseas.

Family. If you have a family take their needs into account also, or you will have an unsuccessful venture. Schooling, work opportunities and socialization all have to be considered before deciding to move overseas.

For more specific ideas check out my book on Amazon.

Obtaining your International Drivers License

If I have one word of advice it’s this; research how to get a driver’s license when you move overseas and research it well. I was foolish when I moved overseas and thought I was under a reciprocal program with Germany and America. Yes, I was in fact qualified for this program but only for one year. I was frankly lazy and did not do my expat homework. When I had a small accident, I was in big trouble for driving without a license. 

You can obtain an International Driving Permit to be on the safe side. The key word is permit, it is just permission to drive in a number of countries. Furthermore, it is only good for one year. Check the regulations of the country you are moving to. Below are some websites I found to help from different countries.

America  http://www.aaa.com/vacation/idpf.html  or AATA http://aataidp.com/

Australia https://www.mynrma.com.au/holidays/travel-insurance-and-permits/international-driving-permits

Canada https://www.caa.ca/

UK https://www.postoffice.co.uk/international-driving-permit

South Africa https://www.aa.co.za/productsmembership/international-driving-permit

Some countries such as Germany and France allow participating countries to drive for one year without exchanging your license. But please research all rules and expiration dates and do not take any chances with exceeding those dates. If you have an EU driving license you may have better luck and never need to trade licenses as long as you meet certain qualifications.

Photo courtesy of Pexels.com

Trailing Spouses

I am an expat living in Germany. I attend some social groups with other English speaking expats. Last month a woman referred to me as a “trailing spouse”. It sounded like an insult for a moment or definitely something I should be concerned about.

The definition on Wikipedia of a trailing spouse is ; The term trailing spouse is used to describe a person who follows his or her life partner to another city because of a work assignment. The term is often associated with people involved in an expatriate assignment but is also used by academia on domestic assignments. Ok well, that doesn’t seem so bad, so I followed someone to another country. That seems harmless. Is it harmless you wonder?

Issues that can affect the couple moving can be numerable. The top one on my list was that my German was limited and I was suddenly dependent on my husband for communication. That get’s old for the native speaker who needs to work and can’t take time off to escort you everywhere. Likewise, it can be difficult on the once independent spouse who now waits at home for someone to take him/her to appointments.

What about socialization for the trailing spouse? Are they now without friends or family who speak the same language? Are they without a drivers license in the new country?

Plan ahead before your move. If you have already moved overseas then take action! There are lots of ideas in my book, Moving Overseas. Here are a couple of my favorite.

  • Be supportive of the emotional roller coaster that your trailing spouse may be on.
  • Figure out a way to find social supports in your new home.
  • Utilize re-location or cultural training’s that are offered with your firm.
  • Join social media support groups
  • Find a coach in your area who is experienced with inter-cultural relationships
Photo by June Intharoek from Pexels

Culture Shock-Educate Yourself

Cultural intelligence is a hot topic for companies that want to compete in the global market. It can also be important for Expats when moving abroad. When making an international move educate yourself on your new home country. You might think you are familiar with a new country but living there and visiting can be two entirely different things.

When I first moved to Germany I think I knew that Germans were perhaps more rule-oriented then American’s. However, after a month of being there and getting yelled at I was worn down and angry. I knew how to say “leave me alone” in German and I started using it, much to the surprise of people who probably thought that was incredibly rude. So I started to try and get with the program and learn the rules. Does your new country have Integration classes or does your company offer this as a benefit? Expat sites on Facebook are often really helpful for asking questions or reading other posts. Sometimes, other expatriates problems can save you some heartache of the same mistakes. Search Facebook or Meetup groups for simple items such as: American’s in Italy, Expats in Germany, English Speaking Moms in France.

An idea that might help you learn more about your new culture is exploring a model such as Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions. This is a fun one to look at even in terms of relationships. My husband is German and I am American. Hofstede depicts American’s as a culture to be highly indulgent and the German’s rather low and more of a restrained culture in terms of self-gratification. Ah ha, that explained a lot of my marital issues. It may also help you to understand the new country you are moving to. The model goes further to explain cultural attitudes towards masculinity and femininity, individualism or group attendance, all things that could be helpful to know. To read more about it and rate your native country to your new country you can start here.

So before moving overseas, prepare and educate yourself as much as you can. You can find further guidance in my book, Moving Overseas. Or for some hilarious culture shock stories check out my blog.

Using Transformers when Moving Abroad

I am not an electrician. For the record, I am an Expat with a  liberal arts degree. I am just going to share something that worked great for me when I moved overseas. When I was decided what to pack and what not to pack in our overseas container, I was really sad about some of my electrical items. I have had the same electric frying pan for fifteen years and it makes one of my favorite dishes. So the thought of leaving behind some of my favorite appliances was sad, not to mention that it seemed like a waste of money.

Then along came the idea of using a transformer. I was completely clueless about electricity abroad but started some research. In the USA I had 120-volt and was moving to a 220-volt area. I looked into a step up or step down transformer; meaning that I could change from 120 to 220 volt or 200 to 120 volt by running the plug through the transformer. I am including a picture and link of one I have, there are many products on the market.


The downsides are they are heavy and take up space. Check the prices of them where you are and where you are moving to. We discovered that they were cheaper to buy in the USA than Germany and bought one and packed it on the shipping container.

The other thing to check is the wattage of the item you want to use. For instance, my Instant Pot runs on 1000 Watt and I knew I wanted to bring that so I bought a transformer that could handle the wattage. Rockstone Power recommends on their website a wattage that is over 50% of what is needed for your appliance. I also read that sometimes appliances with moving parts such as a fan might not do well with a transformer. And the one item I did blow out was my hand mixer. But rest assured it wasn’t an explosion just a mild quiet death.

When you get your transformer you’ll want to read the instructions thoroughly before using. It is so easy to use just a bit intimidating at first. The first time I turned it on it makes this loud humming noise for a second and I thought I might die. All good, they do that!

I’m including it on my blog because it has been a huge success with my international move. The money I spent on the transformer was well made up when I did not have to buy all new appliances abroad. I did buy a new vacuum overseas, I thought lugging around a 10 pound transformer while vacuuming might not be efficient.

For more detailed ideas for adapting to life as an Expatriate check out my book, Moving Overseas: Tales of woe, torture, and success.
***Anyone out there interested in guest blogging about your move? Especially looking for people who moved overseas with animals or dogs.

Cats on Planes

   I spent a lot of time panicking before I left with my cat on our international move. I debated a lot on whether to even take her with us on our move from the USA to Germany. In the end it came down to the fact that I could not part with her. I describe some of the rules and regulations for traveling with pets in my book. However, for this blog, I’d like to offer some personal experience of how cats behave on planes.

    First, you’ll have to make a choice based on your cat’s weight and age and decide if the cat will go with you in the cabin or below in cargo. Also, check your airline’s regulations. Some only allow cats in the cabin domestically. Furthermore, book ahead of time as the airlines will only allow a certain number of pets in the cabin per flight.

    I chose to bring my very old grumpy cat in the cabin with me. It was a ten-hour flight from Dallas to Frankfurt and then I had to get on a forty-five-minute train to my destination. So I was in a complete panic when I realized she might have to be in a carrier for almost fourteen hours including wait time at airports!

    TSA or security in your local airport may be your first hurdle with any animal. A co-worker told me to request a separate room for my cat when security asked me to remove her from the crate. I foolishly ignored this advice. When you remove a frightened cat from it’s carrier in the middle of an airport to show her to security officers let me tell you, all hell can break loose. I have never heard her growl like that before. I am so glad she did not get away, can you imagine the cat running through Dallas International Airport? My next tip would be to find a family restroom or handicapped restroom that might be a single room rather than stalls. I was able to find one and go inside and comfort her for a bit.

    I did use a sedative for my cat, this, however, is a personal decision. I did a test run with her in the carrier and the car and she howled non-stop for 30 minutes so I was terrified she would get me kicked off the plane. Talk to your vet about sedatives and try one out beforehand to make sure there are no surprises. I spoke with a number of people whose cat did not need one for short flights.

    On the plane, I have to say she was absolutely fine! She didn’t complain once. I even took her into the bathroom and let her out of her carrier but this scared her more. I had read this from other people as well. It seems most cats prefer the security of the carrier once put in.

    I did not want my cat to starve or dehydrate so I did allow food and drink but before we left home. When I landed in Frankfort I again found a private bathroom and let her out. I offered her food water and a travel size kitty litter box. She refused all of it and jumped back in the carrier.

    So bottom line I’d say cats will be fine and all the worrying was for naught. I felt horribly guilty and hope I never have to do that to her again but we had few choices. Certainly, do your homework before your international move there is a lot involved but rest assured if my grumpy seventeen-year-old cat can make it your pet can as well.

** Anyone have a personal experience with international moves and dogs and want to be a guest blogger? Contact me and we can collaborate.

Cat on plane
Courtesy of Pexels.com. Travel with pets

How to Pack Your Container

The shipping container arrives!

When I moved overseas, the moving company gave me no instructions for the moving container. I called them thinking that someone had just forgotten to send me anything. The women on the other end said “don’t pack liquids”. I am fairly sure my mouth dropped open as I wondered if that was all she was going to say and in fact, she was done. That was her advice.

While not packing liquids is an important rule there are some other things to think about.

What will you send in your container and how much can you bring with you on the plane? We waited ten weeks for our container and in the meantime, the seasons changed and we did not have appropriate clothing. I remember I cut my son’s jeans off into shorts on a particularly hot desperate day.

What types of paperwork will you need on you that you won’t want sitting in a container?

  • Documentation for visas
  • Proof of immunizations or school records

What about kitchen items? Our movers on the day of the move recommended that I not bring any food items due to pests and the length of time in the container. However, I was not about to throw out my spice collection! I made sure all were properly sealed and had them packed. I also packed a few new sealed items that I knew we might miss in our new home, for example, my son’s Cheerios. Just make sure it is not a product that is forbidden to transport. (i.e. dried or canned meats are forbidden to be brought into the USA)

Do you need to downsize? For many reasons, you may need to downsize: space in the container, smaller place where you are moving, and reducing your environmental footprint. See my book for other ideas on how to downsize for moving internationally.

Forbidden items in the container:

  • Nuts, seeds and plants
  • Firearms
  • Aerosoles and household cleaners
  • Explosives
  • Perishable food items