People often talk about the difference between our pre- and post-9/11 world, and it’s true: the days where we could walk through an airport keeping our shoes and belts on are long gone. Whether you’re interested in politics or not, when moving abroad it’s a good idea to start watching the news. At least to be aware of the general history, political climate, and belief system, and their impact on the country’s culture.
For security details, you can google CIA fact files for your destination, look through Gallup crime statistics, and research information provided by local police offices.
Depending on your employer, your position, and your destination, you and your family may go through anti-abduction training. Make time in your schedules to take part in them as they may save your life.
Familiarize yourself with your new hometown’s layout and transportation options. Not all taxis may be safe to jump into, and the busses might not run during certain hours. Do you drive? Your GPS device may not always be able to connect, so make sure to carry a paper map. Once you know your way around, you can use it as wall decoration, pinning in every spot you’ve visited.
Don’t underestimate flora and fauna. I made sure I was able to tell a harmless Mexican male Black Widow spider from its more dangerous female equivalent.
This helped tremendously every time I stepped into our garden to water the plants or hang up our laundry. For the first few weeks, we also kept our shoes and boots wrapped in bags, because neighbors had warned us about scorpions nesting in the shoe-caps. Spraying chemical disinfectant at regular intervals around all windows and doors eventually made us feel calmer. This is where my need for safety trumped the otherwise ecological correctness.
All this research can still not fully prepare you for brain shock, aka culture shock. It’s emotionally challenging to live in a place where you are the obvious outsider. On the plus side, you may be more prepared for the culture shock because you are obviously different and come to expect it. It’s a lot sneakier in presumably similar countries, where everyone looks like you, but sounds and acts differently.
If you’re moving with a company, their benefits plan will guide your care options. Ideally, you’re not the first expat couple to relocate, so people who have gone before you might be able to recommend doctors once you’re there. If not, ask your colleagues and neighbors for recommendations, google the specialists, look for magazine or blogs’ top 10 lists, and visit more than one before making a decision.
Definitely have a final check-up before you leave, maybe even schedule follow-ups during strategically planned home visits. Depending on the country you move to, you may need vaccines to protect against infections. Be careful with prescription refills; while you may want to take a year’s supply, customs might stop and arrest you for intent to distribute. Investigate the regulations for the medication you use, how much you’re allowed to carry, and what the local equivalent would be.