50 Things I Learned Abroad (#25-21 Expat Life)

This post is part of a larger collection of the 50 Things I Learned Abroad after a year spent in Europe. Stay tuned for more.

I was only gone for a year so I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a full-on Expat but here goes:

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25. Its easy to make friends with other Expats (in big cities).

Sometimes I get emails from people who are planning a move abroad and are worried about isolation. Unless you’re being randomly placed in a small town (a distinct possibility if you participate in the Auxiliares program outside of Madrid), this won’t be a problem for you. Every large city has an expat community and even if you don’t fancy yourself a “joiner”, its easy to show up at a given event/ meeting and strike up a conversation since you already have something in common.

24. It can be hard to make friends with locals (in big cities).

You can’t blame them but locals can shy away from forming deep relationships with people lacking strong local ties. If there were thousands of students/teachers/tourists streaming in and out of your city, you might resist getting attached too. Add to that the language barrier. Even if you know eachothers’ languages well enough, it can be exhausting to converse in your non-native tongue for too long. I mention this because I knew expats who blamed themselves or felt regret at not being able to secure strong local friendships despite their best efforts. Don’t worry, you’re not a loser (well, not because of this).

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23. When dealing with bureaucracy, get a second opinion.

Securing residency paperwork, opening a bank account, paying taxes: apparently all gray areas. I’d grown accustomed to getting an official answer when trying to get anything like this done but in Spain, at least, get a second opinion. People will serve you all kinds of hoops to jump through, but sometimes if you just come back later and talk to someone else, that hurdle has mysteriously disappeared. Get a second opinion before you freak out about getting some form completed six months ago that you’ve never heard of until today (if someone else confirms it, it’s probably legit and you can commence with the freaking).

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22. Yes, you can work illegally (but you could be deported).

I hear Americans talk a lot about moving abroad. We romanticise the idea of getting away from the boring old US and waking up in a lovely, perfect, dream version of Europe. Sometimes those dreams fall apart though when we start actually planning the logistics out. Securing a visa can be challenging if you’re from outside the EU and some seek to forgo it altogether. It is, in fact, possible to live and work illegally in some European countries (hint: the warmer it is, the less likely they care) but you really could get deported, refused re-entry if you try to travel or even banned from returning for a time. I’ve met folks on both sides: those who slid under the radar for a decade and those who got detained and kicked out.  Do you feel lucky?

21. Research medication you receive in other countries to make sure its not for horses.

When we were in Morocco, David came down with a bug. Miserable and desperate to enjoy the remainder of our trip, we ventured into a small pharmacy outside Chefchaouen’s medina. After miming the symptoms of his illness, the pharmacist offered us a small box of pills with directions in French and Arabic. Upon returning home, we asked Dr. Google for dosage recommendations and found out that the medicine given to us was banned in most of the developed world (except for use on livestock). Feeling miraculously better, David decided against taking the horse pills. I should add this isn’t a problem only in developing nations, the US regularly dispenses drugs (and “foods”) that are banned in other countries so, look it up!

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