Preparing to Live Abroad
I’m writing this post as a person who has returned from a gig teaching English in South Korea. Although I was well-prepared for my trip, there were some preparations that I didn’t make and wished that I had. Even if you aren’t planning to live in South Korea as I did, you can probably use these tips to live and work abroad in any foreign country.
Carry a Travel Iron
Having a travel iron may not seem like a big deal, but I was so glad that I bought mine at the last minute from Target. There were no irons in the dorms during orientation. I participated in the English Program in South Korea, so I had to attend a 10-day orientation in South Korea before I started work. I also needed an iron to prepare my clothes for work. Why couldn’t you just head out to the local department store and buy an iron? If you can’t speak the native language abroad and you aren’t familiar with the stores or how to get to the local department store, you may have a problem. I figured that I could go to HomePlus and buy an iron in South Korea, but I couldn’t find the housewares area in the multi-story building, and I didn’t know how to say iron in Korean.
Note: After I had been in Korea for about six months, I saw a new English teacher wandering around my neighborhood, looking for a place to buy an iron for work.
Get an English subway map for the area you will live in. If there are no subways, get a bus map or a neighborhood map. Sure, you may be able to find a map when you get there, but will it be in English? Here’s a map of Busan, South Korea.
When you arrive to your destination, get your address translated into the native language and carry it with you at all times. You can give the address to a cab driver and get home!
Bring a copy of a Lonely Planet, Frommer’s or any other major guidebook for your trip abroad. Read it before you go, because these guides usually contain areas to avoid as well as attractions. Some guidebooks have simple terms that you will need to know, translated into the native language. Again, you may or may not be able to find a bookstore with books or magazines in English abroad.
Linen for Your Bedroom
Bring a fitted sheet and a light blanket for your bed. I know that in South Korea, most people don’t use fitted sheets and many people don’t sleep on mattresses. Your bed may or not have linen when you arrive to your destination.
I know that you are likely going to pack your own toiletries, but bring enough to last for several months, especially deodorant. Deodorant isn’t used in many countries. I brought enough deodorant to last a year, and I was so glad that I did.
If you are traveling to Asia and you wear a size larger than an 8, make sure that you bring plenty of comfortable walking shoes, and cute heels (if you wear them). I had a few flats, sturdy sneakers (Nikes) but I didn’t bring many pairs of heels. I wished that I had my cute heels, because as the months passed, I was able to better navigate the stairs and hills in South Korea. I had shoe-envy a lot from seeing the adorable strappy heels that were too small for my feet.
I later learned that my phone had an English to Korean dictionary, and that helped a lot. I wished that I had a little dictionary that would translate English to hangul.
It got extremely cold (to me) in Busan, and I arrived in Korea in the summer. I brought a coat and a hat, but I wished that I had gloves (I couldn’t find them in stores) and a winter scarf. I ended up buying a long, thick scarf in Busan. It was easy to find in a shopping area. I bought gloves there, too, but I want you to know that it does snow in South Korea. It doesn’t snow usually in Busan, but it gets pretty cold. Your apartment may not have central heat or a heater. The wooden floors may provide the heat in the apartment, and that may or may not be warm enough for you. I was so cold in my first apartment (I moved to a better one) that I bought a small electric heater, and an electric blanket. The second apartment was warm with only the floors heating.
I suggest that you bring at least $500 and exchange it at the airport. You will need money for transportation to work or to hang out. You may need to pay to set up internet or to get a cell phone. You will probably want to buy cleaning material for your apartment, which may be a mess when you get there. Of course, you need money to eat. You may need to buy towels, or other supplies that you couldn’t fit into your suitcase. Each case is different. You may receive a sum to pay for living expenses shortly after you arrive. You may have to wait a month to get any money from your job. If you hate your job and your living situation, have some money to buy a plane ticket home. A Korean co-teacher, the board of education, or someone affiliated with your school may help you set up a bank account. If you are going to South Korea, consider getting a CitiBank account, because you can easily transfer money from your home bank account to Korea. However, there may not be a CitiBank near you in Korea.
If you plan on using a bank card abroad, make sure that your institution knows that you are traveling out of the country. They may place a hold on your card, making the money unavailable to you if you don’t tell them that you are leaving your home country. Bring a telephone number with you that you can use to report a lost or stolen bank card while you are abroad. Many companies have toll-free numbers or some banking institutions accept collect calls from account holders who are abroad.
Carry account numbers for your bills if you have bills to pay while you are away from home. Of course, keep the account numbers and any financial information in a safe place.
I didn’t need them, but I brought copies of my passport in case my information was last or stolen. If you are teaching abroad bring copies of your transcript, diplomas and references. You may need or want to get another job while you are abroad, and most companies require this information. I suggest that you have at least one sealed official transcript per school, because you may find a higher paying gig that requires an official transcript. It will take a bit of time to get the transcripts sent from the U.S. Bring copies of your resume, too.
We received alarm clocks as gifts in the EPIK program, and my old cell phone from back home, had an alarm on it. I was glad that I had an alarm, so I wouldn’t have to hunt for one, and figure it out.
I set up a Skype account to call friends and relatives before I left, and I helped a relative set up Skype on her computer. Not only should you set up Skype, but you need to make sure that your parents and close friends can set-up Skype and use it. Depending on their Internet skills, you may need to show them how to use Skype in person. It’s free to call people online if you are both using Skype. You can pay a small monthly fee or pay per call to call cell phones or landlines using Skype. I suggest that you set up the monthly service. You can choose to call a single country or make worldwide calls to cell phones and landlines using Skype. I like the worldwide service because I was able to use it to make vacation plans in other countries.
I didn’t bring pictures of my home and my neighborhood in the U.S., and as an English teacher living, abroad, I wish that I’d done this for my classes. I could have used the pictures in PowerPoint presentations. Even if you are not planning to teach, bring pictures that will remind you of home.
Arrange for a loved-one back home to ship items that you may later need and be difficult to find. It’s true that you can have just about anything shipped to you from online stores, but many stores charge crazy fees to ship to Asia. For example, I found several places to buy foundation for my skin, but most charged $40 to ship a small compact. Your loved one may also ship snacks that you love (Reece’s Pieces) or small treats and supplies for for students. It’s cheaper to have a friend ship the goods to you than to buy them online and have them shipped. Some online stores do not ship to South Korea!
Forward Your Mail
When I left the U.S. to teach in South Korea, I forwarded my mail to South Korea. Not all mail is forwarded, so be sure to give essential companies your new address. I highly recommend that you talk to someone at your local post office. Make an in-person visit, and tell the attendant that you are leaving the country and need to change your address. Get them to hold your mail until you call with your new address. You will need to get the direct phone number to your local branch. As you probably know, if you are teaching in South Korea, you may nor may not know your address before you go. If you are planning to stay in the foreign country for a limited amount of time (you plan to come back to your home country) you will need to arrange to end the forwarding. I suggest that you call the post office a month before you return and have them hold your mail at the post office for several weeks before your return. At that time, you should tell them to stop forwarding your mail. Use Skype for your phone calls.
Yes. You can arrange to change your address online, but the online form doesn’t work for people who are abroad.