Moving to a new place can be exciting, frightening, or overwhelming, but there’s a lot of information available that can help to navigate this situation.

I am very privileged to say this wasn’t my first time moving to a different place, and although Atlas Corps does offer onboarding sessions prior to our arrival in the US and I try to always welcome with joy every new experience in a new place, moving to a new place is always a work in progress: one can always be more prepared.

Even though I was already thinking that some things would be smoother, others more challenging, I often caught myself in some reactions like “oh, that’s cool’, “oh, that’s different”.

So, below are some tips and sincere things I have been learning when moving to new countries.

*All from my personal experience, so definitely not the only truth, but possible similar experiences someone else may have.

Before traveling

  • Research the location you are moving to in advance: from basic info to studying the map, metro and main bus lines, main stores you will need, healthcare facilities.
    • knowing the neighborhoods by name makes the house hunting process a lot easier, along with knowing the public transport lines you will need.
    • download maps to use offline, you may be without internet connection for a few days.
  • Research the local rules and laws.
    • And when you arrive at the new place, observe and learn some local “practices”, like making sure you’re not disrespecting anyone with gestures, or disobeying public transportation rules.
  • Pack wisely, and bring what you will need for at least the first weeks.
    • I even packed some pre-cooked non-perishable food that saved my first day when I was tired enough to even order some food (thanks, mom, for the pre-cooked rice and beans!).
    • pack some spices if you use them, in travel-sized containers – otherwise, you will be tempted to buy all new ones in packages that might have more than you expect to use.
    • separate one to two changes of clothes to bring in your carry-on.
  • download electronic wallets, and have a list of new apps that will make your life easier
    • if you plan on using your phone to pay for things, make sure it’s compatible with a US sim card, and download one of the electronic wallets options, and check if it’s enabled for NFC (otherwise it doesn’t work)
    • make sure you will have access to all the apps you need that might require a 2-step verification (bank apps, social media, email, etc.)
  • if you have access to it, bring cash and some coins from your new currency with you
    • unexpected might happen and you may end up without access to the money in your bank for daily purchases for several weeks.
    • A 1 USD coin would be useful to get a luggage cart at the airport.
  • if you can, bring at least one credit card with you.
  • Bring or buy some essential medicine
    • because if you get sick and you’re new in town, you’re probably gonna need to take care of yourself, especially if it’s COVID suspected. Having some pre-cooked food, canned soup, or frozen meals is also very convenient when you get sick.
  • save all the important numbers, addresses, and contact info you might need on your phone and written down too
    • this is especially useful if you get detained at immigration, where electronics are forbidden (and some officers might be not so nice to people who don’t have in hand the information they want)
  • To the flight(s): bring something to cover yourself, use high compression socks, pack some snacks, and during these pandemic times, have some extra and comfortable masks.

In the new place

  • Before securing a house option, try visiting it in person.
    • Trust me, photos are nice but they don’t give you a 360 view of the real situation. Maybe the room is smaller than you imagined, maybe is too dark, moist, doesn’t have a window…
    • And if it’s a shared house, it’s always better to meet in advance with your possible future housemates.
  • Get acquainted with markets:
    • know where markets or supermarkets are, so you can also plan your commute and how much weight you can carry.
    • And learn where things are distributed inside the supermarket. Curiously, in my first weeks in the US, I spent A LOT of time checking the aisles, trying to locate simple things (like, where is the tea?), recognizing foods, and deciding through different brands and prices.
    • Check local markets and fruits and vegetable sections for a new experience: found some different vegetables, maybe?
    • Buy seasonal fruits and vegetables. Not only is it more sustainable, but it’ll also be cheaper.
    • Bring your reusable bags.
    • Enroll in supermarkets and chains’ loyalty programs to get lower prices.
    • Learn the way the food is priced: per pound, per unit, etc.
  • Try new foods, but also know where to find some of your comfort food.
  • If you don’t cook, learn how to survive the first months. Planning is key, so planning meals before buying groceries.
  • Organize your budget: get a sense in the first month of how much you spent in each category, and plan for the next months.
    • Want to go for a trip or a more expensive adventure? Add to the budget planning, then you will be able to treat yourself 😉
  • Join some “buy nothing” and “free exchange” groups to get things for free.
  • Be smart in your safety and security.
    • There are creepy people everywhere, so don’t disclose your name address, phone, or other personal info anywhere.
    • For my women friends, if you take transportation alone, especially in the evening, make sure someone you know is tracking your route. Avoid empty bus stops and metro stations in the evening or in dark places. If someone is making you feel uncomfortable in public spaces, try to stick around other women, police, etc.
  • Stay connected with friends and family (social media is very useful for this) – make time for them!
  • Be open to connecting with new people. Making friends can be challenging in adulthood, but there are options!
    • Join expat groups. My go-to on social media is to search the name of the new place plus “expats”.
    • Join same-interest groups. There are several of them online and on social media.
    • Some platforms worth checking: Couchsurfing, InterNations, MeetUp, Eventbrite, Gone Girl.
    • Volunteer in events and activities. You may not meet friends for life but will surely spend a day doing something nice.
  • Check free entrance events. In universities, museums, galleries, theaters,
  • Maybe specific to the US: be prepared for the dryness from AC, especially if you don’t come from dry air areas.
    • Personal experience: I get eventual nosebleeding every now and then, but now I know when it’s possibly happening.
  • Be ready to walk a lot, so bring a good pair of comfortable sneakers. especially DC (this place is for walkers!).
  • Learn the basics of tipping here, the percentage of taxes, and tips in your destined city.
  • Go for walks and catch public transportation around your new area.
  • Do a trial commute to your office to learn how to use public transportation on a weekend.
  • Whenever going out:
    • get ready for a change of weather,
    • carry snacks and a water bottle,
    • bring a lightweight backpack,
    • bring your sanitizer and mask.
  • and ASK for help, guidance, etc. 🙂

And my last tips are:

Take it day by day. It’s an ongoing process, a journey!

Embrace if you are alone, it’s a good experience to learn more from yourself – keeping a journal is a nice way to see later how much you changed and grown.

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

About the author: Patrícia is an Atlas Corps Fellow serving at Girl Up as Global Operations Management Fellow, supporting Girl Up’s global growth and regional operations.