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7 FAQ for ESL Teachers About Life in a New Country

As you start looking into the logistics of living in a foreign country as an ESL teacher, many questions start to come up, which can be daunting.  I have been asked several questions about living abroad by people interested in taking a leap to have their own adventure.  Having moved to Asia to teach English abroad on two separate occasions, I found myself asking some of these same questions before I left. Let’s take at look at these:

1. How do I send money home to pay bills?

The most common method for transferring money home from abroad is an international wire transfer.  This can be easily done through banks, but it is recommended to go with a local citizen the first time.  There are some countries, such as China, in which extra steps need to be taken.  If you have proper tax documentation, you can transfer your money from RMB to USD (USD is the only option, so you need to do this no matter the country in which you are transferring your money). Without the proper tax documents, you can only convert the equivalent of $500 USD per day, meaning you need to plan several trips to the bank throughout the week. Once you have the amount in USD that you would like to wire home, you can.  To note, Chinese nationals are able to convert up to $50,000 USD.

2. How will I find my needs and my wants?

The best way to find the necessities you will require along with comfort items is by talking to other expats living in your area. Working at your school also helps with this cause.  The expat community is a great resource for finding stores, restaurants and events that may be of interest to you. If there are certain brands that you feel you must have, you can research to see if they are available in your destination country, and if not, perhaps bring some with you. Ensure you are not violating any customs limits or becoming likely to incur excess baggage fees due to your preferred brand of muesli, however!

3. What is the best way to get around the city?

Depending on the size of the city you live in, there will be many different options for transportation.  One of the most common methods is to use public transportation.  This is typically only feasible in larger cities as the public transportation system in smaller cities may not be very reliable or extensive enough to be useful.  If you find yourself in a place where the public transportation system is lacking, it is beneficial to live near your school so that you can walk to your job. Taxis can also be utilized to get to other areas of the city.  Another option is to purchase a bicycle, e-bike or scooter.  These are very cost effective ways to get around a city and provide a little more freedom to explore your new surroundings.

A word of caution, however, is to get a sense of how traffic flows as driving habits can vary greatly from what North Americans are used to.  For example, one time when I was in a car going down the freeway in Taiwan,  three cars passed by at the same time in three southbound lanes. In other words, there were four cars across the three lanes! Definitely not something we’re used to as North American drivers.

 4. What if I don’t like the food?

Food tends to be a big focus with most cultures.  We need it to survive, so why not enjoy this daily requirement, right? In most places, the local fare is something that people pride themselves over and will want to share with you.  I recall living in Taiwan and trying stinky tofu.  The security guard in my apartment complex was a sweet older gentleman who didn’t speak any English. Still, we would have daily conversations using pantomime and exaggerated gestures.  One evening, I got to the gate of the complex just as he was getting ready to go home.  He started pointing at a stinky tofu stand across the street and asking me through hand gestures if I wanted to try it. I was reluctant because I really didn’t like the smell of it, but I also wanted to accept his kind offer.  He enthusiastically ordered me a large helping.  I tried some, and then let him know I would finish it in my apartment. I can honestly say that I didn’t finish it and wouldn’t have it again! Incidentally, there were several foods that people in Taiwan enthusiastically asked me to try that I loved.

The point I’m trying to make is this –  there will be foods you try that you will love, and some you won’t want a second bite of, but be adventurous and try new things.  My eating philosophy while in a foreign country is to try something first and ask questions after.  This has led me to enjoy some things that I probably never would have tried if I knew beforehand what I was eating.  Besides, there are always fast food restaurants, restaurants that serve Western food and imported food sections at larger grocery stores if you desperately need a taste of home, so why not be adventurous first?

5. What’s the best way to talk with friends and family?

The best way to talk with friends and family while living abroad is through Skype.  You can buy credit on Skype to call phones around the world for a fairly low rate depending on where they are located.  If the person you want to speak to has a Skype account as well, you can video chat from anywhere with an internet connection.  I’ve found that having credit in my Skype account was useful since I could call the person to ask if they could chat on Skype and then connect online.

If Skype isn’t a viable option due to an unreliable internet connection, I suggest looking into international calling cards.  There should be several options, and you will just need to find the best card for calling home.  If the clerk at a convenient store speaks English, you can ask them for some help choosing a card or speak to other expats to see which one they recommend.

6. Do I need to pay my taxes back home?

You will definitely need to pay taxes on the income you made before going abroad. Whether you need to include your foreign income or if you will owe any taxes on your foreign income depends on if there is a tax agreement between your home country and your new country.  My recommendation is to speak to a tax accountant to see if they can provide you with an accurate answer.

7. What kind of household items should I bring?

You should really only bring things that you cannot live without.  It is very likely that you will be able to find all of the household items you need such as blankets, towels, pots, pans, etc., if they are not provided for you.  You can also see if there is an expat forum on which you can ask questions before going abroad.  You can ask people already living in your future home about what items they wish they had brought before leaving home as well.

In summary, preparing to move abroad can be stressful.  Once you are living in your new home, you will think of some more questions you wished you had asked, but you will also realize that you didn’t need to ask some of the ones you thought were very important previously. You may have noticed that I mention the local expat community quite a bit.  This is because other expats will become the greatest resource for you while living overseas, and some of these people may even become some of the best friends you make, so take advantage. Be sure to check out other stories on our blog that could help prepare you as well.

Written by James Santary

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