Adapting,  How to,  Living Abroad,  Preparing

How To Survive Your First Year Living Abroad

Dear Lee,

Today on the blog we welcome John Harvey who is the founder of Expat CPA, a California-based certified public accounting firm dedicated to serving the American expatriate community. Harvey, who has 25 years of experience in the industry, focuses on providing expatriate tax and accounting services to Americans and other foreign nationals living in Europe, Asia, Russia and the Middle East — with special emphasis on personal income tax services.

He has worked with many expats over the years and so has unique insights into what it is that has helped them to survive their first year living abroad. For this reason, today he is sharing the top eight tips that he hears, time and time again, during customer feedback. Without further ado, we bring you John Harvey…


How To Survive Your First Year Living Abroad

Moving abroad is a journey filled with excitement and challenges. People embark on this adventure for countless reasons, each with unique aspirations and dreams. However, the thrill of a beginning often goes hand-in-hand with the overwhelming task of settling into a new environment.

The first year is critical.

It’s a period of significant adjustment, where the goal is to transform an unfamiliar place into a comfortable home. This transition can be daunting. Though with the right approach and mindset, it can also be an incredibly rewarding experience.

In this post, we’ll guide you through eight essential tips designed to not only help you survive but to thrive during your first year abroad. We’ll cover everything from cultural adaptation to practical advice, better ensuring your journey is as smooth and as fulfilling as possible.


Tip 1: Learn Local Language Basics for Everyday Communication

Diving into another country often means encountering a different language. Don’t let communication barriers deter you. Start with the basics of the local language to navigate daily life more smoothly. Simple greetings, directions and common phrases can make a world of difference.

It’s not just about making transactions easier. It’s about showing respect for the local culture and opening doors to deeper connections with the community. Language apps, local classes or language exchange meetups can be great starting points. Remember, every word you learn is a step closer to feeling at home in your host country.


Tip 2: Respect Local Customs and Cultural Norms

This tip naturally follows learning the language. Understanding and respecting local customs and cultural norms is key to a harmonious life abroad. It’s about more than just avoiding embarrassing moments — it’s about immersing yourself in the community and showing respect for their ways of life.

Take time to observe and ask questions. Be curious about traditions, holidays and everyday etiquette. This respect for local culture not only enhances your experience, but it also helps build meaningful relationships. Remember, you’re not just a visitor — you’re a part of this new world now.


Tip 3: Build a Social Network With Locals and Expats

Creating a social network is crucial when living abroad. Connect with locals and fellow expatriates:

• Locals provide insights into the culture and help you integrate into the community.

• Expats share your experience of adapting to a new environment and can offer support and advice.

Join clubs, attend local events or participate in community activities. Social media and expat forums are also great for finding groups with similar interests. Building these connections not only combats loneliness, but it also expands your understanding of the new culture from diverse perspectives.


Tip 4: Stay Connected With Loved Ones

Staying in touch with family and friends back home is vital. It keeps you grounded and provides emotional support while you navigate new and challenging experiences. Set up regular video calls, use social media, send emails, and even write letters and postcards. These connections remind you of your roots and offer comfort during challenging times. Plus, sharing your adventures can be exciting for you and your loved ones.

Remember, physical distance doesn’t have to mean emotional distance. Keep those lines of communication open and active.

Tip 5: Financial Management and Local Tax Navigation

Managing your finances wisely is a key aspect of living abroad. Understand the local cost of living and become familiar with currency exchange rates. This knowledge helps in budgeting effectively and avoiding financial surprises.

In addition, navigating local tax laws is important — especially if you’re working or running a business. Seek advice from local financial experts or expat groups to ensure compliance and optimize your tax situation. Staying informed about these monetary aspects makes you financially resilient, which can allow you to extend your stay and enjoy even more great experiences living abroad.


Tip 6: Master Transport, Healthcare and Other Essential Services

Getting to know essential services and infrastructure is crucial in your new home. Explore public transportation options to navigate the city efficiently. Familiarize yourself with nearby healthcare facilities for emergencies and routine care.

Also, understand how to manage utilities and where to find daily necessities such as groceries. This knowledge isn’t just practical — it also helps you feel more in control and less like a tourist in your neighborhood. Each discovery, from the quickest bus route to your favorite local market, adds to the sense of belonging and confidence in your new surroundings.


Tip 7: Channel the Inner Tourist in You

While settling in involves understanding the essentials, it’s equally important to keep exploring and embracing your inner tourist. Yes, you’re building a life here, but don’t forget the unique opportunities your new environment offers. Make time for sightseeing, cultural events and other “exotic” experiences you wouldn’t find back home.

This balance between everyday living and adventure keeps the experience fresh and exciting. It’s about finding joy in the routine and the extraordinary. While you become a part of the local fabric, allow yourself those moments of awe and discovery that remind you of why you chose to live abroad.


Tip 8: Adapt With Patience and Openness

Adjusting to another country takes time, and it’s important to approach this period with patience and an open mind. Accept that some days might be challenging and that learning from these difficult experiences is part of the journey.

Be patient with the pace of your adaptation and stay receptive to new customs and ideas. This mindset allows you to gradually feel more at home in your new environment. Remember, each step, no matter how small, is progress.


Your first year abroad is a journey filled with learning and growth. The free tips above are designed to guide you through the complexities of adapting to a new culture. Embrace the changes, forge meaningful connections, and immerse yourself in the local lifestyle. Remember that each day is a step toward making this new and unfamiliar place your home.

Be patient, keep exploring and — most important — enjoy the unique adventure of living abroad. For further information, read the accompanying resource below.

A few additional tips from past Expat CPA customers are shown in this
Graphic created by Expat CPA.


Thank you so much to John Harvey for compiling these useful tips. If you’re in need of expat accounting services, you can find Harvey’s team at Expat CPA.



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