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How to prepare yourself to move to another country

How to prepare yourself to move to another country

Moving to study abroad requires a different mindset to flying off for a two-week seaside break during your summer holidays. You will be living in a foreign country for three to four years, and will be creating a temporary home from home, where you can relax, work and socialise. You need to consider two things: how to organise the practical details and how to become emotionally ready to start your adventure. 

Three obvious but vital steps to take when preparing to move abroad:

  1. Check that your passport is valid and that you have a visa – if necessary
  2. Look at scholarship possibilities and apply before the deadline
  3. Read through the course syllabus and modules.

Table of Contents

Get emotionally ready for change

You have probably spent your whole life up to this point surrounded by family and a close circle of friends who know you well and with whom you feel comfortable and at ease. Now, you are faced with meeting strangers and forging new relationships and, particularly in the first few weeks on campus, you might feel a little lost or lonely. Don’t worry, this will soon pass after your moving abroad.

Universities organise fresher weeks so that you can mix and mingle with your peers, find shared interests, join clubs and societies and start to build a network. By the time the first month is over, you will know exactly where to go for your classes, you will have found the cosiest seat in the library, the best café in the area and got involved in sports, drama, cinema clubs or debating groups – whatever you enjoy. If you have decided to live in student accommodation, then the chances are that you will start meeting up with your fellow students in the communal kitchen, cook together and plan shared outings. If you are in residential accommodation, your flatmates will soon start stealing your milk and getting to know you over mugs of tea.

Don’t forget that, these days, it is cheap and easy to keep in touch with people you miss. WhatsApp is one of many apps which have made it possible to video call home for free, and to see familiar faces if you suddenly feel nostalgic. 

Make sure you sort out a local SIM card once you arrive at your destination. You will usually need to show proof of address, bank statements, and personal ID to get a contract. Shop around and check to see if there are any student discounts available before choosing a provider. And don’t forget to send your new number to the people you want to talk.

Remain positive. Try to focus on why you have been moving to another country. You are here because it is an amazing opportunity to familiarise yourself with a different culture, to get a degree in a subject you love and to take the first step down your chosen career path. Your horizons are expanding, and many exciting experiences are just round the corner, waiting for you. University life is exhilarating and full of possibilities. One day, you will look back and, like so many others before you, say: “those were the best days of my life”. Look for opportunities. Perhaps you will discover a love of cross-country skiing in Norway, Sweden or Finland? Maybe you will decide to pick up flamenco dancing in Spain or finally get round to learning how to ride a bike, and join the thousands of other students in the Netherlands who cannot image a life without wheels. You are the author of your own, personal adventure if you study abroad, so go out there and live it.

Packing to study abroad

Whether you are moving to another country by car or flying, you are still limited in what you can take with you, so be sensible and think climate. Check the annual temperatures in the town or city where you will be living and make sure that you have the right kind of clothing. Don’t assume that the weather in Princeton is similar to that of California, that it always rains in London and that Paris is as warm as Barcelona or the South of France. 

If you have decided to live in a student dorm, then you will find a desk, bed, wardrobe, chairs, and bedside table already in place. Many halls of residence also have basic packs for sale, for the bedroom and kitchen. These usually include pillows, but not pillowcases, a duvet (not the cover) and a sheet, as well as some pots, pans, cutlery and the bare minimum of crockery. Since you will be sharing the kitchen, wait and see what your dorm mates bring before deciding that you need to buy additional bits and pieces, and remember that halls of residence usually provide a kettle and a microwave. You might be someone who loves to eat slow-cooked meals from a crockpot, who can’t imagine life without a dinner service or who values high thread-count linen. Do not bring it with you – it takes up too much room. 

Once you have had an opportunity to look over your living space, and see what is missing, you will be able to supplement whatever you need at a local store. If your budget is limited, IKEA, Aldi and Lidl are found all over Europe, while Walmart provides perfectly serviceable goods in the US. 

If you have decided to rent an apartment – and the vast majority of these are unfurnished – you will be able to find second-hand stores and charity outlets which sell cheap and excellent quality unwanted furniture – from oak bookcases and leather armchairs to bed frames and coffee tables. University notice boards always have for sale advertisements, as one lot of students graduates and moves on, and you can often pick up what you need through these small ads. Wait and see what is supplied and then take your time choosing pieces you can live with for three or four years.

You have probably been given a long, comprehensive reading list and are tempted to buy all the books it mentions straight away, before you leave. Books are expensive and heavy, so think again. Many universities have second-hand textbooks for sale, you can download some materials from the internet, borrow others and, most importantly, use your university library. Make sure you get a reader’s card as soon as you arrive and register for your course.

Most students go home twice a year at first – during the Christmas and summer breaks. This means that you can change your wardrobe and do not have to pack clothing for the whole academic year in one go. Make sure that you have one formal outfit, for academic occasions – this could be a jacket and smart shirt for men, a dress or snappy suit for women. Ceremonial occasions are not the place for jeans and t-shirts.

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Think about your health when moving abroad

If you have a health condition, then it is a good idea to ask your hospital or doctor to give you copies of your medical notes and a letter detailing the treatment you have had, the diagnosis, the medication you have taken, and any tests and results .

The European Health Insurance Card will cover EU students in other European countries, but it has no value in the US and limited value in the UK. 

If you are going to study in the UK, where you need to get a student visa, the fee you pay for your visa will include the Immigration Healthcare Surcharge, currently £470 a year, for students. You can apply for reimbursement if you hold an EHIC card, but you need to be aware that this will change your entitlement to healthcare, and you will only be allowed to get “medically necessary” treatment and you will not be allowed to work. You need to weigh up whether it is more important for you to be allowed to take a part-time job during your studies or to get the £470 annual fee back. Of course, you could also take out private medical insurance to cover other expenses, such as repatriation, so if you break a leg, you can recover at home and not in a foreign country.

If you are moving to the USA to study, you will not be allowed to register for classes unless you can show proof of student health insurance. You can choose to buy a policy on the open market or ask your university whether they have standard student medical insurance plans that students can just sign up for on enrolling.

It has been estimated that insurance plans cost between $1500-$2500 a year, but there are usually three different levels of cover to choose from and, remember, although this might appear pricey, the US has the most expensive medical bills in the world. Medication alone costs 400 per cent more than in Europe, nurses are well-paid, as are doctors – and all this is reflected in the often staggeringly expensive bills issued by hospitals. Shop around. See if your parents’ policy provider will offer you a discount. Ask the university. But, whatever you do, make sure you are fully covered before you set foot in the USA.

It is wise to bring a month’s worth of any pills you are taking with you, since the last thing you want to be doing is rushing around in your first week, looking for a doctor or a clinic. Bring a photocopy of your prescription, too, in case anyone questions what you are carrying. Make sure you have enough contact lens fluid and cleaner to last for a few weeks, and take a copy of your most recent eye examination, in case you break your glasses. Put all your medical papers into one envelope, so that you can find them should you need to.

Prepare a document folder

You need to gather a number of documents together, including but not limited to:

You might also want to download and print a local map before you think about moving abroad, so that you get a general idea of the town or city, discover where you are in relation to the university, and get a sense of the area where you will be living.

Spend a few hours browsing the internet and see what you can find out about your destination. Are there any local parks or open spaces? Is there a bus, tram or tube stop nearby? Where is the closest local market and a large supermarket? Can you see any museums, art galleries, exhibition centres or cinemas? Use Google Street View and Google Maps so you can enjoy a totally immersive experience.

Moving abroad: be prepared to culture shock

While most of us will describe ourselves as “citizens of the world” “open-minded” and “eager to immerse ourselves in different societies”, the reality can be a little different. Many studies have shown that moving to another country to study sets off a cycle of reactions, which can lead to psychological disorientation, feeling overwhelmed by the strange new environment and stressed at having to get used to different attitudes, customs and systems.

Culture shock affects different people in different ways and can take a few days or months to digest. It also impacts on many areas of your life. At university, for example, you might find that the traditional formal style of teaching you are used to is replaced by an informal approach, where lecturers are called by their first names and lounge in armchairs, wearing jeans. This could shock you! This is particularly true if you are moving to a Nordic country, whose open-door policies mean that the traditional line between academics and students is somewhat blurred. Similarly, you might be used to individual assignments and find yourself working as part of a team; the workload could be significantly lighter or heavier than you have dealt with at school; you may no longer faced with lecturers who deliver a monologue, pack up their notes and leave, but find yourself expected to take an active part in discussions and defend your answers. These changes are all part of student-centred teaching and , over time, you will come to see their benefits.

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Prepare yourself to move to another country with our consultants advises: choose your favourite country and start your experience!

Do not get angry or embarrassed if you misunderstand your new environment. Try not to compare your past life and customs with the country where you are studying. Avoid contentious subjects until you know people well. There is no point attacking a Spaniard for going to a bullfight, railing against the strict laws against  purchasing alcohol in Sweden or bringing up Vietnam with an American. You will not change a culture by shouting about aspects which offend you.

Finally, and this is an important point to consider when moving abroad, one of the most effective ways of preparing to study abroad and minimising culture shock is to learn the languageIt does not matter if you only pick up  the basics of simple conversations, but it does help you integrate into your new community. Locals appreciate international students who greet them in their own language, can have a stab at asking questions and show they are trying. Most universities offer free or subsidised language classes, but you could start preparing to study abroad now. Spend a little time every day  looking through phrases and vocabulary, maybe watch a children’s cartoon or a subtitled film. Get used to the sounds and rhythms of the language, so that you will not feel lost when you are surrounded by people talking in Italian, Spanish, French, Greek, Turkish or Finnish etc. 

You feel ready like moving abroad


All that remains for you to do is to research routes and flights to your new home and start the amazing journey which is ahead of you when you choose to study abroad. You will love moving abroad with Elab!