Tips to Help You Adapt After Immigration – Part One

Can you fathom this: Jan’s officially been in Germany for 6 months, and Kayla and I will have made the 6-month mark on the 25th of Feb. Mind. Blown. I bet I’ll say this with every milestone, but I can’t comprehend that it’s been ONLY six months. It feels like we’ve been here forever.

Obviously, the people in South Africa (and some who read the blog) want to know how we found this first chunk of time. How did we survive? Do we have tips? Would we do anything differently? So, after thinking about it for a bit, I came up with some things that made our life easier and some things that could have.

I also bet that this post contains some helpful tips for tourists, so, if you’re planning a vacay in some other country, there may be something in here for you. Because I have so much to say on the subject, I’m splitting the post into two parts. Today we’ll talk about what to consider before you leave and next time will focus on what to do once you get there.

Let’s get started.

Before You Go :

Do a lot of Research

You want to learn as much as you can about the country you’re leaving for. This is true for tourists too, because you’ll want to know at least some local customs and sights to see. If you’re staying there long term, you obviously need to get a full picture and an idea of how things work.

* Find blogs written by ex-pats on the country you’re moving to. They usually have the best advice and stories to help prepare you.
* You’ll know if your salary will be enough to support you if you do some research on what living costs look like: buying or renting, electricity/water bills, groceries and public transport. There are some nice cost of living calculators available online, with lists of typical prices for whatever you may need. Don’t forget about things like internet costs (to stay connected to the people in your country of origin) TV licences and other regulations about living somewhere.

An example here is that we have to go to the Burgerampt (citizen’s registration offices) within 10 days after every time we move. Even if we just lived in an apartment for a month, we have to check in with the Burgerampt after we move out. If we don’t make the ten-day deadline, we pay a fine. As for the TV licence, if you own a TV, radio or computer, you are obligated to pay the licence fee. Even if it’s just floating in your house and you never switch on one of the three, one person per household must pay the fee or pay a large fine.

* Know what to expect from the weather, what’s considered bad manners and how you’re expected to behave. In Germany, you may be expected to keep the stairs leading to your apartment clean, as an example. Saying ‘gesundheit’ to someone who sneezed is considered bad manners if you don’t know them personally. You’ll need a deposit for shopping carts and to use a public restroom. Pigs are considered a sign of good luck, so with the New Year, you may be gifted a marzipan sweet shaped like a pig. Read up on these kinds of things, because it’ll help a lot later. You’re in for a bunch of culture shocks anyway, but if you know at least some of the customs before you leave, it’ll soften the blows enough to keep you on your feet.

The Language Barrier

If you’re moving to a country with a different language, learn some key phrases. It is true that people soften up if you at least try to greet them in their own language, you probably feel the same way. I know I do. It goes deeper than that here, though. In Germany, most of the population can’t speak English. There is also a percentage of people who can speak it but won’t, and some who know very little of it. That’s why you need to know some basic phrases to help you get by.

* Learn to say you don’t speak the language, and ask if they can speak English.
* Learn to ask where the train station, police station and hospital are. You might just need it.
* For the same reason, learn to say you need help or are hurt.
* Learn to say ‘hi’ and ‘bye’, as well as ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. ◄ This goes a loooong way. Also, basic numbers. Shopping, finding addresses and giving your cell phone number will be much easier this way.
* Know how to ask for aspirin, paracetamol, or any other medication you might need in a hurry. Something for a runny stomach, for instance. You can google the name of the medication before you go and then learn how to ask for it.
* If you learn some vocabulary and the phrases for ‘where is?’, ‘how much?’ and ‘how far?’, you can build rudimentary sentences that will help you get at least a point in the right direction. Just be prepared to have that point followed by a lot of dialogue you might not understand. 🙂 Pair this with ‘do you speak English?’

When You Pack, Consider This

* Whether you’re sending your household contents with freight or staring in your new place of residence with new stuff, remember to bring something you love in your personal baggage. It sounds stupid, but around the second or third week after the move, it starts feeling real and the ‘vacation phase’ is over. You’re going to need something to make your new place feel more like home.

Personally, I have this coffee mug that I used to drink from every day in South Africa. My mug. I use that here every day too. Also, a photo album with the faces I love. Sure, you can look at Facebook, but I go through the photos when I feel really alone and it helps. There is a small pillow from South Africa on our bed and a blanket my aunt made on Kayla’s. We brought some of her favourite toys too, which helped her greatly in the beginning.

Tailor this to your own needs. Maybe you only drink a specific variety of tea. Bring a box of that, because there is a chance you won’t find it in your new home (google, friend, google). Bring your favourite fluffy slippers or your journal.

* Pack the stuff you’re bringing on the plane practically. This includes things you’ll need immediately, because you must keep in mind that freight options take time.
– Bring a plug converter, so you can at least charge your cell phone/laptop. Obviously, bring the phone/laptop. 😛
– Bring a box of headache pills, stomach pills or your chronic medicine. Just don’t pack so many that border control thinks you’re a previously unheard of smuggling cartel. 😛
– Keep the weather in mind when you pack clothes. If you’re moving from South Africa to a colder place, as we did, keep in mind that the clothing in your new country of residence will be warmer and more resistant to the elements than the stuff you’re used to in SA. You’ll probably need to buy a jacket when you get there. And probably waterproof shoes if you’re moving to Europe, for example. That means packing stuff like that might be redundant, so don’t buy a tonne of new clothes before you move, only to find the stuff isn’t warm enough for winter. Summer circumstances differ too, but a strappy top is a strappy top, so you’ll be good in that regard.
– Bring only your child’s favourite toys and maybe a set of crayons on the plane. Some airlines will allow you to bring a stroller and suitcase for the child (under 2 years) while others won’t. Toys can be replaced, but the first few days after landing, you might be too tired/jet-lagged to go shopping for stuff. You know kids, they need to be entertained. 🙂
– So do you. So, for the same reason, remember a magazine, your e-reader or a book.

* As for your household stuff sent with freight, again with the research.
– Air freight is quicker than ship, but you might not be able to send your grand piano and pool table. 😛 The options differ in price, so check up on that. Don’t forget about insurance for your stuff, because the freight company will probably require that. It’s better that you do anyway. We were EXTREMELY lucky with the air freight. Only one item broke and one was damaged, but is repairable. Friends of ours moved and were not so lucky, with a lot of their stuff broken and damaged badly. With insurance, you can have it replaced.
– I brought a lot of linen with me to Germany, only to learn that beds and pillows here are a different size than in South Africa and my linen doesn’t fit. Rookie mistake.
– Keep in mind that the voltage of electrical appliances may differ in your new home, so some of your electrical stuff may not work there.
– If you can replace something for less than the cost of freighting it, sell the item and buy a new one when you arrive at your destination.
– If you’re moving from a house into an apartment, consider that your chunky couch/queen size bed may need to be carried up four flights of stairs. In Germany, those stairs are often riddled with sharp turns and are on the narrow side. We’ve seen people hoist refrigerators and other appliances/furniture up through windows. If you won’t be able to fit your old furniture into your new home, you might want to leave it. You don’t want to haul something halfway around the world only to find you can’t use it. Here in Germany, for example, we don’t really have queen size/double beds. Usually, we have two single beds pushed together, because ain’t nobody wants to carry a bigger mattress/base up the stairs.
– Absolutely bring sentimental or irreplaceable items if you want to. We packed a lot of Afrikaans books, for example. We want Kayla to be able to read in Afrikaans, so that’s something worthwhile to have in our opinion. I also brought some Afrikaans books of my own, but my other (English) books are in a new, loving home right now, being taken care of by my cousin. I can replace paperbacks by buying pre-owned books on Amazon for as little as a dollar (they are often in mint condition) or I can buy their e-book counterparts. I brought some paintings that are important to me too.

You get the idea. Find out what you really can’t live without and sell the rest. Stuff is replaceable.

Anyway, if you can think of more ‘before you leave’ tips, please leave them in the comments and help anyone who wants to know out. We’re still learning. A lot of the above stuff we learned through other people’s help and our own mistakes, so I hope someone can get a tip or two from that. The next post on the topic will be about things to do once you arrive in your new home to make it easier to adjust. I’ll see you back here for that (Tips to Help You Adapt After Immigration – Part Two).

Have a good one,



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