Expat Lessons Learned


Today marks exactly three years since I moved back to New York after living in Berlin for six months.  In late 2013, Dave got a job offer at a startup in Berlin and on a whim we decided he would take it.  We had one month to sort out the details and pack up our lives, and the next thing I knew I was a 9 hour flight away from home in a country where I knew no one and only somewhat spoke the language.  The move was a rough start, adjusting to the different food, smokey bars, and pace of life in Berlin was a huge adjustment.  But after a few months I made friends, started to appreciate the european sense of time, and felt more at home.

If I could do it again I would, but this time around there are some things I would do differently.  Below are some things to consider if you want to move abroad.

If you want to live abroad, do it now. With every year that goes by life will get more complicated: job, relationship, etc and it will be harder to get away. If you have a desire to move abroad do it now. If you don't, you'll always wonder what it would have been like.

Do not take everything with you.  Most of the time it's cheaper to buy things like bedding and dishes in your new location than it will be ship them over.  It's also important to take customs fees account.  I shipped my bedding to Germany and spent more on customs fees getting the bedding into the country than I would have spent on new bedding.

Taking a pet is not as hard as you might think. We took our mini schnauzer, Leila, with us to Berlin. Some countries require a quarantine, luckily Germany does not.   After making sure she was up to date on her shots I had to get her vaccine records notarized by the USDA.  Basically this entailed getting a copy of her vaccine records from the vet and then driving out to a building near the airport to get them stamped.  Easy!

Airbnb until you know where you want to live. When we moved to Berlin we thought we wanted to live in Mitte, but after staying there in a temporary flat, we decided we preferred Kreuzberg. If you can, rent Airbnbs in different neighborhoods and explore what it's like to actually live there before making it more permanent.

Take all the opportunities to travel. We thought we would be in Berlin much longer than we were so we kept waiting to travel. Don't do this!  You never know how long you'll be abroad so take all of the opportunities to explore countries near to you.

Just because you love a place as a tourist does not mean you will love living there. Berlin is know for its clubs that don't close, unique history, and lively art scene. All of these things make it an amazing place to visit, but living there is entirely different. For starters, the bureaucracy of living in Berlin is very complicated and insanely frustrating to navigate for a foreigner. For example each time you move you must go in person to your local Bürgeramt to register your apartment and getting a visa if you aren't employed in Germany is a nightmare (but doable).  The food is different, which is nice to visit, but when you just want your go to Mexian comfort food after a long week and can't get it, it can be rough!

All the stress and money is worth it. Moving to Berlin for 6 months with my fiancé (he was my boyfriend at the time) was one of the best decisions I have ever made.  I got to experience what it's like to live in another country and gained a greater understanding many other cultures (not only German).  Even though it was lonely at times, I learned that I love spending time with myself and exploring new places. And best of all, I made amazing friendships who I never would have met otherwise. And who knows, maybe we'll do it again (London, I see you).