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Taking up residence in a new country means changing more than just your address

12:44 21/08/2015
There’s moving, and then there’s taking up residence in a new country. In the first scenario, you’re changing scenery and your address. In the second, everything changes. Let’s take a look at the pleasant surprises and pitfalls when moving to Belgium.

For many years, growing numbers of people have had occasion to move house to a foreign country, or from one foreign country to another. Whether they are students, company managers or migrants of another sort, there's a lot of preparation required before the move. Within the European Union it is pretty easy – on paper – to move countries, because you don't need to have a work or residency permit. Despite that, expect some surprises, even if the language of the country you're going to is also your mother-tongue.

Fortunately, there are experts around to assist companies transfer their employees from country A to country Z: they're known as relocators. In Belgium, the association of relocators is known as ABRA.

Not all of the internationally-mobile receive relocation support from their company; some would rather do the relocation themselves. That's a major challenge. What these people need is THE checklist of everything they need to do to fit in with the host country. The laws and regulations of any country are difficult enough to understand for the natives, imagine the difficulties for newcomers. Cultural differences and 'us versus them' attitudes of the locals hinder the kind of rapid integration many expats hope for. Of course, your own attitude as an expat can also a big difference: learn the language and culture of your host country, and accept that you are a guest.

After a few months the newly-arrived expat is set up in the new country, which is when cultural shock hits. When you realise you're not a tourist in this new country – it's actually going to be your home for at least a few years. Around that time homesickness may hit hard. This is when you need to strengthen the bonds with your new local friends; it's probably not a good idea to take a long leave back home at this point. There are services around to help you find your way.

Once you get over your cultural shock, it's important to get up to speed on the important next steps you'll need to take in your new host country: buying property, pension matters, estate planning and so on. How to set up a business, if that's your aim, or how to study if you're the trailing spouse of an expat. Information seminars abound, many of them free of charge.

Eventually you get used to the life of an expat in your new country, and you should start to see some advantages. Many expats who came for a short stay end up spending a long time or even their whole life in their adopted country. However, if you are a career expat who moves countries regularly, it is important to keep your paperwork  in order, country by country, particularly when it comes to pension matters. 

Written by Sponsored by ING