Expat Life: Top 10 Tips to Survive and Thrive

September 8, 2015

Expat life has already been nothing short of a whirlwind. If I could tell you every detail and adjustment I have made and am still making there would be stories for days. 

I used to be in denial that moving required any additional effort on my part. I took pride in my natural ability to get up and go without hesitation and I do not know if it is because I am getting older or what but I have learned in hindsight I have always made adjustments to make the best experience of my exciting journey.

I have been living in Switzerland for 3 months now, moving from Washington, DC.

Two different worlds. This weekend I attended the Zürich Museum night (100’s of museums open from 7 PM- 2AM with bus services for 25 CHF, amazing), attending English speaking church, and went to the Expat Expo and today I joined the Zürich Lacrosse team.

This is partly how I have learned to make the best of Expat Life.


Expat Life: Top 10 Tips to survive THRIVE


If you  are moving to a country and the national language is not your Mother Language, make a sincere effort to learn the language. Living in Switzerland it seems like 95% of the population speaks fluent English, but it is still important to learn at least one of the three national languages. For instance the languge of Zürich is German but locals converse in Swiss German which is only a spoken language and not really used professionally or taught in school. I am currently learning German but it is always good to be able use Swiss German slang or ideally understand.

DO: Try. All you have to do is try. Learning languages do not come naturally to everyone but it will not only enrich while you are living abroad but always. Invest in courses, it is worth the money.

DON’T: Only speak in your native language or assume everyone speaks your language, it is rude.


I am not a big pork eater but it is very popular here so sometimes I politely will try a dish that contains pork. Obviously, I have no religious or morals views that I am compromising. You do not have to compromise your views but you do want to be open minded and understand that food and culture play a large role.

DO: Try. And keep trying, I promise you will discover at least one food you love and will miss dearly.

DON’T: Make fun of the local food, call it disgusting or judge those that eat it. Spam is a very popular food in Hawaii and a lot of locals eat it often, it can be very insulting if you make fun of the food source without also understanding the significance of Spam to Hawaii. 


It is easy to stay in the social circle you already have established or within an expat community but do you really experience a country if you are the American eating McDonald’s and Starbucks everyday, only speaking with English speakers and never getting to know locals?

DO: Go to local bars, celebrate local sports and you will meet so many people that are curious about your culture as well and you can learn a lot from one another.

DON’T: Stay in an expat bubble.


A great way to make local connections is to join a local club. I joined the Zürich Lacrosse Team today and although I haven’t played in 4 years it was amazing to be out with new people  and meet new teammates.

DO: Join a team or a club. American Women’s Club, a sports team, there are so many options. Attend the local Expat Expo and learn all about what other expats in your community are doing.

DON’T: Stay home. I could easily stay in the house for days straight with my laptop and Netflix, but that is not what life is about! Get out of the house and slowly learn a couple places you feel comfortable traveling to alone. You will find your radius will grow.


Seriously, don’t brake the law in your new country. When I first traveled to Switzerland I didn’t understand the public transportation system. You can ride the bus, tram, train and boat with one ticket and do not scan or show your ticket to board any transportation.

I wondered why would anyone buy the ticket if they don’t check?

They do hold random ticket checks and if you are caught, you must pay a minimum of 100 Francs (about $110). I feel like my American mentalitly would be to get caught first but I realize this is how it operates in Switzerland.

The Swiss are very law obiding.

DO: Behave like a good local citizen.

DON’T: Just don’t try it. Have you ever seen Locked Up Abroad?


I struggle with this one.  Customs can be easily learned. Know how many kisses to give during a greeting, which hand to shake with, when to bring a gifts… things like that but humor can be elusive. I at times find British humor to be too dry or off putting and Swiss humor to be too elitist. It makes me uncomfortable, the trick is to not judge people because of their humor. What may have cultural or significance to you as bad humor or rude is likely not the same to the local.

I have seen caucasian people dressed in black face with dreads as a joke, it was harmless. While in the US this would be very rude and probably provoke a lot comments, the historical significance was not the same and the humor was not understood.

DO: Let it go.

DON’T: Take it personal.


Don’t stay in the same town your whole time living in the new country. I know people who move to Washington, DC and have never been to the “other side of town”. I am not saying run into the most dangerous neighborhoods but you can learn a lot by leaving the one small village or fancy street you live on to really see what the country/ state/ canton/ city… has to offer.

DO: Volunteer in an area you may never considered visiting. You will interact with the people and learn a lot about the area while making a real contribution. You don’t want to move somewhere and only take, you must give as well.

DON’T: Be the expert of your new area and have never even taken public transportation.


This can be extremely hard, when you are in lows of moving to a new country or area, you may seriously feel as though you just hate living there, there is noting to offer you…but take a moment to asses if what you are feeling is homesick; many times brought on by culture shock.

DO: Give yourself time to adjust and brace for the adjustment period. Don’t expect life to be perfect simply because you move. Bad ‘ish happens here too.

DON’T: Run away. Take a deep breath.

The Four Stages of Culture Shock (and How to Beat Them)



The good, the bad and the ugly- it’s everywhere. Take off the rose colored glasses of naivety and enjoy all that is being offered. Zürich is painfully expensive but I am learning to embrace it. A tall Starbucks order will run you almost $9.00 in Zürich, Geneva is in Switzerland as well.

DO: Learn to appreciate the differences.

DON’T: Be the annoying person constantly saying ” In…(insert place) we make/ do it better because (insert reason). That will get annoying very quickyl and make it very hard for you to appreciate and learn new ways of doing things.


At the end of your time as an expat or even moving with in your state or country to a new area, it will be an adventure and you want to make the best of it. Whether you plan to stay 4 months or forever this is your life, so live it.

DO: Take photos and keep in touch with all of your new and old fiends.

DON’T: Be resentful, if you are not loving your new life somewhere, leave maybe it is not for you but be sure you give it a sure chance and don’t cheat yourself.


11 comments so far.

11 responses to “Expat Life: Top 10 Tips to Survive and Thrive”

  1. Stephanie says:

    Great advice!! 🙂
    Stephanie recently posted…August faves!My Profile

  2. Kanchan says:

    Such a lovely post, love d picture and info u gave, I will be travellin swiss in november hopefully, shall meet u then 🙂
    chk out my website – http://www.sapphireziva.com
    new post – http://www.sapphireziva.com/fashion_detail.php?id=28
    wan follow on gfc?
    xo, kanchan
    Kanchan recently posted…Morning RitualsMy Profile

  3. Pam says:

    this is such great advice! And its not only useful for when living in a different country but also a different state, going away for school, etc.. 🙂

    Pam xo/ Pam Scalfi♥

  4. Very interesting, Falasha! I’m gonna remember your tips when moving into another country again. 🙂

    JOURNAL OF STYLE recently posted…

  5. Zarrah says:

    Such great advice dear
    I’m livin in a different country too and im an expat.
    I find this useful
    The Bandwagon Chic | Instagram | Bloglovin | Snapchat: bandwagonchic
    Zarrah recently posted…INSTA MOMENTS: AUGUSTMy Profile

  6. Thanks for the great tips!! Happy weekend. Xo


  7. Rebecca says:

    Wow that is a big move to go from living in the US to Switzerland! I really appreciate your tips and completed agree! Taking the time to learn the culture would be crucial and getting used to the different foods could be hard too.

    Rebecca recently posted…Retro RedMy Profile

  8. Anna - Alina says:

    If you want, we can to follow each other on bloglovin! Just follow me here and I’ll follow you back! ♥ https://www.bloglovin.com/blogs/anna-alina-3947784

  9. Jasmine says:

    What an amazing opportunity to move from D.C to Europe! So glad you’re making the most out of this chance to live abroad!

    be the plebeian
    Jasmine recently posted…August OuttakesMy Profile

  10. Michele says:

    Wonderful tips. I hope you are enjoying your time in Europe. Those statistics are really interesting. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    Michele recently posted…GARDENING IN STYLEMy Profile

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