There’s a club for everything, I’m convinced. From knitting to Quidditch, pickle ball to coffee, there’s truly a club for everyone. One massive group I’ve discovered by moving to France is the expat community. It takes a lot of grit, patience and strength to be an expat, or someone living outside her native country. To willingly remove yourself from all familiarity can seem odd at first, but after living as an expat for sometime, you develop a type of daring endurance. With several months of life in Marseille, France, under my belt, I want to share some of the best things every expat needs while abroad.
This post contains affiliate links, which means I may earn a commission from links clicked in this post. These come at no extra cost to you and help me run my blog. All opinions are my own.
There was life before Express VPN, and there was life after Express VPN. When I moved to France, I could still access some of my streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu. But the options weren’t the same, and YouTube TV didn’t work at all. Most importantly, I couldn’t watch The Bachelorette. Priorities, people!
I’m also obsessed with my cash-back app Rakuten, which doesn’t work in France. But with a VPN, it does work. Get $20 in cash back for signing up today.
Here’s how a VPN works: Download the app, pick a location, click the ‘on’ button and you’re golden. And it works with my Roku, too!
After a few clicks of getting my ExpressVPN account set up, I was good to go with my favorite shows and movies. And my regular scheduled programming was back on track. And I haven’t had any problems with slow speed. It’s only $8 per month and is super simple to use.
When people think of the expat life, they think glamorous weekend trips and baguette for breakfast. But the hard truth is that life abroad comes with complicated processes and excessive paperwork. And one of these is bank accounts. With all the paperwork and red tape, it took me over a month to get a working French bank account. Woof.
Having bank accounts across continents and currencies can be tricky. I still had recurring subscriptions on my American credit card, but all of my income was in euros through my French bank account. But I also still want to continue accruing credit card points on my American travel card and grow my savings.
I tried sending money directly from my French bank account to my American credit card bill. There was obviously a fee, but it worked. However, now that I’ve found TransferWise, I am set because I can easily transfer between my different checking accounts. Best of all, I’m able to continue building my American savings and investment accounts.
TransferWise is a third-party site that transfers money between accounts from all over the world. They price compare their rates with other companies. Their site is super easy to use and explains the whole process. And the rates were crazy low and not as high as the transfer I made directly through my banks. I had zero problems transferring money from my French account to my American one. Sign up for a free account.
Living out of a suitcase can feel like a drag at times, but there’s an excitement that comes with always being on the go. If you’re an expat, you probably have the travel bug. Or at least, you’ll want to travel back to your home country every so often. That means quality, sturdy luggage is imperative. For my graduation gift, I asked for luggage from Away, and I love my large pink hard-shelled bag.
I can lock the bag with a three-digit code, and it comes with all sorts of organization tools inside. Here’s the exact bag I have. Get $20 off your first bag here. Don’t think that any bag will do: I learned this the hard way. Because my Away bag didn’t arrive in time for my move to France, I ran out and bought a Samsonite bag at Marshall’s. This bag could not deal with all my belongings, and the wheels did not roll in a straight line. Lugging this bag all around Charles de Gaulle Airport was an absolute pain in the butt. And it reminded me that saving a penny here and there is not worth a subpar product.
Some of my most prized possessions are journals. I love looking back through old journals to see what I was thinking and feeling one, two, maybe even three years ago. It’s hard to see personal growth because humans are forgetful creatures. We forget where we came from. We forget how far we’ve come and how much we’ve grown. Especially as expats, we need to be conscious about recognizing victories and newfound strengths.
Y’all, living abroad is not easy. It’s hard when everything familiar has been stripped from you. It’s frustrating when you know with your whole heart that you’re following your dream, yet there’s a lingering sadness or loneliness. When I lived in Toulouse, I committed to journaling once a day. And it’s so precious to look back at those scribbles to relive wonderful times and to remember how far I’ve come.
Not sure how to begin? Here’s three tips on how to travel journal like a pro.
Travel rewards credit card
If you’re going to be spending money, you might as well get some back for fun things, right? Before I moved to Toulouse, I applied for a Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card. And although there are plenty of credit cards out there, I’m very satisfied with mine. It has zero foreign transaction fees, which has easily saved me hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars. With my introductory offer, I used my points to get a round-trip flight to New York City from St. Louis.
What I like about this card is that it’s not tied to one specific hotel brand or airline. I can use it on just about any travel expense, and it comes back on my credit statement as a reimbursement. Just through this credit card, I’ve earned $700 in travel credit. And this is by doing the spending that I normally do any way. And there’s no annual fee.
That being said, there are plenty of other great travel credit cards out there. My family has had great luck with the Southwest Airlines and Chase United credit cards. Out of all the things every expat needs, this is an important one, for sure.
Never have I ever described myself as flexible — in both senses. But becoming an expat, I have grown in this trait more than I ever desired. When you’re in a new culture, there’s more room for misunderstandings or differences. What’s rude back home might not be rude here. What’s polite at home isn’t polite everywhere. In France, you absolutely must say hello every time you enter a store or honestly speak to any human. One time I was asking a security guard which line to stand in and began with « pardon. » He began shouting at me and telling me how rude I am because I did not begin with the word « bonjour. »
Stores are never open in France. They close for two hours here and there. Some close on Sundays, others on Mondays. Just about everything is closed on Sunday, which means that can’t be my dedicated grocery shopping day.
Being flexible and rolling with the punches is huge. Because when I first moved to Toulouse, I let every little error get to me and I’d beat myself up. Inconvenience is France’s middle name, and I used to get extremely frustrated.
Sometimes I still do. But living abroad is one of the most refining experiences a human can have, in my humble opinion. It’s so important to be flexible and remind yourself that your home culture isn’t the only way to live. In America, I drove my car everywhere and went grocery shopping on Sundays. In France, I adjust my life to bus schedules and pick up my groceries on Monday afternoons.
Flexibility is also one of the big things every expat needs due to time differences. France is 7 hours ahead of my town in Missouri. The only time I can safely carve out for calling family and friends back home is later at night. Normally, I’d love to wind down for the night with a TV show or a book. But many nights of the week, I’m chatting with friends till 10 or 11 p.m. Of course, I want to talk with my pals back home, but I’ve had to readjust the way I schedule my days. And I simply just have to stay up later to be able to fit it all in.
It takes a very strong person to willingly leave all familiarity. So go ahead and pat yourself on the back. The expat life is certainly not for everyone, but those who embark on this journey have ample reward awaiting them. With these 6 things every expat needs, you’ll be on your way to be an expat expert.
Not sure how to pack for your move abroad? Here’s how I packed for a year in France.