Tips for Long-Term Travel in Asia.
If you’re about to embark on a journey to live, work or study in another country, congratulations! You have made one of the most courageous and exciting decisions ever. Taking the bold step to leave your comfort zone of home, family and work takes a lot of guts, but the enrichment and rewards are never-ending. I’ve always prioritized travel over many other things, but immersing myself in another culture and lifestyle is truly one of the greatest adventures. Here are some tips for those setting out to live in another country…
1. Go prepared to live with fewer comforts.
If you’re relocating just to find another place which is exactly like home with all your luxuries and comforts, then perhaps you should stay put. Even if your new company is paying you a lot of money, the thrill of another country lies in the fact that you get to live in a different way. Sure there are some amenities which I won’t compromise on (like having a bowl toilet and not a squatter in my house), but most things you just have to accept and adapt to.
In countries like South Korea you will be hard-pressed to find an apartment bigger than a matchbox unless you’re rolling in money. In the Malaysian rural town of Mersing where we live, it was so difficult to find any free housing let alone a freestanding house with a garden. We’ve now adapted to living side-by-side in terraced housing and listening to our Chinese neighbours’ loud karaoke.
In many parts of Asia you may never find a house with a garden or a bathroom with a separate shower (the bathroom floor will also serve as your shower floor). But we are enjoying our terraced housing.
2. City vs. rural.
Before accepting a job offer, clarify the exact location of your job placement and housing. I know many people who were recruited to teach English or work in what they assumed was a big city but was actually in the sticks. Some rural villages have very few stores as they off the land, absolutely no English and a single ATM if you’re lucky. For some, this is perfect and a great way to save money, but for others this may seem like purgatory sans rooftop bars, restaurants and other foreigners.
3. Survive the first two months.
Once you know exactly where you will be living, make sure you get accurate information on the average monthly cost of rent, petrol, food and other start-ups costs. The big cities have a lot more variety and flashy lights, but rental is usually way more and you will have to account for that. Unless you bring a large stash of saving money with you, know that you will probably be living quite meagerly for the first two months. Often you have to pay one/two months deposit, rent, utilities deposit, install wifi, buy food, buy cleaning products, important appliances such as a kettle, pans, cutlery maybe a toaster etc. And all of this before your first paycheck.
This is not something one thinks about before relocating, or perhaps that’s just me in denial. Always factor in the amount you will be taxed every month. Your salary may look amazing but after-tax, not so much. In Malaysia, foreigners are taxed heavily (26 %) over the first six months ( unless you leave the country for longer than 14 days during those months and then heavy tax will continue for a year). Each country will differ in its tax regulations so make sure to check with your company if you’ve already been offered employment.
5. Things to bring from home.
To ward off homesickness for as long as possible and to make your new abode feel like home, I suggest bringing a few things with you. I’ve made the mistake of arriving in Thailand with only clothes and wishing I had brought things with me. Photos of your family and friends, lightweight photo frames to stick on your walls or place on your fridge. To save yourself having to shop for tons of things when you first arrive, try bringing sheets (in South East Asia you won’t need a duvet), pillow cases, towels. Even simple things like tablecloths, funky placements and coasters add life and colour to an otherwise empty place. Pack an international plug for each of your gadgets such as your laptop, cellphone charger etc. as they may not stock one everywhere.
6. Dress code of your new town or work.
Make sure to clarify exactly what the dress code will be at work and take the climate into consideration. In countries such as China, Japan, Thailand and Korea it is perfectly fine for ladies to wear dresses until the knee and cover your shoulders while guys wear trousers and shirts. But in Malaysia alone there are various dress codes within each state and sometimes each school. For example, in our small town, it is way more conservative than Kuala Lumpur.
Here female teachers are not permitted to wear pants, only long skirts. If you are not Muslim, your skirt may be to the knee and shirts until the elbow but most teachers are Malay and cover up fully. All of which I didn’t know and so I packed inappropriately. In South East Asia you may never experience a single cold day, but in Seoul, North China and Japan you can have months of subzero temperatures.
7. Finding a house.
This process will differ from country to country but unless you speak the local language it will always be a challenge. Most English teaching positions (especially if you’re recruited outside the country) will provide accommodation for you. In Koh Samui, we had to ride around on our scooter looking for ‘rent’ signs and randomly calling numbers of people who didn’t speak English.
In Malaysia, there are no signs and you have to ask locals or other staff members who have perhaps been there for a while before you. Luckily most people in Malaysia speak some English and could point you in the right direction. In Taiwan, this was not the case and without mandarin it was a nightmare. For the most part in Asia, there is seldom a rental classified section in the newspaper or online in English, so it’s more of a word-of-mouth exercise.
8. Visa Runs.
Keep a close eye on the date when your tourist visa expires, because overstaying your visit could mean they don’t allow you back in. In Asia, visa runs are a part of life. From Korea, English teachers are always flying to Japan for a day or two, Thailand is more lenient and many people work there illegally for years just driving out and back into the country every three months. Most countries require you to enter as a tourist and convert the visa to a work permit after a few months, but this doesn’t mean you can tell Immigration that you plan to work there even if you already have a contract. They know there’s a large chance that you’re there to stay and work, but you NEVER tell them that.
What was your experience like when moving to Asia? Any other tips you have to share?