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What is it like to live in Bangkok as an expat? In this Expat Interview, Tara shares her expat life in Bangkok, Thailand. She discusses her moving procedure, good and bad things about Bangkok, where to visit in Bangkok, cost of living in Bangkok and more.

 

1. About Bangkok

Bangkok is the capital city of Thailand. It is a large coastal city with roughly 14 million people in a 600 square mile area. Similar to other large cities of the world, you can find a diversity of people living throughout the city, as well as restaurants, shopping malls, museums, businesses, etc.
Bangkok is a very safe city to live in as a foreigner, and incredibly affordable. Most foreigners come to Thailand to work as Teachers because, in order to stay long-term, you either need to have a work permit or be married to a local to have a marriage visa.
From Bangkok, it is extremely easy to travel to other parts of Southeast Asia including Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.

living in Bangkok - Bangkok expats

Bangkok just after sunset

2. What was your procedure for moving to Bangkok?

I originally moved to Thailand in 2011 but lived in a smaller Thai city. After completing my contract there with a government school, I moved home to NY to complete my Master’s degree. I knew I wanted to go back to Thailand, but this time my husband and I wanted to work in Bangkok at an International high school to make more money.
moving to Bangkok Thailand
In the summer of 2014 we packed up all of our things once again and this time moved to Bangkok. We had never lived in a big city before, so this was a new experience for us.

3. Why did you choose to live in Bangkok Thailand?

After living in a smaller Thai city I really wanted to experience what it was like to live in one of the biggest cities in the world. Also, as an expat living in Thailand, you can only stay longer than a few months if you have a work permit.
Many jobs do not provide a work permit, which is why the majority of people who move to Thailand work as teachers. I wanted to upgrade my job from working in the government school system, and most of the big name International schools are located in Bangkok.
Bangkok has everything you could possibly imagine, the same as other big cities, so we were looking for some conveniences of that as well.

 

4. How to prepare to move to Bangkok?

When moving from country to country it is very difficult to carry a lot of luggage with you. I could only bring 2 suitcases, so I had to figure out what was most important.
Since I was going to be working as a teacher, I made sure to pack all of my professional working clothes first. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to find the styles of clothes I wanted for working in Thailand, so I prepared by purchasing those items at home first. I also needed to save a bit of money.
It is because in Thailand you get paid only once per month, which means you have to live for a whole month before receiving your first paycheck. You need to make sure you have enough money for rent, deposit, etc.

 

5. Cost of living in Bangkok

It totally depends on your lifestyle. Bangkok can be one of the most affordable cities to live in or just as expensive as New York City.
cost of living in Bangkok - Bangkok apartments

a) Accommodation: Bangkok apartments

You can rent a small studio apartment (not in the center of town) in Bangkok for as little as $300 USD per month. Or you can live directly off of Sukhumvit Road in a 2 bedroom apartment for $1,500 USD per month.
Bangkok apartments - Cost of living in Bangkok

 

b) Food in Bangkok

The same is true for food. You can eat Thai street food for less than $1 USD per dish, or you can eat at the fanciest restaurants for $20 USD per dish.

 

c) Transportation in Bangkok

Transportation is typically always cheap, whether you choose a taxi, motorbike taxi, sky-train, or subway. Tuk Tuk’s tend to charge higher prices.

 

d) Shopping for groceries in Bangkok

You can shop for groceries at the local markets and pay pennies for fresh fruits and vegetables, or you can shop at the Central shopping mall grocery stores and pay US prices.

expat living in Bangkok eat Thai food

Thai Spices

e) Buying clothes in Bangkok

For clothing and accessories, you can shop again at the local markets where shirts cost as little as $3 USD, or you can go to the luxury shopping malls that have Sephora, Gucci, Michael Kors, and Coach for example.

 

f) Paying taxes in Bangkok, Thailand

Depending on the type of job you have, you may or may not have to pay taxes. Typically in the government schools, they will pay the taxes for you. In the International schools, you often have your taxes deducted from your monthly salary, which can be anywhere from 10-20% depending on the amount of your salary.
It seems steep, but if you’re paying taxes in Thailand than you don’t have to pay taxes in the United States as well.

 

g) My experience

When I worked at a government school I only made $1,000 USD per month but I was able to save $500 USD per month. I ate cheap Thai food, shopped at the markets, and lived in a studio apartment.
When I moved to work in the International schools I made roughly $3,000 USD per month, and I saved at least $2,000 USD per month. I lived a more expensive lifestyle, had a 2 bedroom apartment, enjoyed fancier restaurants and traveled to more exotic places.

What to eat in Bangkok Thailand

Thailand is famous for it’s Thai Noodle Soup

 

6. What are the difficulties of living in Bangkok?

The Thai language is an incredibly difficult language. It consists of 5 tones, which means the same word spoken in 5 different ways means 5 different vocabularies. As a foreigner, you will most likely never say the tones correctly unless you take classes, so it can be very difficult to communicate with the Thai people.

When I first moved there, I needed to rent an apartment, a motorbike, figure out where to do laundry, etc., and all of this is quite hard without speaking the language. Unless you’re in a tourist area, most Thai’s do not speak any English.

I slowly learned the words for the things I needed doing and spent a lot of time studying. I learned how to read the Thai script, which was instrumental when trying to order food from a restaurant or read the signs on the streets.

 

7. Did you experience any discrimination in Bangkok?

The Thai people will stare at foreigners often and you will hear them say ‘farang’ (Thai word for French, but now is used as a blanket term for all foreigners) around you all the time. They don’t mean it in a derogatory way, so don’t feel offended. You might get annoyed after hearing it so many times, but you have to remember that you are a foreigner living in their country.

There are times when a Thai person will come up and take a picture with you, sometimes without asking, and this is another thing you have to get used to. For the most part, Thai people are kind and helpful and enjoy engaging in conversation with foreigners. If you learn to say just a few words in Thai, that will really impress them (you might even get better discounts on the market!)

Sometimes, although it’s very rare, foreigners will be charged higher prices than Thai’s at small restaurants or for transportation services. There is not much that you can do about it, and since Thailand is such an affordable country, these differences are so small that it’s better to just pay it and move on.

 

8. How to overcome culture shock in Bangkok?

I didn’t have too much culture shock because I had traveled to South East Asia previously (the Philippines). I knew a little bit about how they lived, and I made sure to ask friends who had been there previously for advice.

Also, I did have to get used to the squat toilets, and the fact that not everywhere is as clean as I was used to (especially in restaurants). Those adjustments come with time, and now they don’t bother me anymore.

 

9. What do you like about Bangkok?

Bangkok is one of the largest cities in the world, and just like other large cities, it has everything you could possibly imagine. Restaurants, shopping, bars, temples,  museums, you name it!
I love how cheap the transportation in the city is. You can take a taxi from one end of the city to the other for less than $10. Bangkok has both an underground subway and an above ground sky-train.

The transportation is very efficient and you can find your way around the entire city quite easily. Tuk Tuks and motorcycle taxis can be found everywhere as well. You can spend one day in Bangkok and practically move around the entire city.

Bangkok lifestyle living in Bangkok

Riding through the city in a Tuk Tuk

10. Is there anything that you don’t like about Bangkok?

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the number of people. If you’re walking around the major tourist areas of Bangkok there were will thousands of people around you. It’s nice to find a quieter area of the city where you can roam the streets without too much chaos.

living in Bangkok - cost of living in Bangkok

Busy streets are a common sight in Bangkok


I also don’t like the scams. I haven’t been victim to any scams myself since I know what to look out for, but I hear about them all the time. As a newcomer to the city, make sure to read up on the scams you might encounter so you know how to look out for them.

For example, a huge scam in Bangkok involves the Tuk Tuk drivers. They might offer you a discounted rate to go visit a temple, but you are unaware that they plan to take you to a suit shop, or a jewelry store, and try and urge you to buy those products.

Don’t ever listen to a Tuk Tuk (or taxi) driver who tells you that a temple is closed but that they can take you to one that is open. This is a lie of course and they should be avoided.

 

11. What are your favorite things to do in Bangkok?

a) Shopping in Bangkok

My favorite thing about Bangkok is the shopping. I love the shopping malls and the cheap markets. Chatuchak market, also known as JJ, is one of the biggest markets in the world. There isn’t an item you can think of that can’t be found there.

I love strolling up and down the aisles and seeing what I can find. Always offer 50% less than the asking price! They will always ask for more money, especially for foreigners.

There are enormous shopping malls all throughout the city but the majority of them are located in the Sukhumvit Road area. Malls such as Siam Paragon, Central Plaza, MBK, and Platinum are incredible and like heaven to those who love to shop.

 

b) Eating in Bangkok

I also love to eat in the city (of course!). Not only cheap Thai street food but all the different ethnic restaurants that can be found there. Bangkok has a Little India, a Little Korea, a Middle Eastern Town, Chinatown, etc. You can find food ranging from Ethiopian to Italian to Mexican.

living in Bangkok - what to eat in Bangkok: Khao Soi

Khao Soi, a Thai specialty

12. Where do you recommend to visit in the Bangkok?

a) Temples in Bangkok

At some point, you will definitely have to visit the famous temples such as Wat Pho and Wat Arun along the riverside. You can visit the Grand Palace or go to see the Emerald Buddha. Be aware that these all are extremely touristy things to do, so there will always be hundreds of other people there.

 

b) Bangkok Nightlife

For those who love nightlife, the Khao San Road area is where most of the backpackers hang out. If you love nightlife but want to stay away from the backpacker crowd, then the areas of Thong Lor or Ekkamai (off Sukhumvit Road) are the best options for you. Here you will find hipster and artsy bars with unique cocktails.

Sky bars are also popular places to visit in the city. My favorite is Above 11, on Sukhumvit Soi 11, which offers a chill vibe with spectacular views of the city’s skyline. They serve a combination of French and Peruvian food. There are dozens of sky bars around Bangkok to choose from.

 

c) Day trips from Bangkok

Since transportation is so affordable and easy to find, you can also venture outside the city to see excellent attractions. An hour north of the city is Ayutthaya where you will find ancient ruins, and an hour west of the city you can visit the famous floating market of Damneon Saduak. A few hours south and you’ll reach the pristine beaches on the islands of Koh Chang or Koh Samet.

 

13. Is it easy to make new friends in Bangkok?

It’s easy to make new friends if you are social! Usually, if you’re working in the school system there will be other foreigners from around the world that you’ll get to know and befriend. You can also go out to bars or join classes such as Yoga to get to know other people.
You can’t be shy about starting a conversation with someone, just go for it and they are most likely in the same situation as you and looking for friends.

 

14. Do you hang out with locals or foreigners mostly in Bangkok?

I hang out with a combination of locals and foreigners. I have a lot of foreign friends from working in the school system as well as locals who work there too. You can meet more locals by going out to bars and restaurants as well and starting conversations.

 

15. Where is your favorite place in Bangkok to meet friends?

Thai people love to eat and drink! So bars and restaurants are the best places to hang out. Meals are shared ‘family style’, meaning that a bunch of random dishes is ordered and shared among the whole group.
It is not common to order your own dish and not share with the others. Coffee is huge too, and every corner has a coffee shop, so this is another popular place to hang out.

 

16. Do you interact with any expat communities in Bangkok?

No, I never interacted with any expat communities. Usually, in most schools and areas of town, there are so many expats living that you don’t have to seek any out. However, there are many expat communities that you can be a part of if you wish.

There are groups for getting together at different bars or restaurants. My friend was a new mother and joined a group of new mothers in the city. They would meet at cafes or take the children to the park.

 

17. A memorable experience in Bangkok

My co-worker was a former journalist who had lived in Bangkok for 20 years. He suggested we go have some drinks at this old US/Thai Military base from the 70’s which had been converted into a bar. We weren’t sure what to expect but we agreed and followed him there.

We arrived at this large compound and he began banging on the door. It was raining outside and nothing was happening, no one was coming. He looked around and was like ‘Oh! Oops, wrong place’. He walked next door and banged again on a large metal door. A minute later we were buzzed inside.

There were Thai soldiers with large guns all around us. We walked down this skinny hallway where we had to sign our names in. We were all a little sketched out and unsure about the whole experience, so we signed fake names. Just when I was beginning to think the whole situation was a bad idea, we entered the bar. It turned out to be just your typical VFW bar. They had craft beers, pool tables, and American sports on the T.V. It ended up being a great night.

 

18. Did you change your perspective of Bangkok after living here?

Definitely. I always thought I would hate living in a large city, and Bangkok is one of the largest in the world. But there is always so much to do and see (and so much food to eat!) that it’s impossible not to love it. However, I would still prefer to live near to a big city but not inside of it. I need a little more peace and quiet.

expat living in Bangkok

Sunset from Jack’s Bar in Bangkok

 

19. Advice and tips for moving to Bangkok or living in Bangkok

Read and plan ahead. Know the general costs of things that you will need so you can come prepared with enough money. Understand the culture and customs of the people so you don’t offend anyone and start off on the wrong foot.

Go with the flow! Things are going to go wrong of course, but you will adjust and you’ll remember it as a great learning experience.

 

20. Would you recommend to live in Bangkok?

Should people live in Bangkok? Absolutely. Bangkok will always be my favorite city in the world. In my mi, d there is no other country like Thailand, and it’s a place everyone should experience at least for a short time in their life.

The way of life for the Thai people is so fascinating, and unlike the way of life in America. I believe the only way for you to grow as a person is to step outside your comfort zone every now and then. Moving out of your own country to experience another is a growth experience. You will never look at your own country the same way again.

 

21. What have you learned from living abroad?

I have learned patience, tolerance, and understanding just to name a few. I learned that people live differently all over the world and that their customs are not necessarily better or worse than your own, just different. You find yourself feeling more like a citizen of the world instead of a citizen of just your own country.

In the US, people tend to live very actively and stressed out lives. I know because I used to live that way. Constantly worried about money and taxes and bills.

In Thailand, I didn’t have to worry about those things. I had enough money to be extremely comfortable, and those worries disappeared. Life is a lot slower in Thailand. It causes you to reflect on your own life. This doesn’t mean that life in Thailand was perfect and I didn’t have any problems. But I hope I can carry the lessons I learned from living in Thailand with me throughout the rest of my life.

 

More about Tara Kenyon

moving to Bangkok
Hello! My name is Tara Kenyon and I am from Upstate, New York. I have my Master’s degree in Nutrition from the University of Bridgeport and my Bachelor’s in Biology and Psychology from Binghamton University.

I have been living in Thailand on and off for the past 6 years as a teacher. At first, I taught English to high school students at a Government school in Nakhon Sawan and then Science at an International High School in Bangkok.

Living in Thailand has inspired my passion for travel as well as cuisine, which helped me begin my website Nutrition Abroad. Here I write about recipes from around the world and provide travel guides and tips for the independent budget traveler. Currently, I am taking a break from teaching, and traveling the world with my husband, blogging about my experiences as I go!

You can find me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.
living in Bangkok Thailand

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Discover what it's like to live in Bangkok Thailand as an expat. Read cost of living in Bangkok Thailand, good and bad things about Bangkok, things to do in Bangkok, places to visit in Bangkok and more here!  #bangkok #thailand #expat #expatlife #livingabroad #expatliving #expatblog #expatblogger #travelblog #traveltips 

*This article was updated on June 14th, 2018.

What it’s like to live in Amsterdam as an expat?
In this Expat Interview, Bruna shares her expat life in Amsterdam, from the cost of living in Amsterdam, Netherlands, overcoming difficulties and culture shock, to how to prepare for moving to this beautiful city.

 

1. About Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Amsterdam is the famous city in the Netherlands and one of the most open-minded in the world, if not the most. The city has the highest number of national heritage buildings, thriving cultural attractions and gorgeous canals that enchant both tourists and locals.

living in amsterdam

The famous narrow and crooked houses of Amsterdam.


Furthermore, Amsterdam is famous for good museums and interesting areas, such as the Red-Light District. Also, Amsterdam is also close to many stunning cities in the Netherlands, offering many day-trips possibilities.

Needless to say that it is an expat-friendly city, right? The local language is Dutch, but 99% of the people speak English very well.

 

2. How did you move to the Netherlands?

I moved from Brazil to the Netherlands in 2014 to be an au pair in Amsterdam. That was a great and cheap way to travel around Europe and I’ll forever be grateful that I took that decision! I would go somewhere new every single weekend (in the country or in Europe) and one of those trips was to Maastricht, a city in the south of the country.

On that occasion, I had a Tinder match with my (today) fiancé. Crazy, right? Yes, I know! But we’re not the only couple I know who met via Tinder. Anyway, one year after, we moved in together. Then I started to learn Dutch and eventually found a job in my study area.

 

3. Why did you choose to live in Amsterdam?

Well, before I decided to which country I’d go to, I’d look for posts on other travel bloggers’ websites and I found this post about the best things to do in Amsterdam. I was instantly in love with this place!

The houses have such a sweet Dutch Renaissance style and the canals were amazing in the photos, but when I saw them with my own eyes…I say that I didn’t choose Amsterdam, but I was chosen. Amsterdam is an open-minded city full of foreigners. It has a great atmosphere!

visiting Amsterdam canal

Amsterdam’s canals are the best attraction in summer months.

4. How to prepare for moving to Amsterdam?

The process was actually pretty simple. I had to gather all my documents and translate them to Dutch to apply for the visa. Then I bought some winter clothes because the ones I had were supposed to handle an 18 Celsius/ 64 Fahrenheit winter… In addition, I started studying Dutch on my own to make my life a little bit easier there.

 

5. Did you experience any difficulties when moving to Amsterdam?

Yes, mainly because of the weather. In Brazil, most of the days have a clear sky and are warm, but in the Netherlands…it was so cold and gray! It still is cold and gray but I’m more used to the cold now.

Only the gray and dull days bother me. It feels like I need the sun to keep my energy up, that’s my fuel. To deal with that we travel to southern Europe to find the sun and get a little break of the winter here.

 

6. What is the cost of living in Amsterdam?

a) Accommodation in Amsterdam

Like I said above, the Netherlands is pricey in general, so this isn’t different with accommodation in the most popular cities. The rent average is around 1.350 euro for a 70m2 apartment.

 

b) Groceries

We spend around 200/250 euro/month on groceries. I don’t think this is a lot for two people, but we shop different items in different supermarkets, just because it’s cheaper.

 

c) Transportation

The public transport system in the Netherlands is very good, but it’s pricey too. A return train ticket to Rotterdam would cost me 30 euro. Ouch! Luckily, many stores offer day-tickets for the train for 15-20 euro every month.

Buses and trams are charged per kilometer, so it can be advantageous, but it’s still expensive if you use it on daily basis. That is one of the reasons why plenty of people ride a bike instead of taking a bus because it’s much cheaper.

 

7. Did you experience any discrimination in Amsterdam?

A little bit. It’s luckily not a common thing, but it takes only one person to ruin your day, right? In the beginning, I had someone asking me if I was in a relationship with my fiancé to be “able” to live in Europe.

I mean, seriously? That sounds so repulsive that I chose to ignore that person from that day on. It’s so sad that many people judge you based on the country’s name on your passport. Many of those have never even been to Brazil…but that’s okay. My fiancé says “if they think like that, it’s not worth to explain it”, and I totally agree with him.

But today, I no longer experience any discriminations, maybe because I’ve been in the country for quite a while and speak their language pretty well.

 

8. How did you overcome culture shock in Amsterdam?

I only realized it after a month or so that we have very different cultures. For example, most Dutch people plan appointments (to drink a coffee, etc) a week in advance at least, Brazilians plan something for tonight or tomorrow night.

Also, if you knock on their door at dinner time, they will ask you to come back later, when they’re done eating. If you would do the same in Brazil, you’d probably be invited to have dinner with them.

These are just a few examples of a long list! Those things seemed weird to me when I moved here, but not anymore. I come from a much warmer culture where people like to be together and make new friends. But now I see it as simple differences in both countries’ history and culture. It’s a process that takes time to get used to.

That’s what I love about traveling. It opens your mind to see the differences as they are. Rather than creating discriminatory opinions.

 

9. What do you like about Amsterdam?

I adore the old architecture and charming canals the city has. Amsterdam is so enchanting all yearlong and, thankfully, has a lot to offer in all seasons. Also, the cafes are just fantastic! Hipster crowd and cool atmosphere make the cafes in the city very cozy.

biking in Amsterdam

View from one of the many bridges of Amsterdam.


For travel-lovers like me, it’s a perfect location because you can easily reach other cities in the country or take a train to Paris, Brussels, Berlin, and London.

 

10. Are there any bad things about Amsterdam?

Hmm, I don’t like…that it is expensive and full of tourists. The Netherlands is a pretty expensive country, but Amsterdam is the cherry’s cake. Rent costs way too much in my opinion.

And yeah, thousands of tourists come here every day, so when you want to reach somewhere on foot or bike, it can take a while because the streets are full. Besides that, Amsterdam is a stunning place. I don’t have anything to complain about.

 

11. What are your favorite things to do in Amsterdam?

I love wandering around the city center, visiting museums, having a beer in some cozy bars or taking pictures of the streets. The city center is very photogenic, especially the Seven Bridges – a place from where you can see 7 bridges one after the other along a canal. It’s so beautiful!

living in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is full of flowers during spring.


Also, the city park, Vondelpark, is usually my favorite place to enjoy summer days drinking a beer while laying on the grass.

 

12. How can you make new friends in Amsterdam?

I met many foreigners in my Dutch courses. People from all continents and ages! I didn’t have the same luck with locals though. Nevertheless, Dutch people are always very friendly, so it’s pretty easy to engage with them.

 

13. Do you hang out with locals or foreigners mostly?

After the last question, this is an easy one. I hang out mostly with foreigners. The only locals I hang out with are my fiancé’s group of friends. I also interact with expat communities in Amsterdam, mostly with students and travelers.

 

14. Where is your favorite place in Amsterdam to meet friends?

We don’t have a standard place to hang out, but it’s usually a bar or a café (coffee shop in the Netherlands is the place where people use soft drugs). There are plenty of good options for bars/ cafes in the Jordaan neighborhood.

Oh, we also go often to a very cozy and hipster bar/ restaurant next to NDSM in North Amsterdam.

 

15. A memorable experience in Amsterdam

When I had just arrived in Amsterdam, a friend invited me to go ice skating in front of the Rijksmuseum and I said yes right away. However, I had no idea of what I could expect from the winter…
And since Dutch people ride a bike to go everywhere, we wanted to go there by bike as well. Just so we could feel a little more like locals, you know. But I was totally unprepared for the striking cold wind and the only bike I had was a kids-size one. So I was riding a tiny bike on an icy evening for around 10km.

When we arrived there, I couldn’t feel my face and hands for a long, long time! On the next day, I had back pain and my cheeks were burned! It wasn’t nice back then, but today I laugh when I think about it.

 

16. Did you change your perspective about Amsterdam after living here?

Yes, it’s almost impossible not to do it. When you move to a city, you have no idea how that place really is. I had a totally different perspective of the whole country actually, but it’s a slow process to learn how life goes in another culture and wonderful to fully experience it.

 

17. What are your advice and tips for moving/ living in Amsterdam?

First of all, learn the local language! Most parts of the locals speak English very well, but that’s not their native language. It’s not the government language, or television, etc. No, it’s all in Dutch. So, in order to make you feel a part of society and also to make more local friends, I highly recommend studying it. There are many excellent websites that I used to learn it. So, it’s possible to do it online and for free.

Secondly, forget a car, buy a bike! The city center is full of bikes, people, everything. I don’t find it car-friendly, what I think that it is amazing, actually. Plenty of people go to the bar, to the school, to work, and supermarket by bike. So, get used to doing it too.

 

18. Would you recommend others to live in Amsterdam?

Certainly! The city has everything to offer to its population. Really everything that you think! It has a gorgeous city center full of nice stores and cozy bars/ cafes. A central station easily reached by bike, bus or tram. Pleasant parks and good markets to stroll around. Amsterdam also has a jovial and open-minded atmosphere. I’m totally in love with it, you noticed it, right? Lol.

 

19. What have you learned from living abroad?

I’m much more independent. I have to do way more things on my own because my family isn’t here to help me like they used to do, so I’ve grown up a lot.

I have also learned that I love museums and other cultures! I’ve been to more museums in Amsterdam than I’ve been in my whole life until I moved there.

I just want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to do this interview! I hope it will inspire many people to come to visit the charming Amsterdam and, who knows, to move here as well.

 

20. More about Bruna

Bruna-maps-n-bags

Bruna is the voice behind the travel blog Maps ‘N Bags. Her blog focus on providing travel tips to help other travelers to travel the world as well. She has been to many countries and city across the globe and has plenty travel hacks to share!

Apart from her blog, she is also passionate about beer, coffee, laughing, animals, photography…the list is long! If you want to know more about her, check out Maps ‘N Bags.

Don’t forget to follow her adventures on social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.

* This article was updated on June 10th, 2018.

Recently, Finland and Helsinki have achieved high rankings in international ratings in education, living standard and safety. While it is indeed a very good place for to live, is it as perfect for expats? What it’s like to live in Helsinki, Finland as an expat? What is the cost of living in Helsinki, or the best places to visit in Helsinki? Let’s find out!

 

1. About Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki is a capital of Finland and the country’s biggest city. It was founded in 1550 on the shore of the Baltic Sea. There is Helsinki city (with population 650k) and Helsinki Metropolitan area, which includes satellite cities: Espoo and Vantaa.

living in Helsinki as an expat

Helsinki Cathedral


Helsinki is the second smallest (after Brussels) capital of Europe and is the coldest one. It is famous for its closeness to nature and modernity. Also, it attracts tourists with its lakes and islands. There are about 300 islands on the shoreline, many are connected with bridges. There are 8 high-class universities and several technology parts, which brings students and expats.

From an extremely intense preparation in Russia into calm and quiet life in Finland. I am Alexander – A Russian expat in Finland, and this is my expat story.

I have been living in Helsinki area for more than five years.  During that time, I came through good, bad and quite weird experiences, which I would like to share.

 

2. Moving from St. Petersburg to Helsinki

living in Helsinki
In order to move from St. Petersburg to Helsinki, I had to do an insane number of things in a short period. I wish I knew how everything would turn out in advance, so I was prepared.

I was sitting at home, slowly exploring career opportunities in Scandinavia, German, and some other countries, when I got a call. A former colleague told that he recommended me to a company from Finland, and I got the job straight away. That was the start.

It was August 2010 I started working for a Finnish company in Russian office and found out that potentially, I can move to an office in Helsinki. It meant, along with the job and studies, I had to arrange my move in 4 months. I needed to do the following:

  • Arranging the transfer to the office in Helsinki and getting employment residence
  • Applying for a University in Finland and arranging the leave from the one in Russia
  • Getting IELTS

 

3. Tips for studying in Finland

If you plan your studies in Finland, you should know that most of the programs have fees if you come outside EU. For this reason, I applied for a job and studies at the same time. In case you have a job and the residence based on employment – you don’t need to pay for studies.

In Russia, there was no Bachelor/Master system when I was leaving. It was a specialist diploma, which is an equivalent to Master’s degree. I have completed 3.5 years of 5.5, which was an equivalent for Bachelor, recognized by Universities of Finland.

 

4. Cost of living in Helsinki, Finland

I will try to give some examples, to showcase the prices:

a) Accommodation

  • One-room apartment in central Helsinki is around 1000 Eur/month
  • Two-room apartment, outside of the central area can cost around 800-900 Eur/month
  • Student apartments for long-term are normally two times cheaper

 

b) Food

  • Average price for lunch at lunchtime is around 9-11 Euros
  • A dinner in a restaurant is around 20-40 Euros
  • Kebabs and pizzas, which are everywhere, cost from 6.5 Eur (there are few spots where it cost 5)
  • A beer at a bar costs 4-7 Euros
  • Employers give tickets for lunch deduction, that saves around 30%
  • If you eat lunch out and have rest of the meals at home – you end up paying 450-600 Eur monthly for food.
  • Food in Universities for students is around 2.5-5 Eur for lunch
living in Helsinki

Helsinki Restaurant day

c) Transportation in Helsinki

  • A single ticket for Helsinki costs 2.8 Eur (with travel card)
  • A single ticket for Bigger Helsinki (Espoo, Vantaa) costs 4.5 Eur (with travel card)
  • Ticket fares can be checked here
  • Taxis are ridiculously expensive, 30 minutes ride is about 45 Euro

 

d) Taxes in Finland

  • Taxes vary heavily depending on the income and other factors (I have 1.5% less tax because my work is outside the city and I pay a lot for transport)
  • The average salary is around 3300, it has around 25% tax

 

5. Overcoming difficulties in Helsinki, Finland

There were no difficulties when I first moved in. The services in Finland worked perfectly. It was very easy to get all documents and settled down. If you secured a job and place to stay, everything should go fine.

What actually was complicated – is arranging work and studies at the same time. This was only possible because courses in Universities in Finland are very flexible. You can choose any number of courses, many of which can be done remotely. Although my schedule was very tight, I could choose work hours and timetable for my university depending on my preference.

 

6. Discrimination in Helsinki from the locals? Yes or No?

I wouldn’t say there is any discrimination. Finns are somewhat cold, but it is important to understand that it has nothing personal.  They prefer communicating among themselves and are often a bit shy with foreigners.

 

7. How to overcome culture shock in Helsinki, Finland?

Culture shock, yes.

It was due to general calmness and the lack of communication. When I first came to Finland and saw my flatmate, I told: “Hi, I’m Alex, nice meeting you”. He didn’t pay any attention and just passed by. Later, I was told, that it is normal for Finland and you shouldn’t take it personally, and these types of people just don’t want to be disturbed.

As I figured out later, there are so many people like them. There was a moment when this brought me down. The solution was actually simple – avoiding all people who “don’t want to be disturbed”. Now, the majority of people I talk to in Finland are expats and very little Finns.

 

8. Things I love about Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki is a modern city and very close to nature. It is a capital, with a lot of things to do, and you can live in a rural area with fast connections to everything. I see it as a very comfortable place to build a home.

I like the houses in Finland, from cute wooden houses to modern architecture. Most of them are designed with large panoramic windows to gather all the sunlight, which is rare and precious in this northern area. Apartments have access to sauna, and new ones have saunas in every flat.

living in Helsinki

Helsinki Old Vallila district with old wooden houses

9. Things I don’t like about Helsinki

There is a lack of decently priced restaurants. I miss Russia where many restaurants are open 24/7 and there are bars working until the last client leave.  In Finland, at night there are only fast food restaurants and most of them are full of drunk people. Bars normally stop letting people in at 3 am.

Also, taxis are expensive and Uber is forbidden, which I HATE!
Another thing, for me personally, this place is too calm. I ended up visiting St. Petersburg pretty often just to feel myself among friendly people and to spend nights out.

 

10. Best things to do in Helsinki, Finland

I like gathering with friends at some cafeterias or some clubs with live music, going to saunas or e nature. It is always a good idea to rent a cottage at a lake.

Recommendations

  • For saunas: Allas Sea Pool and Kultuuri sauna. Both are located centrally and are next to the sea so you can swim.
  • For nature: Nuuksio National Park and Espoo Archipelago.
  • For cafeterias: Café Regatta, Café Ursula
living in Helsinki

Helsinki nature


These are in my opinion, the best places to go as a tourist as well. In addition to things listed previously, I would recommend Ateljee bar, it has the best view of the city.

Helsinki nature

Katajanokka island with unique architecture is a nice place to visit!

 

11. Making friends in Finland

I think I have to be honest here. Nordic courtiers have some of the lowest scores when it comes to foreigners making friends with locals. I think it is true.

I still cannot figure out how Finns make friends. When I ask, they tell that it takes a long time. Some foreigners told they have spent months at (for example) a basketball team together, to start speaking informally. In general, I guess I am too lazy to wait that long. However, I did make friends with some Finns, who visit me over years.

Most of the friends I made are from University, Couchsurfing, Language exchange and Expat meetings. They are expats or international students.
For language exchange and making friends, I’d recommend Cafe Ligua.

 

12. Places to hang out with friends

As I told before, I like bars with live music. You can try Molly Malones, Santa Fe and some bars in Kallio district. In summer, it is common to rent a cottage together, somewhere next to a lake or to go for picnics.

living in Helsinki Finland

Helsinki Market Square


Also, when we want to avoid drunk people at night, we go to café Bahgdad. The owners are from Iraq, where you can smoke hookah and drink tea. There is no alcohol.

 

13. Expat community in Helsinki

There is the expat community, to find the meetups I recommend checking this FB group. Also, you meet them at Couchsurfing and Language exchange meetups, international students have their own gatherings. I would say that expat community here is really strong.

 

14. A memorable experience in Helsinki, Finland

I had some guests from Russia. I needed to visit my University for a short time, so I took them with me. When passing through the student district we saw a naked man running, and another naked man chasing him and hitting with a wet towel. My friends were shocked, and I did not even pay attraction. If you are out of the sauna, you are allowed to be naked outside.

 

15. Changing the perspective about Helsinki after a period of time

At first, I liked the calm life here. Felt like it is giving me a good rest after all the rush in my home country. Gradually, this calm life started to annoy me. At the moment, I cannot imagine staying in Helsinki for a month, without leaving somewhere more fun.

 

16. Advice and tips for moving/ living in Helsinki

Getting around with a bicycle is easy, even in winter. I ended up with my driving license expired because it had no need.
The worst weather is in November: Windy, rainy, no sun, and people who endlessly complain about it. You should try to escape the city at around this time and come back when everyone starts getting Christmas mood.

 

17. Would you recommend others to live in Helsinki?

Despite all the calmness, this is a good city to live: Good fresh air, clean water, effective public transportation, and a lot of nature around. If that is what you look for, Helsinki is the place for you. I see many expat families with children in Helsinki area.

 

18. What have you learned from living abroad?

If I compare it to Russia, Helsinki is much more international. And since I don’t communicate with locals much, I got to know lots of things from expats. Overall, I think I got a much better picture of what is going on around the world while talking to expats directly.

 

19. More thoughts on Finland

Finland scored high in many ratings in recent years: The best country to live, the best education system, the 5th happiest country in the world, etc. You can read a full list is here.

Common, there is no country that is so good in everything. In my opinion, Finland is a nice place for calm life, but not nearly as perfect as it is pictured, especially, if you are an expat.
Don’t let the ratings fool you and don’t put your expectations too high.

If you’d like to know more about Alexander and his travels, he blogs at Engineer on Tour. You can follow his Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.

living in Helsinki

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Discover what it's like to live in Helsinki, Finland as an expat. Read cost of living in Helsinki, good and bad things about Helsinki, things to do in Helsinki, places to visit in Helsinki and more here! You'll definitely want to save this in your Finland travel board to read later!  #helsinki #finland  #expat #expatlife #livingabroad #expatliving #expatblog #expatblogger 

* This article was updated in June 10th, 2018.

Do you know what it’s like to live in Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland, as an expat? In this Expat interview, Katie will share expat life in Glasgow. She will discuss the cost of living in Glasgow, things to do in Glasgow, how to overcome culture shock and more.

 

About Glasgow, Scotland

Despite not being the capital of Scotland, Glasgow is the country’s largest city. Situated on the River Clyde, Glasgow is an old port city, with shipbuilding being the main industry historically. Glasgow went through a significant period of industrial decline post-war before this began gradually improving in the 1980’s.

In recent years, Glasgow’s modern and progressive arts and music scene juxtaposed against its old world architecture and heritage have seen the city grow into a vibrant and alluring place.

living in glasgow scotland

The River Clyde

Why did you choose to live in Glasgow?

I moved to Glasgow in March 2016. I had been living in Inverness the year prior when I’d made the big move from Australia to Scotland. Inverness was lovely but too small and I craved life in a bigger city.

During my year in Inverness, I’d had a couple of weekend city breaks in both Glasgow and Edinburgh. Edinburgh remained pretty and charming but Glasgow to me just felt extremely comfortable and liveable. Visits to Glasgow had included seeing bands, eating at interesting restaurants, visits to quirky bars and lots of fun. I knew with all of this on offer that I’d never get bored in Glasgow.

 

Procedure for moving to Glasgow

Moving to Glasgow for me was actually super easy, mainly because I had already made the big overseas move and was now just making a smaller inter-city move. I applied for jobs and searched for flats online so when it came time to make the move, I had the luxury of having a job and a place to live already lined up.

 

Overcoming difficulties and culture shock in Scotland

Whilst there are certainly cultural differences between Scotland and Australia, both are western, English speaking countries, which makes amalgamation into a new city that little bit easier than moving to a country whose language is not your first.

A lot of the cultural differences are minor things like food (the Scottish love their haggis, black pudding and anything deep fried). There are also some words and sayings that are unique to Scotland and it can take a bit of time to understand what people are saying, particularly with the thick Glaswegian accent. A friend from work bought me a mug with Scottish words and the English translations for my first Christmas here, I think partly as a joke but it has come in very handy!

 

Is there any discrimination while living in Scotland?

I personally have not experienced any discrimination as a foreigner in my whole time here in Glasgow. I am however a Caucasian female and without speaking to me and hearing my Australian accent, you wouldn’t necessarily know that I was a foreigner.

In general, though I have found Scottish people very friendly and accepting of people from all different places and I would expect anyone who came here would be made to feel welcome. 

The overall attitudes toward immigration in Scotland are less negative than in the rest of Britain, backed up by the fact Scotland overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU during the Brexit vote.

 

5. Cost of living in Glasgow Scotland

The cost of living in Glasgow is certainly cheaper than some of the other large cities in the UK like Edinburgh and London. This applies to all the main essentials such as accommodation, food, transport, and spending.

a) Accommodation in Glasgow

Accommodation prices vary depending on what you are looking for.

The most desirable areas to live would be either the West End or the Southside. West end is the pricier of the two. You could get a decent sized room to rent in a shared flat in either location for around £350-£500 including bills.

The price for a one bedroom flat in the area ranges from around £400-£700 and you would then need to pay council tax (around £100pcm) and bills on top of that. There are cheaper places but you tend to get what you pay for in terms of location and quality of the flat. It is common for flats here to be rented out fully furnished which is great and means you don’t need to worry about buying a ton of stuff.

 

b) Public transportation in Glasgow

Glasgow also has excellent public transport links, meaning it is by no means essential to have a car in this city.

Wherever you choose to live I would recommend within a 5-10 minute walk of a train station or the subway would make getting around easy. Both go into the city center at regular intervals.

The subway ticket is £3.10 for a return and the train price varies depending on location but is usually around £2.80/£2.00 return peak vs off-peak if you are within about 3 miles of the city center. Both travel options offer slight discounts if you travel regularly and buy a season pass.

 

c) Car-club in Glasgow

We are also a member of a car club here in Glasgow which means if we do fancy a drive out in the country, we can walk down the street and jump in a car, hiring it for as little as 30 minutes at a time.

The car club we are a member of, Co-Wheels, operates as a social enterprise and works to develop more sustainable car use across the UK.

 

d) Groceries

Groceries are fairly reasonable to buy, particularly if you shop at the lower-cost supermarkets such as Lidl and Aldi instead of the bigger stores like Tesco. You could get away with spending around £25 a week on groceries if you shopped wisely.

 

e) Eating out in Glasgow

Eating out in Glasgow is also fairly affordable compared to other cities in the UK like Edinburgh and London. There are quite a few restaurants where you can eat out with a main for around £8-12.

A pint of beer is anything from around £3-5 and a glass of wine around £4-7.

There are websites such as 5pm.co.uk that offer daily deals for lots of restaurants around Glasgow and can be helpful if you want to enjoy a dinner out without breaking the bank. You can often get dinner for two with wine for around £25-30 using these websites.

 

6. What do you like about Glasgow?

There is so much to like about Glasgow!

There’s a saying that you’ll see in colorful graffiti paint in a few locations around the city that says People Make Glasgow. And I have to agree. I think much of what I like about Glasgow is best described by that saying.

Glaswegians are friendly people. I know that gets said about a lot of cities but to be honest I’ve not experienced the kind of genuine friendliness that you get in Glasgow anywhere else in the world that I’ve been.

Hospitality staffs are friendly, not because they want to get your post-brunch tip, but because they are just generally good people who enjoy their work much more by having a little banter with their customers. Having a city where the general population is like this certainly helped to put me at ease and make me feel comfortable and at home straight away.

Apart from my favorite thing about Glasgow, the people, there is much else to love about this city. Glasgow is full of art and culture accessible to everyone. I also love that within not much more than an hour’s drive of the city you can be on one of the beautiful west coast beaches, the misty, enchanting Glencoe Mountains or the bonnie shores of Loch Lomond.

 

7. Is there anything that you don’t like about Glasgow?

The rain! Glasgow is ranked the third wettest city in the UK behind Cardiff and St Davids based on the volume of rainfall, but it actually has the highest number of days with rain with an average of 170 days per year.

I had to look that statistic up and am actually mildly surprised. If I’d had to guess how many days of rain Glasgow receives I think I would have put the figure much higher at around 250-300!

It does mean however when we get a day of lovely sunshine here we embrace it like nowhere else. You’ll find people going ‘taps aff’ in all sorts of weird and wonderful places when it happens.

 

8. What are your favorite things to do in Glasgow?

One of my favorite things to do in Glasgow is visiting one of the many lovely parks. Glasgow is known as the Dear Green Place due to it having the highest percentage area of green spaces in a city in the UK.

Whilst I love living in the city and being around things that are happening, I also have a real need to experience the outdoors and nature.

Two of my favorite parks within a short walk of where I live in the Southside of Glasgow: Pollok Country Park and Queens Park. Queens Park is smaller and perfect for getting my outdoor fix, whether through a gentle stroll or a game of tennis (there are courts free to hire Glasgow residents).

You can also wander through the Glass House at the top of the hill, admiring weird and wonderful animals in the reptile park if you need to escape the weather for a while.  My favorite thing to do in Queens Park though is to be spent on one of those rare sunny Glasgow days: a picnic on the grassy hills looking out at the views over Glasgow city and onto the Campsie hills in the distance. Perfection!

Queens Park living in glasgow

View from the top of the hill in Queens Park

 

9. Where do you recommend to visit in Glasgow?

Glasgow has lots of lovely cafes, some of the best are on the Southside near me and they’re so good. I rarely find myself venturing away from here for brunch or coffee.

Café Strangebrew and The Glad Café are my main go-to’s. Café Strange brew serves up inventive sweet and savory brunch delights alongside coffee from local roasters Dear Green Coffee. The Glad café is open for brunch or coffee and cake throughout the day and stays open as a bar in the evening, playing host to a variety of events in the side room including bands, comedy, and films.

My favorite café’s in the West End include Papercup, a tiny but bustling place where students serve up Papercup’s own coffee beans and a selection of tasty and affordable brunch delights.

For Fika Sake, also in the West End, is a lovely spot to pop in for coffee and cake. This artisan café serves coffee downstairs an opens their upstairs space for various workshops and social events in the evenings.

There are also some great vegan café in Glasgow. Stereo and Mono in the city center are both interesting places to try some tasty vegan food, grab a drink and catch some live music.

 

10. Nightlife in Glasgow, Scotland

Drinking culture is big in Scotland and there’s a plethora of interesting and cozy bar’s in this city to visit.

For a night out with friends, I’ll usually head to Finnieston, just west of the city center where both sides of the street are lined with desirable venues.

One bar in this area worth special mention is The Ben Nevis, a tiny whiskey bar where dogs are welcome and on Sunday and Monday evenings a group of musicians takes up residence at one end of the bar, performing traditional Scottish music that serves a the perfect drinking accompaniment.

expat living in scotland

Local Musicians Creating Lovely Music at The Ben Nevis

11. Is it easy to make new friends in Glasgow?

Making friends anywhere new can be challenging, particularly as you get older. When you’re at school or university you’re forced to spend time with people day after day and naturally will tend to form friendships with like-minded people. When you no longer attend these institutions, making friends requires a little more effort.

You don’t make friends sitting at home watching Netflix, so to make new friends in Glasgow you need to get out there and do things. Luckily, Glasgow has a host of extra-curricular activities no matter what your tastes and the friendliness of people make it easy to try new things.

A lot of the friends I have made in Glasgow have been through work, but I have also met people by getting involved in other activities, such as attending All The Young Nudes, a drop in life drawing class run at a couple of locations in the city. The class is very informal and you don’t need to be an artist to go but I found drawing in this type of environment a lovely way to unwind and meet new and interesting people.

I also joined a basketball team not long after moving to Glasgow. That instantly gave me a new group of girlfriends. I no longer play due to other commitments but for anyone new to the city looking for friends I’d definitely recommend getting involved in a team sport as a way to get an instant group of pals.

 

12. Do you hang out with locals or foreigners mostly?

I mainly hang out with locals, which is something I really like about living in Glasgow.

Whilst I appreciate that when moving to a new city it can be easier to make friends with other expats as they face the same difficulties as you, part of me feels that to really absorb the grits of the city you need to hang out with the locals, at least some of the time.

When I first moved here I did sign up for a meetup group for expats but I never ended going to any events and within a short while I didn’t feel I needed to. Whilst it wasn’t for me, I do think its good that these groups do exist in the city as I think it can be really intimidating moving somewhere new and having a pal in a similar situation may be just what you need.

 

13. Where is your favorite place in Glasgow to meet friends?

I mentioned some of my favorite cafes and bars above, but other great places to hang out with friends in Glasgow would be at one of the many live concert venues dotted around the city.

Glasgow is a top touring destination for many local and international bands and has a thriving music scene. You could see a band any night of the week at one of the more intimate venues such as The Art School, The Hug, and Pint or King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut. Bigger bands play at the iconic The Barrowlands, an old ballroom in the east end of the city center, whilst the SEC Hydro attracts large international acts with a capacity of up to 13000 people.

Another fun thing to do on one of those dreich Glasgow days is to visit some of the cities galleries. I like The Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) in the city center and Kelvingrove Gallery in the West End for a taste of art, The Riverside Museum in the West End which houses Glasgow’s Transport Museum and Tramway in the Southside for contemporary art including music, film, and theatre.

Kelvingrove Gallery visting Scotland

The beautiful old Kelvingrove Gallery

 

14. The memorable experience in Glasgow Scotland

One of my favorite memories of Glasgow is attending the Strathbungo Window Wanderland in February 2017.

Strathbungo is a tiny area in the Southside of Glasgow and last year for the first time, this event was created to transform the area into an outdoor gallery. Residents were invited to participate by creating their own window display, which ranged from decorative artwork to live music and all sorts of weird and wonderful things in-between.

We were living in the area at the time and on a cold wintery night in Glasgow, residents from around the area took to the streets to wander around and enjoy the display. I felt the night just really captured all of the things I love about this city, the artistic culture and the friendliness and community spirit of the people.

 

15. Did you change your perspective about Glasgow after living here?

I don’t think my perception of Glasgow changed hugely in the two years that I have been here. I think with Glasgow you get what you see. What I liked about the city before I moved here – the friendliness of the people, the artistic vibe and the general feel of the city – have remained the same and the reason I continue to enjoy this place. I wasn’t expecting anything other than what I have got from this place.

 

16. What are your advice and tips for moving/ living in Glasgow?

a) Participating in activities

I’d advise anyone moving to Glasgow to embrace the city for what it is and get involved in activities that you enjoy as a way to meet new people.

 

b) Finding accommodation in Glasgow

From a practical point of you in terms of sorting yourself out when you first get here, I would suggest using Airbnb or cheap hostels for accommodation when you first arrive and then use sights like spareroom.co.uk or gumtree.co.uk to find yourself a furnished room in an existing flat quite easily. If you are traveling on your own, moving into a share house would be a good way to make some new pals when you are fresh in the city.

 

c) Finding jobs in Glasgow

As for finding a job, it depends a lot on the industry that you work in. One thing that I found with my own industry of healthcare and I think extends to a lot of professional industries is that the time between applying for work and starting can be somewhat lengthy – up to three months.

This would apply to my experience of both public and private work. For this reason, I would suggest that if you are looking for a professional job that you do quite a bit of homework before moving and maybe even start applying for jobs before you move to minimize the time you are sat waiting around to start work.

 

17. Would you recommend others to live in Glasgow?

Yes! I’m sure Glasgow is not for everyone but it is a vibrant and fun place and if you can get past the grey skies and rain you will learn to love the city.

 

18. What have you learned from living abroad?

Living abroad has taught me how important it is to take chances and step out of your comfort zone. There are many challenges that come with leaving the place you know as home and trying to set up a new life in a foreign place. Overcoming these challenges is what helps you to grow as a person.

Things won’t always work out exactly the way you had imagined but as long as you learn from each experience it’s all still valuable. There is a saying here in Scotland that goes ‘what is for you won’t go by you’. I find comfort in this saying when I think things aren’t going the way I had planned.

 

About Katie

My name is Katie and I’m a physiotherapist from Perth, Australia. Coming from the most isolated capital city in the world, I’ve always had a sense of wanting to travel and see different parts of the world, whether it be my own country or somewhere much further away.

My first taste of overseas was not until I was 20 years old when a high-school friend and I set off to explore Europe on a working holiday. During this six month visit, I spent a tiny three days in Scotland and decided I loved this place and would one day come back to live here.

Fast forward 10 years and I found myself living in the suburbs of Perth with a 9-5 job and a dog wondering what had happened to those lustful travel dreams….
expat living in glasgow
Since moving to Glasgow, I met my partner – Ian, who also has a love of travel and having completed a world trip in 2010. We are now in the process of planning our own adventure together where we hope to travel to places neither of us has yet encountered, including much of Eastern Europe, Russia, and parts of Asia. Follow our adventures on Resfebertravelblog, and on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

*This article was updated on May 5th 2018.

What is it like to live in Ho Chi Minh city as an expat?

In this Expat Interview, Katie shares her expat life in Saigon, Vietnam. She will discuss her moving procedure, good and bad things about Ho Chi Minh, places to visit in Ho Chi Minh, the cost of living in Saigon and more!

 

Saigon

Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City, is a major city in Vietnam. Whilst it is not the official capital of the country, that would be Ha Noi, it is considered as the capital of the South.

Ho Chi Minh has an abundance of history and is rich in culture. It is a perfect location for anyone who wants to take a city break. Also, it’s perfect for anyone wanting to take a long break as it is in close proximity to Vung Tau Beach resort and the lush nature of Da Lat.

living in ho chi minh city vietnam

 

About Katie

My name is Katie Sephton and I work as an English Teacher in Ho Chi Minh City. I have always been in education, whether that has been me as the learner or me as the educator. I grew up in a small town in the UK called Wigan. It was in the UK that I graduated from university with a degree in Child and Youth studies and gained experience working in schools.

I first moved to Ho Chi Minh city in July 2016 after securing a job offer of teaching in public schools. At first, I intended to only stay for 1 year, but here I am 1 year later with no intentions of leaving anytime soon.

living in saigon

I knew from being 18 years old that I wanted to spend a year abroad teaching; as this is the perfect way to fulfill both my passions of teaching and traveling. The only problem was that I had no idea where I wanted to teach.

 

Why did you choose to live in Ho Chi Minh city?

In 2015, I and boyfriend embarked on a month-long trip through Vietnam. It was during this trip that I fell in love with Vietnam, its culture, lush nature and vibrant cities of Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi.

After returning to the UK to finish my final year of university, I just knew that Vietnam was the place I would spend my year of teaching abroad. It made sense really, I wanted to travel Asia and I knew I already loved Vietnam, so why take the risk and go anywhere else?

 

How to prepare for moving to Ho Chi Minh city?

Honestly, I didn’t prepare at all. Before I came to Ho Chi Minh I spent 4 months traveling through nearby countries in South East Asia. I literally rocked up to Vietnam with nothing but my40-liter backpack stuffed with scruffy shorts, a few t-shirts and a pair of flip-flops.

As for accommodation and work documents, I was very lucky in that the company I started working for provided accommodation and applied for all relevant work permits and residency cards.

However, I did move out of the accommodation provided by the company after the first two months. I moved out due to the matter of a mice infestation and lack of cleanliness. Finding a house or an apartment in Ho Chi Minh city is very easy to do. In fact, I have contacted an agent, viewed an apartment, put down a deposit, signed a contract and moved in all in one day.

working teaching in ho chi minh city

Me with some of my grade 3 students

 

Cost of living in Ho Chi Minh city

Generally, the cost of living in Ho Chi Minh is very low compared to European countries. Things like groceries, transport, and activities are very cheap.

a) Groceries, transport, and activities in Saigon

For example, a pineapple costs me 15,000 VND / $0.60. As for transport, a 40-minute journey on a motorbike taxi costs me 33,000 VND/ $1.50.

Activities like going to the cinema are around 150,000VND/ $6.60 for a movie and a large popcorn and drink.

I’m ashamed to admit this, but I have never actually cooked a meal since being here as it is just so cheap to eat out. Generally, for a local Vietnamese meal it is between 30,000 – 50,000 VND/ $1.30 – $2.20.

 

b) Accommodation

However, accommodation costs more than I had originally thought. Prices vary massively, depending on the accommodation set up and style.

For a small (30sq foot) but modern one-bedroom apartment prices start from around 12,000,000 VND/ $530. To reduce costs, it is possible to find a room in a shared house for around 4,000,000 VND/ $180.

living in ho chi minh city apartments

c) Weekly expenditure

So aside from accommodation, my weekly expenditure is usually around 1,500,000 VND/ $66 per week. This includes eating out twice per day, snacks, fresh fruit, a night out, 1 western meal and a trip to the cinema or bowling.

 

What are the difficulties of living in Ho Chi Minh city?

When I first arrived, I didn’t really experience any difficulties. I have been lucky in that I moved here with my boyfriend so I have always had someone to talk to and never feel lonely. As I stated in the previous question, the company I worked for sorted everything out for me so there was nothing for me to worry about.

However, about 6 months down the line I started to dislike my job. Not the actual teaching aspect of it, but the unfair demand of work hours and lack of social life.

This was difficult for me as I had a great bond with the kids but I was becoming physically exhausted of putting in 12 hour days, 6 days a week. In the end, I ended up leaving the job and finding a much better one with much better hours and pay.

My advice to anyone thinking of coming to teach in Vietnam is to be sure to read your contacts thoroughly and understand your work hours.

 

Did you experience any discrimination in Ho Chi Minh city?

The people of Vietnam are some of the kindest and warm-hearted I have ever come across. I have never personally experienced any discrimination. The local people are very friendly and helpful, despite a language barrier. They also love it when I attempt to speak the language. Just a simple ‘hello, how are you?’ in Vietnamese goes a long way with the locals.

However, there is the slight problem of discrimination when it comes to the cost of accommodation and sometimes other services. It is openly known that foreigners will pay more money for the exact same house/ apartment than a local. Sometimes, you may not even be allowed to rent an apartment because you are not Vietnamese. However, I do think this is more to do with the law as opposed to the person letting.

 

How to overcome culture shock in Ho Chi Minh?

The way of life here is so much different than in the UK and Europe. From the street food to going to work on a motorbike, it is all so different. For some people, I understand that eating street food may be a concern, but most of the time you can see the person cook it in front of you and let me tell you, the food is the best in Asia.

streetfood in vietnam - where to eat in saigon

Street food in Saigon – People cook in front of you!

The language is also very different too. The characters of the alphabet are the same as in the English language, so it may appear easy to read but the language is very tonal and if your pitch is off slightly it can throw your whole sentence into gobbledygook. However, learning the language is fun and a great way to immerse yourself in the culture and interact with locals.

 

What do you like about Ho Chi Minh city?

I love Ho Chi Minh! It is a vibrant city that is a great place to live.
There are so many things to see and do. There are also tons and tons of food places and street vendors. It is a foodie’s paradise.

The thing that I love the most about the city though is the sense of community. Even though I am a foreigner here and don’t speak the language very well, I get the sense of belonging more than I did in my neighborhood in England.

For example, when I sit down at one of my local restaurants, I am greeted with a huge smile and my food autonomically put in front of me, without the need to order.
restaurants in saigon living in ho chi minh city

 

Are there any bad things about Ho Chi Minh city that you don’t like?

That is a very difficult question to answer because I love almost everything about it. The only downside is sometimes it can take forever to get somewhere when there is a lot of traffic.

I mean there is always lots of motorbikes on the road, which I do like the hustle and bustle of, but during rush hour things can sometimes come to a standstill. This can be particularly frustrating when you just want to get home from a long day at work.

nightlife in saigon - traffic jam in ho chi minh

Saigon at night

What are your favorite things to do in Ho Chi Minh city?

My favorite thing to do is to drive around on a bike or sit in a nice bar or coffee shop and people watch.

living in ho chi minh city saigon

Just one of the crazy sights of Saigon – A dog in the driver’s seat

I just love to sit and take in the culture and watch the local people go about their daily life and business. There is always something cool or whacky to see.

For example, when I first arrived, I was amazed at the full-blown man-made aquarium that some locals set up at the back of their motorbike. And I kid you not, I once saw a man hauling a huge wardrobe on the back of his bike.

Where do you recommend to visit in Ho Chi Minh city?

As a tourist to the city, I fully recommend people to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels and War Remnants Museum. The Cu Chi Tunnels are a set of tunnels that the Vietnamese used to hide out during the war. Whilst on a visit here, you can even see the traps that were set up for the Americans.

The War Remnants Museum, whilst harrowing, is very educational and a great way to educate yourself about the effects and devastation of the war.

If you have a little more time in the city, take your time to visit the markets, the post office, the Independence Palace and check out Walking Street.

living in Saigon - day trip from ho chi minh city

Heading down into one of the tiny tunnel holes

Is it easy to make new friends in Saigon?

It is relatively easy to make new friends as the more you visit a bar or coffee shop the more you will see the same people and instantly become connected. There are also a few expat sites that offer meetups and various classes; which make it easy to find people with similar interests.

where to drink coffee in saigon ho chi minh city

Coffee in Saigon

Do you hang out with locals or foreigners mostly?

I usually hang out with friends from work, who are mostly foreigners. However, I would love to have local friends but many local people my age always seem to be busy with their studies or families. Family in Vietnam is a huge part of their culture and people often do a lot of activities with their family.

 

Where is your favorite place to meet friends in Ho Chi Minh city?

Usually a local bar/ food place. There is a great place near my apartment that sells super cheap beer and delicious food. It is the perfect place to hang out with friends, eat, drink and have a laugh. The atmosphere is great as it is lively but not too noisy so we can still chat and play card games.

 

A memorable experience in Ho Chi Minh city

I have so many memories but one that is particularly standing out right now is the time myself and a bunch of mates where walking into town for a night out and we came across some local men singing karaoke and drinking beers on the street. They invited us over, we sat, had a few drinks and sang karaoke with them for hours. In the end, we didn’t even make it out.

It was such a fun night interacting with locals and singing street karaoke. This was my first experience of street karaoke and it has since happened again; this is just the Vietnamese culture and hospitality for you.

 

Did you change your perspective of Ho Chi Minh after living here?

Before moving to Vietnam my perspective was always a good one. The local people are so friendly, the culture is incredible and living here would be so fun. My perspective of that has remained the same to this day.

 

What are your advice and tips for living in Ho Chi Minh city?

Be open to the way of life and enjoy every minute of it.

My main piece of advice is to learn to drive a motorbike too. This one is rich coming from me, as I have still not learned yet, but believe me, I wish I had learned from the start.

Learning early on will help combat your fear and you will be able to do so much more and be more independent. Sure! Grab is a great way to get around but it can get a little annoying having to wait sometimes or when you have to rely on someone else to get you somewhere on time.

living in ho chi minh

Learning how to ride a scooter or motorbike is recommended!

 

Would you recommend others to live in Ho Chi Minh city?

Absolutely! Ho Chi Minh has so much to offer in terms of culture and activities. The people are incredibly welcoming and the city is very safe. I would totally recommend it to anyone who is thinking of moving here. Just take the plunge and give it a try. It may surprise you like it did me.

 

20. What have you learned from living abroad?

By living abroad, I have learned to become independent and do all the grown-up things like apartment hunting and sorting out hospital appointments and so on. I have also become much more confident in meeting and interacting with new people. It is so easy to do here, as everyone is so friendly.

Furthermore, I have learned a second language. Well, kind of. I’m getting there, but Vietnamese is so darn hard to pronounce. This is still very much a learning curve for me.

 

More about Katie

living in vietnam
I’m Katie, an English teacher that has a love for traveling and exploring the world. My passions are to explore exotic destinations, experience once in a lifetime opportunities & to immerse myself in new cultures. I have lived in Vietnam as an English teacher for almost two years where my hunger for travel continues to grow. When I am not teaching I like to explore my surroundings, take lots of pictures and blog about my experiences.
Follow me on Untoldwanderlust, my Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

*This article was updated on May 5th 2018.

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What is it like to live in San Diego, California?

In this Expat Interview, Michael will tell us about his expat life in San Diego. He discussed his moving procedures, cost of living in San Diego, things to do in this city and more.

 

About San Diego

San Diego is a city on the Pacific coast of California and mainly known for its warm climate and beaches. Also, the city offers different beautiful parks and a big choice of museums. With its location nearby the Mexican border, it combines both the American and the Mexican culture like no other city in the world. Often San Diego is called “America’s finest city” due to its amazing weather.

living in san diego

Greeting from San Diego

 

1. When did you start to live in San Diego?

In September 2016, I moved to sunny California. It was my first big adventure outside of my country and it definitely took me some time to make the decision. I lived there for roughly three months.

 

2. Why did you choose to live in San Diego?

As I wanted to improve my English while enjoying a great lifestyle with a lot of possibilities to explore the region, I had a lot of choices such as New Zealand, Australia, Canada or California. In the end, some suggestions from good friends and especially my gut feeling were responsible for that decision.

living in San Diego

 

3. How to prepare for moving to San Diego?

I am not a person who plans everything perfectly. To be honest, I did not plan a lot. I booked an accommodation and my language school. Not more. However, I was quite curious how it would be there and read a lot of travel reports beforehand to really know the coolest spots to see.

 

4. Cost of living in San Diego

a) Accommodation

This highly depends on where you exactly stay and what kind of comfort you need. I personally lived in Little Italy which is pretty close to the center. As I lived in a student apartment it cost me around 1’000$ per month. If you live further outside or decide to have some more comfort the price can vary tremendously.

 

b) Food

The same applies to the food. If you plan to eat delicious food in Restaurants you will need a lot of money: Definitely more than 1’000$ – in my first month I almost spent 1’500$ in food, whereas I reduced it to less than 500$ in my second month. There are different great supermarkets to find cheap food. I can recommend you Ralph’s which is located in the city center.

 

c) Transportation

The transportation in San Diego is quite affordable. For most distances, I was able to walk or use a bus. However, I highly recommend adding “Uber” to your choice of transport. A ride from the city center to the beach was not even 10$ for example. Especially if you split the price with friends it’s a bargain sometimes. I personally didn’t need more than 100$ per month for my transportation.

 

d) Other costs

Surely this point depends on what you exactly need. Of course, you will need a mobile data contract. I had a rather expensive one (about 60$) which provided me with unlimited data usage in the whole United States and Mexico.

 

5. Did you experience any difficulties when moving to San Diego?

Sure! The United States is extremely large compared to Switzerland and I had to adapt to that in my first days. Surprisingly I adjusted myself rather quickly and felt comfortable after a short time. It was certainly in my favor that I didn’t suffer a huge cultural gap. What shocked me was the huge accumulation of homeless people in the city. It made me really sad and sometimes I felt kind of sad when I walked past them. I really hope that the United States is able to change that problem in the future.

 

6. How about discrimination in San Diego?

No, not at all. Most of the Americans I met in San Diego were absolutely friendly and courteous. They are very communicative and love to tell you their whole life story – even if you are just waiting at the bus station. You hear a lot about discrimination in the United States, especially against Afro Americans – though I never observed it with my own eyes.

 

7. What do you like about San Diego?

Honestly, San Diego has so much to offer! It’s called “America’s finest city” and I totally agree with that. There are several amazing beaches that you can visit the whole year. Combined with the great bars and some exceptional viewpoints you can just love San Diego. It’s not the biggest city but has its own charm and vibrancy.

living in san diego

La Jolla Beach

 

8. Are there any bad things about San Diego that you don’t like?

As I already mentioned I didn’t like the situation with the homeless people at all. Sure we tried to support them from time to time with food but it doesn’t change the overall situation that is really concerning. Other than that you have to be very picky to find something bad about San Diego.

 

9. What are your favorite things to do in San Diego?

There were some activities I repeated over and over. One of them was beach volleyball. A relaxing afternoon at Mission or Ocean Beach with some rounds of beach volleyball. Absolutely amazing. Additionally, I really appreciated the Gaslamp Quarter (downtown) where we experienced some unforgettable nights. Furthermore, I didn’t mention my favorite place yet: Tijuana. The Mexican city is just a short bus ride away and amazing for a day trip – though even better for the parties at the weekend. In my opinion even better than in Las Vegas. You can also find what to do in San Diego, California here

things to do in san diego

10. Where do you recommend to visit in San Diego?

Other than that I recommend everybody to visit La Jolla, where you can see seals chilling at the beach. Secondly, you have to see the Sunset Cliffs and the Adobe Falls. The latter is a hidden waterfall with a lot of graffitis on the stones next to it. Usually, only locals go there as it is not allowed to enter the property. Admittedly it’s worth the risk!

 

11. Is it easy to make new friends in San Diego?

To find friends shouldn’t be a problem at all in San Diego! Americans love to connect and it’s easy to find the connection with them. My favorite places to do so: Sports games, bars, and especially country line dance clubs.

living in San Diego

Football stadium (Qualcomm Stadium) – now closed

 

12. Do you hang out with locals or foreigners mostly?

Because I visited a language school most of my friends were foreigners from Europe, Brazil, Asia or other countries. However, I also made a lot friends from the United States and Mexico. Usually, I went out with my friends and we met Americans there. One night I discussed with a group of Americans in a bar about politics and the next day they invited me to their own party. Really, if you like to connect with people you will love California!

 

13. Where is your favorite place in San Diego?

My favorite place to go out was definitely McFadden. It is a half bar, half club and located in the heart of the city. Famous for its “Thirsty Thursday” you can get beer for 1$ and enjoy an amazing time.

Another hidden gem is the “In Cahoots” where they practice line dance and offer extremely cheap drinks on Tuesday. Definitely worth a visit, especially if you love to hang out with locals. Other than that it’s always a good idea to stay at the beach or in a sports bar where Americans like to watch the football games on Sunday.

 

14. Memorable Experience in San Diego

Me and one of my friends planned to do a skydive in San Diego and we also wanted another friend of us to join. But he was afraid of heights and didn’t like our idea. So we needed some help from Mexico: Tequila. After some shots, our friend wasn’t that reluctant anymore and we just booked our skydive – with him. The next day he thought that it was just a bad dream. It wasn’t. Just three days later we all jumped out of a plane – an unforgettable memory.

 

15. Did you change your perspective after living here?

When I first arrived there I didn’t know what I could expect. Still, my expectations were quite high and to be honest San Diego excelled them! The city became my second home and I love almost everything about it.

 

16. What are your advice and tips for moving/ living in San Diego?

My honest advice is: Go for it! If you have some financial reserves there is nothing to worry about this step and I can just recommend moving to San Diego. There is only one tip: Be open and enjoy the Californian lifestyle. You will find out rapidly if it’s for you.

 

17. What have you learned from living abroad?

Not only have I experienced another view of the world, also did I develop my character and think that it really helped me to grow to what I am today. In San Diego, I met a lot of amazing friends all around the world and decided to start on Instagram and my travel blog. No matter where – I recommend everybody to live abroad for at least some months to enjoy life and maybe find new paths that will change your life forever.

 

About Michael

Hello guys! I am Michael, a freelance photographer and travel blogger based in Switzerland. Aside from that I also study here in Switzerland. I love to be in nature and capture special moments and today I will tell you more about my three months in San Diego, California.

You can learn more about Michael’s experience on his blog Mscgerber. Also, don’t forget to follow him on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest

*This article was updated on May 3rd, 2018.

What is it like to live on the Marshall islands as an expat?

In this expat interview, Sara will show you the real expat life on Majuro, Marshall Islands. You’ll find out not only cost of living on the Marshall Islands, but also moving procedures, overcoming culture shocks and things to do on the Marshall Islands.

 

Where is Majuro, Marshall Islands?

Majuro, Marshall Islands, have you heard of it? Most haven’t.

If you were to look at a globe, I’d tell you to first find the international date line. Next, locate where that crosses the equator, now look up and to the left of that point and bam, you have found it.

The country consists of 29 atolls, made up of well over 1,000 islands. Majuro is the capital city and the largest atoll of the 29. Originally known as ‘Jolet Jen Anij’, meaning gift from God, eventually, they were named after John Marshall, a British explorer who visited in the late 1700s. With a population of just over 50,000 people, about half live in Majuro alone. It’s a small island, where everyone knows everyone and knows everything. Anyways, you get the idea.

living on the Marshall islands

This was Enemanit Island, owned by one of the more prominent families in Majuro. A beautiful oasis from the busy Majuro.

Firstly, let’s get to know more about Sara!

Sara’s background

Sara here. I am originally from Canada but have lived abroad on and off since 2009. I left Canada originally to go to school in Australia for teacher’s college. And it is teaching that has to lead me to live abroad on and off since.

I have taught in Thailand, Canada, the Marshall Islands, Niger and am now currently in Vietnam. Although I used to teach elementary school, I have switched over to teaching High School English Literature. I have always wanted to be a teacher, ever since I was little.

Though most fall into teaching because they want to travel, I fell into traveling because I wanted to teach. With no jobs for teachers at home, it was easier to just pick up and go.

 

1. Why did you choose to live in Majuro?

Honestly, my friend had mentioned the Marshall Islands casually in conversation one random Sunday, when I was actually looking into where my next destination may be.

I decided to google schools there and I found that there was one international school. I decided to apply. Within a week, I had two interviews under my belt and a job offer to teacher Grade 5 for the coming school year. I had also had interviews for schools in South East Asia, like Singapore and Vietnam, but the intrigue of going somewhere I knew very little about won over the rest.

I don’t know why the unknown always fascinates me more, but it happened again after Majuro, choosing Niger over Guatemala.

 

2. What is your moving procedure?

I was living in Whitehorse, Yukon, which is in Canada for those unfamiliar. I had been substitute teaching up there for the 2014-2015 school year. But I had recently been offered a job in the Marshall Islands. In order to move to the islands, I first had to pack up my car and move everything back home to my parents’ house in the Toronto area (where I was living before taking off for the Yukon).

Since I had to drive all that way anyway, I ended up on a (partial) solo road trip across my own country for 3 weeks. After that was over, I spent a few weeks at home with friends and family there and then packed up anything I would need for living and teaching in the Marshall Islands, and I was on my way. I left at the end of July in 2015. In order to fly to the Marshall Islands from Canada, or even the US, you have to fly to Honolulu, Hawaii, first. The only flights from this side of the world are run by United Airlines and fly from Honolulu. There are other airlines but some are just flights to other islands or fly down to Australia.

 

3. How to prepare for moving to the Marshall Islands?

Before leaving for the islands, I was put in contact with current teachers at the school, to get more of an idea of what the islands were like. I asked them whatever I needed to. Usually, when you find a job with a school, they like to put you into contact with current teachers to help with that sort of thing.

I am more of a researcher, finding blogs, online articles and the like, to find my information. To be honest, at the time, there wasn’t exactly a whole lot of information, even online, about the islands. Especially not about what it would be like to live there.

I started to do what research I could. Found out the customs, what is appropriate to wear to school, and in everyday life. The islands are conservative, and it wasn’t the kind of island you would find yourself wandering around in your bikini regularly. So making sure I understood what I should pack and what I shouldn’t, was important.

And me being me, I also looked up what airlines flew in and out of there, and where I could go for my holidays. I wanted to know what I was getting into, but there was literally one blog on Majuro at the time, and it just talked of how she dealt with a food shortage, living off rice. Which at least prepared me for that possibility.

 

4. Cost of living on the Marshall Islands

a) Housing

The cost of living is dependent on what you are doing there. I was a teacher at the international school, and as such, I was provided housing that is adjacent to the school itself.
It would be hard to give you an estimate of the cost of rent as I was completely oblivious to that.I also wasn’t paid much over $1000US a month, which is not a lot and definitely makes you budget, even if you aren’t a budgeting person.

b) Food

The cost of food was definitely dependent on how picky you are. My boyfriend spent about $10-12 US a day on food, but he lived off of tuna (fresh and canned), cereal, apples, bananas, and oranges. I spent a little bit more a day, as I was pickier.
It was hard to eat a healthy diet at all times, as when produce came, you had to eat it right away to make sure it didn’t go bad.
This is definitely not one of those islands with all kinds of tropical fruit growing. Besides coconut and bananas, nothing else really grew there. So produce was shipped in and would often go bad quickly, or just be sold out by the time we able to get there.
And it was often expensive in comparison to US or Canada, as it was shipped in. To put it into perspective, a pack of strawberries was $14.99US. But apples, bananas, and oranges were fairly cheap. There was a 4% tax on goods.

c) Eating out

Restaurants were typical prices you would expect at any restaurant around the US. Taxis were cheap. $0.75 to get anywhere on the main side of the bridge (where most things were) but if you wanted to go past the bridge to Laura Beach or the Airport, it would be a couple dollars instead.

d) Transportation

I only really needed taxis for going to Laura Beach or the Airport, or when we were going to Eneko Island and had something to bring with you. You just flag one down and hop in, even if there were already people in it.
There was really only one road it went back and forth on, so if it’s going the right way, you can jump in. I walked a lot though, and I didn’t bother having a cell phone for my time there. Normally, I used wifi at my work and home on my phone, but the cost of phone credit was not that bad for those who chose to do so. I felt like I could easily walk and knock on people’s doors instead of calling them personally.

e) Traveling around

A trip to Eneko Island was fairly cheap. It was $20 each for a boat ride (round trip), and then $40 for a single bungalow, or $45 for a double. There is also a new (and nicer) beach house offered for $150 for the first night, and $125 any extra nights.
Booked through RRE Hotel, as the dock is just outside the hotel to pick up the boat. You have to bring all your own food though, as there is no food on the island. Also, no fridge to put it in, but there is a kitchen to cook in, so planning accordingly is always a good idea.

5. How to deal with culture shock on the Marshall Islands?

I wouldn’t say it was the culture shock, per se. It was more of the shock of being in such an isolated place. You could walk the width of the island in a matter of minutes. And the length of the island, I never walked but I am sure it could be done. There wasn’t really anywhere to go and there wasn’t a whole lot to do. This hits you in bouts, not all at once when you get there, but periodically when you are there.

You realize how boring a person you are when you realize you can’t keep yourself entertained. I didn’t have too much a problem with it. I loved reading. And writing. And once I realized boredom was real, I figured out quickly how to keep myself entertained. Most of it involved throwing myself into my teaching job and coaching basketball.

 

6. Discrimination: Yes or No?

I was told that the island was conservative before I got there. Warning me that bikinis were frowned upon. Strappy dresses. Short Shorts. And so on. I was a little worried that I would be discriminated against a little because although I am respectful of culture, I am not a fan of perpetuating a controlling patriarchy. I also am skeptical of a dress code that is not even based on tradition but based on what those who colonized the island told the locals they should be wearing. Topless and grass skirts are traditional, look it up.

But I digress… I honestly never felt discriminated against by locals, and I felt that ex-pats, usual co-workers, were more concerned about what I wore than the locals. Also, I stand out anyways, with a half shaved head and tattoos, so I would be looked at regardless if I was covered head to toe in fabric, or if I walked about in my tank top and shorts. It wouldn’t matter but I never felt I was treated poorly by anyone because of my foreigner status, or even what I wore.

things to do on the Marshall Islands

Arno Atoll was only an atoll away, provided a nice long weekend trip, as the boat was 1.5 hours across the ocean.

 

7. Difficulties while living on the Marshall Islands

Everyone thinks island, and automatically thinks beautiful beaches and paradise. But there is so much that goes with that.

First of all, our apartments were on the ocean, hard not to be, no matter where you lived on the island, but there wasn’t really a beach, just massive rocks. Which served me well, as I watched the sunrise from them every morning. But it wasn’t exactly the paradise one builds up in their head. With ocean air, comes ocean rust and mold. My apartment was full of mold, which for my mattress and that, was easy to replace, but the mold that formed on my jewelry, not as easy.

And the rust! I was not prepared for. Things rust quicker than you think if you don’t take care of them. Something I wasn’t prepared to worry about. And with a small island, comes isolation. I found myself worried about making real friends while living there, with such a small expat community on the island. Luckily that didn’t last long.

 

8. What do you like about Majuro?

The people. The students really. They had hearts. It was hard not to love them. Even when they frustrated you. It was hard to leave those kids, and I was only there for a year. My boyfriend, after 3 years there, was a mess when we left. There’s just something heartwarming about the place. It didn’t hurt that we lived on an ocean, and I loved stand-up paddle-boarding. I regret not using that more while I was there.

 

9. Are there bad things about Majuro that you don’t like?

a) Oppression of women

I don’t like the oppression of women. Women are made to feel ashamed of their bodies. I tried my hardest to instill in my students that they had nothing to be ashamed about. Also, the underlying domestic abuse that they deemed as part of the ‘culture’. So many stories of it running rampant on the island, with not much being done about it. I wasn’t prepared for that.

It’s hard to wrap your head around, and not want to do everything in your power to help every single child, every single woman, going through it. But you do what you can. Give your students a safe space to spend their time. Give them your love and attention.

 

b) Garbage

Also the garbage. It was a huge island wide problem. Trash was everywhere on the island, and often thrown directly into the ocean. It stems from the fact that their dishes used to be coconuts and leaves, so they are used to that being biodegradable. But there’s no excuse anymore. They have used paper and plastic, and packaging, enough now to know they need to change that habit.

marshall island pollution

A typical scene at the side of the road between the road and the ocean, garbage was a huge problem on the island.

 

9. What are your favorite things to do in Majuro?

Watch the sunrise. I literally spent every morning (that it wasn’t raining) watching the sunrise over the Pacific Ocean. I would grab my headphones, and a coffee, and sit and fall into a meditative state watching the colors fill the sky. And when I had the energy and time, watching the sunset on the other side of the island. Nothing beats those mornings on the ocean.

Palm tress sunrise on the Marshall Islands

A typical sunrise sitting on the rocks outside my apartment in Majuro

 

10. Where to visit on the first trip to the Marshall Islands?

If my friends had visited me, I would’ve taken them directly to Eneko Island. It was an island that was a part of the same atoll, Majuro Atoll.

It was only a quick 20-minute boat ride away. You could camp or stay in the bungalows there. And most of the time, you were pretty much alone staying there. Snorkeling and using my stand up paddle board were two of my favorite things to do there.

things to do marshall islands

Stand-up Paddleboarding was easier at Eneko Island, on the lagoon side where the water was calmer.

 

11. Making new friends in Majuro, Marshall Islands: Easy or not?

As a teacher, it’s easy. Co-workers become friends and family. But other than that, not as easy right away. Like I mentioned before, it’s a small expat community. If you wanted to meet friends, you could.

My friends, who were my coworkers, were always meeting new friends, whether it be tourists, pilots, or whoever else. But personally, in my old age (I am not that old) I am picky with who I spend time with and it was a little harder for me, as I prefer to make friends with people I make true connections with.

 

12. Do you hang out with locals or foreigners mostly?

I definitely found myself hanging out with foreigners more than locals, on a friend basis. But I spent a lot of time with students too. A lot of basketball practices after school, one on one tutoring those girls who needed extra help after basketball and so on. Though my core group of friends was definitely foreigners.

 

13. Where do you usually hang out with your friends?

Restaurants weren’t exactly abundant. We did go to Tide Table often for food. Every other time I went I was unsatisfied with my food. But when they had all the ingredients, the nachos were so good. Marshall Islands Resort (aka MIR) was a lovely spot near the water. The pizza there was good. But to be honest, none of the restaurants would satisfy a foodie. Definitely not a destination you travel to, to try local cuisine.

Coffee shops weren’t in existence. Unless you count one spot that I can’t even remember the name cause it doesn’t count. We sometimes got coffee from the little stand/shop in front of our school, but it was just instant coffee most the time, and I can make that myself. So hanging out was usually done at each other’s places, or on weekends we would head to Eneko Island for the night. Sundays were spent on Enemanit Island, owned by a parent at the school.

 

14. Expat community

Teachers were the main expat community. Though there were others there. Even other teachers, such as teachers who were a part of the program World Teach. The island was small, even if you didn’t hang out with all the expats, you knew them and had seen them around. A lot of pilots working on the tuna boats, mostly from Australia, New Zealand or the US.

 

15. Did you change your perspective after living here?

I honestly didn’t have any set expectations going in. I didn’t know much about it.

It wasn’t an easy place to live but I miss it a lot. It’s hard to put into words the kinds of connections you make with the people on the island. For me and my boyfriend, it was the connections made with our students. It was a whole other world over there. I definitely worried when I first got there that I would have a hard time, but as you ease into the life where it becomes comfortable and familiar. You find things to do.

 

16. Any advice and tips for moving/ living here?

Do not look at pretty pictures from there and think that it’s all beautiful beaches and sunny days.

Do not go with high expectations. It will change your life spending time living there but you have to go with ideas of ways to occupy your time.

Make use of the ocean. Swim. Surf. Paddleboard. Do all the things. Climate change is real and destroying the islands, and they may not be there in 20-50 years.

Reading book on the Marshall islands

Eneko provided a beautiful escape on weekends to relax and read.

 

17. Would you recommend others to live on the Marshall Islands?

I won’t lie. I recommended a teacher friend of mine live there and I recently found out she left to go back home to the states early.

It isn’t for everyone and I know this, but I would still tell people to go give it a try. I loved it. My friends and coworkers loved it. But that doesn’t mean I think everyone would. It is not a place I would recommend anyone go and settle down for a long time. But it’s definitely a place to go for a year or two and see how it goes.

 

18. What have you learned from living abroad?

What haven’t I learned? I believe that we are constantly learning throughout our lives, regardless where we are and what we are doing. It’s important to always keep learning, keep experiencing new things and growing.

Each new place I move to helps me grow. I learn new ways of living. You learn to deal with things you may never have had to deal with if you stayed home in your hometown. I have lived in many different places and learned many different things, it’s hard to recount all of them. My mantra in life is ‘never a grown-up because I am always growing’. And that’s me, always adapting to new places, learning new things and growing.

Thank you, Sara, for the Interview. You can learn more about Sara’s experience on her blog The Life of a Solivagant. Also, don’t forget to follow her Facebook and Instagram

*The article was updated on May 1st, 2018

Are you planning to live in Munich, or just curious about expat life in Germany?

In this Expat Interview, Varsha will share her experience and tips on living in Munich as an expat. All the information from moving procedure, overcoming difficulties, understanding the cost of living in Munich to getting to know the city is here!

 

1. About Munich

Munich, or München, is the capital city of Bavaria district in Germany. It is one of the popular cities among the foreigners to settle in Europe. With the population from different countries, today, Munich is a modern cosmopolitan city.

There is a perfect balance of modern lifestyle with the ethnic feel.  The infrastructure facilities in Munich are up-standards. Also, in Munich, you can find excellent public transport from the metro, tram, local trains, to buses. Diesel cars are completely banned in the city center.

public transport in Munich

The old and new metro in Munich

There are lots of touristic places in and around Munich, and it’s really easy to visit Switzerland as a day trip from this city. All these things make this Southern German city- Munich, a great place to live for expats.

 

Let’s start the interview!

2. How did you move to Germany?

We, as a family, moved to Stuttgart about 7 years back and to Munich in Jan 2017. Amol, my husband is in IT industry and we moved here for his job. Moving from Stuttgart to Munich was quite smooth, but the transfer from India to Stuttgart was a bit bumpy.
We moved to Germany with our 2-year-old son. The first few months were very difficult and it was lonely for him. He didn’t know German language and therefore he had no friends here. This matters much when kids were much social back in the home country. In those previous months, we traveled a lot around nearby destinations and made ourselves aware of the place, culture and made some friends as well.

 

3. Why did you choose to live in Munich?

Hmm… Reasons to live in Munich?
Munich is a cosmopolitan city with a considerable international crowd comparing to other German cities. There are lots of international companies and one can enjoy a good quality lifestyle.
I like this city as a traveler also. There are tons of the things to see and do in and around the city. The education (schools and higher education) in Munich has one of the best qualities in Germany. This was an important factor for us as a parent of the school-going kid.

living in munich

View of Munich

 

4. How to prepare for moving to Munich?

The first and foremost thing we did was to start searching for a house. Munich is the most expensive place in Germany to live. We searched for a house on the internet through different websites like Immobilienscout24. Once you get an address in the city, rest of the transfer procedure is very easy.
As I said above, Munich is cosmopolitan city and therefore one can survive with English. If you can speak German that will, of course, make a difference.

moving to germany

 

5. The cost of living in Munich

Munich is a costly city. A medium sized flat (about 80 sq.mt) in the city center will cost around 2000-2500 Euro per month. Transportation facilities are the BEST but I would say these do not come cheap. Other prices like grocery, clothes etc. are similar to those in neighboring European cities.

cost of living in munich

 

6. How to overcome difficulties when moving to Munich?

Language is the main obstruction here in Germany.
English is not a very common spoken language. While in Stuttgart, we all learned German and that helped us a lot. In Munich English is fairly spoken so there’s not much problem for new expats.
Another main difficulty is finding a house. It is extremely difficult to find a house in Munich. It took us three months to find a flat with some (or lots of) compromises.

 

7. Did you experience any discrimination in Germany from the locals?

No, as Munich has quite an international public, locals are friendly with expats. There are lots of international companies and the Technical University of Munich has a good reputation among foreign students. I would say, German locals have accepted foreigners in the city and if we respect their space, they don’t avoid you. I do have lots of German friends and I see that they are equally interested in understanding our culture.

 

8. How to overcome culture shock when moving to Germany?

When I first moved to Germany, I experienced lots of cultural shocks. Asian culture is really different from that of European. I came here from India where we have a distinct culture. It took me a while to understand and to adjust to this.
I got a help from some German friends and some foreigners like me. I searched for and read on the internet about each and every bit of customs or how-to things I came across everyday life. Also, I discussed it with friends. All this helped me to adapt to the local life.

 

9. What do you like about Munich?

I like the Munich’s cosmopolitan feel. The city and in general, Germany is a kid-friendly country. There are lots of cultural festivals, celebrations, and many activities or places suitable for families with kids. It is one of the ideal places for kids to bring up.
Also, there are various reputable educational institutes that attract many young people. As the result, it makes the city lively. Different international companies are here so it improves the standards of living.

 

10. Are there any bad things about Munich that you don’t like?

Munich is the costliest city in Germany. Housing prices are shooting up considerably. It is quite difficult to find a good house with an affordable price near the city center. This is pushing people going out of the city to find accommodations.

 

11. What are your favorite things to do in Munich?

living in munich

The Englischer Garten is in the center of Munich

There are lots of parks in the city. I like to stroll around in the evenings. Also, there are dedicated cycle tracks all around the city. Therefore, we can enjoy cycling during summer. I enjoy collecting berries (when in season) in the farms and to cycle around public parks with my son.

 

12. Where do you recommend to visit in the Munich?

There are some worth visiting museums like German History museum, BMW museum. A large public garden called ‘Englischer Garten’ is right in the middle of the city and I recommend spending some time and watch wave surfers there. ‘Marienplatz’ is the Town hall square with a number of brand shops and cafes etc. The Starnberg lake is on the outskirts of the city, popular as day trip location.

things to do in Munich

BMW Museum

things to do in Munich

Wave surfing is a cool thing to do in Munich too!

 

13. Is it easy to make new friends in Munich?

In Munich, there are lots of expats and this makes easy to get friends. Locals will open up if you learn some German language. Language course can be one of the first places to make new friends. There are some ‘mom-kids’ social groups around the city where expat moms meet regularly to chit-chat. These groups are also great option to make friends and to get some information.

 

14. Do you hang out with locals or foreigners mostly?

I have friends both – locals as well as foreigners and also lots of Indians. I meet them frequently on the occasion of some fest or get-together.

 

15. Where is your favorite place in Munich to meet friends?

Sometimes we also plan for dinners. When the weather is good, we meet in parks with kids. My favorite place to meet my friends is cafe shop. I like the German ‘Cake n coffee’ tradition.

 

16. Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany

Munich’s Oktoberfest is worldwide popular and people from around the world come here to attend it. The festival itself is a great experience, and there’s no doubt about it. However, it is also my most nervous period. For about a month during this festival, the drunken people roam around the city littering everywhere and spoiling the charming feel. Except this, the city remains good clean place whole the year.

living in germany Octoberfest

 

17. Did you change your perspective about Munich after living here?

Not actually, I came here with a clear idea of the city and I got the same. This might be because I already knew the German lifestyle during my Stuttgart stay. I also had some friends from Munich.

 

18. Advice and tips for living in Munich

I would like to give 2 suggestions.
The first one is about the accommodation. If you are a student, you should find a room before coming here. Maybe your friends will help you. If you want to work here, ask the company to assist you to find an accommodation.
The second suggestion is about language. It’s important to learn at least basic German so you can interact with the locals. The main language used in most of the companies here is also German.

 

19. Would you recommend to live in Munich?

Yes, definitely! This is the best place for students, families, singles, basically for all.
Students get great chances to work for international companies, while families get quality and safe living environment. Also, Germany’s working policies help employees to keep nice work-life balance.
Youngsters and singles have lots of options like pubs, various communities, and groups etc to get social. Senior citizens get the best support from the government.
Isn’t that awesome to have something for everyone?

 

20. What have you learned from living abroad?

I’ve learned a new language. Otherwise, I would have never thought of learning German. Also, I’ve learned new culture and lifestyles. I took the opportunity, of our moving to Germany, to understand new customs and protocols.
I got introduced to new foods which I think is the yummy way to understand a new place. And yes, I learned to survive in the chilling cold weather.
I would say, Munich is a beautiful city and being a mother, I totally recommend this for families. Kids enjoy their freedom, stress-free education and lots of outdoor activities. The only drawback is the high cost of living.

 

About Varsha

Hi all, it’s me, Varsha. I learned Biology and have worked as a biologist for a few years. After moving to Germany, I got an absolutely new territory to explore and I am enjoying my life in Germany. My hobby is traveling and I love taking my family to different heritage sites and beautiful landscapes. Last year, I started sharing my travel experiences on my Travel Blog. I’d love to visit as many heritage sites as I can. Follow me on my Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube.

Have you ever thought of living in Mexico as an expat? Is it safe to live in Mexico?

In this Expat Interview, Natalie will share about her expat life in Mexico and provide tips on the cost of living in Mexico, the procedure of moving to Mexico and all the related matters that you should concern before living in Mexico.

 

About Mexico

living in Mexico

Puerta Vallarta boasts a wonderful walkway called the Malecon. There are shops on one side, the Pacific on the other, and artwork and trees in between.

Mexico is a diverse country that is more than just pristine beaches and wild spring break parties. It’s also more than tequila and guacamole. Mexico boasts Mayan Ruins, incredible architecture, mouth-watering food that differs from region to region, and different climates. There are jaguars in the jungles, Las Siete Luminarias craters in Guanajuato, and thousands of cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula. Riviera Maya is home to the Northern Hemisphere’s largest coral reef. That’s just a tiny bit of the biodiversity and variety of this large and wonderful country.

About Natalie and her expat life in Mexico

I’m an American living in central Mexico with my husband and our two children. We moved to Mexico on May 1, 2017.
I’ve never lived outside of Ohio and I agreed to move to Mexico for my husband’s job before I ever visited the country. While moving with my husband’s company had some downsides (there was a lot of disorganization in the third party they hired to assist with moving), it has many more upsides. They paid for the move, provided assistance both in the US and Mexico, provide the visas and temporary residence cards, and offer a cultural liaison/concierge type of person for the duration of our stay. We can ask her for help with anything we need, including making requests to our landlord, for instance.

 

Why did you choose to live in Mexico?

Originally, my husband convinced me to move the family to Japan. I was excited and I started working on learning a little Japanese. I even joined an Expats in Japan group online. However, a job opened up first for Mexico that was perfect for my husband and we decided Mexico was the place for us. It takes much less time to fly to Ohio from Mexico than from Japan, so it made sense as we both have aging parents. Thankfully, my husband got the job!

 

How to prepare for moving to Mexico?

Initially, I started using Duolingo to start learning Spanish. I quickly gave up because it was a struggle to start from scratch with that particular app. I’ve picked it up again now that I know some basic grammar. It’s a huge help for learning vocabulary and practicing pronunciation.
I also ended up getting the names and emails of several expat wives already in Mexico with the same company. They each had a unique perspective and useful insight. I asked all of the two questions in my first email: “What do you wish you knew before moving to Mexico?” and “What is something I should know that I wouldn’t think or know to ask about?” It got the conversational ball rolling.

 

The cost of living in Mexico

a) Accommodation in Mexico

Our rent here is around $1,250 USD, which is fairly high for our little town. We were able to renegotiate to a lower price which is more in line with the normal rent price in our neighborhood. We are in a gated community with some of the best security measures in place.
Our house is also big, it’s over twice the size of where we lived in Ohio. I don’t have to drive far to get groceries, school, and gym, so I spend less than $25 per two weeks on gas.

b) Groceries

Due to my celiac disease and higher prices for gluten-free items, we spend more on groceries than an average family would. We spend around $400-$500 per month on groceries and that includes non-food items and dog food.

c) Other expenses

The Internet is $20.85 per month. Utilities run around $100 per month (gas and electric – but electric can vary a lot. One family I know pays approximately $150 per month for their electricity).
One thing to be aware of is if you have a really high or really low electric bill, you may need to do some digging. It’s been common here for people to be paying for someone else’s electricity along with their own due to illegal hookups. If it’s low, you can be on the receiving end of such action and it can cause you future problems.

 

Where are the safest places to live in Mexico?

living in sanmiguel

One of the beautiful churches in San Miguel’s centre (downtown).

If you’re considering becoming an expat in Mexico and want to know the safest areas, currently rumor has it that Merida, Cancun, Tulum, and San Miguel are good choices. Larger cities, like Guadalajara and Queretaro, also have good reputations thus far. Remember, changes in safety status can happen quickly.

After my experiences with having the company help us by hiring a local relocation firm, I’d suggest doing that or finding a trusted local to help you out. Even with help, the process of renting was a little convoluted. We have a wonderful landlord, but other expats we know have had to move because their landlords were unresponsive.
So far, I love living in Mexico. We have good days and bad days, just like we’ve always had. Overall, my kids, husband, and I are very happy.

 

How to deal with difficulties while moving to Mexico?

We moved with 4 people and 7 bags on moving day.

Due to circumstances beyond our control, our shipment was packed less than a week before our move. The best case scenario was that it would arrive a week after we arrived. It was much longer.

Being in a nearly empty house with two little kids in a country where you don’t speak the language and don’t know anyone is pretty much hell.

Luckily, our neighborhood has two awesome playgrounds and heading to one on our second day, I ran into one of the expats, who is now my friend. We’d met so briefly on our house hunting visit, I didn’t know her name or where she lived. Additionally, our town has a small expat community and most of the Americans/English speakers know each other.

 

Did you experience any discrimination in Mexico?

We found out after moving here that we are paying higher rental prices than a Mexican would be paying, but other than that, I haven’t noticed any discrimination.

We are advised to stay out of certain areas, especially at night, because as foreigners, it’s assumed we have money.
One of the reactions I didn’t expect was people touching my children’s hair. My kids have blonde hair and my daughter’s one is particularly bright. Once, while visiting San Miguel de Allende, a woman with the most beautiful, glossy, black hair I’ve ever seen, surreptitiously touched my daughter’s hair. I guess it is a case of exotic being the thing you don’t see every day.

 

How did you overcome culture shock in Mexico?

I did have culture shock. Initially, I thought it was a one-and-done thing, but my research and experience show that it comes in waves. Occasionally, I’ll have a strong feeling that I want to go home. I don’t want to learn any more Spanish. I don’t want to be driving with the crazy drivers in my town.

During my first home visit to the USA, I also had a strong feeling that I just wanted to go home, back to Mexico. One of the best things that helped us with culture shock was bringing our dogs. They had quite the adventure – going on a 3-day road trip from Ohio into central Mexico. I also have an incredible friend who drove them from Ohio and across the border. We hired a service to take them from the border to our town.

 

What do you like about Mexico?

I love the food here. It’s especially great here for me because I have celiac disease and corn is more widely used than wheat (which I cannot eat). I love the spicy candy. There are many varieties of tamarind mixed with chilis and sugar and I can’t get enough. In the USA, I didn’t really eat candy, just some chocolate every so often.

Here, I constantly talk about the spicy candy and the amazing tacos. Obviously, the food is more than just tacos and I love everything I’ve tried (except for the intestine filled Gorditas). Speaking of Gorditas, it’s worth trying them in Mexico because they are not what Americans usually envision and they are so much better.
I also love the people I’ve met here. Even the ones with whom I struggle to communicate because my Spanish is still pretty poor. Many people are so patient with my struggling language skills.

 

Bad things about Mexico

There are sad looking stray dogs everywhere. It breaks my heart to see them. There are a few local rescue organizations and they do spay or neuter animals before they place them for adoption. Even so, the stray dogs run rampant. I have seen them in all the small towns I’ve visited so far.
Driving here can be really crazy. People will turn 1 lane into 2, 2 lanes into 3, and so forth. You really have to be aware of everything that’s going on around you and this isn’t even during rush hour! There are also families on mopeds, bicycles, and people pushing or biking with carts to watch out for on the roads. I’ve been noticing more bicycles on the wrong side of the street lately, too. Cars and busses also run red lights frequently. My close friend is from the northern part of Mexico and she assures me that people don’t drive like that up there.
Additionally, you have to worry about people’s brake lights not working. We almost smashed into a pick-up truck who slammed on his brakes without working brake lights while traveling on a highway. Luckily, we had space to avoid a collision.

 

What are your favorite things to do in Mexico?

I love traveling around visiting lesser known spots. We visited this little town called Xilitla. It’s in the Sierra Gorda mountains and it’s crazy awesome.

visiting mexico

Some of the steps in Las Pozas, the surreal “garden” in Xilitla.

living in mexico

Part of the strange structures in the jungle, within the surreal garden called Las Pozas in Xilitla.

An artist chose the town as the place to create his surreal art garden, Las Pozas. In the middle of the jungle, on a mountain, you can climb up and down cement steps and platforms and concrete art. Describing it doesn’t do it justice. It feels like you are in the middle of old ruins, but the work began in 1945, so it’s fairly modern.

 

Where do you recommend to visit in Mexico?

So far, my favorite places are San Miguel de Allende, Xilitla (he-leet-la), las Siete Luminarias, and Pena de Bernal.
San Miguel has a lot of tourists and expats, so you’ll hear a lot of English spoken there. Pena de Bernal is a popular spot with Mexicans, but it seems like there aren’t as many tourists from other parts of the world. Consequently, goods and services are quite a bit cheaper there than San Miguel and Guadalajara.

Xilitla is somewhere in the middle. It is in the Sierra Gorda mountains, which seem like several towns do receive a fair amount of tourists from all over the world. Xilitla is one of those places that is a challenge to get to and the reward is huge.

Las Siete Luminarias are seven craters and the most famous is called El Rincón del Parangueo. However, the signs that led us to it did say “Las Siete Luminarias.” You can climb down into the crater, which is covered in white ash and white mud. It’s like being on another planet and I’m really surprised it hasn’t been used in any sci-fi movies or tv shows.

living in Mexico

Looking down on the Las Siete Luminarias crater is deceptive. When you realize those are people in the background, you realize just how big it is.

So far, I haven’t been disappointed in anywhere I’ve visited. We will soon be visiting the Yucatan Peninsula, which looks like it will also be awesome, too.

 

The cost of living in Mexico

a) Accommodation in Mexico

Our rent here is around $1,250 USD, which is fairly high for our little town. We were able to renegotiate to a lower price which is more in line with the normal rent price in our neighborhood. We are in a gated community with some of the best security measures in place.
Our house is also big, it’s over twice the size of where we lived in Ohio. I don’t have to drive far to get groceries, school, and gym, so I spend less than $25 per two weeks on gas.

b) Groceries

Due to my celiac disease and higher prices for gluten-free items, we spend more on groceries than an average family would. We spend around $400-$500 per month on groceries and that includes non-food items and dog food.

c) Other expenses

The Internet is $20.85 per month. Utilities run around $100 per month (gas and electric – but electric can vary a lot. One family I know pays approximately $150 per month for their electricity).
One thing to be aware of is if you have a really high or really low electric bill, you may need to do some digging. It’s been common here for people to be paying for someone else’s electricity along with their own due to illegally hooking up the electricity. If it’s low, you can be on the receiving end of such an action and it can cause you future problems.

 

How to meet new people in Mexico?

I have not found it easy to make new friends with locals in my town.
Coming into a small, but established expat community, I was able to make friends with them right away, but it took awhile to meet people outside of that community. My children started school here, even though I’d prefer to homeschool, only because we were struggling to meet people (well, that and there is next to nothing to do in our town).
Some of these problems are unique to my town. It was a small town that experienced a lot of growth very quickly. Because it was small, people have grown up together and have their families here and don’t have a lot of need for outsiders. Everyone is still nice, they just don’t need another friend.
Of course, not everyone is like that and I’ve started to meet a lot more people through school, friends of friends, and on my own. There is a language barrier and I feel that has contributed, as well.

 

Do you hang out with locals or foreigners mostly?

Currently, I have a lot more expat friends, but all of them will be leaving in 4-5 months. The dynamic will change. Plus, as my Spanish improves, I will be able to communicate better with the people I feel are really friendly but I can’t understand!
I interact with any expat communities in Mexico. They’re mostly the people who are with the same company as my husband. My town is small!

 

Where to hang out with friends in Mexico?

One of my acquaintances invited me to work out with her.

One of the rules I adopted after having kids was to say yes to invitations whenever possible. I said yes and I ended up meeting my closest Mexican friend. We are both recent arrivals, our kids are close in age, and she had been an expat in the US twice!

Mostly, we hang out at the gym, our neighborhood parks, or our houses. Sometimes, the school moms will do something outside of school and we always choose a restaurant with a playground. That is one of my favorite things about Mexico, actually. We can go out for a nice dinner and the kids can play on the playground in restaurants.

 

Did you change your perspective after living in Mexico?

I’m still a work in progress. Currently, I don’t feel that I can make any sort of judgment on the culture because I haven’t experienced that much. One thing I have noticed is that the people without money, like the maids, for instance, are very resourceful and creative.

 

Advice and tips for moving/ living in Mexico?

I recommend starting to learn Spanish before arriving, if possible. It’s taking me a lot longer than I anticipated to even be conversational.

One thing I’ve noticed is that apps like Duolingo are a lot more helpful after learning some grammar. I also recommend diving right in and speaking as much as possible right away.

One of my friends knew a lot of Spanish words but struggled because people couldn’t understand her accent. She never quite became conversational.

I know not everyone can move with a company. If you are on your own, be prepared to wade through a lot of red tapes. You will need to find a bilingual lawyer to help you.

If you can find a local expat community online, they will have a wealth of information. One question I should’ve asked people before I arrived is what they paid in rent. We ended up paying $4500 more pesos than everyone else because we didn’t know better (this is a couple hundred dollars).

 

Would you recommend others to live in Mexico?

The short answer is yes. However, if I had a choice on where to live, I’d pick a larger city or somewhere in the Yucatan. Small cities like ours are experiencing growing pains (like not enough police officers, so the military has moved in to help).

 

What have you learned from living abroad?

First, I’ve learned immersion language learning isn’t as easy as it is made out to be. One still needs to study and work hard. Second, I have discovered I can live with a lot more compromise than before. Third, the world is less dangerous than the news would have you believe. I say that even with the violence I mentioned above and will discuss in further detail below.

 

Criminals in Mexico

Crime is up all over Mexico and my town isn’t immune to this.
While the crime is mostly focused violence (between cartels), there are also crazy things like actual highway robberies. We missed being caught up in one by mere hours on our drive back home from Ixtapa (another employee at my husband’s company was not so lucky, which is why we know about it). We have decided we won’t drive there again, as the state Ixtapa is in is getting more dangerous. If there is decent priced airfare, we will fly. Ixtapa itself still seems to be okay.

We also lived in a gated community and we don’t often go out at night. I’m not exactly scared of it, but it does increase your risks of becoming a victim of crime. My husband’s laptop was stolen from the trunk of his car in less than 90 seconds, while he stepped into a local convenience store around 6:30 in the evening. You can’t leave electronics in the car here.

Outside of our neighborhood walls, I have to vigilant and aware of my surroundings. Even in the parking lot of the grocery store, as my friend was robbed there. All the schools are behind walls and gates, too, with guards.

 

How to take a road trip around Mexico?

Additionally, if you are taking a road trip around Mexico, pay attention to state department warnings, such as only travel during daylight hours and stay on the Cuotas. Cuotas, or toll roads, are typically safer than Libres (freeways).

We’ve driven all over central Mexico, we’ve had friends take the night bus to and from Ixtapa, without any problems. We’ve also driven in some sketchy areas of our town without encountering problems (though I did see a guy getting beat up mid-day which was really distressing).

 

How to drive in Mexico?

There are a couple of things to know before driving around Mexico

1. Police officers drive with their lights on

The police officers drive around with their lights on. You don’t need to pull over unless they are also using their siren. If they are driving down the middle of a street and straddling two lanes, stay behind them.

2. Police riding in the backs with huge rifles

Second, police and military trucks generally have police riding in the backs with huge rifles on the back. It’s really disconcerting at first. Now that I think about it, there are also guards with large rifles at the large malls. The first time I saw a guard like that, I was pretty freaked out!

3. Bring toilet paper!

The third thing is that bathrooms usually cost 5 pesos to use. Some will have a person who will give you toilet paper but most will have the toilet paper outside of the stalls. Get it before you go into a stall or you’ll be out of luck. I carry toilet paper with me. Additionally, the toilet paper goes into the trash can next to the toilet and not in the toilets.
All this being said about the violence, I don’t feel unsafe. I am living a normal life, quite happily. I live just a bit more vigilantly than before. I’m really only worried about pickpockets and theft, and less about violent crime.

 

A memorable experience in Mexico

On my first full day here, the kids and I woke early and watched the sunrise. A bit later, as I was working on getting breakfast together with my limited utensils and dishes, I looked outside and saw a man mowing the street. He kept going back and forth.

I wondered if he was using the lawn tractor to blow the dust off the street or what? My friends told me he was mowing the street because there are grass or weeds growing in the cracks. However, it’s been over 10 months and I’ve never seen anyone mow the streets since. Nor have I seen any grass or weeds growing in the streets.

 

More about Natalie

Natalie wants to live in a world where everyone travels and raises kids with gentle respect.When she’s not trying to be present with her kids, traveling, or writing, you can find her indulging in Harry Potter, Doctor Who, or Star Trek with her husband. Discover more about family travel and expat life at Blissmersion.com. Don’t forget to follow her PinterestTwitter, and Instagram

living in mexico

Brisbane, Australia’s third most populous city and the capital of Queensland, has a sub-tropical climate with good average temperatures all year round. Is Brisbane a good place to live as an expat? Let’s discover it in this Expat interview! Tracy will answer all the questions from the cost of living in Brisbane to all the related information for moving to Australia.

 

1. Could you please tell us your moving story?

We decided to move to Australia about 6 years ago but it took nearly 5 years after we were granted our visas to actually make the move. We first moved to Mackay in Northern Queensland but after 3 months my husband got a job in Brisbane so we moved.

 

2. Why did you choose to live in Brisbane?

There is so much to do and see in Brisbane that it seemed a natural place for us to move to. I also have friends who live here and they had told me what a fantastic place it is. The weather is excellent all year round and that is an important factor for us. We were sick of the gloomy weather in the UK!
living in Australia kangaroo

3. How to prepare for moving to Brisbane?

Firstly we had to obtain a visa to be able to live in Australia. This was a difficult process and involved a lot of money and a lot of paperwork. I also had to register to be able to teach in Queensland. That took about 12 weeks. We also had to validate our visas in Australia once they were issued – as we were not ready to move permanently at that time it was a costly requirement.

 

4. The cost of living in Australia

Australia is not cheap and you need to be earning dollars as soon as possible really as you will soon see your savings disappear.

a) Accommodation in Australia

We rent a furnished 2 bedroom apartment and that costs $400 a week. You need to pay a month’s rent as a deposit and the first 2 week’s rent upfront.
living in Brisbane

b) Food

We eat out a lot and I would say a meal for 2 with a drink cost between $60-100 but again that depends on the type of restaurant!

 

c) Groceries

Again not cheap. It is best to buy seasonal produce as its more affordable. We spend about $250 a week on groceries for 2. There aren’t many supermarkets to choose from but finding a local market for fruit and vegetables may save some money.

 

d) Transportation

living in Australia

Colorful lights across the coastline of city skyscrapers in Brisbane.

I would recommend buying a Go Card which you can use on all public transport in Brisbane. You load it up then just tap at the beginning and end of your journey. Catch the CityCat along the river – it’s a great way to see the city! The city gets very congested so I would always recommend taking public transport rather than driving!

5. Did you experience any difficulties when you moved to Brisbane?

Not really – I have moved around the world a number of times so I know what is involved. I do miss my family and my dog back in the UK (hopefully she is joining us soon) and adapting to a new job was not easy to start with but the best thing to do is to try to not compare. It will be different and you need to go with that however strange those differences feel.

 

6. Did you experience any discrimination from the locals?

Not at all. I have found everyone I have met to be so friendly and welcoming. Australians are used to people wanting to live here and seem happy to welcome us!

 

7. What do you like about Brisbane?

It’s a lovely city with so much to see and do. The weather is amazing and it is close to the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast for weekends away.

 

8. Are there any bad things about Brisbane?

Not really! At the moment we are loving it all (OK maybe the amount of traffic and the toll roads are a bit of a stress!)

 

9. What are your favorite things to do in Brisbane?

It would be heading to South Bank at a weekend. There are a beach and a lagoon-style pool (all free) as well as lots of activities to do and galleries to visit.Take a blanket and a picnic and enjoy the atmosphere. You can also buy the best milkshakes in the world there!

 

10. Is it easy to make new friends in Brisbane?

So far we haven’t made too many friends here though I did in Mackay. I am joining some photography courses soon so hopefully will meet new people that way! I am also meeting people at work.
living in Brisbane Australia

11. Do you hang out with locals or foreigners mostly?

I would say a mixture really as I already have some expat friends who live in Brisbane.

 

12. Where is your favorite place in Brisbane to hang out with friends?

South Bank is the place to go – it has a great vibe. There are places to eat and sit with a picnic or you can take a swim in the pool or relax on the beach. There were loads to do at South Bank before Christmas with films and concerts too so it is worth checking to see what is on.

 

13. A memorable experience in Brisbane

My husband and I decided to catch the train to South Bank just before Christmas and we had a wonderful afternoon just sitting in the shade with a picnic watching the world go by! It was so relaxing but didn’t feel like Christmas as it was so hot!
train in Brisbane

14. Did you change your perspective about Brisbane after living here?

No. Brisbane is exactly what I expected – it is a great city to live in!

 

15. Advice and tips for moving/ living in Brisbane

Think carefully about where you live – the traffic can get very congested and it can take longer to get to places that you may expect. I wouldn’t recommend living too far from where you work as you may spend a lot of your time commuting. Some areas are better than others so I would do a suburb check before committing!

 

16. Would you recommend to live in Brisbane?

We live in the northern suburbs but there are lovely areas all around Brisbane! I think Brisbane offers so much to everyone with its great climate and access to some of the best beaches in Australia on the Gold Coast or Sunshine Coast. Both are just an hour’s drive away.

 

17. What have you learned from living abroad?

I have lived abroad for a lot of my life and I have learned that you never stop learning! I have learned another language, to appreciate food, and developed better social skills through living abroad. It makes you more adaptable and I think tougher!
Moving abroad is not easy and expect highs and lows – give yourself time to settle. All that is strange today will soon become familiar. Even though I have done this 6 times in my life it is always the same process but is worth it in the end!

 

More about Tracy

Tracy blogs at Tracy’s travels in time. She has been an expat 6 times and so far has lived and worked in France, Switzerland, Canada, South Africa and Botswana. She moved to Australia in 2017. Besides teaching, she loves history, train journeys, nature and meeting new people. She also has a passion for milkshakes! Don’t forget to follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.

living in brisbane