5 ways expats can stay mentally healthy during quarantine

Sharon  @GoodMigrations

As countries across the globe continue the battle against Covid-19, a ‘second curve’ is threatening millions of people – the consequences of the pandemic on our mental health. For expats, feeling isolated and lonely are often very common emotions. These feelings are likely to intensify by the travel restrictions that are preventing us from returning home.

It is vital expats look after their mental wellbeing while social distancing in order to stay focused and healthy. Here are some ways for expats to address their mental health whilst isolating in their homes.

1. Establish a routine

The first step is to establish a daily routine that you can realistically stick to. Its easy to get into the habit of waking up late, not getting properly dressed, as well as eating and sleeping at irregular times. Having an active daytime routine, and sleeping regularly at night, has been proven to improve overall mood and cognitive functioning. A good night’s sleep has also been shown to decrease the risk of developing depression and other mental health disorders.

If you’re an expat working from home, try to maintain normality by waking up at the same time and sticking to a regular schedule throughout the day. Not only will this help your productivity levels, but it will also help you to maintain a work-life balance. It is also extremely important to set aside time every day to go outside for some fresh air.  This will help with mental health but will also positively affect your productivity and creativity.

2. Pick up a new hobby

If you’re in need of a distraction to fill the hours outside of work, picking up a new hobby can be a great solution. This may not apply to those working remotely and looking after children and their remote learning. However, this could be really great for those with extra time after working hours.

Some hobbies to adopt might be trying out yoga for the first time or using online videos to learn the basics of a new language. If you enjoy reading, set up a virtual book club with your family and friends, helping you to stay connected with your loved ones simultaneously. Other calming hobbies include meditating, sewing, reading, gardening, journaling, baking, and much more.

3. Avoid the news

Many expats will feel the need to keep up with developments both within their host country as well as back home. However, the bleak news cycle can be very damaging to our mental health.

If you’re reading or watching the news regularly throughout the day, try cutting this down. Maybe instead of a constant flow of news limit it to once in the morning or evening for under 15 minutes. This will be more than enough time to see if there have been any important changes you need to be made aware of without falling into a spiral of reading or watching too much negative news. For those who enjoy catching up on global developments, try searching online for positive news stories instead to help boost your mood.

4. Stay in touch

Under normal circumstances, expat life presents its own challenges of visiting family. Availability and the cost of travel have always been obstacles for expats.  However, with many expats across the globe still not being able to travel, the possibility of visiting family and friends can still seem like a distant reality.

With research showing that 9 in 10 expats often feel isolated, it is important now more than ever to reach out for human contact. Whether by video calling a family member, texting a friend, or catching up with a colleague, there are many ways to integrate communication with others throughout your day. In fact, with evidence regularly telling us that loneliness can have long-lasting, detrimental effects on both our physical and mental health, reaching out to others should become a part of your daily routine.

If you’re a busy expat, trying to set aside times throughout the week for catching up with family and friends, can seem daunting. Persist. It is important to keep the lines of communication open. Keep dates and times in your calendar for when you are due to call different family members and friends back home.

If you’re an expat in a country such as the UK where lockdown rules are being eased slightly, you may now even be allowed to meet up with a select number of individuals in an outdoor space, or even visit another person’s household. If possible, use this opportunity to catch up with some colleagues or friends while keeping your distance and wearing a mask. The last thing we want is carelessness to keep social distancing in place for even longer.

5. Accept help

If you’re struggling with your mental health during this time, it’s important to understand this is entirely normal. Undergoing such drastic changes to our daily lives is likely to have negatively affected many individuals so it is important to reach out and accept help. Being isolated abroad may have encouraged many expats to keep in touch more regularly with family and friends back home, but for many taking the first step can be difficult.

Speaking to a medical professional about any concerns you may have about your mental health is still a viable option available despite being locked down at home. Especially during these uncertain times, consider using virtual health care services, some of which can be easily accessed if you have a global healthcare plan in place. Virtual health care services allow you to discuss your physical and mental health worries from the safety of your home. This will ensure you get the help you need while maintaining social distancing.

Reaching out to a healthcare professional or trusted confidant is the best way to address any issues you might be facing. These strange and uncertain times are likely to be challenging for the vast majority of us. Supporting each other throughout this pandemic by providing mental and moral support will be vital.


Expat Life as a Millennial LGBTQ

Michael Boateng @GoodMigrations

Hi, my name is Michael Kwadjo (Qweh-joe) Kyei Boateng. I am a first-generation Ghanaian immigrant who feels like an expat of the world.

I was born in New York (shout out to the Bronx!) and raised by my mother. She would send me to live with family around the world while she worked a full-time job as a live-in nurse.

I’ve had the privilege of living in Ghana, England, the Netherlands, Brazil, Australia, and the United States. As an openly Queer African American who rose up from a low-income childhood, I have had several different experiences on how my identity relates to different countries, cities, and communities. Each place I’ve lived abroad has helped teach me something about my own identity and how I can find peace and support to thrive and just be.

I’ve enjoyed learning about all the amazing LGBTQ leaders such as Marsha P. Johnson, Bayard Rustin, Audre Lorde, and more that have opened new frontiers for our community. In honor of Pride Month, I want to reflect on my expat experiences and share a bit so that my fellow LGBTQ community members can find new places around the world to explore and uncover the love and joy of being LGTBQ.

(*Disclaimer, the experiences and insights I plan to share are based on places I’ve lived or visited abroad. I still have a lot to learn about being Queer and the many intricate and intimate forms in which it shows itself. Also, to keep things simple: “Queer”, a term which has several roots and connotations, is how I identify currently. I use Queer predominately as a verb – for me, it means to radically disrupt systems and preconceived notions of gender, sex, and identity. I know, I know, a bit wordy, but truly the term is loaded. If you want to know more, I recommend reading, Queer: A Graphic History by Meg-John Barker or A Queer History of the United States by Michael Bronski.)

The purpose of this guide is to help future LGBTQ members find cities around the world where they can enjoy living and be themselves. Okay, let’s get started! Read more…

Expat Life Guest Posts

How to Budget for Moving Abroad

Admin  @GoodMigrations

Moving to a new country: it’s exciting, it’s exhilarating, and maybe it’s just a little bit intimidating. Making sure all your finances are in order before you hop on that plane will help you. You will feel a little more secure and confident when you get to your new home. Here’s how to get started.

Define your goals

First thing’s first. Be clear about why you’re moving abroad and what you hope to get out the experience. Did you get a promotion? Or are you planning on being a digital nomad and freelancing your way through Europe? Are you working as a sailing instructor in the Bahamas and traveling the Caribbean in your free time? Having goals will help you prioritize your budget and allow you to spend more on the things that matter to you.

Add up your debts

Make a list of any financial obligations you’re taking with you when you move. These might be student loan payments. If you’re a homeowner you’ll still need to consider that mortgage payment in your plans even if you’re renting or Airbnbing your house while you’re gone. Everything will probably turn out fine, but there’s always a chance your renter falls through or you can’t fill up your Airbnb schedule. You’ll need to have some savings set aside to step in with the mortgage payment if that does happen.

Read more…

A Comedy of Errors: What NOT To Do When Moving Abroad

Admin  @GoodMigrations

I have become a bit too confident about my international moves recently. Having relocated overseas 5 times in the past 3 years, I thought I knew the tricks and could make it happen whilst I’m on the road. How wrong was I! I was setting off on a Europe-wide tour, which would allow boyfriend and I, only 3 days to pack, clean and leave. When I put this ambitious plan together, I didn’t know we would be sending our belongings on their international journey without a destination address. Here is my personal expat story along with tips and tricks to help you.

Packing for the 6-week journey across Europe

I left home for 6 weeks just before moving internationally to attend a funeral in Finland, a wedding in Romania, an art exhibition opening in the UK, followed by house hunting in Spain. The weather in Malta, Turkey, and Spain were blazing hot, whereas Finland and the UK were the polar opposite. You can’t wear a floral dress for a funeral or a black dress for a wedding. What on earth do you pack for a trip like this? Anything and everything, it turned out.
Read more…

Top Tips For Becoming An Expat From Our Guest Expert

Sharon  @GoodMigrations

If you’ve made the decision to become an expat, then chances are you’ve been thinking about it for a while. You’re aware that the process can be complicated, but as the millions of expats around the world will confirm, the rewards can greatly outweigh any risks. A happier life can await you in your new country of residence.

More people than ever before are becoming expats. There’s a lot to consider, but with careful planning, there’s no reason why you too can’t become an expatriate with the minimum amount of fuss…

Things to consider:

The Paperwork
First up, visas. Everywhere is different, so this will require a bit of research on your part. If you have a job waiting for you on arrival then speak to your employer early on about visa support. Some businesses will take care of everything for you, including the costs; but others will leave it up to you. Find out what and how much you need to pay, then budget! A good place to start might be with VisaHQ.
Visas and GoodMigrations
Depending on where you’re headed to, visas and work permits can be incredibly simple, or very complicated. There could be a lot of paperwork, and some countries require you to have a full medical examination (at a cost to you). This can be arranged through your local doctor.

Other factors include a potential Police Clearance Certificate. This can be applicable when traveling to the likes of Australia, Belgium, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, and the USA. The cost can vary, generally between £45-80 (€55-97).

It’s always worth making copies of your original documents too, as embassies have been known to be less than forthcoming when it comes to returning your documents.

Again, this really comes down to where you are going. Some countries provide free state healthcare; however, some do not.

Some companies provide private medical insurance as part of their employee benefit package options. If you are in any doubt, contact your employer and find out the exact details of any cover they will be providing. It is vitally important that you have comprehensive health insurance for you and your family.

We at Cigna have a wide range of levels of expat medical insurance cover available to protect you in your new homeland, and anywhere else you may be travelling*. Find out more about Cigna Global Health Options insurance (www.cignaglobal.com).

Be sure to check the health advice recommendations (including vaccinations etc) for your new country of residence. A good starting point would be the CDC.

*certain geographical exclusions may apply depending on level of cover.

It goes without saying that air travel can be expensive, but it is of course a necessary expense if you are to become an expat. That said, there are some ways to reduce the cost of air travel. Booking a good while in advance generally results in discounts for long haul flights. Be sure to check out baggage allowances for the airlines you’re considering flying with, as some heavily restrict your weight limit, while others allow you to carry sports equipment for free. Travel insurance is also a must. As well as cost, make sure you’re happy with the whole package of your travel insurance, including things like cancellation cover and baggage cover.

Shipping or Storage?
Just like everyone else, you too will have accumulated much more in the way of possessions than you previously thought. So what do you take with you?

If you’re planning on renting at first in your new homeland, you could consider renting a fully furnished property and put your furniture into storage until you’re settled. You could then arrange to have your belongings shipped over at a more convenient time. This is one of the less glamorous aspects of becoming an expat, but it’s a necessary evil. It’s all about planning. If you know the accommodation you’re arriving to, then you know what you can afford to take with you. Let’s face it, it’s also a good excuse to have a good clear out, and start your expat adventure with a clean slate.

Given the logistical complexities with moving overseas, it can be easy to lose track of your finances. Adhering to a strict budget is crucial. Try to plan ahead as much as possible, including the little things as much as the big expenses. Be sure to factor in things like: hotels if your new abode isn’t ready yet, local transport prices or the cost of a vehicle, local utility costs, legal documentation costs on arrival, and import tax where applicable on any goods you may be taking with you.

Don’t be afraid to delve into the minutia of financial outlays, everything adds up, and you could be surprised by the cost of some things.

budget your move abroad

Becoming an expat takes planning and research. By following the handy steps above, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a fully-fledged expat.

But wait, there’s more…

Things you won’t have thought of…
Becoming an expat isn’t just about ticking all the boxes we’ve laid out above. There are aspects that involve being prepared for a mental, emotional and behavioural shift in your lifestyle now that you’ll be living in another country. For instance, people’s attitudes. People will behave differently from what you’re used to. Attitudes are cultural, so it’s not a case of right and wrong. The conventional ‘have-a-nice day’ attitude popular in places like the USA, may not be replicated in your new home country, so be prepared for something a little different if the situation calls for it. One of the biggest struggles for new expats is the adjustment to more alone time. Whether you’re leaving a large group of friends behind, or moving to accompany a partner’s new job, you may find yourself with more free-time and more alone time than you’re necessarily used to.

There’s no quick fix for this; it comes as part and parcel of making the big move and it will take a bit of getting used to. Over time, through various social opportunities like expat communities/support groups, and through daily life, the level of alone time will decrease.

Some of the most positive expat experiences can come by simply immersing yourself in the new culture. Much like any other big life event, it can be stressful, so a sense of humour is of paramount importance. Be willing to laugh at the situation, and indeed yourself when you get things wrong. Becoming an expat is very much a marathon, not a sprint. The struggles that you face initially will diminish over time. It’ll be an exciting time, so take it all as it comes, don’t expect miracles overnight, and enjoy starting a new chapter in a country overseas.

Guest Post Written By:
Jonathan Connelly – Communications Manager at Cigna Global
Cigna Global

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