Settling into a new life abroad is one thing, but for some it’s a case of shedding the expat label altogether and making like a true local. In our 2015 Expat Explorer survey, almost one third (31%) say they felt at home within six months of moving. For others the transition takes a little more time, or may never come: one fifth (20%) say they think they will always feel like an expat.
Bahrain tops the list of places where expats are most likely to settle fastest, with 47% of expats reporting that they felt at home within six months, followed by Malaysia (43%), Mexico (42%), Russia (41%) and Thailand (38%). Expats agreed that certain milestones such as forging new friendships, getting involved with the local community and knowing that their families were enjoying life abroad all played a key role in helping them feel a strong connection with their new home.
In Bahrain for example, over half (51%) of the expats we spoke to say that making friends or developing their social lives plays the biggest part in helping them to feel a like a local. Whereas two in five (43%) expats in Malaysia say that it’s starting to understand the local culture and etiquette.
We’ve asked our expat network to share with us the times when they felt as though they were on the road to becoming a local - here are our favourite nearly-native moments:
- You’re fluent in the local language
The first time that you manage to hold a conversation or realise that you’ve been dreaming in the local language is an important first step. Almost one third (28%) of expats in the Expat Explorer survey say that successfully using the local language made them feel a strong connection with their new country.
“Insist others speak to you in Dutch when you're learning the language. Most are fluent in English and they love to talk to you in your own language rather than drop the level of communication to your learning level.” – UK expat in the Netherlands
- You’re becoming a foodie in your new country
Over half (58%) of expats in the 2015 Expat Explorer survey said that they enjoy eating and cooking the local cuisine in their new country. While it might have taken you a while to try some of the more adventurous dishes – you’re now finally there. And the comfort food you craved from home has been replaced by local delicacies.
- Cultural quirks start to feel normal
Two in five (38%) said that understanding the local culture and etiquette played the biggest part in helping them to feel like they belonged. These little quirks will vary wherever you are but a little research can go a long way; whether that’s understanding exactly when to use the ‘bisous’ greeting in France, or knowing that a burp during a meal in Hong Kong is considered by locals to be a sign of appreciation.
“Immerse yourself in the culture and don't be afraid to step out of the expat corner - enjoy sharing your experience with locals.” – UK expat in China
- You know exactly how to navigate the local transport
The metro arrives and it’s completely packed. Rather than wait for the next train you get on without a second thought. Becoming a local is more than just managing to find a space; it’s knowing where to stand on the platform or being able to navigate your new home without having to read the signs.
“Take advantage of the excellent public transit to see the whole of the UK. It's teeny tiny compared to Canada; you can do it! In particular, Scotland is amazingly beautiful the farther north you go. The Isle of Skye is a big favourite.” – Canadian expat in the UK
- You can give as good as you get with the locals
You have no hesitation bantering with the locals and being able to order a coffee using the same casual shorthand as the natives means that you fit right in. This can lead to making new friends too: over half (51%) of expats we spoke to in our survey said that making friends and/or developing their social life played a key role in helping them to feel settled.
“When you get there, accept every invitation even if it's for something you would never normally do. It helps you get a social life as quickly as possible, and also get the most out of moving to a new country.” – UK expat in Bermuda
- You know what to do when the unexpected happens
The ability to deal with whatever comes your way is a definite sign that you’re well on your way to becoming native; be it your social plans going unexpectedly awry or a communication victory during a meeting. In our survey, one fifth (20%) of expats said performing well in a strange or unusual situation at work was when they started to feel like a local.
- You defend the things that annoyed you to start with
Sometimes these little things can grow on us: whether that’s getting used to eating an unusual breakfast, like tofu in Japan, or having to walk a really long way to change tubes on the London Underground. And once we’ve understood and embraced them, they can play a big part in helping us feel as though we belong.
- You really know your way around
One in five (19%) expats said that when someone asked them for directions and they could help, it was a defining moment which helped them to feel a connection with their new country. And when you take out-of-town friends to see the local gems rather than the tourist hotspots, you realise you know the place far better than you think.
“Park your car somewhere and start to walk. You will be amazed at what you'll discover.” – New Zealand expat in Jersey
- When you go home, and you’re homesick
You return to visit your native country and feel homesick for your new country. Each time you go back, your family and friends comment that you’ve ‘picked up an accent’; and sitting on the plane flying back after the visit you find yourself looking forward to getting ‘home’.
When did you first start to feel like a local? Share your nearly native moments with us on Twitter (@expatexplorer) or on Facebook (HSBC Expat).
Discover more shortcuts to becoming a true local with the HSBC Expat Explorer Country Guides and Hints & Tips. Visit the Expat Explorer hub to find out more: https://expatexplorer.hsbc.com/