I know many people who have worked in various countries across the world. Their experiences and stories are captivating.
Of course, I picture romantic walks in Belgium and delicious food in France, festivals in South America and how awesome I would feel walking on the Great Wall in China. Though these people did have those grand adventures, they still had to go to work, clean their apartment and pay bills. I pondered what they would have done if an emergency or disaster had occurred. I interviewed some of my expatriate friends to hear what they did to stay safe and prepare themselves.
Before you go-
- Let close family/friends know where you will be living, working and how you will be getting around town. If anything changes, update them asap.
- Check with your insurance company about out of the country coverage. Most only cover emergency situations. Depending on your type of employment, the company you work for will have an insurance plan that works in the country you are in.
- Make plans in advance in case you become ill or have an injury. Where is the nearest hospital? Who is a reliable doctor and dentist that speaks English? Your health is too important to chance it to broken English and bad translations.
- Think about common, over-the-counter medications you might need, as these can be unavailable in many countries.
- Learn the good and bad areas of the city you will be in. Drivers know the city well and not all are honest and nice. Once you are in their car, they have control.
*One woman I interviewed, who was working in Saudi Arabia, told me that there were taxis who would pick up women, then take them to back alleys and dark area in the city. Their belongings were stolen and often they were assaulted. To avoid this, her boss told her about a driver that was safe and honest. He was the only person that she used to drive her where she needed to go.
- Always carry emergency money on you and have a backup credit card you can use. Let your bank know that you will be traveling. You don’t want your bank to think your card was stolen and have them deny a purchase.
- In your wallet have a list of emergency contacts with you, always.
Have these items on you when you travel. If you are delayed or if luggage is lost, you have the basics.
- Hygiene kit/meds
- Small first aid kit
- Travel documents and copies of each one
- Good shoes
- Translation book
- Small flashlight or headlamp
- Emergency food (calorie bars, nuts, water)
Have these in a hands-free shoulder bag or backpack. Carry a money pack or pouch underneath your clothes. This will be used when you travel to your destination, as well as when you are traveling around your new country.
What to have in your new home-
- First aid kit and a well-stocked medicine cabinet
- Additional items for your children. Extra diapers, wipes, meds… There may not be a 24-hour pharmacy around the corner from where you live.
- Have extra copies of all documents. Keep them hidden in your home.
- Extra cash, American and foreign.
- 72-hour kits — Here’s a checklist for creating one.
- Know the rules of the road and other important laws if you are going to be driving.
- If you have a car, put an emergency kit inside. Use this list to make your own.
- Be familiar with the safety/emergency evacuation procedures of where you will be living.
- Have a place to go if there is an emergency (hotel, friend/family, co-worker, embassy, etc…)
- Learn about the weather and seasons. Know what to expect, pack and dress accordingly.
- Know the most likely disasters in your new area: natural disasters, extreme weather, manmade disasters.
- Learn the customs and proper dress, especially for women.
*One woman had traveled to the Middle East many times and had known to wear long sleeves and full-length dresses/skirts. She was traveling to a new country and had to purchase a burka at the last minute. She was so thankful that another employee let her know. Other countries are not as open minded about attire as the United States.
- Calendar the holidays and festivals. Some would be great to attend, others may be known for attracting a seedier crowd, or may have those attending who target foreigners.
- Learn basic and important phrases, even if you think you will be surrounded by English speakers or have a translator.
- Study the body language of that culture. What is acceptable here, may be very offensive somewhere else. Also, study the cultural body language of your new country.
- Ask your employer what procedures are in case of a disaster. Make sure all your questions are answered.
*One friend worked for an airline and knew that she would always have a way out and would be taken to another safe place. She just needed to get to the airport. She was single and always made sure she lived near another employee, just in case.
- Do everything you can to travel with someone else. Even if you are just going out for the evening. Take a coworker or friend. There is safety in numbers.
- Be selective in the places you go after dark, at first. This is not the time to be exploring your new city.
- Read about how to be street smart.
*One American man was in Moscow and was told that Americans are monitored more than they realize. Where they went and even their movements within the country were tracked. He just did his job, went to the regular tourist areas, ate at the local places, and thoroughly enjoyed his stay there. He made sure that he stayed on main roads, avoided any protests and made sure that his paperwork was in order and updated when needed.
- Stay on main roads. Even if there is traffic. The shortcut may not be worth it.
- Only use reputable services and companies that you can trust.
- Let your boss or human resources department know how to get in touch with family/friends in case of an emergency.
- Find a group of people from your home country that you can socialize with. There are clubs, small groups of people that get together and play sports, or a church. Often these people become your extended family and can offer advice and help if needed.
*One person wanted to attend church, but the country she was living in did not recognize her religion. She quietly asked other Americans at work where she could go to church. She was given the email address of a man, who emailed her back with a question. It was one that only a person of her religion would know the answer to. He agreed to meet with her in public at a restaurant first.
After that meeting, he told her to meet him at a specific corner the next Sunday. She took a taxi to the corner and waited. The man met her there and they proceeded to walk a few more blocks to a home. There, the man showed her the specific, rhythmic knock that to use in order to identify herself and be allowed in. She was then taken inside and into a secret basement where the church services were held. Afterwards, was told to never walk to church with the same person and even to take different routes each week.
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