Friday, January 12, 2018

exploring southern Chile

the port in Valparaiso, Chile

I am half Chilean. My whole family lives in Chile. I grew up in the US, but I’ve been to Chile a bunch of times over the years.

That said, the place I’ve spent most of that time in my abuelita’s kitchen in Viña del Mar.

I mostly help with meals, wash dishes, smoke cigarettes, drink a million cups of tea, and catch up with my aunts, uncles, and cousins.

All my trips have been about family time. Family will always be my main reason for visiting.

Time to Explore

Even though I've been on plenty of visits, I’ve never done much sightseeing.

Back in 2014, Stacy and I decided to go for it. We planned to spend Christmas with the family and then take off on our own.

We started by biking all over Santiago and then quickly flew south to Coyhaique to spend a few weeks in Patagonia.

Memories of Southern Chile 

las capillas de marmol Marble Caves en Puerto Rio Tranquilo, Chile

I can't forget the stunning countryside views from the bus going down the Carretera Austral, the old ladies who hosted us in their cozy hospedajes, and the striking natural scenery. 

From lakes to waterfalls to the world-famous marble caves, Chile was stunningly beautiful. 

I’m not super great at nature, so it was intense for me. I even surprised myself by strapping on some crampons and walked up a glacier. 

Glacial Exploradores, Chile

Though we didn't make it to Torres del Paine on that trip, we had a gorgeous couple of weeks. Southern Chile is full of impressive natural settings on the grand scale.

Now that I've had a small taste, I will be sure and set aside time for exploring on every visit from now on. Te lo juro!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Best Work Cafes in Siem Reap

Are you a digital nomad headed to Siem Reap? Are you worried about internet connectivity while you stop by to see the famous Angkor ruins?

I spent over a month working remotely from Cambodia. Despite what much of the internet says, the power outages and horror stories must be outdated. You will be relieved to discover that Siem Reap is well-connected city to work from. There is plenty of strong WIFI to be found in Cambodia, and countless cafes where you can find it.

What Are the Options? 

As a digital nomad, you have two choices: coworking spaces or coffee shops.

If you have minimum speed requirements or if you teach online, I'd suggest heading straight for a coworking space in Siem Reap. I wrote a post about my experience at the coworking spaces here.

If you just need some decent wifi to get you through a work day, then read on.

What Makes a Cafe Work Space "the Best"?

Coffee is not a factor here. This is specifically about which cafes are good for work.

So how do you rate it? 

Well, if you are crazy like me, you make your own personal logarithm. I assigned a score of 0-3 to every little thing about a cafe that I prefer. Then I put it on a spreadsheet and tallied the results.

Here are my picks.

1. Pages Cafe & Rooms (Score 2.5/3.0)
location SE side of town, off Wat Bo Road across from Viroth's hotel 
Pages Cafe has bikes for rent if you're interested

Pages was my favorite spot by far. They had everything I love about Siem Reap and nothing I didn't.

They are located in my favorite part of town--away from the backpacker areas and away from Pub Street. The prices aren't aimed at gouging foreigners (full breakfast spread including coffee and juice for $5) and the smoothies were good typing fuel. 

The staff was extremely nice. I had a chat one evening with a server named Socheat who said good things about the owners--a group of Khmer architects who designed an upscale hotel on the same block. 

For work, it was perfect. I sat in the corner for hours typing and chattering away on Skype and the staff would check on me periodically. The building is open to the air but stayed cool even on hot days.

Some people staying in the Rooms would have a drink, but Pages was never busy. Even so, there are plenty of electrical outlets under the benches and along the perimeter in case it gets full.

mocha frappe

me + mint lime smoothie + my laptop

2. Green Home Coffee (Score 2.5/3.0)
location N of town, on the western river road past Phum Trang Market
3rd floor work space

This Khmer-owned coffee shop opened shortly before I arrived in Siem Reap. It was directly opposite my street on the river. I didn't have to bike into town just to work.

Although they have the the tiny circle tables that I hate, the cafe was so empty that I just grabbed two tables and stuck them together. Voila! Space for both laptop and coffee, far away from each other.

There is a bathroom in the 3rd floor work space so you don't have to come down from your perch all day long. 

The staff are nice. The coffee was good. Plenty of power sockets. Mostly empty. Lovely.

Green Home Coffee has 3 floors of tranquil work space

3rd floor area

3. Little Red Fox Espresso (Score 2.5/3.0)
location downtown, west of the river before the Old Market
2nd floor work space

Australian-owned and Khmer-managed, this little shop is a powerhouse in the local coffee scene. They have barista awards on the wall but without a drop of pretension. 

As for a work space, the second floor is a cozy spot to sit with your laptop. There are a few small and one large communal table to work from, all with plugs nearby. It's cute and classy and air-conditioned. There is even a small open-air veranda to take breaks.

The cafe participates in the local music scene by selling tickets for shows. After buying tickets for Cambodian Space Project that didn't have a printed date, one of the baristas went out of his way calling venues to find the correct date for me. All the service was friendly and fast.

Little Red Fox Espresso also has posters on the bathroom walls about how to be a good tourist in SE Asia (i.e. by avoiding orphanages and being aware of the exploitative use of children by NGOs and volunteerism). As a place that attracts expats and well-to-do tourists, it's nice that they educate their customers.

As an foreigner magnet with award-winning coffee, you can imagine that the prices skew higher than the rest of my list. For me this was important because I was there for a month and trying to keep costs low.


So that's it. My top 3 Best Cafe Work Spaces in Siem Reap. I'll follow up with a list of Honorable Mentions--there are a lot. 

How about you? Do you have any recommendations for work cafes around the world?

Friday, December 29, 2017

Coworking Spaces in Siem Reap

Are you a digital nomad headed to Cambodia? Are you looking for a coworking space for work in Siem Reap?

My girlfriend Stacy and I spent a month working remotely from Cambodia. Lots of travelers will stop in Siem Reap to see the famous Angkor ruins, so I am sharing our experiences with the coworking spaces available in town.

Coworking Spaces in Siem Reap

I looked for information before heading to Cambodia and found a decent blog by Chris the Freelancer about his week as a "digital nomad" in Siem Reap in 2016. Using his post as a starting point, we spent a week visiting coworking spaces and then worked happily the rest of the month. For those who only have a few days to get into town, work their hours, and see some sights, I hope this helps you out.

Work Space Requirements

Everyone's needs are different. Here is a quick breakdown of what we were looking for, so you can compare.

  • teaches English online for a Chinese company with a hefty teaching platform
  • required by contract to have min. 10 MBPS upload & download speeds
  • stable connection--no dropping student calls or power outages allowed
  • private room--it's rude to talk out loud, repetitively in a common space
  • works in 5-hour shifts so time limits on private rooms aren't cool

Alison (me):
  • writes web content for a software development company 
  • no speed requirements; cloud-based EMS
  • Skype for short phone calls & some light screen sharing
  • writes for 4+ hours at a time so a busy place with time limits is bad
  • prefers ambient noise so phone calls aren't intrusive to other workers

Stacy is the one who needed a dedicated work space. I was fine anyplace that had decent wifi. In fact, I ended up working from various locations throughout the month.

These are the four dedicated coworking spaces in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

BioLAB Coffee & Office
location in town on Wat Bo Road on the east side of the river
Hours: 7am - 10pm daily
Cost: free!
Private Room: $15/day
2nd floor work space, glass doors go out onto the terrace

BioLAB is a coworking space upstairs and cafe downstairs. This means that to work in the common space, there is no fee or membership required. The second floor is a huge area with booths, plants, large coworking tables, and plenty of power sockets. I never saw it full.

BioLAB also has a private "VIP" room. You can use it for a whole day with a minimum food or drink purchase of $15 (per day). They seem open to negotiating this price, but they don't really offer half-day prices. If you want the room, it's blocked off for you alone. If somebody else has the room, there isn't really a calendar or schedule in place for sharing hours.

I worked at BioLAB for a few days straight. The staff are super friendly. Even after you drink your coffee, they will continuously refill your water for hours without any rush to leave or purchase more.

Since it was created for working, there is minimal talking and no music. The space is quiet and safe. I left my computer out on the table to take a smoke break or go to the restroom without a problem.

They serve decent Khmer and Western food if you get hungry, and of course all the cafe drinks you can imagine. BioLAB is also 100% Khmer owned by a man named Samnang. Samnang told me they have a happy hour called "Craft Beer Time" from 6-10pm daily, although I never knew about it at the time so I didn't partake.

Overall it was my favorite coworking space for my needs.

2nd floor work space

1st floor cafe area
coffee + free water


me, working long hours at BioLAB

view from the 2nd floor terrace, good spot to take a cigarette break + people watch

Garage Society Coworking Space
location in town 2 blocks east of the river behind the King's Road restaurant complex
Hours: 9am - 6pm Monday through Saturday for daily use; 24/7 for members
Cost: $5/day (discounted for less hours), $25/week, $40+/monthly membership
Private Room: $5-8/hour daily rate with 3- and 5-month discount bundles
common work space

Garage Society is a newer coworking space located above the Lub*D hostel. It runs on high-speed wifi which is piped in via fiber optic cable.

The common room has large tables with plenty of power sockets for laptop work.

Garage Society also has a private meeting room that is well-equipped with a smart board and projector for presentations. You can reserve it ahead of time for presentations or personal use. In November they were open to negotiating the price, but I imagine this will change as the space becomes more popular and gets booked up.

Stacy worked at Garage Society exclusively because it was the only space that met all her needs. She loved the location close to town. The staff were nice and friendly. The Lub*D staff also remembered her and did helpful things like open the doors early before she arrived on Sundays.

They have a free water cooler in the common room and a bathroom on-site. Downstairs you can order drinks from Little Red Fox Espresso (award-winning coffeeshop) or from the Lub*D bar.

Garage Society in Siem Reap is the second overseas location for a Hong Kong-based coworking company, with another location in Phuket, Thailand and a location in the Philippines is coming soon. Members at this coworking space get free use of the Lub*D swimming pool and discounts at local restaurants.

Stacy worked in the private meeting room at Garage Society.

private meeting room (available for a fee)

view from the landing in front of the work space

restroom for coworkers

perks: members get unlimited access to the pool at Lub*D hostel

AngkorHUB Coworking & Co-Living
location backpacker/night market neighborhood at the southern tip of town
Hours: 8am - 6pm Monday through Saturday for daily use; 24/7 for monthly members
Cost: $8/day,  $25/week, $89/monthly membership
Private Room: $5/hour, rotates use with other coworkers--no block bookings
indoor work space

Neither myself or my girlfriend spent time working at AngkorHUB. Coming into Siem Reap, it looked like AngkorHUB was the front runner. After the initial visit though, it dropped off our radar.

First of all, at USD 89/month it's the most expensive of all the coworking spaces in Siem Reap.

Second, everyone was seated outside on the patio (no air-conditioning) with extension cords for laptops and fans running all across the floor. I'd hate to think anyone paid to work outdoors in the Cambodian heat. One could argue that the patio is more welcoming than the drab indoor area though; this work space has all the charm of a college kid's first dorm room.

Finally, the staff was rude. We showed up asked about prices for the month. The main guy (owner?) was working on his computer and acted like we were interrupting him with our questions. He barely looked up to answer.

We explained that my girlfriend needed a private space with a specific internet speed in order to do her job. He scoffed at her, because "nobody actually needs that kind of speed". Another customer spoke up, saying he also needed over 20 mbps for what he was working on. The rude guy ignored the comment and without getting up or taking his eyes off his own screen, he told us to check the speed posted on the AngkorHUB website if we needed proof.

We pulled up the site, showing a screenshot of the upload/download speeds. So, not only was this "proof" not a live speed reading, but it could have been a screenshot from literally anywhere. Before you fork over $90, you'd want to see the real thing, right?

The woman on staff, meanwhile, was helpful by stopping her personal work and pulling up a speed test on her computer.

Note: the AngkorHUB website claims they have the fastest internet in Siem Reap, but every coworking space in town is using the same fiber optic technology. 

The staff lady also showed Stacy the a private "Skype room", which is not fully-enclosed due to design cut-outs in the wall. If you need privacy for work phone calls or online teaching lessons, it's not a good fit.

After that visit, we didn't bother working there. It wasn't anywhere I'd want to spend my time or money.

Just before leaving Siem Reap I stopped by and asked if I could photograph the space for a blog. The same rude guy asked me what I was going to write about ("I'm making a list of coworking spaces in Siem Reap"), wasn't at all interested in giving me information for my write-up (aren't I his target customer?), made a dry comment about "make sure it's a good picture," and that was that.

It may be a fit for a certain kind of person, but AngkorHUB was not a good choice for either of us.

indoor work space

outdoor work space as you approach from the road

The 1961 Coworking & Art Space 
location is on the western river road north of town just past Phum Trang Market

Although it was the nearest work space to my apartment, I was surprised to find The 1961 closed "for renovation" during the month I was in Siem Reap. I never actually saw any action or construction going on in November, so I'm not sure if it will re-open. I couldn't find information about the end of the closure from on-site staff. Their website has an expired domain.

So there you have it. Those are the four dedicated coworking spaces that I was able to check out in Siem Reap. Do you know of any others?

As mentioned, I didn't end up needing a dedicated work space, since I found strong wifi all over town. I spent most of my time working from BioLAB and coffee shops. Read my posts about my Top 3 Work Cafes in Siem Reap or More Work Cafes in Siem Reap for more info.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

the GFW

The GFW (Great Fire Wall of China) is real.

This week I haven't had access to any Google applications (including Blogger), social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. etc. etc.) I have a VPN that sometimes works. Here was my first Facebook post from behind the GFW:

DOESN'T work in China: Google (Play Store, Mail, Docs, Drive, Chrome, Blogger, Google search engine, etc.), Whatsapp, LINE, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Viber, and anything that requires confirmation through my Gmail (Skype, bank accounts, PayPal, etc.)
DOES work: Bing, Yahoo, WeChat, Airbnb, Runkeeper
DOWNLOADED since arriving: Baidu, Baidu Maps, Didi (Uber copy)--all in Chinese

Baidu's apps take up too much space on my phone. Baidu Maps drains my battery...but I have no other choice. I have to use it, because it's the only map I have access too. I'm using Yahoo for the first time since 1996 #ffs There's nothing I can do about it. I can't download apps that aren't made in China. This is how the Chinese government has decided that my internet access will be restricted. My paid VPN service works once every few days. I feel closed off from the rest of the world.

I followed the post with panicked warnings about what the US is going to look like if we don't save #netneutrality 😆

I've had a couple of days to get used to being disconnected. I've stopped fretting over Yahoo Search. I get lost a lot since I can't read the map. Nobody would know if I died inside the GFW. Other than these steps back in time in global connectivity, it's actually not so bad.

our neighborhood Beixin Hutong in Beijing, China

a main road connecting some hutongs in Dongcheng District, Beijing

walking around, enjoying the first cold weather in 4 years: about 0C/32F

Wangfujing, a fancy shopping area, 15 min walk from the Forbidden City

When I told people I was thinking of going to China for a month, the most common response was, “Why?!” That's the reason we came.

In China we are just trying to get a feel for what is going on inside this country. Even for Asia, China is an outlier: insular, massive, “Communist”, and famous for bad manners. 

Those things are anecdotal. What is interesting about China is that it’s both futuristic and stuck in the past--as far as globalization is concerned. China charges ahead with technology but doesn't bother to connect to the rest of the world as they do it, which is unique in the world today.

On one hand we have discovered that Beijing works almost entirely without cash. It's the closest thing to a cashless society that I've ever seen. Senior citizens are paying for groceries and hot tea with their phones. Street vendors would rather take money through the Chinese social media WeChat Wallet rather than paper cash. Entrance to the Imperial Palace (the “Forbidden City”) is done by QR code. There is smartphone interaction, automation, and CCTV everywhere.

QR codes on everything--this is a band poster for a holiday show

QR code payment to get into the Forbidden City (Imperial Palace)

Tiananmen Square--under the watchful eye of Chairman Mao + a lot of cameras

On the other hand, without access to global social media giants I am reduced to searching the internet using search engines that peaked in 1996 and searching maps by using Baidu, which has no translation capabilities. As a foreigner, I'm used to my technology adapting to my language abilities as I travel. China is the first place I haven't had this convenience.

Most countries I've been in Asia place a high value the "tourist dollar" and try to cater to foreigners. In China, it seems, this aspect of the tourism industry has been overlooked.

So I can look at a map but I can’t read it. I can use a translation app to display real-time translations of a Chinese menu and point to what I want to order, but I can’t post my dinner to Instagram. I dry my clothes on a drying rack in the freezing cold courtyard and I pay for my hot coffee without human interaction. This is the weird dichotomy of China for me.

order + pay for your coffee at a kiosk using your smartphone (no cash transaction)

Beijing metro is super efficient. the 2nd longest metro network in the world, after Shanghai. 

I’ve only been here a week but I’m beginning to see why China has closed off to the Western world the way it has. They have to preserve their own economy in the face of Western giants like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. In China, Tencent rules the roost. It’s just survival.

China is one of the first countries I’ve been to in Asia that doesn’t seem Westernized. Thailand watches American and UK media, South Korea listens to American pop music, and China remains…well…very Chinese. China is almost sidestepping social media users' demand for globalization merely by limiting their youth's access to the rest of the world. They simply refuse to deal with Western social media. Incredible. 

As a result, have they been able to develop technologies that help Chinese people specifically instead of technologies that are being demanded by the entire world? Perhaps. Maybe that is why this country is so fascinating to me. China is hurtling into the future--more than I was aware of as an outsider--but with a tunnel-vision that I haven't encountered in Asia before.

What do you think? How do you think China's internet policies fit into an increasingly globalized world?

Friday, December 8, 2017

Ultimate Guide to Moving Abroad: Conclusion

That’s it.

Get rid of stuff. Pack your bags. Research your immigration situation. Figure out your money. Get on a plane. Find a house. Try to fit in.

Aside from immigration details, these are the same things you need to consider if you are moving across town.

So that’s it.

That’s how you move abroad.

Or at least that’s how I move abroad.

Everybody has their reasons for moving to a new country. Whatever the practical reason, I am a big believer in the process. It's good for us not to get stuck. I think it keeps my mind sharp.

living in Thailand meant I could go on fantastic 2-day island vacations for cheap

enjoying Southern Thai food after a quick vacation to Koh Ngai in the Andaman Sea

Can everyone do it as easily as I have? Nah. I am aware of my privilege. I’m 33, college-educated, carry a US passport, and I’m what they call a ลูกครึ่ง in Thai--a halfling. I’m a Latina with a white parent so I’m white-passing for most of the world. This all makes things easier on me. Everybody will have their own unique challenges.

I’ve snuck out a few back doors to avoid run-ins with the police. I’ve received a deportation letter. I’ve had my pocket picked. I’ve made some stupid decisions and I’ve had to learn some hard lessons.

That said, it’s all possible.

where will you move to? this is Lago Titicaca in Peru

Your Partner

Having a significant other will notably HELP or HURT your chances at success. You've heard that couples shouldn't work together, right? Well moving abroad requires serious teamwork.

I’ve recently discovered how easy things are when you are with the right person. If you’ve got somebody who shares your attitude and goals, making your way through these five steps can be a breeze.

I’ve got an amazing girlfriend who has made moving abroad 9,000x easier than I thought possible. We do all the research together and we use each other as sounding boards. We trust each other’s ability to read people and to think on our feet in a sticky situation. With somebody like that, everything goes smoothly. As my tías said after spending a week with us: we are two peas in a pod, two halves of an orange. If you move abroad and your partner is not the other half to your orange, you will find out soon enough 😝

Last week I followed these exact instructions and made another international move. After 4 years in Thailand, my girlfriend Stacy and I picked up and moved temporarily to Cambodia.

our short-term home in Siem Reap, Cambodia

We are on the road for awhile around Asia and plan to settle in Eastern Europe next summer.

For now, we are enjoying the slow life in the countryside. We spend our days riding cruisers, speaking broken Khmer, and drinking amazing coffee.

riding bikes in downtown Siem Reap

Final Thoughts

I don't pretend to be an expert. There are plenty of people out there with better advice--people who are doing this better than I am. Jetsetters who do it with style and migrant workers who make it happen on less. I just want people to know they are capable.

Where I grew up, there isn't a strong tradition of exploring the world. In the United States, less than 5% of the population travels out of the country each year. If you are considering a move abroad, you might not hear a lot of encouragement. Family and friends might even tell you how impossible it is. My own mother, an immigrant to the US herself, was completely against my move to Spain way back in 2004.

Despite all that, it's doable. In fact, my mantra is “Idiots do this all the time.”

Once I got out of the country, I ran into all kinds of bozos who are doing exactly what I used to stress about. They didn’t plan it out and they didn’t analyze all the things that could go wrong. They just went. It's laughable how many of them are building successful lives in foreign places while ‘smarter’ people stay home in hesitation or fear. The clueless expats are the ones that give me positive reinforcement. If they are doing it, a decently capable person like myself (and you!) is going to be just fine.

So that’s all I’ve got--a million questions to ask yourself, some vague suggestions about research, and a push towards the door.

Wherever you want to go, you can make it happen. Now go!
Ultimate Guide to Moving Abroad

If you want to review the series, here's what I’ve included in my Ultimate Guide to Moving Abroad:

Did this blog series help you? Did you actually pick up and go? Do you have suggestions about things I’ve overlooked? Contact me, I’d love to hear your comments.

Ultimate Guide to Moving Abroad Part V: Lifestyle

How quickly you settle into your new country depends a lot on your lifestyle.

Your individual comforts and the type of daily life that makes you happy is important to consider so that you feel “at home” as soon as possible.

I am a city person. I like to live within walking distance of local shops and I like to have lots of options when it comes to cafes, dining, and nightlife. I don't like to drive a car much.

I’m decently active, but I’m not crazy about nature or roughing it. Bike rides and picnics are my idea of the great outdoors. I like to exercise indoors in a gym.

fitness, Thai style

I am also social. I like to meet lots of different kinds of people.

Taking all this into account, it should be clear that if I were to move to the countryside of any country for an extended length of time, I would be miserable. Moving to a new place means you have to be reasonably aware of yourself.

Remember that things are subjective. Before moving to Thailand I hated shopping malls. In Thailand though, malls are not merely consumerist meccas for rich teenagers. Malls are giant, centrally-located, air-conditioned meeting places. They are the only place you can walk in the daytime that is out of the relentless Thailand heat. Giant fashion malls are where families spend their Sundays and where local indie bands play night concerts.

students hanging out at Siam Paragon, one of the fancy malls in downtown Bangkok

Malls also have some of the cheapest and best Thai “street food” available in the city. So even though I was never a fan, I often find myself at the mall in Bangkok. I had to adjust my expectations to fit the local culture.

There is nowhere in the world that you can move that will be exactly like your home. You need to be willing to try new things, revisit old things, and build your life in a completely new setting.

Not everything is adaptable either. If your whole life revolves around surfing and it’s the only lifestyle that makes you happy, you can go lots of places in the world like Bali or Australia or California--but you cannot move to Slovakia and expect to be happy. Simple as.

You need to explore your new home and find things to love about it. Build your life.

Social Life

Meeting people. The concept of building a social life in a new place is a difficult concept that I don't know how to give advice on.

friends + food = a good mix. meet your friendly neighborhood restaurant owners 😂

Social life just happens. If you are good at making friends, you can make them anywhere. If you are bad at making friends, moving to a new country is probably your worst nightmare.

The best you can do is to make parallels and see if there is some way for you to get involved in activities that are similar to what you enjoyed back home. If you play volleyball, give takraw the Southeast Asian kickball game a try. If you are a gamer, try out the local video game cafes.

First off, you’ve got language barriers. When I moved to Thailand, I couldn't communicate the simplest of ideas, much less make a friend using the Thai language. I didn’t get to make Thai friends until a little later when my fluency was better and most of them speak great English.

attending post-grad presentations in Thai--I understood less than 70%. still cool.

Second, you have cultural differences to go up against. The local hobbies will be totally different.

The only way you will be happy in your new home is to get involved in something, get out of the house, and start mixing with people. Loneliness is inevitable at first, but it’s something you can work against.

For me, it takes a solid 4-6 months to make friends that I like. You know exactly what I mean.

At first, you will meet other foreigners and that will be a safe way to socialize and build community right off the bat. Naturally you will find it easy to connect with other expats and trade stories about being an outsider in your new home.

My suggestion is to try to your best to meet local people as well. You are living in their country and they are the experts on what it’s like to live there. They have rich knowledge about history and societal intricacies. They hold the key to all the stuff that makes living in another country worthwhile. They can explain the new things that drive you up the wall and they will put a human face on all the culture shock you are up against.

Start with your local shop people. The lady the runs the mini-mart, the noodle shop guy, the security guard at your apartment. Be their friends. They'll talk to you. Some of them have to--it's their job!

the neighborhood shop lady that spoke Thai + traded candy with us for 4 years

Not only will they offer valuable help when you are stuck, but perhaps one day you can return the favor by helping them visit your country too.


Personally, I am committed to learning the local language. If you plan on staying more than 1 month, learn the language. To the extent that you can, you should put forth the effort.

Daily life becomes much less daunting, prices go down, and people get nicer as soon as you start speaking the language. All of a sudden you can speak with regular people, not just the tourist touts. You also gain access to local culture, customs, and a whole different group of friends.

On a much less selfish note, learning the language is the respectful thing to do. You are living in their country and you should be learning about their culture and ways of life. Isn’t that part of why you moved across the globe?

studying Khmer, the language of Cambodia

If you never learn the language, you will be ignorant of things going on around you. You wont know how to be respectful of the place where you live. The attitudes and the culture of a community are often evident in the way they speak. It's called linguistic anthropology. Sometimes learning how to say simple phrases can teach you more about people than they can even explain themselves.

You may not be fluent but you should end up with all the basic capabilities that we expect children to grow into as they mature: You should be able to politely order food, direct a taxi cab to and from your home, and introduce yourself to new people that don't speak English. Maybe even read basic signage and traffic signals.

I strongly believe that if you can't be bothered to learn the language of the country that you live in, you should stick to countries that speak your language.

Is it possible to move abroad and not learn the local language? Sure. In major cities, people do it all the time. The downside is that it limits your exposure to people and parts of town and keeps you somewhat handicapped in new situations.

For your sake, for the sake of your country’s reputation abroad, and for the sake of the people who are hosting you in their country--just do it.

Click here to read the last part in the Ultimate Guide to Moving Abroad series.

Ultimate Guide to Moving Abroad Part IV: Shelter

If you've gotten this far, it means you have probably bought your tickets already. Since you only need the first 3 parts of this blog series to take action, you are basically ready to get on a plane.

The final two aspects of moving abroad (Shelter and Lifestyle) are things that you mainly have to figure out after you arrive. With a little research and some well-managed expectations, you can start your new life off on the right foot.

When you move to a new country long-term, it’s important to make it feel like home. For that, you need an actual home to live in.

I like to tell people that finding a place to live in a new country is no different than finding a new place in your home town.

First, take stock of your lifestyle. What kind of home do you like to live in? Do you have a partner or a family that you should consider? What kind of things do you need to be near--is there a certain type of neighborhood that suits your lifestyle? Will you be attending a university? Do your kids need to attend school? 

vans + taxis lined up for commuters at Bangkok's Chatujak Park

Now, take a look at your new city. Where do people like you live? Some people like to be near nightlife, restaurants, and bars. Some people like the safety of the suburbs. Some people like the outdoors and want to live near a park. Others like the solitude of the countryside.

What about transportation? Will you have a vehicle or will you use public transportation? What is your budget for daily transportation? Do you prefer to walk or drive places?

commute times can add up! here is Bangkok's BTS Skytrain

Whatever your preference, do some research about the neighborhoods in your new city. Consider safety and check forums for statistics. Lonely Planet has a Neighborhoods feature for most major cities that profiles the residents and feel of different areas.

Starting Out

Book yourself some temporary housing in one of the areas that sounds appealing. I’ve found that hostels work if you aren’t too picky. Private rooms are cheap and hostels usually have large storage closets to lock up your big bags until you find a house.

Hotels are great too, if you can afford an extended stay. Nowadays, we have Airbnb so there are plenty of options.

Heck, book yourself a week in every single neighborhood you like. Why not get a serious feel for things?

Look Around the Neighborhood

I don't think it’s possible to get a true feeling for a place without physically going there.

Imagine paying a year’s lease and hating your neighborhood? Some countries are legally strict about breaking leases so I’d advise against long-term housing sight unseen.

walk the streets! this is Sukhumvit Soi 38 in Bangkok, Thailand with lots of street food

I like to show up and literally walk around. This can take a couple of days or weeks, depending on how big the city is. 3-4 weeks in a new city is a decent amount of time to spend before choosing a neighborhood.

Look around. Where are the grocery stores? Where is there to eat? What kind of shops are nearby? How many people are out on the street? What does the neighborhood look like after dark? What kind of housing do you see?

Remember that as an immigrant/expat, you will stick out in a new place. Do you plan on learning the language quickly or do you need to look for English language signs everywhere? Do you plan on mixing with the local people or do you want to socialize mostly with other international folks?

When you figure out what neighborhood(s) you like best, start viewing apartments.

Sometimes walking around and asking questions is best. Other times you can get an agent that will take you to see places for rent. Sometimes you have to pay a fee and sometimes the landlord pays for this service. Every country has their different rental customs.

If you are lucky, your country will have a healthy internet culture and post listings online. Find out what website locals use. On the other hand, maybe there is zero updated information online and you have to hit the pavement.

Once you tell people your budget, you can narrow down your choices pretty quickly.

Have a list of your must-haves for daily life to make your search easy. Do you need a kitchen? A balcony? An open floor plan? A security guard? What kind of bathroom (toilet!) do you want?

For me, cleanliness is key and I like to run the water in the bathroom to check water pressure because a weak shower will get on my nerves. I prefer not to live long-term with a 'squatty potty'. Otherwise I’m not too picky.

Be Flexible

Consider the local lifestyle. I originally listed a full kitchen with an oven as a “must-have” in Thailand. Hey, I love to cook. I soon saw that my choices were severely limited. My agent made the comment that it’s so hot in Thailand, people don't often have ovens in the home. Oh! Once I removed the oven from my list, things opened up.

Also, keep an open mind about the local real estate quirks. In Bangkok, I was staying at a quiet hostel near a night food market. The neighborhood was far from the inexpensive areas that I was originally looking. The building next door to the hostel looked like it was way out of my budget--every night I saw a Lamborghini drive into the parking lot. It had a rooftop pool and a free gym. So I wrote it off.

I never considered that in Bangkok, having a city view is a big deal. Since I wasn’t interested in a view, all of a sudden the lower floors (below the 10th) dropped in price drastically.

As it turns out, they had units within my price range and I got a fantastic place upstairs from the food market and less than a minute’s walk from the sky train. I may not be able to afford a building like this in many cities in the world, but I got lucky in Bangkok.

So keep an open mind and you will find your dream place in no time.

my dream home in Bangkok, 5 mins from the BTS #homesweethighrise

beautiful lobby & w/ great building maintenance staff

49 sqm 1 BR furnished condo

fitness room (small gym) + a rooftop pool!

modern bathroom--no squatting for me!

the "undesirable" balcony with a blocked view that brought my rent down

Click here to read the next part in the Ultimate Guide to Moving Abroad series.