Is Moving Ever Easier?(An expat family’s view on their multi-country journey)



A friend recently asked me about my experience as an expat moving from a city in Asia(or for that matter anywhere in the world) to another city , was easier or harder, worse or better?  Did making multiple moves make it easer?The answer is a little complicated – Yes and No.It is easier in many aspects, however every country is unique so it is hard to compare, yet certain things are so common every time that it cannot be ignored.

Our family has been in Asia for a total of over 10 years by the time this current assignment is over. We are on our third international assignment– the first was in Japan for 3 years, the second in China for 4.5 years and currently we are in the Philippines for the next 3 years. We did go back to the US in between Japan and China, so we have also experienced repatriating.

Here is a list of observations that I have noticed while Asia hopping should you be considering it:

  • Domestic Help – We are lucky that domestic helpers and drivers are common in most Asian countries. I am not only better at interviewing Ayis and managing their expectations, but I am better at understanding what my family needs are and how to articulate them. There are different rules/policies and in different countries when it comes to Helpers – of course salary is different, but so are benefits, and contract expectations. On a personal note, I understand how to manage myself with Helpers such as not getting too close after past experiences getting burned. It is a professional relationship that can be filled with appreciation and good memories, but if they were “like family” as some people say, then you wouldn’t be paying them. I’ve learned not to take things personally.                                                                                                                                 Understand the different Helper benefits and contracts in your country. Ask people, look up the laws and try to get your hands on someone else’s contract to understand it. Eg. In the Philippines, employers for full time are required by law to pay Health insurance, Social Security and Retirement fund.  It’s very different than what I was used to coming from Shanghai.  It can be more structured or loosey goosey, depending on your country.  This also applies to drivers.  As foreigners, just make sure you are working within the laws at a minimum and talk to other people about what is acceptable or not, so you are also not gouged because you are foreign.
  • Infrastructure–Of course we notice this while traveling. Are the roads clogged with motorcycles, pedestrians or animals? How is the city laid out? This can be interesting while traveling however the real impact is how this affects your daily life when you live there. Infrastructure varies widely in Asia, from my experiences thus far in Manila traffic to trains in Japan, it is a heavy consideration when determining the location where you will live and how to get to work and school. Once you have seen more of Asia while traveling, it’s not such a shock to see it again so in that sense you become more open to the unfamiliar.
  • Housing–My agent in the Philippines thought I was crazy when I kept asking if the house walls grew mold and if they use formaldehyde in the paint and finishings. I asked about radon and house inspections and if repair menbrought their own tools. Anyone who has lived in China knows exactly what I am talking about!  There are so many things to learn in a new country that you don’t know until you experience it. Thankfully I can say that none of the above applies where I am now, but that’s not to say I don’t expect surprise!  It may not be the exact same problems, but there can be other problems none-the-less.
  • Medical and Natural Disasters –Although medical facilities are different, I think I know enough now not to expect any type of standard care( or standard hospital hours for that matter) and if something doesn’t feel right, get a second opinion! Also, as time passes, I’ve come to understand which Asian countries to go to for medical emergencies for care comparable to my home country.  Concerning natural disasters, it is universal; know what is common in your current country and have an emergency kit and plan ready – for example, know who is going to pick up the children, and where you are going to meet if mobile phone service goes down. Side note – I knew moving to our current country meant typhoons, but I only recently found out there are earthquakes too!
  • Cultural and Food differences –Food is of course different in each country. However, if you are used to wet markets and rice and noodles being staples in most meals, then this is not much different in another Asian country. Also once we were used to not drinking and cooking with tap water, then continuing doing it on the next assignment is not as challenging anymore either.

Living in Asia before doesn’t prepare me for another Asian country in terms of it being similar. It prepares me to expect the unexpected and understanding myself better and how to react. It has taught me that strange and out of the ordinary situations can present itself. It has taught me to expand my tolerance, to better understand what my family needs are, and to know what products I can’t live without.  It’s as much as a journey about learning about yourself and growing and accepting things and people that you would not encounter in your usual comfort zone, as much as it is a learning experience of a new culture.

two 3d humans carry a home in their hands

Of course it becomes easier the more international assignments we do, because we have gotten over the big hump of being home sick and away from our home country, family and friends. Starting over is hard anywhere, but there are the same fundamentals that can help that is applicable to living life abroad:

  • Make friends quickly. Join a club/sport/group/volunteer to help “get it” faster. Put yourself out there! You have to, to make friends. I have heard too many times from people how fast the assignment flies, despite how hard it can be to get started. Assignments go by fast. Looking back on our first assignment, I regret taking a year to get acclimated before I could start to enjoy it. I wish I had helped myself get acclimated faster so I could enjoy it faster.
  • Use social media and Facebook groups if available. Post away! Ask those questions and check out other people’s posts. This can help you understand your environment quicker.
  • Always ask for help! Don’t wing it. Save yourself time and stress. By asking for help, you’ll make friends and you’ll figure it out sooner and be more efficient. I know how hard the daily things can become obstacles – how do I pay the bills and where? How does dry cleaning work here? Where can I find a specific grocery item?
  • Book your travel plans fast, before time runs out. Find out when the national holidays are in the country you are in and start booking! Ask locals when the BIG holidays are and if the stores are closed; ask when is rainy season and what time of year is bad to stay domestically so you know when to book your travels internationally or explore your new country.
  • Culture shock is real. Don’t ignore it. You have done a very brave and life changing event. Acknowledge it and then embrace it. This is all temporary, so find ways to enjoy it. If you have more bad days than good days, it will slowly become the opposite until there are more good days and no more bad days. It means you are acclimating.

My family has learned to embrace this somewhat unconventional life of adventure while living as a traditional family.  So when my husband came home and announced we are moving to the Philippines for the next 3 years, my first thought was – Give me more of those Thailand vacations and children discounts on flights!I am less anxious now, than I was on that first assignment out.  Home is truly where you make it…and you can make it anywhere!



Writer Erin Huang is an American currently living in Philippines.She calls herself the ‘CEO of the household’,  Mother of two small children, Expat, and Food enthusiast. In her former life, she worked in IT Program Management at Ford Motor Company.  She is a travel agent wannabe and intends to explore more of Asia and as many Philippine vacation spots as possible in the next 3 yrs.