The ideal traveller, as someone once said, is relentlessly curious and without fear.
Check for the former but not the latter.
I have far too many control issues to be one of those truly relaxed expats who takes everything in her stride.
On your first expat posting, you forget more than you learn because there is so much going on. There are fish out of water moments at every turn. The second posting, you think you’ll be more in control, you’re a pro now, you’ll avoid the potholes and it will all be smooth sailing. By the third, you know better and have also learned to go [slightly more] with the flow.
This is what I know, now:
1. Do not believe that just because you’ve lived in India your stomach is invincible. A nasty bout of typhoid in Indonesia will cure you of that delusion fast. In fact, don’t try to “tough it out” or “acclimatise” with local water supplies or unpasteurised dairy. It will not work, no matter how long you give it. Eat street food but prepare for the consequences and understand that these may last for years. Poor Lauren has a post along these lines here.
2. Do not wait to get beyond the city where you are posted and explore as many parts of the country as possible while you can. Plan weekends away, day trips, explore interesting streets and paths whenever you can. You never know how long you are going to be in your post. There is so much of India in particular that we did not get to see because we were saving money to set up our new home together. This was important but it meant we wasted many of the opportunities we could have had.
3. Check every element of your expat contract carefully. In the buzz of the prospect of moving abroad this might seem tedious but it is naive to think that you and the employer (especially if it is not your employer but your spouse’s employer) have the same interests or needs. Some things to look out for include: previsions on weight restrictions for moving into and out of the country (more on the way out than in is ideal), a realistic rental allowance if you’re lucky enough to have this included, health insurance coverage (dental!!), provisions for what happens if the work contract is terminated (who pays for your move back to your country of origin? who deals with exit permits and processes?) and above all provisions relating to HR support both in the region you’re moving to and back at HQ.