woman standing in front of building Expat Advice

Coping with culture shock

There will be surprises when you move overseas and start settling in. It’s a new country and a new culture. You’re stepping into the unfamiliar, and even those of us who like change are going to feel challenged at times.

Culture shock is a feeling of being disoriented and displaced as you try to learn and adjust to the new society you’ve found yourself immersed in. The experience is different for everyone. The rules you knew have changed, sometimes ever so slightly, but enough to make you conscious of every move you make and every step you take. Moving to Singapore from the Antipodes is likely to be more of a culture shock than moving to Canada, but even if you already know the language – and have maybe visited before – there are going to be some differences to how things are done and how people interact.

Some of the differences will be obvious – like language, dress, religion, and lifestyle. These can be anticipated, although it doesn’t necessarily make it easier to understand and adapt. The subtleties and nuances of cultural norms and cues can be more difficult still – interpreting tone of voice, using appropriate gestures, learning how to act in specific situations with specific people, or ordering the correct coffee for the time of day so you don’t get looked at funny.

If you do find yourself struggling, remember that you’ve just arrived. The people who live here have had their entire lives to learn how this culture and society work.

Tips for coping with culture shock

When you’re moving overseas, these are some things you can do to prepare for and deal with culture shock.

Learn about the country you’re going to

This will give you an idea about what to expect. If there are specific areas you want to know more about – how businesses tend to run, how religion integrates with society, or just what most people wear out at night in Vancouver (it might be more casual than you expect) you can focus on those.

Find some networks to tap into.

This applies before you leave as well as after. It could be friends who’ve made the move, expats who’re already there, or colleagues. Networks are a great source of information about what you can expect and how you could adjust, often drawing on individual’s own experiences. Once you’ve arrived it will get easier to build local networks.

Keep in touch with your family and friends

Just because you’ve moved doesn’t mean everyone left behind has been struck from your life. It’s important to keep familiarity when you’re in unfamiliar territory. Plus, they’ll probably worry if they don’t hear from you.

Remember what you love about your new country.

There will probably be moments when you don’t like anything and wish you’d never got on the plane. Take some notes to remind you what you enjoy about your new home. It could be as simple as a delicious bao you got from a street vendor, or how the people are so friendly. You might also find it entertaining to keep track of some of the cultural differences you notice.

Get involved in something local

Make connections with people who live locally. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone, although there’s also no need to push yourself (or anyone you’re with) too far too fast.

Learn the local lingo

If it’s a whole new language, start with picking up the basic words. If it’s just another version of a language you already know, there are likely to be unfamiliar expressions and words that mean unexpected things. For example, if you’re moving the from the Antipodes, you wouldn’t call your trousers pants in the UK.

Plan your move before you make it.

Some planning before you go can make your move overseas much simpler. One very simple thing – make sure you have somewhere to stay when you first arrive. Our moving guides are a helpful place to start your planning, and we also have moving checklists that help you plan from 3 months in advance.


Made the move overseas and have some culture shock tips – or some good stories – of your own? Please share them with us below!