I have been living in the UK for a several months now after living abroad for a few years. There were a lot of things I had to get used to coming back; the change in language, culture and the cost of living were definitely some of the things I noticed the most. It has been a nice change, but I do miss aspects of my expat life. I recently went back to visit Vienna in October, having not been back since July 2018. Of course I went on to live and work in Switzerland for a while but it will be strange to go back to the city I lived in when I first became an expat. I remembered how crazy, terrifying and exciting everything was! One of the things I particularly loved during that time, was the care packages that came in the post from family and friends, the little cards sent to wish me well and how lovely other expats were in providing their advice/arranging meet ups so that I could get to know the area better.
Being an expat or travelling abroad for an extended period of time can be hard and it’s the little things that really help you get through those rough patches. So in reminiscing about my time abroad I have put together a list of ten gifts you can give an expat or someone relocating abroad.
There are two sections to the list. 1-5 are suggestions for gifts to give to someone who has just moved to your town who is a long way from home and 6-10 are suggestions for gifts to give to someone, possibly a family member, friend or colleague who is about to move or has just moved abroad.
So let’s get started!
Scenario 1: You are a fellow expat or local living in the area and know someone who has just moved to the area from another country. You want to get them a gift, maybe it’s their birthday coming up or maybe they miss home and could do with a little pick me up. For whatever reason, here are five gift ideas that don’t break the bank but are thoughtful and could help a newcomer settle in.
- A collection of postcards and stamps that will be appropriate to send back to wherever they are from.
This means the newbie can write a postcard home when they want to, highlighting some of the best places, without worrying about the cost of postage. It might seem a little simple, but writing has been proven to be a great way to ease stress, so this could be a really effective way to cheer someone up.
- Local goods/cooking a local meal.
The newcomer might not have had the time to try all the local delicacies yet, especially if a) the produce is quite expensive, b) they are unsure of how to prepare and cook the food. Noone wants to go all out spending money to try and prepare a local dish when they have no idea how. The other option is to eat traditional food in a restaurant, but again this can be quite costly. In the beginning, they may be quite excited to try new things so this is a great opportunity to get them to experience a local dish, or even one from your own cultural background. Food feeds the soul, as well as the stomach so if you know someone that needs a pick-me-up, mentally and literally, this is a great gift to give.
- Vouchers for local attractions/experiences.
When you first move somewhere it’s hard to know what to do locally. Where do you even begin? A list of all the places you recommend could be a great source to a new expat but if you want to give them something a little extra, find out what they are interested in and give them a voucher for it. If they like theatre, a voucher for tickets at some point in the future is a really kind gesture. The same goes for museums; if there are multiple options available to you then sneakily work out in conversation which one they’d like to visit first. Many museums and activities are also free of course so if you can’t afford to spend money right now, offering to visit with them is equally just as generous.
- Guides on the area/a list of blogs about living there.
When you first moved to the area you might have found some really great blogs informing you about the best places to go to, a guide to living there and how to tackle expat life. You might have also collected various guides, leaflets and books about the area and found the one you like the best. There’s so many options nowadays, it’s hard to know which one to choose. If you can loan your copy or buy a new version as a gift, it would be so useful to anyone new to the area.
- Your time.
It sounds silly and it might not be considered ‘a gift’ but I can guarantee it will be the most appreciated. Taking the time to support anyone new to the area whether it be supporting them with all the initial documents they have to complete when living in a new country, walking around the city with them and teaching them how to use public transport or even just going for a coffee. Knowing they have someone they can turn to for advice or a chat, eases the stress of living somewhere new. Offering your time is free and you might just make a friend in the process. What could be better?
Scenario 2: You know someone who has just moved abroad or is just about to. Maybe it’s your child, sibling or friend. You miss them a lot (there’s a good chance they miss you even more) and know they are struggling with the initial anxieties of living in a brand new city. You want to get a gift to take with them, to remind them of home or to cheer them up. For whatever reason, here are five gifts you can give someone who is either just about to become an expat or is in their initial few months of expat life.
- “Open when”/Pick me up cards.
These are simple and easy to do, just buy lots of envelopes and write a letter to open in various situations they might face in their new life abroad. It might include; “open when you get on the plane”, “open when you arrive in your new home”, “open when you first miss home” and “open when first get lost in the city”. They don’t always have to be for difficult situations either, you can write letters to tell them how proud you are of them when they tackle public transport for the first time, meet someone new or find a job. It really keeps you close to them, and I can say from personal experience that it’s one of the most thoughtful gifts I have ever received. You can also write cards for when they need a little “pick me up”. It needs to reason to be opened other than the fact they need cheering up a little, so add lots of colour and positivity to let them know you’re thinking of them.
- Care packages.
Depending on how far you live these can end up being a little more expensive. I loved opening a package to find my favourite sweets, treats from home such as a favourite face cream and printed photos of the family to put on my wall. They don’t have to massive boxes and you will need to research what you are actually allowed to send before you do so, but they’re great when they’re unexpected and let’s your ‘expat’ know you are thinking of them. Make them fun, bright and unexpected for an even greater surprise!
I find a lot of oils really calming and certain scents have been known to have soothing properties. It might seem a silly gift, but getting someone something to help calm them down in times of stress can be really considerate. You can also find out what their favourite perfume is, or the perfumes of those closest to them and send small sample bottles to remind them. I have worn the same perfume for probably about a decade and I absolutely adore it. Sometimes I go through stages where I don’t have any to wear, but as soon as I smell it again it brings back so many memories. I feel like me and strangely a more confident version of myself wearing it. There’s also two particular scents that I always recognise as my Mum’s ‘perfume’. I always test them out on the little spray sheets and take them with me because they always make me think of her. Moving abroad, especially for someone going by themselves can be tough and the homesickness hits hard so this can be a great gift to give someone as it brings back a sense of familiarity and closeness.
- Diary/scrapbook/photo album.
Everything is online nowadays so it’s so easy to share memories and photos of time abroad with friends and family back home, yet I always think it’s great to have something physical to keep memories in. Printing photos isn’t always the cheapest, but saving tickets, printing the odd picture, drawing little doodles and writing down notes inside a book, whether it is a short term documentation of the whole trip, or long term memories from a certain period of time; the first few months, Christmas or a special trip, this is a great way to remember the time spent abroad for both the ‘expat’ and their family.
- Funny gifts.
Often gifts that are sentimental can really bring on the waterworks. Heartfelt gifts are wonderful and definitely needed, but so too are things to make them laugh; a ridiculous key ring/fridge magnet from your local area (usually the tackiest ones are the funniest), or a photo mug with funny photos printed on. You want to include the ridiculousness in the things they will use/see everyday to put a smile on their face. It could even be entirely random. If you know the person well enough, you know what will make them laugh. My Mum knows exactly what will make me smile. Options have included; a pencil with a small wooden doll on top, a silly “drama llama guide to life book” that she found in a shop and thought was funny and appropriate for me and a little green fuzzy monster key ring with “Viel Glück” written on it.
It goes without saying that the best gift you can give someone is your time. Recognise that the calls may come in more frequently in the beginning when everything seems scary and new and then dwindle out a little more once they become more excited to try out new things, meet new people and become confident in their surroundings. Maybe it will be the other way around and that at first everything is new and exciting but when the expat becomes a bit more used to everything, or realises that it might be a little more difficult to achieve everything they wanted to, that is the time when they’ll need you most.
Living abroad is an incredible adventure, but it can also be tough. Ask anyone that’s ever done it or still doing it and every single one will have a story to tell about at least one time they thought this wasn’t the life for them. Any gift will be well received because it shows they’re on your mind. From personal experience I can say that when the going gets tough, just knowing that someone took their time to send something out to you, or saw something in a shop that made them think of you, can really change your whole mood and turn your day around.
I hope this has given you a few ideas for expat gifts if you were looking for suggestions.
I’d love to hear any suggestions you have or stories of gifts you have received or sent in the comments below.