The 5 best tips I could give potential first-time expats

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The 5 best tips I could give potential first-time expats

Tourists at Eiffel Tower Paris
Chris Tobin | Getty Images

I don't much believe in mistakes. I see them only as momentary setbacks and learning opportunities. When a setback occurs, therefore, you always learn from it.

Yes, mistakes can sometimes be costly. And they can be a blow to your self-esteem. But there are always ways around and out…

If there is any single lesson I might share to help you on your expat journey, it would be this: nothing you do cannot be undone.

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If you initially choose the wrong overseas community or even a country that's not quite right for you, you can move on. Your feet aren't encased in concrete.

Of course, it's far easier to move on if you're light on your feet to begin with. That's why we always recommend that you rent instead of buy. And it's why I'd suggest that before you ship all your worldly possessions, spend as much time as you can in a place to be sure it suits you.

On a more practical level, here are a few tips for things you can start working on to prepare for your expat journey before even leaving home:

  • 1. Do your research.

    There is no such thing as too much information. And when it comes to the expat experience, you may find lots of conflicting information. So be aware that there are not always definitive answers.

    This is especially true when it comes to getting a resident visa in a foreign country. Everyone who goes through the process has a different experience. From the paperwork required to fees paid to the length of time it takes, I can pretty much guarantee that no two people will have the same experience. And no two immigration officials will give you the same information, nor can you rely on any official government websites for anything absolute. So be as prepared as you can be, and don't sweat it…everything will work out in the long run.

  • 2. Work on being more patient.

    If there is anything to be learned from all this, it is the need to be patient. Things happen, but not always in the timeframe you'd like them to happen. Relax.

    And that's another point… The age-old adage "you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar" applies tenfold when you are an expat. A lesson I've learned over and over is that the more I smile and the more politely and respectfully I treat someone, the more willing they are to help me. A positive attitude takes you far.

  • 3. Renew your passport before your move.

    This is where your residence visa will live. And it can be painful and time-consuming to switch it from an old to a new passport. So start with a new one. And while you're at it, renew your driver's license, too.

    US Passport
    Tetra Images | Brand X Pictures | Getty Images
  • 4. Move everything online.

    If you aren't already banking and paying bills electronically, now is the time to start. You'll need to keep a bank at home to pay your credit card and other bills, so be sure you know how these online systems work. Same goes for mail. Get as much of your correspondence as you can in a digital format.

  • 5. Decide how you'll access your funds.

    You may or may not need a local bank. Sometimes you'll need one to prove your financial wherewithal for your visa. In that case, you'll want one that's fiscally secure and, perhaps, one that is qualified to accept direct deposits of your Social Security benefits. And if you decide to run on ATM withdrawals from your bank at home, you'll want to choose a bank that reverses foreign ATM fees.

    There are lots of little common sense strategies like these that I could share. But in the interest of brevity, I'll say once again: There is no such thing as too much research. Get as much information as you can and be as prepared as you can be. And, very importantly, relax and have fun.

    Commentary by Suzan Haskins, a writer for InternationalLiving.com. Haskins has lived in eight cities in four countries. She currently lives in Mexico.

    For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.

    Euro currency banknotes
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