Living abroad is exciting, challenging, and life-changing. We select our new host location for its potential comfort, safety, stability, economic benefits, and even the natural environment. Many of us never think about the "what ifs" that could happen if any part of the political, economic, or environmental infrastructures should suddenly collapse. By the way, part of that challenge is knowing what to do if you have an emergency in your location. I am here to help you think in advance and develop a plan to the best of your ability
Have you thought about or do have a plan if one of the five scenarios should arise while you are an expat
Natural Disaster -- Depending on where you live, your location could experience hurricanes, typhoons, or flash flooding. The other situations are earthquakes with or without tsunamis or wildfires. You could have an unexpectedly hot summer or extremely cold winter, which can result in loss of power, heating, or air-conditioning. Have you thought about what you would do if you needed to evacuate?
Political Unrest -- You could move to a stable country, but during your tenure, the direction and stability changes due to increased unemployment, fluctuation in the local currency, religious conflicts, or election violence. The unrest could be rallies, street protests, or even mistreating foreigners. Have you thought about how you would protect yourself or your family?
Quality of Life Changes -- You might have opted for your location to improve your quality of life - a lower cost of living, better health care, career opportunity, or simply a slower pace. However, the ecosystem of this location can change. You could experience a shortage in basic life staples, gasoline/petrol shortage, an increase in the prices of standard goods or services, or disruption to basic services such as water or electricity. What back-up plans have you created?
Family Emergency -- What will you do if you or your family member needs critical medical care that’s not available in your local area or country? Or, the medication or supplies are available but not close by or the quality of the treatment is questionable? What is your medical evacuation plan?
Medical/Health Threat --- Are you fully vaccinated for your country or region? Do you have a general knowledge of illnesses such as typhoid, malaria, or dengue? As many new diseases like Ebola or SARs spread or old ones such as measles or polio re-emerge, are you prepared? What if you need to be quarantined at home or abroad? What can you do to be medically, physically, and mentally ready in the event you become part of a national health crisis?
We often do not think or talk about these matters until they are upon us. We are then in reactive mode. Here are some proactive steps for managing unpredictable emergencies while living an expat life.
- Know the various risks of your location. Read travel and government sources and glean insight from locals.
- Ensure your passport(s) has at least six (6) months' validity and know precisely where to find it if it’s not on your physical person. Plus, keep a paper and electronic color copy in safe, accessible locations.
- Keep a small cash reserve with your passport. These funds could assist you with getting transportation, food, medical supplies, or similar resources.
- Have your phone fully charged at all times, and a back-up power bank. It might be old-fashioned but memorize 2 or 3 phone numbers of people you can contact for help when you have a chance.
- Know the location and how to get to your closest embassy/consulate, an ally embassy/consulate, or hospital. In many cases, these locations can be safe zones and can provide assistance to be evacuated.
- Have trusted local friends who will protect you, get you to safety or to the medical care you need.
- Have a "grab and go" bag at home, work, or both. This small duffle or backpack has some essentials to help you survive based on the potential risk you might face in your location.
- Have a buddy calling system or a designated meet-up location for you, your family, and friends.
- Have back-up or alternate supplies for home. Secure a set of standard food rations in your kitchen. Learn basic survival skills for your country terrain. Have a “paper” pocket survival guide and kit if needed.
- Remember, you are a "guest". And while all persons in the country might be experiencing the trauma, the country's priority is generally to its citizens first. You might have to wait for your turn.
Being prepared is a critical part of living in unfamiliar spaces. Taking time to learn and understand all aspects of your surroundings will make a difference in how well you survive the emergency or crisis. Humans have a fight or flight reaction in crisis. If you are prepared, you will act with a level-headed calmness that will help you withstand your circumstances. If you are not affected, then help those that are impacted. The kindness of your humanity is what matters in a time of crisis.
I did not share this to scare you or deter you from becoming an expat, just the opposite. I want you to enjoy your expat journey. However, if you encounter any of the noted five risks above or even something not mentioned, you will be ready. Your readiness could save your life, that of your family and others around you. Your best plan is being proactive and ready, not reactive.
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