If moving abroad is on the horizon for you, then you probably already have a long (and ever-growing) list of things to do before you go. I feel you. I’ve been there, done that, and I do not envy your to-do list! But in the spirit of making things just a little easier, I thought I’d put together a little list of the most important apps for living abroad.
Moving abroad can be an overwhelming experience for sure, but also so rewarding.
There are a lot in-person of skills you can try to practice to help you get your bearings, especially in those first few weeks. For example, getting comfortable with ever-present confusion, going with the flow, asking anyone and everyone for clarification and directions and then asking again (and again).
But let’s face it. We also live in a digital world, made even more digital by the pandemic. We spend a lot of time on our phones! And frankly, I’m not one to shame.
All of these apps are ones that I swear by and have used in the past or still use to this day! They are absolute must have apps for expats to save time and ease anxiety about moving to a new country.
In fact, there are a lot of ways you can leverage that little computer in your hand to make the adjustment to life abroad much much easier. These apps for expats (and travelers) cover everything from money to language to public transportation to making friends.
They’ve all been lifelines for me at some point or another, and I think they will be for you too. They’ll let you focus on the fun parts of moving abroad without having to spend all your free time figuring out the logistics of this or the procedure for that.
Ok, I’m itching to share with you! Let’s go!
7 Life Saving Apps for Expats
*gets on soapbox and turns on megaphone*: THIS VPN IS THE GREATEST PURCHASE I’VE EVER MADE.
If there is one app/subscription you’re going to spring for when moving abroad, NordVPN should be it.
NordVPN will make your streaming easier. NordVPN will make your online banking easier (or possible at all… some of my accounts lock me out of I’m not on my VPN). NordVPN will make a job hunt easier.
If you are moving abroad you need NordVPN.
I’m not kidding. I literally do not know how I once lived without a VPN. We subscribed to NordVPN when we moved abroad, but honestly, truthfully, I will fully be purchasing it again when my subscription ends, even if I’m back in the States.
If you don’t know what a VPN is I’m going to give you the TL;DR version here.
A VPN creates a secure and private connection for you to browse the internet through. This gives you significantly more security while online, and explains why so many businesses use them. You can use them by connecting to the country you already reside in, or you can also change to browse from other countries securely. And best of all is that NordVPN wont sell or track any of your data – yay for amazing internet privacy and security!
I am not ashamed to admit that we purchased NordVPN because we were in the middle of watching all of the old seasons of The Amazing Race when we moved to London, where it wasn’t available for streaming. We literally couldn’t imagine going on with life without finishing the series so we bought NordVPN ok!!! We bought it to watch reality TV! I am an adult!!! Leave your judgement at the door!
But in all seriousness, while our most frequent usage of the app is definitely streaming, it was also paramount in my job search last fall. About halfway through I realized that some job sites were only showing me jobs in the UK (or US if my VPN was set to the US), so I was able to toggle what country I was searching in to cast a wider net.
In addition to unlocking all major streaming services, other key selling points of NordVPN include:
- You can use your account on up to six devices.
- Allows you to access restricted or censored sites in your country of residence.
- No bandwidth or data limits!
NordVPN is also shockingly affordable considering how much they give you. We bought the 3 year plan and honestly it felt like it paid for itself within two weeks. And remember, we bought it on a student budget.
2. Wise (formerly TransferWise)
A simple reality of living abroad is moving your money around. Most likely, lots of your money.
When I first moved to London, I expected to use Wise a few times to get myself up and running. Not so.
Turns out I use it every single month!
Then there are the bigger transfers. From putting a deposit on an apartment to paying university tuition, a bunch of large expenses may come up. And what about Christmas gifts from your grandparents? You have to put that money in a spendable currency for yourself! (Unless you’re saving that money. In which case… props to you!)
Yes, your regular bank can take care of currency conversions. But will you pay an arm and a leg for that service? Yes indeed!
Wise boasts by far the cheapest fees and most up-to-the-minute exchange rate for your currency transfers.
There’s also a really cool multi-currency account you can open with Wise, which comes complete with a debit card. You can hold money in 50 different currencies in the account, and use the card wherever. If you have a balance of the currency you’re paying in, the charge will go through with that. If not, the account will automatically choose a different currency you do have to instantly convert and pay with… which of course will be the one with the best exchange rate!
Check out my in-depth review of the Wise card here, along with five essential tips for avoiding foreign transaction fees:
So, this is technically more of a physical product with an app to go with. Keepgo is a data-only SIM and/or mobile WiFi hotspot to get you going after the big move overseas.
We live in a world where staying connected is pretty essential. Whether you need to call an Uber at the airport, contact the host of the Airbnb you’re staying in while you look for an apartment, or just want a way to feel in touch with friends in those first few weeks… taking a little while to sort out your phone situation isn’t really an option these days!
And let’s face it. International roaming for pretty much every US carrier is expensive!!
WiFi isn’t always as accessible as you’d expect it to be in 2020.
Also, setting up a new phone contract in a foreign country is a hassle. I know this from experience. Often, you already need to have a bank account to get started, which itself can take a while.
This where Keepgo comes in.
I have been using Keepgo while traveling for years. Literally.
I think I purchased my Keepgo SIM card in 2013, and it still lives in my wallet, ready to popped into my phone whenever I land in a country where my phone isn’t covered
Basically, Keepgo’s data-only SIMs and WiFi hotspots allow you connect from almost anywhere in the world, and you only pay for the data you need! Every product they sell comes with at least 1GB of free data already loaded, and when you’ve used it all, you just open their app and top up.
The data you buy is yours for life (as long as you top up at least once a year).
Keepgo has been a lifesaver for me, and it came in handy especially during those first couple weeks after I moved to London.
I highly recommend Keepgo, and they’ve even agreed to extend a special 10% discount to my readers for all of their products! Just enter the code RACHELIRL at checkout.
As far as apps for expats go, WhatsApp is a must.
If you’ve never lived outside of the US, you may not have encountered WhatsApp all that much. In this case, let me be the first to tell you—it’s everywhere! Very few people outside the US use the iOS Messages app regularly, but everyone uses WhatsApp.
I can already hear all you devoted iPhone users’ pleas for the comforts of iOS. And I get you. I am you. Still, WhatsApp is pretty great.
For one, you can send unlimited messages between all phones—iPhone, Android, you name it—without using up your text message allotment. Oh yeah, did I mention that most affordable phone plans abroad come with text message allotments??? I know. I know. We’ll get through this together though. And we’ll get through it via Whatsapp.
I actually think WhatsApp gained such wide popularity precisely because iPhones are so much less common abroad. Don’t quote me on that though.
Additional pros of WhatsApp include audio messages that don’t disappear after you listen to them (what’s that about anyway), group messages with many more features (like replying directly to a message sent earlier in the conversation), and voice and video calling using data or WiFi instead of minutes.
WhatsApp has it all and you will be using it, so try getting used to it before you leave. This can be doubly useful if you can get everyone back home to use Whatsapp to contact you as well, because you won’t have to do the annoying task of making sure everyone has your new number!
I am as big a Google Maps fan as the next person, and I don’t love needing to have yet another map app on my phone, but I have to give credit where it’s due. This app gets you where you’re going, and it gets you there fast.
Citymapper functions in 58 cities and metropolitan areas around the world. In most of these cities, it provides real time transit data. This means that things like current traffic conditions, bus or train delays, and the nearest station entrance (and even which train car is closest to your exit) are all taken into account.
Citymapper can help you compare arrival times and prices if you walk, bike (sometimes even by city bike!), drive, Uber, bus, or subway to wherever you’re going. And it’s free!
If you’re moving to a city, and that city has Citymapper, get on this. It’s the dream app for public transit regulars and newbies alike.
6. Google Translate
OK. I know this one is a bit self-explanatory.
If you’re headed to a country where you don’t know the language, please help yourself and those around you and download Google Translate. It actually has some amazing different functions. The most useful being that you can download certain languages and then access the translate function even when you don’t have good service.
But there is so much more as well. You can speak into Google Translate and have it translate your words into the language of your choosing. Also, remarkably, you can point the camera in the app to anything written in the language you’re trying to translate and it will tell you what it says. I have pointed it at my fair share of menus over the past few years.
You can also write things with your finger or a stylus into the app – this particularly comes in handy for any languages that don’t use Latin characters. I have also had the experience of drawing Greek or Arabic characters I don’t know how to read into the app in order to get where I’m going.
Even if you aren’t moving to a country where you struggle with the native language, I would recommend having this on hand. In London, for example, I encounter so many people from all over the world (far more than in New York or San Francisco) that it is useful to have ready should I need it. I also travel much more than when I lived in the States, meaning its always ready to assist when I land in a new country.
7. Bumble BFF
I know what you’re thinking. “A dating app? To make friends?? I’m not socially inept ok I’ll make friends the old fashion way.” And to you I say: good luck.
No, really. I honestly hope this works out for you! And if it does, please let me know and then teach me how to master this art form. I, on the other hand, have no idea what the old fashioned way is. And I, like many adults, find it hard to make friends outside of work or school. I mean seriously, who has time for things like hobbies or socializing – thanks for that, capitalism (and covid).
Enter Bumble BFF. It’s literally exactly the same as Bumble the dating function – and even exists within the same app – but you cater your profile for meeting new friends, and then you swipe right based on who you think you’d vibe with. Pretty self-explanatory, no? Just don’t forget to actually follow through with the meeting up bit (COVID allowing).
I actually connected with one of my (now) really good friends through Bumble BFF – it turned out we had met once before, in Jordan of all places, and randomly came across each other there! It’s a small world.
Bonus: It’s not technically an app, but I would recommend using Facebook groups for similar purposes. Almost every place you might be going to has a group for Expats, and some even niche down to specific interests or gender as well. You wont be able to get as specific of a read on people, but they’re super active usually and helpful to be in even if you never meet anyone from them. But even so, one of my closest friends while I was living in Spain was all because of a Facebook group. What can I say, I am a child of the internet.
Go forth and live your best life with the best apps for moving abroad!
I hope these apps will be as useful for you as they were for me. The bureaucracy involved with moving abroad is enough to drive anyone crazy, and I think much of the process took years off my life. While sadly none of these apps will make government offices disappear and suddenly become helpful, they will make it lightyears easier for you to transition once you finally arrive. That way you can spend all of your energy on getting to enjoy the experience to the fullest.