Supermarket hopping, talking the lingo and keeping safe

Earlier this week I shared a post about the first of two “practicalities” chapters in my book – the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide. In the book, I look at what it is like when you first move somewhere and discuss some of the nuts and bolts of life as a new expat. Taking the points made in the book I wanted to look at my own experience of moving to South Africa – to test what I had written and check how I was doing so far. In my first post on this subject I looked at finding a home, furnishing it and getting around. In this post I move on to the second chapter on practicalities – shopping, learning the language and keeping safe.

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Shopping

It’s interesting how a supermarket, which at first glance seems stuffed to the rafters with food, can quickly start to drive you crazy trying to find exactly the right ingredients to make a carefully planned menu, or has everything you need except one, vital thing. This can lead to one common expat phenomenon: supermarket-hopping.

Extract from the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide, chapter 5 – Practicalities part two.

This has been exactly my experience here in Pretoria. Exactly. When we first arrived here, we were overjoyed. Compared to the supermarkets in other places we have lived (notably Islamabad and St Lucia), the choices here in South Africa are phenonemal. And I still stick by this – this is a foodies heaven in many ways and we could eat our every day for a year and still not get through all the restaurants and cafes I want to visit. There are plenty of good shops too and things like meat, wine, bread, fruit and vegetables are all bountiful.

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Plenty of wine here….

But now that I am out of the early, honeymoon stage, I have found irriration starting to creep in. Yes the supermarkets are good – but they are not always reliable. And you can’t usually get everything you need for a week in one place. And some ingredients are difficult to track down altogether.

Whilst I know I will find goods galore when I visit my favourite supermarket Woolworths (which is basically Marks and Spencers), they do not always have everything I need for my planned meals. The other day, for example, they didn’t have the particular type of sausages I had scheduled to give the kids that evening. It didn’t really matter, I bought them something else – but little irritations like this add up.

I have slowly started to work out where the best place to buy different things is – Hinterland for beef, Woollies for sausages and chicken, Almas butchers for pork loin, Food Lovers Market for ready-prepared food; Macro for bulk items like dishwasher tablets. In the end, I know we can get more or less everything we need here (the list I have asked my parents to bring out with them when they visit soon is very short – Yorkshire teabags, (UK) Marmite and Oxo cubes), but shopping can be very time consuming.

However, for the meat and the wine I am very, very grateful!

(One of my roadtester for the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide, Lynsay, has also written on her blog about shopping in their new location in Korea. You can read her take on this important subject here)

Language

The feeling of isolation of being a new expat in a strange country can be massively increased if you can’t interact with those around you, or if you find yourself left out of conversations because they are going on in a language you don’t know.

Extract from the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide, chapter 5 – Practicalities part two.

Boy am I lucky with this one. Everyone I have met so far here in South Africa speaks English. They might all speak about seven other languages as well, and English may not be their first language, but I have had no trouble at all being understood.

I do sometimes find it hard to know what others are saying, mind you. Firstly, I get spoken to in Afrikaans quite a lot. I was told by my English South African cousin that Afrikaans women tend to be more glamorous than their English-speaking counterparts, so perhaps the days people first try me with Afrikaans are the days when I make more of an effort. But even when people speak to me in English, I still find some of the accents very difficult to decipher.

I am getting there, but there are still many moments of “I’m sorry, what did you just say?”.

I do love all the languages here though and enjoy practising saying many of the words. Sawubona. Dumela. Molo. Unjani. And, errr, cliick! I have also found myself starting to pick up some of the South African sayings, like Just Now, and Ach, shame. Yikes!

Keeping safe

In many countries these days, you will have bars on your windows, panic rooms or parts of the houses that can be locked off from the rest, gated and guarded communities and more. This can all seem quite alarming if you’re not used to it, but it soon becomes part of life. A sad, inevitable part of life because these precautions are there as a daily reminder of how harsh life can be for many of the other residents of the city you live in.

Extract from the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide, chapter 5 – Practicalities part two.

Sadly, while we have had it easy with the language side of things here in South Africa, we certainly have not with the security. This country has a reputation for violent crime, and stats certainly back this up.

I have previously lived in Kingston, Jamaica, so had an idea what to expect here. Horror stories abound and these do lead to the creation of a “feeling of fear” that you have to live with, day in, day out. We sleep behind a keep in a house with grills, surrounded by electric fence, on a compound with a security guard. I have had to speak to the children about what to do if we get car-jacked; they also have “duck and cover” drills at school.

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Life behind bars.

But despite all this, you can live your life relatively normally so long as you follow basic guidelines – don’t walk anywhere at night, stay away from certain areas, keep your car doors locked at all times etc. But there is a certain tension that goes with always having to be “aware” that means it is necessary to take a break from city life as often as you can. Will I ever get used to it? Not completely. One of the things I am most looking forward to when we return to the UK on holiday is being able to open the front door and just walk.

So those are my experiences of the “practicalities” of life in South Africa, I would love to hear about yours. In future posts I will look at some of the other chapters in my book, including finding domestic staff, keeping my sanity and that huge subject: schooling.

 

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Finding a house, buying a rug, and learning to drive all over again…..

A few months ago I asked some lovely expat partners to review my book the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide chapter by chapter as they went through their overseas move. So far posts have covered the first few chapters of the book, including preparing for the move, the actual move itself and the early days. But I have also been doing my own little road test of the book and over the course of two posts this week I look at the two chapters on Practicalities: first of all Accommodation, Furniture and Transport; and on Wednesday Shopping, Making Yourself Understood (or not) and Keeping Safe.

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Accommodation

First and foremost you need somewhere to live. At this stage, many people will be in temporary housing. Some will be in a hotel or in someone else’s house while they either look for their own home or wait for their predecessor to vacate it. Others might have moved straight into their new house and have moved on to accommodation – part 2: furnishing. But whatever your situation, and as long as you have some choice in the matter, it is very, very important to get where you are going to live as right as possible.

Extract from The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide, chapter four: Practicalities Part One.

I think it goes without saying that one of the most important things to do when you move to a new country is make sure you get your home right. This isn’t always an easy task – you may have to househunt from afar; you may have no choice and already have a home assigned to you and your family; or you may not be presented with many possibilities. Over the past 15 years I have lived in four different overseas locations – and had very different experiences in each:

  • In Jamaica, I decided against moving into my predecessor’s apartment because it was quite a long way out of town and I didn’t feel safe driving there alone at night. So I was shown what seemed like dozens of unsuitable homes filled with shiny furniture until I eventually found the right one. It was relatively close to the office, on a small compound with friendly neighbours and a shared pool, and wasn’t too hideously furnished (although I did remove the zebra-print curtains)
  • In Islamabad, we were given the choice initially of living off compound in my husband’s predecessor’s house – but when the time to move got closer they had already decided they wanted to move all families on to the safety of the diplomatic compound. In the end I was pleased about this; although I am not a huge fan of living side-by-side with your colleagues (and I dislike the “British enclaves” that can be a by-product of these sorts of compounds), it was a lot easier to get to know people this way and much safer for the children.
  • In St Lucia we had to find our own house from scratch – the home that had been rented by the previous officer wasn’t suitable for a family. We took our children on the recce to look for this house and viewed countless unsuitable places. St Lucia suffered from basically being a holiday destination on a poor island – the choice was either a shack or a luxury villa. In the end we did find a beautiful home with an even more beautiful view, but it came with an insufferable housekeeper and was too far from the school/other expats. After a year we moved again, to the more popular end of the islands – where life got a lot easier for me, but my husband had a longer commute for work.
The view from our St Lucia villa#1

The beautiful view from our unsuitable home in St Lucia

  • Here in Pretoria we have moved into my husband’s predecessor’s house. We were told we wouldn’t have a choice but that it would almost certainly be this house. We did look at the one other possibility and it was fine – but this one is in a much better location and in a small, safe and friendly compound. It isn’t perfect (we have had to do battle over getting a shower fixed since we arrived) but it’s done us well and we are happy here. For once, I think we have got it right!

Furniture

Once you have found somewhere to live, you will need to think about furnishing it. You might be lucky and inherit a fully furnished, even – if you’re REALLY lucky – tastefully furnished, house or apartment that needs nothing more than your own finishing touches like pictures and perhaps new curtains. On the other hand, you might need to throw everything out and start from scratch.

Extract from the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide, chapter four – Practicalities Part One.

We didn’t have any say over furniture really at all as the houses we move into come fully furnished. Our shipping allowance means it would be very expensive to bring over more than the odd small bookshelf or bedside table, so we have had to rely on local shops to supplement what was already in the house. And this we have had to do – the guy we took over from was a single man, who travelled a lot for work and didn’t need the same amount of stuff in his house as we did. Thus so far we have had to buy two bookshelves, a rug, two desks, two office chairs and a patio table and chair set.

Although on the surface the shops here are pretty good, what we have found is that their stockrooms are often not stocked and goods need to be sent from elsewhere. There seems to be a lot of this, waiting on shipments – particularly frustrating when you are not told when you buy something that it won’t be delievered for several weeks. I have had a few heated phone conversations about this matter!

As well as furniture we have had to work to make our house look a little less bare – there is a lot more space than our home in the UK, including some pretty huge walls to cover. Luckily this is a country where crafts are bountiful and I am slowly accumulating pretty bits and pieces to beautify the house. Heaven knows where it will all go when we return back to the UK!

Wall decorations to fill a large wall

Wall decorations to fill a large wall

 

Transport

Working out transport right from day one is one of the most important things you can do when you first arrive somewhere. Unless you’re in a relatively modern city with good transport links, or where it’s safe and easy to walk around, you really do need to think how you are going to get out and about if you don’t want to feel completely trapped.

Extract from the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide, chapter four – Practicalities Part One.

I have already written a post about how my GPS became my new best friend; but I can’t emphasise enough how important it is that I drive here. There really is very little alternative – walking is only good for short distances and the public transport is not to be recommended on the whole.

Before I arrived my husband was already on the case. We had discussed cars and started to narrow down the possibilities for me (he gets a humungous Landcruiser with his job). Once I had got here, and after the first few days when he was at home and could ferry me around, we hired a small car so that I wasn’t stranded at home. It was pretty small and started off a little smelly as some water had leaked through somewhere and the carpet was a little pongy. But it got me around and for that I was happy. I will never forget my first drive here – to the local mall, with the kids in the back cheering me on. I actually managed to take a wrong turning – but then fixed it by driving around a roundabout and back again – which made me realise that actually driving in this city wasn’t going to be so difficult.

Now here I am a few months on, and we have bought a family car (decided on because the girls sat in the back and my youngest was able to see out of the window). I am driving more and more without the aid of the sat-nav and, cross fingers, so far have not had any accidents. I fear it is only a matter of time though – the driving here isn’t great and it is unusual NOT to come across at least one accident every time I go out. Some of which, sadly, have been pretty horrific – we saw our first dead body in the road on our first weekend in South Africa.

So we have passed some of the hurdles of the early days, settled into our home and worked out how to get around. Next, I look at some of the other practicalities of living in a new location abroad – finding your way round the shops, learning the language and keeping safe.

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The perfect Christmas gift for a new expat….

Holidays are coming! Holidays are coming! As I write this, I can hear the tinkle of reindeer bells, the thudding of hooves on the roof, the ho ho ho as Santa takes off into the sky….

Ok well not quite, but although the weather outside would tell me otherwise (don’t forget, I am in the southern hemisphere so for me, this isn’t right!), Christmas really is just around the corner. And as you scratch your head and try to work out what to buy your expat friend, mother, daughter, brother, sister, colleague or basically any random person you know who happens to be moving abroad – let me present you with the perfect answer:

christmas book

Too much?

Anyway, the book has been called “an absolute must-have for anyone moving abroad“, “perfect for anyone living abroad or thinking of it” and “a must-have for soon to be expats as well as seasoned expats“. Even Bridget Keenan, the author of the acclaimed Diplomatic Baggage and follow-up Packing Up, said she wished she had had this book when she first became an expat wife.

Available from all good book stores Amazon, starting at the budget friendly price of just £2.99/$4.62 (who makes up these prices??) for an ebook,  or £7.99/$9.99 for a hard copy, you can use this as the perfect stocking filler, wrap it to put under some lucky person’s tree or send it by email as a gift card (or ebook if you are in the US) to that certain someone who you know will most appreciate such a gift.

Happy Christmas, thank you to everyone for your support this year and especially to everyone who has bought the book and/or left a review. Here’s to another great expat partner year!

click here to buy the book

 

 

Another great review of the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide

Before coming to South Africa I started researching what life would be like here. One of the best blogs I found to help me with this was the wonderful Joburg Expat. Sine, the American/German mum behind the blog, has been a brilliant source of information for me – not least because her children were a similar age to mine when they lived here. She is also wonderfully honest about parenthood and I love her anecdotes about quarrelling kids as much as her stories about travel in the region. There’s nothing like someone elses problems to make you realise you are not alone with children who grump even on the most beautiful beach in the world!

Anyway I was thus over the moon when Sine wrote a wonderful review of the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide. She is painstaking in her detail which makes me realise she must have actually read the whole thing rather than just skim!

It feels a bit weird giving an extract of a review that itself gives extracts of your own book but here is an extract:

Clara’s voice is cheerful, uplifting, occasionally funny, and she keeps it moving along at a nice clip. To me, that’s immensely important. I have to like the author if I’m going to stick with them for 300 pages of a self-help book, otherwise… sorry, there just isn’t enough time in my day to spend on uninspired reading.

And another one:

The second strength of The Expat Partner Survival Guide is the voice of other participants. Clara has collected hundreds of personal stories from other expats and expat partners, interweaving them very smoothly with her own narrative. For me it felt a bit like coming across long-lost friends, as I recognized quite a few of the people she interviewed from my own connections in the expat world, like Maria from I Was an Expat Wife and Apple Gidley of Expat Life Slice by Slice.

To read the full review please visit Joburg Expat.

And in the meantime if you haven’t yet purchased your copy of the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide (price fom £2.99/$3.99) – you can go here to find out where to get it from!

Finally if you have read the book and enjoyed it then please consider leaving a review on Amazon for me. I will love you forever. Thank you!

A Survival Guide for Expat Partner’s

Months and months ago I was interviewed by Robert from My International Adventure, an “Adventurers Guide to Moving, Living and Working Abroad”. I had almost forgotten about the interview until last week when suddenly I was told I would be their lead item on the website the following week! And there I am! Apparently I told him a bit about why I wrote the book:

While living in Saint Lucia, Wiggins came up with the idea to write a book about her experiences as an expat partner and mother of two girls. The book – “Expat Partner’s Survival Guide” – was written to help prepare expat partners for their life abroad.

“I didn’t want to write it just from my own point of view, so I made sure I interviewed as many people as possible, which ended up being over 70 expat partners,”

You can read the full story here and also don’t forget if you still haven’t purchased your copy of the survival guide it’s on sale on Amazon and Smashwords – links are on my Buy the Book page.

Finally a small, regular plea – if you HAVE read the book and enjoyed it please consider leaving a review on Amazon. Only when I have enough reviews will it start becoming more visible for people seeking a book just like this. Thank you 🙂

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Roadtesters update: early days and settling in.

If you have been following this blog you will recall that a few months ago I put a call out to expats who would volunteer to “roadtest” the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide. I was lucky enough to get three volunteers, all in quite different circumstances – Erin, who had already arrived in Denmark on her first expat adventure so would look at the early chapters of the book retrospectively; Lynsay, who was about to move as a second time expat – from Dubai to South Korea; and Nichole, who was a first time expat moving with her family from Australia to the US. By clicking on the roadtesters tag at the end of this post you can follow some of their earlier exploits, but now we are at the point of discussing the early days in our new lives, the settling in period.

I may or may not get something specific from Erin, and if I do I will post a link to it. Lynsay wrote this post on Arrival and the Early Days, and I myself hope to do an update to cover the first few chapters in the coming days. But in the meantime, Nichole wrote to me from Manhattan, where she has been discovering the joys of driving in a new location, juggling looking after small children with all the practical elements of setting up a new home, and the art of “supermarket hopping”.

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Chapter Three – Arrival and Early Days

Chapter Four – Practicalities Part One – Accommodation, Furnishings, Transport

Chapter Five – Practicalities Part Two – Shopping, Making Yourself Understood (or not) and Keeping Safe

Chapter Six – Domestic Staff – Finding Them, Keeping Them and Treating Them Like Human Beings

Quite the punchy group of headings there. I particularly fancy Chapter 6 but am pleased to say that this doesn’t apply to our particular set up circumstances. I do remember discussing the difficulties of having to become used to having a cook, house keeper and nanny in your house with a friend that moved to Jordan with her young family a year or so ago. It might sound like a dream come true at face value but it would totally weird me out in reality.

We are now two months into living in the USA and, as I have been incredibly slack in my blogging, I am reflecting over this time in reference to these chapters.

Thankfully, my husband had the first couple of weeks off work when we arrived. During this time we stayed for a few nights in Manhattan and then moved out to some temporary accommodation in East Elmhurst (Queens). We imbibed in some touristy malarkey, got over our jet lag and then started looking for a permanent residence.

Clara rightly notes that,
Finding permanent accommodation is stressful, but it’s also worth getting right. And this can take time.
 

Our temporary accommodation was, on paper (and Airbnb), in a family friendly, secure area with lots of amenities close by. In reality, we did not feel comfortable here at all. Miss E couldn’t sleep because she didn’t feel safe. It’s amazing how sometimes kids have the ability to sum up a situation so easily. We didn’t feel safe here, whether it’s because we are used to our cosy, suburban Melbourne life and the culture shock of having someone sleeping in a clapped out limousine on the street 5 doors down was a little too confronting, or perhaps it wouldn’t have mattered where we were, we just needed to find our permanent place here so that we could start to feel normal again. For most of that period Miss E slept with me and my husband slept with Master P.

It was hot and humid, the cooling provided was useless, there was no TV and we had minimal things to keep the kids occupied. It was nice to be able to cook a meal but tough trying to find ‘normal’ food. It wasn’t really a place you could chill out in for the day. The need to find a house became instantly pressing as we just wanted to get the heck out of East Elmhurst as quickly as possible. 

We had hired a car for the gap before we picked up our own. Clara’s detail in Chapter 4 around driving in a different country, not only entailing the actual physical act of, but also including things like what kind of petrol you need, where to get it, what to do if you break down, where to park and getting some local landmarks down pat was brilliant. There are many things that you take for granted, especially as a seasoned driver, but doing so in a new country comes with its own challenges, not just including remembering to drive on the correct side of the road! Driving in snowy and icy conditions is going to be interesting.

At this point, we left the house in the morning and came home to sleep. And the kids had to be towed along on all of these outings as we don’t know anyone here. Kids don’t like looking at houses. Kids don’t like sitting in the social security office. Fair enough. I unashamedly upped the amount of GB on my phone and the kids pretty much had open slather when SK and I had to attend to administrative details. During this time, particularly if you have children, you really have to reassess some of the hard and fast rules that usually apply, just for a little bit of a calm.

SK going to work and us moving into a house both happened and both of these things increased the amount of boring shopping trips that I needed to drag the kids to. Finding furniture, getting utilities connected, registering for school etc, it seems never ending for a while.

Supermarket-hopping” . I’m not sure if Clara penned this phrase originally or if it’s a recognised expat phenomena but YES, I have been doing this. We have been living in our permanent house on Long Island, New York for approximately 6 weeks now and in that time I think I have visited around 8 different supermarkets and have only now developed a preference, (which my husband disagrees with). Going forward, I believe we will be working on a two-supermarket-preferred basis and throwing in a farmers market when we can. The agent that we rented our house through provided us with a list of her local personal favourites and this has been quite invaluable, although we disagree on supermarkets. Take advice where you can get it, you have to start somewhere after all!

I find that even though we have moved from one English speaking country to another, there are still many times where I am not understood or there are completely different words for the same thing. Many of Clara’s anecdotes deal with the more obvious language issues when your first language is generally not used in your new environment which I am so glad that I did not have to go through. My issues are generally quite amusing. For example, I asked a store worker where the ‘rakes’ were. After saying it three times he asked me ‘what do you want to do with it?’. When he realised what I meant he repeated ‘rake’ back to me and I swear it sounded exactly the same as the way that I had pronounced it! And my old favourite, don’t ask for lemonade in the US unless you want something that resembles lemon cordial. You have to ask for Sprite or 7Up.

Until next time

Nichole x

Thanks Nichole – it’s great to hear the book has been coming in useful. If anyone else has read the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide and found my advice to be helpful please come and tell me – and spread the word with others in the same situation!

Photo courtesy of Rachel at https://www.flickr.com/photos/rachelpasch/

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The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide: a fantastic review

I love getting reviews of my book and this one is a stunner! Thank you so much to Emily at BasedTraveler for this amazing write-up. It makes it all worth while to get reviews like this! Don’t forget if you haven’t bought the book – for yourself or for someone you know who might be about to enter the world of expats – it’s available from all good bookstores Amazon, starting at the wonderful price of just £2.99/$3.99.

Not since Harry Potter have I shut a just-finished book and been inclined to pick it right back up at page 1. Maybe it’s because The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide (2015) by Clara Wiggins is also written by a witty British lady, but that’s exactly what I’m tempted to do after finishing its final section, the “Acknowledgments.” In the Acknowledgments Clara thanks her husband, employed with the UK Civil Service, “for having a job which allowed me to be able to write this instead of doing proper work.” That statement is the only thing I dislike about Clara’s book, because she’s done a huge service to the expat community.

Through an incredibly well-planned 288 pages, 20 chapters, Introduction and Appendix, Clara walks not only trailing spouses but also single, young, nearly jobless expats (like myself) through the preparations, realities, and opportunities of international living. Yes, Clara targets outright a very specific group of people: Straight women “trailing” their husbands (“partners”) on global postings. Yet she also devotes one chapter totally on male trailing spouses and same-sex partners. It’s true that a single traveler won’t find much information on dating, for instance, and the book nearly completely ignores budgeting (I think this is because most people who expatriate for a job are provided assistance). But the book is such an intriguing read without these details that by its end even the single expat is informed enough to find the information they’re lacking—or simply feel more confident about not knowing!

The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide is a powerfully loving resource for expatriates. Not only does Clara detail her own story and that of her mother, but she also weaves the stories of other expatriates into nearly every page of her piece. Although she cites some of her contributors at the end I cannot image how many more she must have interviewed, how many blogs she read, how many conversations she sat in on to include the quality quotes highlighting every one of the lessons she provides. The stories of other expats are so rich, so poignant, and often so funny that Clara’s book reads like your favorite Aunt’s list of summer camp advice. There’s no denying that it’s insanely useful for anyone hoping to move abroad, most especially if they are families, but it’s also easy to digest. Clara leaves no rock unturned: From preparations to pool parties, schools to shells, fido to friends, she attends holistically to the unique challenges that face expat-partners.

When today I was on the brink of tears in a series of expat-only challenges (bikes, banks, botched meetings…), I giggled instead when I remembered Clara’s use of the term “expatitis.” I remembered reading, “There will be ups and downs, but, as long as you are prepared for what lies ahead, you should be ready to meet every challenge thrown at you.” Even, as she acknowledges in one chapter, “If It All Goes Wrong” and you are forced to return home. I spent the entire book wishing I could call other expat partners I knew to tell them what Clara said. And because of her advice I have also re-prioritized my schedule to allow more time for saying “yes” to socializing and integrating with my local expat community.

As the author of my own expat-focused book, I feel completely refreshed by Clara’s non-competitive, honest endeavor to help any expat find the support they need. In a world full of travel bloggers competing for claims to “the best” advice, Clara’s careful, caring, and learned observation provides the most helpful big-picture guide of them all.

Clara offers two options (Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, and Smashwords) for purchasing her extremely affordable e-book on her website: https://expatpartnersurvival.com/buy-the-book/

You can also find her on twitter, @strandedatsea, and Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/expatpartnersurvival