I’m an American living overseas.  And I cheat.

That is, I cheat at living in a foreign country.  Because, once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty easy.

When you first land over here, you’re all, “Oh no!  What will I do?  How will I ever buy groceries or watch tv or understand all the many foreign languages spoken over here?”  And then you find all the ways you can totally get around it.  Let me give you just a few of the tricky ways we have found to navigate living in a foreign country while not giving up too much of what we’re used to.

To keep in touch with friends and family, our favorite option is Facetime.  iPhones and iPads are invaluable when it comes to being able to see the relatives at home.  (I’m sure other smartphones and tablets work just fine too, but we’re an iEverything family.)  No iSomething?  Skype works, too.  With Facebook and just plain email added to the list, it’s a wonder we’re ever NOT talking to family and friends through some sort of technology.  Technology’s cool.  Oh, and don’t forget Viber!  Download the app, convince your sister to finally download the app, and talk for free. Free!

So, while you’re talking to your sister and she asks if you’ve seen the latest Sleepy Hollow, (not my sister, because she only watches CNN and documentaries, but maybe your sister…) you can answer, yes, yes I have.  Because we have so many ways to watch American television.  Hulu!  Number one of the list of how to keep up with American tv.  Yes, it’s a week behind but that’s better than a year behind, like most European channels are.  We also have the Belgian Dutch speaking channels.  They play American shows and movies in English with Dutch subtitles.  So handy!  And, we don’t have it since three of the four of us have no problem watching French tv, there’s also AFN,  The Armed Forces Network.  An extra cable box and  you’re all set to go with US channels.

Here’s a little detail you probably didn’t think of.  Or maybe you did, I don’t know.  Hulu, among other things, doesn’t work outside of the US.  Try it and you’ll get a message saying…


And that, my friends, is why you get a proxy.  You can pay a yearly fee for a service that will, essentially, trick other websites into believing you are somewhere else.  Sounds so illegal, right?  And yet it’s not.

How about radio?  Have a favorite station at home?  Or are you just really into hearing about the traffic on 64 that you are not sitting in?  Download TuneIn and listen to any station, anywhere in the world.

How about that whole, weirdly shaped plug and outlet situation?  Or the 110/220 problem?  Solved.

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Here’s something to keep in mind if you’re moving overseas.  Bring more electronics and appliances than you think you should.  We didn’t and I have so many things sitting in storage in the US that I really could have used over here.  Just use the proper adapter.  On the left, your basic adapter that’s more of just a physical plug change.  Good for lamps and any electronics that have a plug noting a range of voltage.  On the right, the transformer.  Much more expensive and really, really heavy.  Use it for anything electric at all, but keep in mind that it costs a lot to run.  Still, how long does a blender need to run?  Twenty seconds?  Bring it with you.  Crockpot?  Leave it behind.

We’ve also got a few cheats that only work for overseas military.  The commissary and exchange, for instance.  Super handy for those brands that they don’t have in Belgium.  Kids really want Goldfish or Juicy Juice?  Craving a little Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce? Or maybe you just want milk that is Kept. In. The. Refrigerator?   They’ve got you covered.

Online shopping gets us the stuff that the exchange doesn’t provide,  however not all stores will ship to APO addresses.  That’s when you either A. Have your Mommy ship it to you, or B. use ShipitAPO.  They provide you with an American address, receive the package, then reroute it to you.  Brilliant!

Another military offering?  Schools.  In English, following the American curriculum.  Only one of ours goes to the American school and she’ll hopefully flow right back into school when we get back home.  The other?  Oh, he’ll catch up.  And he’ll be the only kid in his class speaking fluent French, so there’s that.

Now, please don’t get me wrong.  We like it here.  We live off base, “on the economy”, as it’s referred to.  We shop mostly at Belgian grocery stores, drink plenty of Belgian beer, attend lots of Belgian soccer games, hike through Belgian forests… experience overseas life.  But sometimes it’s nice to have a conversation with my mother and then settle down in front of the television to watch New Girl with a bowl of Edy’s ice cream topped with Cool Whip.  Ya know?




2 thoughts on “Cheater

  1. This is a great list! A lot of the things that you don’t know about until you become an expat yourself! Except you get a lot more indulgences with the military hookup! Our friends at NATO let us know when they’re heading to the commissary and we put in a grocery list for American foods… I think it tastes even better because it’s such a treat to have here!

    • Yes, being a military family does give us extra ways of staying in the U.S. loop. I didn’t realize before we came that our commissary would be entirely American brands. They even take dollars! Turns out that stocking up on ranch dressing and my favorite tea before we got here wasn’t necessary!

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