Tips for moving overseas, to Africa and beyond...

Helpful Tips for Moving to Africa

Moving to Africa. You have found yourself googling that phrase and looking for information as you plan, prepare, pack and get ready for this big new adventure.

Moving overseas is no small matter… take that move to a third world country, to the backwoods of someplace, to the unknowns of lands unseen… well, that is no small matter either.

And we live in the age of technology.

I can’t imagine the generations before mine. I’ve said it and I’ll say it again. My respect continues to rise for those who did this before internet, before google, before iPhones and before… anything at all.

But because we DO live with technology and the going doesn’t HAVE to be the unknown that it was in generations past, I want to share what we’ve learned.

Sometimes us newbies have to stick together and teach each other as we go.

So I’ve already written a post about moving overseas. 12 Things you MUST know before you leave your home soil.

Go read that post.

Back? Ok.

Let’s move on to this list…

Moving to Africa

This is the list you need if you are moving to Africa {or possibly other similar places!}

1} Cash – how are you going to get large amounts of cash and fast? Find out before you land. Ask people who live there, ask your bank, ask your mission, ask SOMEONE. How do they get money and how can YOU get money? Credit cards are usually NOT an option here. And, even if things are progressing in your country and some places will take a credit card, you probably don’t want to do that. Cash is king and you need to know how to find it.

Moving to Africa - Tips for Moving Overseas, Living Overseas

2} Important stuff – once you move in to your house, what is your plan for electronics, cash, documents? Where will you keep them in your house? Do you have copies somewhere for safekeeping? Do you know the numbers to call if your things get stolen? Do you have official copies of your documents to carry with you rather than carrying the real thing everywhere you go? We were able to get official copies of our passports at the local police station. These can easily be replaced. Our real passports can not so easily be replaced.

3} Medical – does your doctor in your home country know where you are living? Is he willing to be accessible to you by phone or email? Do you have a plan for when you get sick? Do you know how to get medicine? Are your immunizations up to date? Have you talked to someone in the know about the necessary immunizations for where you are living? Have you talked to your insurance about your new country? Did you pack first aid kits, over the counter medicines, peroxide, epsom salts, essential oils, ointments, creams… all things that may be impossible to find in your new home? Bug spray? Sunscreen?

4} Food staples, kitchen gadgets and storage – What essentials are you going to need for your kitchen? Things that are hard or impossible to find? Cinnamon, baking powder, pure maple extract, canned pumpkin, dry cereal…? And coffee. coffee. coffee. Pack THOSE things! Are you moving to a climate with high humidity, lots of bugs and overall difficult food conditions? You need GOOD tupperware, ziplock and whatever else you know works well to store food. Then gadgets. Rice cooker? Bread maker? Mixer? Tortilla press? You will find yourself pioneering your way through homemade meals pretty quickly. And those things make the pioneering a little easier to manage.

Check out An Ultimate Guide to Moving Overseas

5} Storage type furniture – Book shelves, dressers, cupboards, utility shelves, cabinets… Go to IKEA or Walmart and get some of these things packaged flat in their boxes. Pack that. Ship that. Whatever you need to do to get it to your country. We’ve found all other kinds of furniture… but shelving for stuff and clothes and kitchens… very limited. If you can bring it, bring it. {unless you are blessed enough to have an IKEA in your new country… then you are golden!}

6} Think about water – How are you going to have continual access to clean water? Safe water? Water tablets, water filter bottles, kitchen water filters… do your research. This is the one we chose. Know what you want and bring it with you. Water is life. And you will at one point find yourself filtering rain water to drink on some hot afternoon or sending your kids out in a drain spout to take a shower. I promise.

7} Think about electricity – Do you need to invest in a battery backup system? Do you need batteries? Long life flashlights? Power inverters? For what amps? Solar panels? Battery USB charger? Think through how you go about your day and what you need to make it through without electricity? Gas grill? Gas stovetop? French press or pour over mug to make your coffee each day? Research living without electricity and invest in a few things that will help your family navigate long power outages.

8} DVDs and CDs – if you are like me, these all went out the door to goodwill or in the garage sale! I didn’t want to haul that stuff… afterall… we life in a digital age! NOT really. Internet? Unlimited internet for streaming music and movies? Pretty hard to come by in some places in the world. Having a good old fashioned DVD collection and even a few CDs is priceless. Especially in the car… your phone battery is precious so you don’t want to use it to play music. There are very few radio options and probably none with good music. I wish I had more CDs with me! So pack them because you probably can’t buy them in country. And if you can, they will empty your precious cash stash.

9} Books – English books. They are heavy. They are cumbersome. But having them is very important, especially if you have voracious readers in the house. Or, invest in a solid ebook library so everything is already downloaded. Don’t rely on needing internet for books!

10} Coffeewe LOVE coffee. And many third world places don’t have good coffee. Unless you are a huge Nescafe fan… you will be coffeeless much of the time. So bring plenty with you and have a plan for getting more.

11} Driving – this is HUGE. Can you drive in downtown New York City or Chicago and not break a sweat? Can you do that driving a manual vehicle? If not, practice… while imaging people crossing main highways with goats riding in the car next to you and a semi piled to twice its normal height in front of you with a lamb wandering down the middle lane and a donkey pushing through the brush on the side of the road and a herd of cows trying to make their slow way across the 4 lanes of traffic. Seriously. oh, and did I mention the taxis crowding in around you as if you aren’t there? Yep. Wait… donkey cart to the left! exactly. Can you fix your own car? Can you change a tire? Do you have the tools to work on a vehicle? Insurance, phone numbers, first aid kit, overnight bag, funny accident laws in your new country… ask questions. learn. read. know. because more than likely you will need to drive yourself somewhere the day you land. And you need to know. International Driver’s License?

Moving to Africa - Tips for Moving Overseas, Living Overseas

12} Phones – How are you going to communicate when you land? Do you need a SIM card? A phone top up card? A passport on hand to buy your first SIM card? Will your phone work in your new country? Is it unlocked?

13} Ask but don’t ask – You are new. Like us. Read this. So you ask LOTS of questions. You email people who live there. You ask people who know. You hope to be prepared. Yet they can only tell you what has worked for their family. So ask… ask away. But in the end, take all the info you’ve gathered and make the best decision for your family. Asking the vets will give you plenty to chew on. But do your own research. You might be told to bring something that is now available in country and you don’t want to waste space to pack something you can get there. You might need to blaze a new trail, discover new things and even teach the oldies a few new tricks! With that said, they really do know what they are talking about. Listen. Take their advice. Especially until you have some cultural learning under your belt. It truly will save you some trouble!

BONUS: I have an email list just for those moving overseas. You’ll get a free moving overseas guide along with a series of very informative emails about moving your family overseas. Grab that here:

14} Clothing – what is the dress code for school in your new country? What are the cultural considerations for appropriate dress? Make sure you have plenty from the start. I’m sure you probably CAN find clothing in your new country. But it can be a hassle to find it right away or overwhelming if you need to hunt it down. What sizes do you need? Shoes? Sandals? If you are a half size like me, you will not find a half size shoe in most parts of Europe and Africa… I can’t speak for the other continents. Yet.

15} Home Things – As much as I intended to fill our home with African prints, fun colors and bright decorations… I just couldn’t do it. Not this time. Not when we are new. I needed our home to feel as “normal” as possible for us all. I needed it to be our oasis, our home with our American things and American decorations. I needed a place to walk in to and have it feel like us, like OUR home. So be prepared for wanting, missing and needing a bit of home. And I needed to not feel guilty doing it. that is a whole other post that I will one day write. For now I’m still processing the feelings behind the need for home as we know it, but for now all I know is that I DO need it. And so does my family.

Moving to Africa - Tips for Moving Overseas, Living Overseas

16} THINK!!! – All those home things, all those “the electricity is out so we brought this”, all the “we can have clean water!” things? Think through them all. What if something breaks? Does it have all the parts it needs? Are the parts in metric or standard? Does it come with an extra tank or spout or filter or whatever? If it runs out, breaks, stops… what is your plan? Our dryer needed a dryer hose. IMPOSSIBLE to find here. Then when we hooked it up, it needed a metric gas nozzle and all we had was standard. Our water filter… the filters will need replaced. The battery backup will need extra batteries at some point. What is the plan to get more? get it fixed? What can you bring with you ahead of time so you have it one hand if you need it? Think it ALL through! All those kitchen gadgets? Will they work in your kitchen? I have a mixer but none of the outlets in the kitchen are grounded. So since I’m standing on tile and my mixer is sitting on tile, I will get shocked when using it. Unless I’m wearing flip flops. Then I am the grounding for my mixer. Now that is a pretty thought… Think things through.

17} Tools – again, metric? standard? Jeremy had a GREAT drill… but no way to charge it because it was the wrong cord. Drill bits to get through cement? Walls will probably be cement where you are going to live. Saw? Duct Tape? Electrical tape? Shovel? Rake? Machete? Be prepared for the electrician or the plumber or the phone guy to show up at your house with NO tools. They will expect use yours. You better have some for them to use! Locks for the house, extra keys, tool bags for the car or utility shelves for tool storage.

You can find links to all our favorite things in our Ultimate Guide to Your Overseas Toolbelt

18} Ministry – How can you do what you do as simply as possible? What do you need from home? What can you get there?

19} Mail – How do you get mail in your new country? What are the best shipping methods? Where do you go if you get a package? Need to send a package? How much does it cost? Do you have an actual address or a PO Box? Must Read: Tips for Sending a Care Package Overseas

20} Think slow – ALL OF LIFE WILL SLOW DOWN… yet you will be in SUCH a hurry to get it all done! Breathe. Wake up and try again the next day. I saw this quote recently “If you end your day accepting it with a GOOD ENOUGH mentality…YOU’RE LAZY! Strive for excellent in everything you do!” and thought, “Uhm, not in West Africa.” Why? We need to remember that most everything is out of our control. So, we do what we can do and let tomorrow be a brand new fresh day to try again.

21} Self-feeding spiritually – Church is hard overseas. Especially if you go to church in a foreign language. I literally cry now every time I hear worship songs in English because I feel so drained sometimes even though we go to church each week! Bring sermons on CD, have plenty of good worship downloaded on your computer or iPod, make sure you have study books and devotionals and good ways to keep Bible learning going strong for your kids. They are missing out of traditional Sunday school and Bible quiz programs and Wednesday night study time… you have to compensate for that however works best for your family! And again, think through how to not need electricity or internet for solid spiritual time. You’d be amazed at how much we rely on technology for “church”!!

22} Gather info, trust your gut, make a decision and then move on. Don’t hold tightly to money because EVERY step of this process is expensive. You might make a decision, pay for it and then need to change it. That goes hand in hand with living in a new culture. Our best laid plans, our most researched ideas will still fail because of bad information or miscommunication or things changing drastically in the very last minute. Go with the flow, keep moving forward and watch God provide in each situation. I can’t even describe in words how many things we wish we could change or go back and make a different decision or rethink how we did something… but we can’t. Its done. And God has been faithful through it all.

I might update this list as the months go on… but for now, this is the list you need to go with the other list.

What about you?

Are you moving overseas? Click Here.

Are you moving to Africa? I’d love to hear your stories, tips and thoughts!





  1. Hello! Yes, it is a lot of plastic if you don’t have a filter. We use a Berkey filter, which they might not have available there in country. But if you have access to bringing one in, it works amazing. I’m sure they do have some kind of “bucket filter” or in country too. Hope you can find one!

  2. Hello! Yes, it is a lot of plastic if you don’t have a filter. We use a Berkey filter, which they might not have available there in country. But if you have access to bringing one in, it works amazing. I’m sure they do have some kind of “bucket filter” or in country too. Hope you can find one!

  3. Hello! Yes, it is a lot of plastic if you don’t have a filter. We use a Berkey filter, which they might not have available there in country. But if you have access to bringing one in, it works amazing. I’m sure they do have some kind of “bucket filter” or in country too. Hope you can find one!

  4. Hello! Yes, it is a lot of plastic if you don’t have a filter. We use a Berkey filter, which they might not have available there in country. But if you have access to bringing one in, it works amazing. I’m sure they do have some kind of “bucket filter” or in country too. Hope you can find one!

  5. Hi. I just found this post (I know I’ve visited your website before, but it’s been quite some time). A long, long time ago, I lived in Côte d’Ivoire for a little over two years (and in France for a few months before that). This article really resonated with me – I wish I had read it way back then (even though some of it wouldn’t have applied because it was pre-internet).

    I chuckled when I read your description of driving in West Africa – exactly! And also chuckled when I read your point about slowing down and realizing that things are often out of our control. I’ll bet you have heard the phrase WAWA (West Africa Wins Again!).

    Anyway, I really enjoyed this article (and the article about moving overseas in general). And then browsing through some of your other posts, I’m amazed at how well-thought-out the topics are and can imagine your site has been a great resource for others who are trying to adjust to third-world and fourth-world life.

  6. Hey, I recently moved to Mozambique and the problem about the clean drinking water is erally bugging me, because I am tired of wasting all these plastic bottles. Any recomondations for reliable water filter? Thank you 🙂

    1. Hello! Yes, it is a lot of plastic if you don’t have a filter. We use a Berkey filter, which they might not have available there in country. But if you have access to bringing one in, it works amazing. I’m sure they do have some kind of “bucket filter” or in country too. Hope you can find one!

  7. I so agree with asking others! And you have to know yourself. Power is out at least 8 hours a day here, but I am fine with it. Others have generators to cope. We are buying appliances here just to circumvent the hassles of invertors, stepdowns, and replacement parts. And we have found thy we can have anything made in wood pretty cheaply (quality it another issue, but bookshelves are no problem). However, celebrating our son’s birthday without our family banner would have been rough… And my husband weaned himself off coffee before we came since it is HARD to find (oh, the allure of Ethiopia)! And clothes… Just so much easier to bring. And books! I seriously underestimated how quickly my kids would go through their books and even school materials! I am so thankful for the people here who have helped us out and given advice!

    1. We had been told “just have things made here” but it is SO expensive and usually isn’t great quality. So I do wish I’d brought some shelving from the US with us! And books! I know!!

    2. I will post some pics sometime of what we’ve had made here. Quality is pretty bad, but we found a decent carpenter who isn’t too expensive (bunk bed for about $75). However, you are probably better off with shipping. Since we are land-locked with no airport and everything comes by truck at least 6 hours, shipping is too painfully expensive to contemplate! My brother had similar problems when we lived in Senegal for 2 years (in Dakar); it took him 2 months to get a shovel!

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