What your embassy can do for you: expat organizations around the world

There’s a lot more to most embassies and consulates than just replacing stolen passports or evacuating nationals in times of crisis. If you’re living, working, or simply traveling for a long stretch in a foreign country, your embassy can also be your connection to an entire expatriate community: providing both a social network, and a great source for insider information on the city or country you’re visiting.

Some embassies have a staffer (or staffer’s spouse) designated to serve as a “welcome wagon” – orienting new arrivals to public transit, grocery stores, hospitals or dentists, and other practical necessities – while almost all can put visitors in touch with the local non-profit ex-pat association: The Canadian Association, American Association, Australian Association, and so on. These groups are set up and run by diplomats, businessmen and women living abroad, and their families.

Of course, most of the events and services offered by these organizations won’t mesh with the average vagabonder’s style: black-tie balls, organized tours, and one-day volunteering stints in orphanages. But it isn’t all like something out of a bad historical novel set in the golden days of the Raj. These groups have years, decades sometimes, of accumulated knowledge about a given city, and that’s a resource worth tapping into. Craving a peanut butter and jam sandwich? Chances are the Canadian Association knows exactly which hole-in-the-wall grocery store sells Skippy. They’ll also know all about the restaurant scene away from the tourist hotspots – which almost always translates into cheaper meals.

Sure, sometimes half the fun is in figuring out the train network yourself, and of course you want to eat local food as often as possible. But vagabonding doesn’t have to involve cutting every tie with home; you’re not trying to win a competition for Most Hardcore Authentic Traveler here. I find that on a long trip, a Thanksgiving potluck or a group screening of How the Grinch Stole Christmas can be just what I need to recharge my batteries for more adventures in the unfamiliar.

Here’s an example of the many options out there: a list of ex-pat organizations in Malaysia, where my parents were heavily involved in the Canadian Association for several years. To find an ex-pat organization near you, check the website of the nearest embassy (here’s a list of all US embassy websites) or just google “association” and “American” (or “Canadian”, “British,” etc.) and the name of the country you’re staying in.

Posted by | Comments (1)  | September 27, 2007
Category: Notes from the collective travel mind

One Response to “What your embassy can do for you: expat organizations around the world”

  1. Tim Patterson Says:

    Nice blog Eva – but you’re lucky to be Canadian. American embassies are fortresses I’d rather not go anywhere near.