Puerta Plata fort while on expat scouting trip

The 5 Key Things I Did While On My Scouting Trip

In Why An Expat Scouting Trip is A Necessary Part of Your Planning Process, I highlighted why a scouting trip is important for a future expat.   If you’re planning on uprooting your life to a new location, it’s worth it to actually visit and see if the place of your dream is actually place of your dreams. Vibes are great, but they are not always grounded in reality. You need to anchor your vision with proper information so you can make the right decision for you. 

When I was contemplating moving to the Dominican Republic, I did just that. I wanted to find out if it was going to be a fit for me, whether in the immediate or the near future. I had some long-term vacation available so I headed to the island for a few weeks to learn all that I could about a potential life there.  Here’s what I did. 

Rent an apartment for a short-term stay

I intentionally stayed within the local community.  When you’re on vacation, you’re likely staying at a hotel, particularly one that caters to either foreigners. I wanted a very different experience during my second visit to the island.   I was able to get a short-term rental apartment that was in a very vibrant, Dominican neighborhood. Granted, as an American who had more disposable income than the average local, I had access to more expensive options. But I at least wanted a more local experience than staying in a resort would have provided. 

It was helpful to talk to people who lived in the community and in some cases see their homes. It gave me a very tangible point of reference of what I could afford and what I needed to avoid based on my own preferences. I also gained a blueprint of  what features to typically expect in a local home. 

Get real about amenities

Mangoes in a blue bowl on table during expat scouting trip

Much of being in the Dominican Republic reminded me of growing up in Cameroon. The early morning rooster crows, the fresh mangos hanging off the neighboring trees and all the sunlight I could want transported me back to my childhood.   

But it also reminded me of a lot of things that I had forgotten like power outages. While they weren’t daily, they occurred enough to take notice. I remember where one occurred in the middle of a particular hot night. This meant that not only was it dark, but there was no access to A/C or a fan and it was sweltering. It was at that moment that I realized I would need to stay somewhere with a generator, if I was going to keep my sanity.

Sometimes we want to reduce the amenities we desire, because of cost, quite frankly. But you should be real about what you need to make your life abroad as close to enjoyable as possible. Whatever you think you might need, factor that into your budget. 

Observe the surrounding community

Given it was the tropics and quite hot, I kept the windows and the doors open. This apartment faced an active neighborhood road which meant I got to hear everything. The neighbors roosters who didn’t care for my sleep patterns. The trucks drove slowly through blaring music to draw attention to the fruits for sale in the back of the truck. The motorbike drivers that never anticipated the unpainted speedbump and the subsequent string of Spanish curse words that followed. 

The neighborhood always had something going on. This meant if I was going to remote work, this gave me a good trial run to see if I could concentrate while at home or determine if I needed to find somewhere else. If I had stayed in a hotel, I definitely wouldn’t have considered this being a factor. 

Participate in the everyday activities

During my first visit, I was vegging out, spending my days relaxing. My priority was vacation. This trip had a different focus.  I used my time to observe the everyday. It helped that I would often accompany my host as she completed errands around the city.  

From bank runs to grocery shopping, I got an upfront view of daily life. I ate street food, spent time trying to exchange money, and tried my limited Spanish to order some of the best empanadas around. We spent one Sunday night hanging out on the boardwalk in what could only be described as a very large block party.  

These activities helped me understand just how much Spanish I would need to navigate daily life. While some people spoke English, I couldn’t have an expectation that everyone would have fluency.  

Figure the transportation options

While on this trip, my host rented a car so we were able to get around the city and outskirts with our own transportation. She was able to drive with no issues because her U.S license was recognized.  There are some places where you may not be able to drive immediately.  When I lived in Qatar, I had to get a Qatari driver’s license. It was somewhat of a lengthy process, even though I have been a long time driver in the United States.   

One of the most common transportation methods in Puerto Plata was to take a motorbike taxi. You hail a driver, negotiate the price and climb on the back seat.  While I didn’t mind for quick trips, I wasn’t sure I wanted to hold on for dear life while also holding onto my groceries. 

In addition, there were other options including taking a bus, getting a taxi, ordering a ride-share service or hiring a private driver who can take you to the places you need to go.   If you live close to a city center, you may find more public transportation. However, if you choose to live further out, you might have to rent or purchase transportation.   

As someone who is used to driving everywhere, I honestly needed to see how much of a hassle it would be to get anywhere I needed to go.

Know the question you need answered

I asked a lot of different questions because I wanted to glean as much information as I could while in the country. I asked about healthcare options. I wanted to learn about the education system. I definitely asked a lot about banking, especially after going on a bank run with my host.

I focused my questioning particularly on information that was hard to decipher outside of the country. It is so much easier to get responses when you’re interacting with people who live in-country.  I needed clarity on the relative ease of what I considered to be daily tasks in other places. 

I wanted my decision-making process to be ultimately based on as much information that was practically available. 

The truth is if you’re going to uproot your life and move to another country,  you should make plans to see if the move is worth it. Because I promise you, in the long run, it’s a lot cheaper to visit and determine it’s not for you, than to move your life only for you to figure out that maybe you made a mistake.

Amanda Bates

Amanda Bates is the founder and creative director of The Black Expat, where she is generally excited about all things related to identity, travel, and cross-cultural experience. She has traveled five continents, lived on three and always plotting the next trip.
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