Why An Expat Scouting Trip Is A Necesary Part of Your Planning Process

Sometime, early last year, I was exploring a possible Caribbean move. I started the year at a transitional point in my life and went on a much needed vacation. An opportunity arose to chill out on an island I had never visited and I absolutely jumped at it. 

It was absolutely magical, which isn’t surprising. Hanging out with friends in a warm location, while winter raged at home made for a good experience. 

I loved the vibe and was soon considering if this was the spot for me. This isn’t difficult when you are on vacation, right? But the simple fact is, being on vacation can cloud your perception of reality. I decided I wanted the opportunity to learn more and not just through late night cocktails, beach soaked eyes. So it made sense to go for a second visit and see if the location could work for me in the future. 

In other words, I needed a scouting trip.

What is an expat scouting trip?

The purpose of a scouting trip is to help you to make an informed decision about relocating to a location. Once you’ve made your list of potential countries, it is helpful to visit them (or as many as you can) to get a better idea of which one suits you best. Nothing replaces being in a country to see how it feels, looks and engages with your senses. You can observe people, places, resources, cultures in a way that no book or website can inform. Yes, YouTube and Tik Tok videos can give insight but they don’t replace you, as the person moving, being in the environment that you want to move to. If you do your scouting research right, it can certainly help you make a firm decision. 

For those of you who are moving because of an employer, education, a relationship or something else, a pre-trip may not be an option or possibility. I have certainly done it before. I moved to Qatar, without ever being to the region and my first experience in the country was when I landed. So it can be done, and is done all the time. 

However, if your move is self-initiated, then if possible, this should be part of your planning process. You have the freedom to move many places and this process can help you narrow the choices.

You can still move to a place unseen. Plenty of people do it and it works out. But it is a big gamble to uproot your life to go to a country you’ve never been to, especially when you can take the time to visit beforehand. 

How can a scouting trip help?

It can help you systematically determine how to assess a location. It’s one thing to consider a place from afar, but it’s a completely different ballgame to be in it. This gives you the opportunity to walk the streets, hear the sounds, and watch how business is conducted and how people interact in a location. 

Doing a scouting trip can also help narrow down your living options. While in country, you can expand your possibilities by visiting neighborhoods, states or provinces beyond your initial list. You gain a ground level perspective of a location that moves beyond the internet, YouTube videos, or someone else’s opinion. You actually get to live and breathe in an area and figure out if that’s somewhere you want to be. 

Your scouting trip needs purpose.

Your trip needs to have defined goals and a clear purpose. This differs from a vacation. When you’re in vacation mode, relaxation and fun are the general focus. On a scouting trip, your main goal is to assess if this location is where you can live in your immediate future. 

You have to shift your thinking from being a tourist to understanding daily life as a resident. It is this intentionality that will help you evaluate if your prospective country will align with your personal and professional needs.

Identify your priorities.

Black man leaning on window holding a cup of coffee and reviewing a list for his expat scouting trip.
Image: iStock

Before you embark on your trip, make a list of your priorities. Your desire to move abroad is most likely rooted in a sense of personal fulfillment. This information is fundamental to help you decide if a location is the right fit for you.

Create a list of to-do activities that will help you understand what relocation to the country might look like. Make sure it includes information you may need to clarify and verify based on your pre-planning research.

If you don’t know where to start, the TBE Design My Move Templates & Checklists will help you organize your thoughts.

Keep voice/visual notes.

You are going to encounter some information you will need to refer to in your down time. Photos can help you remember key facts. For example, you might want to remember what different communities look like as you narrow your housing options. Taking photos will jog your memory as you start to compare locations.

You can also create voice notes on your phone, especially if you don’t or can’t write down your observations. You might want to talk through your observations and record with others who are there, so that you can remember when you’re evaluating the location. We don’t always remember the conversations we have with accuracy, and recording a conversation (with a realtor, for example)  may help with the decision making process in the future.  Regardless of how you do it, taking notes will help you streamline the evaluation process.


Your scouting trip is not solely a vacation. Your visit has a mission. While you definitely want to have fun, you also want your questions answered, so that you can smartly decide if a location is a future home for you.

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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