Since returning to the UK after living abroad for several years, I’m struck by how smartphones have transformed the expat experience for many. Plenty of the difficulties I faced when living in a foreign country have become obsolete now: things like translating a sign or getting lost are no longer an issue with the right apps installed on your phone. Having this information at our fingertips is both a blessing and a curse. It undoubtedly makes life easier, but at the same time it takes away some of the magic, which is perhaps what we left home for in the first place. That being said, here are three expat apps I wouldn’t be without:
Useful when: You’re trying to by an obscure item of stationary from a shop where everything is behind the counter.
Surely the most useful expat tool in the 21st century is a translation app. It’ll help you out of a jam when you’re looking for an object so uncommon that even your native speaking friends don’t know what you’re referring to. And if your pronunciation is still a little shady, you can just show the shopkeeper the word displayed on your phone instead of making a fool of yourself. iTranslate is a good choice, offering translations of more than 80 languages and the option to speak or type your word into the app. (iPhone or Android)
Useful when: You’ve forgotten your mum’s birthday for the third year in a row.
It’s a sad fact of life that special occasions like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day fall on different days in different countries. This makes it a nightmare for expats trying to remember who to buy flowers for and when. Say hello to Forget-Me-Not from FloraQueen, an app that reminds you when your friends’ birthdays are, along with the dates of special occasions in your home country. Impressively, it knows the important events in EVERY country and can be synced with Facebook to pull your friends’ details with ease. (iPhone only)
Useful when: You’re trying to find your way to a punk gig in a squat on the other side of town.
It’s hard to imagine a time before Google Maps, when you could still get hopelessly lost. Thanks to Google Maps, we take for granted that we will always find our way around town. And the latest version of the app is no exception. Among its standout features is the option to easily save an offline map of your area – perfect for when you get caught short without an internet connection. And you can now easily filter bars and restaurants according to opening hours – helpful for finding the perfect post-gig watering hole. You’ll never miss the support band again! (iPhone or Android)
But is an app-savvy expat a happier expat? Whether to download or keep it old school is one of the questions of our generation. There can be no turning back time, and to pretend technology doesn’t exist and not use it would be a bit perverse. But, at the same time, please don’t let it ruin the mystique of the experience.
Written by Matt Lindley, follow him on Twitter.