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8 Essential Tips for Natural Expats Living Abroad

Avatar • May 6, 2014

 The Mane Captain

Jumping for joy @ Tinamen Square, Forbidden City in the Background
Hairstyle: Single Braids

Have you been assigned to oversee a company project in a foreign country? Or been admitted to a graduate program in your dream country? Or maybe you’re more like me and simply seeking a new adventure in another part of the world.  Whatever your reason for packing up and going to live in another country, let me first congratulate you for being bold enough to leave your friends and family behind for the an unknown and foreign land.

With last minute language classes, shopping, research and farewell parties, preparing for the expat life can be quite daunting. The good news is that most people who have experienced the expat life (including myself) will tell you that it is very exciting! So keep calm and read the following tips on how to prepare for your new chapter in life, while making sure that you and your hair have the best time of your life.

adeola great wall

 The Great Wall
Hairstyle: Single Braids


Before You Go

1.  Research the black community
Particularly the natural hair community (NHC) in your host country. We all know that the NHC isn’t always welcomed by other blacks in the diaspora, so researching international hair blogs in your host country will provide you with some general views on the perception of Afro hair in that country. Reading such blogs will also provide you with information on the types of hair products available in the country, how accessible they are and how to access them.

2.  Research the climate and the environmental condition in your host country. 
Find out if the country has all 4 seasons or only 2 extreme seasons. What is the air quality like? Is it windy, dusty, dry or humid? The research gathered will help you to determine the essential tools and products you need. For example, if you’ll be traveling to a cold country you’ll know to pack your satin lined winter hats, satin/silk scarves, thicker conditioners, hair butters and other winter friendly hair items.

3. Find out if your favourite hair care line ships to your host country
And how much they charge for shipping. If the shipping fee is affordable to you, you can choose to pack your must have products and forego the “nice to have” ones.

adeola cheongsam

Chinese Wedding
Hairstyle: Twists

4. The specific products and tools to pack will vary based on your destination country
If you’ll be going to a part of the world such as Asia where Black people are in the minority, it’s best to pack EVERYTHING! However, if you’ll be moving to Africa, the Caribbean or western Europe where Black hair products are readily available due to population, you can bring only those products that are expensive or especially hard to find, and forgo packing up the basics. But don’t be naïve, just because there are a lot of Black people in your destination country, it doesn’t mean there will be a lot of natural hair products easily available. As a natural living in Toronto, I can tell you that the majority of the American natural hair care lines are not available in Canada and the few that are available are pricey. So do your research.

5.  If you’re into essential oils, carrier oils, clays and other fancy hair products, please bring them with you
These products might not be easily accessible in your host country.

6. Remember to bring your satin bonnet, wide tooth comb, bobby pins, rollers, hair accessories
Although you can probably find these items in your host country, the quality might not be as high as the ones you’re used to.

7. Practice basic hairstyling skills 
Cornrows, flat twists, single strand twists and other natural hairstyles that you enjoy wearing. If you’re into extensions, you should try and get enough practice with single braids, Marley twists, crotchet braids and even fixing a weave. Perfecting these basic skills will help to make sure that you don’t get stuck with that poor hairstylist just because you don’t know how to do your hair yourself and you don’t know anyone else who could handle your natural hair.

adeola gobi desert

The Gobi Desert — Inner Mongolia
Hairstyle: Cornrows

8. Make friends with other expats
Particularly those who go back home often. Some of them might even give you their hair products when they return home or relocate to another country. Expats with natural hair can refer you to their favorite hair braider, should you need a break from doing your hair.

While in your new country;

  • Attend meetups and other hair events if it’s available in your area
  • Be tolerant of the locals in the country asking strange questions about your hair, wanting to touch it or touching it without your permission
  • Also be prepared to answer questions by other Blacks who might not be familiar with natural hair and be prepared to handle criticism.
  • Have fun with your hair and take lots of pictures with your afro, especially when you go visit major tourist attractions. You might even find that you and your kinky hair is the major tourist attraction!
  • Enjoy all the compliments and extra attention you might receive
  • adeola military

    Chinese Military Guards
    Hairstyle: Twistout in a Frohawk

    Are you an expat living abroad? What other tips would you add? 

    Avatar

    About Adeola @ The Mane Captain

    A Toronto based natural hair blogger. Born & half raised in Nigeria, and now currently residing in Canada. To keep busy, I frequent my local library where I go to borrow non fiction books, particularly personal and spiritual development books. I also organize Toronto natural hair events, attend meetup groups and I'm working hard to be a polyglot.

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    Kayce
    Kayce
    6 years ago

    As some one who is planning to do a ton of traveling to a variety of countries (backpacking style!) space (and weight) is precious. Lugging around hair products & tools isn’t going to work for me. I’m going to put my hair in single braids and just use plain water & whatever oil I can find in the country I am in and call it a day…

    Tabatha
    Tabatha
    6 years ago
    Reply to  Kayce

    Wow Back packing style. After the movie Hostle I didn’t want to do that anymore. lol

    Afrinaturality
    Afrinaturality
    6 years ago
    Reply to  Kayce

    My sister, I flung myself to Peru for six months some years back. Single braids were my best friend! I didn’t even know how to put single braid extensions in when I left home, but I learned when I was out there (there was no one to help, although Peru does have a small, black population) . The Peruvians were fascinated by my hair! Be prepared for questions and random strangers’ hands making for your tresses.

    Kari
    Kari
    6 years ago
    Reply to  Afrinaturality

    I must agree with you about the Peruvian fascination with us/our hair. Last year, I was there for a mere 5 weeks as part of a mandatory study abroad language (Spanish) requirement. I brought enough products with me, but made sure that my local grocery store, Tottus, had at least olive oil and some gels to get me through.

    Kari
    Kari
    6 years ago
    Reply to  Afrinaturality

    I must agree with you about the Peruvian fascination with us/our hair. Last year, I was there for a mere 5 weeks as part of a mandatory study abroad language (Spanish) requirement. I brought enough products with me, but made sure that my local grocery store, Tottus, had at least olive oil and some gels to get me through. Wash & gos and twists with a brush and a scarf were my standards that got me through.

    lexdiamonz
    lexdiamonz
    6 years ago

    THANK GOD the AFRICAN community has BELGIUM on lock you need it they got it!!! LOL … I am so ANTI-braid… the tension … the tension that I love this site and once abroad you will truly find that LESS is more… drugstore.com has excellent shipping rates also check the amazon.fr,be.de whatever country you are in trust me you will be surprised… you can find a “perm” almost every corner of this Earth though .. go figure 🙂
    EGYPT was THE worst for natural hair for me !!!!

    Tabatha
    Tabatha
    6 years ago
    Reply to  lexdiamonz

    Really?! I liked Egypt for hair care stuff, but it wasn’t easily found. Is that what you meant? I found a great “rinse ; I guess you can call it. It had oil blend in water and some flowers for the sent. It was great for when your hair and scalp are really sweaty.

    Puff
    6 years ago

    Great tips! I’ve never lived abroad but when I would travel I remember when the TSA would go nuts over any of my products. I once had something thrown away and it about broke my heart because it was full and from Qhemet. I even called my boyfriend (now husband) to see if he would drive back (he was maybe 5–10 minutes away driving back home) and take it but his lame sister convinced him not to (lets just say she’s not of the natural hair persuasion and doesn’t understand the struggle). Anyway, I always have empty 4 oz bottles… Read more »

    Tabatha
    Tabatha
    6 years ago

    cute article. I love the pictures even more. One of the things I learned going abroad in the military was I would ask the local ladies what do you use for thick hair. A lot of them would just show you stuff and when I was in Dubai I don’t know the name of it, but it was a thick cream that smelt like lavender. I was like, “I don’t know” the lady said, “Trust me it will work. I have thick hair too it works so well. I wanted to say yours is thick, but its not curly kinky… Read more »

    Candace
    Candace
    6 years ago

    Oh man, so many tips from eight years of living everywhere from villages with no electricity or running water in Africa to living in a town in Eastern Europe where I literally never saw another black person for six months (people would stop me on street and ask to take my photo), I have learned some things. First and foremost: forget those products unless you are in a place where there are black or afro hispanic populations. In the year that I lived in London I saw an explosion of availability of UK based black hair products and US based… Read more »

    Balanced Melting Pot
    6 years ago

    If you can afford it, definitely try using a mail forwarding service for the must-have items. I cannot find organic extra virgin coconut oil anywhere around these parts (Venezuela, Ecuador) and amazon has been a life saver (although sometimes pricey. Another thing that helped me a lot during my last vacation was the Shea Moisture Curl and Shine Kit. Lucky for me the weather was on the cooler, dryer side and my hair held all day without getting dry using the products in the kit. I wish other product lines would do the same (I think Oyin does, too), but… Read more »

    cepfeng
    cepfeng
    6 years ago

    I’m a little surprised that a site aimed at teaching sensitivity and cultural awareness has a picture of a tourist jumping for joy at a site where thousands of civilians were slaughtered. Pretty shameful, really. 

    Anyway, if you are living abroad, as I did in China for some time there are great courier services and sites like Ali express and Taobao are excellent. Bring specialty items like combs etc and be wary of the water.

    Charlene Barrow
    Charlene Barrow
    6 years ago

    A good portion of my luggage allowance for my flight to Thailand was hair products. It’s pretty easy to find coconut oil but not Shea Moisture.

    Tigerlady80
    Tigerlady80
    6 years ago

    When I went home to Zambia last year for three months my hair survived on olive oil, avocados(our neighbour had a tree) and shea butter. I used any old shampoo and leave in conditioner as well as a pure glycerine &water mix. My hair thrived with a simplified regiment. Made me give up my product junkie status for good once I got back to Europe!

    LBell
    LBell
    6 years ago

    I love this thread and ALL of the comments. That is all. 🙂

    (remembering back to a time not so long ago when the very idea of a black woman living abroad got strange looks followed immediately by “but what about your hair?”)

    Tori
    Tori
    6 years ago

    Yes! I have been looking for good tips for traveling abroad. I only found one blog that exclusively talks about this. (http://travelingnatural.com/)
    Thanks for posting this BGLH!! 

    I’m going to Granada, Spain next spring. Does anyone have any tips for traveling there? I figured I should be good on oils because I use EVOO and Coconut Oil, but I’m bringing large amounts of the Shampoo and Conditioner I use.

    Kay
    Kay
    6 years ago

    Such great tips!! I’ve lived abroad for almost two years in rural southern and East Africa, and my hair has had its ups and downs. I’ve learnt that decent shampoos and conditioners aren’t major problems to find. However, I stock up on haircare products whenever I visit a large city! What I miss most is EVCO and shea butter though. And my hair is not reacting kindly to the hard water in my current location. Any tips on handling hard water and cheap options for getting quality coconut oil and shea butter in Tanzania?

    Dananana
    Dananana
    6 years ago
    Reply to  Kay

    I can’t help you on the oils and butters in Tanzania, but here in the states, my water is so hard it’s cloudy straight out of the faucet. I found that using traditional, store-bought shampoos in combination with the hard water made my fro super dry, so the only thing that has helped me is substituting shampoo for ACV rinses. I think the lower pH of the ACV helps to neutralize some of the high pH of the hard water. If you don’t want to give up shampoo entirely, I’ve also had some luck diluting store bought shampoo with distilled… Read more »

    keep it simple
    keep it simple
    6 years ago

    I went to Nigeria for a month and was shocked at how impossible it was to find shea butter. Many stores had never heard of it, and even most of their products were for relaxed/straight hair. My mistake assuming anywhere in Africa would have it, when it’s more commonly produced in Ghana.  Single braids are definitely your best friend but even if you find locals that can do it, you need to watch them carefully. The ladies that did my hair took the smallest sections into each braid (eep!) and combed my hair with a fine tooth comb, which was traumatic!… Read more »

    Monique
    Monique
    6 years ago
    Reply to  keep it simple

    It’s has a native name in Nigeria and not everyone in Nigeria calls it by the English name

    Sabina
    Sabina
    6 years ago
    Reply to  keep it simple

    Its called ori/women’s gold in Nigeria. You can buy it from the market.

    michèle
    michèle
    6 years ago

    Hello I am a cameroonian living in France and I went in China , Morroco and Korea mainly for vacation. Eastern Europe was more for work Though I totally agree on the part : — enjoy your stay, the fact that you will the biggest touristic attraction sometimes (not always unpleasant) — and be kind with people being curious with your hair. I do think when travelling we should also accept to let our product junkie habits behind us. Everywhere in the world you will have local natural haircar product that will work like creazy 1) No shea butter in Nigeria? god I am… Read more »

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