Tips for Hosting Visitors Abroad

As an expat, there’s nothing more exciting than having friends and family visit. You get the opportunity to show off your new home, introduce them to a new culture, and hopefully convince them that you’re not completely insane for living abroad. However, there’s also a flip side. It can be quite stressful having guests, especially if you live in a non-English speaking country and plan to spend some of their vacation working, leaving them to their own devices.

My parents are coming to Shanghai in two weeks. We’ll meet in Thailand first, then enjoy a week together in the city before they leave for Xi’an and Beijing. Since I’m using vacation time to play on the beach, I’ll have to go to work while they explore, which makes me a little anxious–not because my parents lack the street smarts to navigate Shanghai (in fact, they’re seasoned travelers), but because I feel responsible for their overall enjoyment and well-being while here. Plus, just thinking about the possibility of my mom and dad lost, driving around in a taxi with a driver who doesn’t speak English, makes my heart race.

So to avoid this stress, I’ve taken a few steps to make hosting my parents (or any visitors) a little easier, and am posting them here, as tips, to hopefully help other expats:

Tip #1: Buy a cheap cell phone and SIM card for guests.

It’s likely that your visitors’ phones from home won’t work, even with a local SIM card, since most smart phones are locked. And since WIFI isn’t always available, you run the risk of not being able to get in touch with them, or them not being able to get in touch with you. I find the #1 stress reliever when having guests is providing them with a basic phone, loaded with minutes, and programmed with important numbers. In Shanghai, you can buy phones at electronic markets or even supermarkets like Carrefour.

Tip #2: Leave them with a map, circled with landmarks, including where you live.

This can be useful not only if a smart phone is not available, but it’s also useful when communicating with taxi drivers or trying to navigate public transportation. Decent maps are usually available at hotels, hostels, or the airport. I usually stock up when I fly internationally.

Tip #3: If you live in a country where English is not the primary language (like China), print address cards for taxis.

In Shanghai, these are available on www.smartshanghai.comOtherwise, compile a Word document of Internet search results. This is not only a great stress-reliever for you, but also for your guests; because regardless of how lost they are, they can hop in a car, hand the driver the card, and find their way back to your place. 

Tip #4: Provide your visitors with transportation cards if you live in a city with public transit.

It can be overwhelming for them to try and figure this out themselves, and it’s something easy for you to do. In most big cities, transportation cards can be used for the subway, bus lines, and even taxis.

Tip #5: Book a tour.

This seems quite obvious, but the best way to keep your friends or family occupied while you’re working is to send them on a tour. I always check out my options on, and if I have time, I love taking the tours myself so I can personally recommend them and know what my guests are doing. Experiencing the tour yourself also makes you a better tour guide for those times you are able to get away from work.

I hope these tips help the next time you have visitors! Did I leave anything out? What are your greatest stress relievers when having guests?

8 thoughts on “Tips for Hosting Visitors Abroad”

  1. I agree with tip #1. such a relief to know your visitors will be able to contact you in case of a problem, and way easier to join them when you’ve finished working !

    K |

  2. These are really good suggestions! My parents are coming to visit me in Denmark next year without knowledge of a single word in Danish (formula for success?). I like the map idea and sorting out a tour, will definitely keep this in mind! Cheers 🙂

    1. Thanks, Robyn! Don’t worry; my parents have come to visit me in Seoul without any Korean, Bogota without any Spanish, and now Shanghai without any Chinese. It’s all part of the fun, right? 😉

  3. This is really helpful! My friend is coming in a month and I’m a bit worried because I can’t take vacation days! I am definitely circling places on a map and quickest routes to public transportation. Thanks 🙂

  4. What a great post, your visitors are clearly in very good hands! I’ve just moved to a new home and even though it’s in the same country (so no language or mobile phone barriers here) it’s going to be all new to my friends, so I’ll be using a few of your tips. Thanks!

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