Hey there! There is a good chance that this post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through the links on this post, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Learn more here.
Moving abroad and becoming an expat is a life changing decision that requires some thought. And while life as an expat can be an amazing, fun and exciting adventure and you can learn so much living abroad, there are also some unique challenges of moving to a new country. This post will help you prepare for the difficulties you may face as an expat and hopefully help you know how to overcome the difficulties of living in a foreign country.
As an adult making friends seems to be one of the hardest things to do and it is one of the greatest challenges of living abroad that can make or break your experience. Unless you are naturally blessed with extrovertedness and the ability to read people and know what to say in any situation, then you may struggle with making new friends in any setting.
Now put yourself in a foreign country where people may speak a different language to you and your off the wall, dark sense of humour might not come across as funny anymore. (Yep, that’s me). So how do you get around the awkwardness and actually make new friends?
First you must always be yourself, if not you will be exhausted trying to pretend to be who you are not. Sign up for things you are interested in like community walks, dance classes or trivia nights. If you go to events you love you will meet people that have the same interests as you and are likeminded. Also get yourself on social media and join local expat groups, depending on your new country you may be surprised how many people there are in the same boat as you.
The key to making new friends is to put yourself out there, you won’t make new friends while you are sat at home binging Netflix.
Once you have found your new group of besties, they may leave. It’s sad but people move on for all sorts of reasons and that is one of the hardest parts of life as an expat. If your friends do leave, then the process repeats itself and you have to make new friends all over again.
You may also meet people from your home country, and you will learn that the only thing you have in common is a birthplace. If it weren’t for the fact you were both now in this new place you wouldn’t be friends at all. And that is perfectly ok, so don’t force it. There will always be people you don’t gel with.
One of the other main challenges of living abroad can be being away from home and doing everything alone without your support network. If you move to a new country alone then being away from your friends and family can be painfully lonely at times. Especially when trying to navigate new systems and overcome barriers.
Being away from home can also be a blessing in disguise as you will learn to rely on yourself and solve problems alone. You may ultimately become a stronger more independent person by removing your safety net of friends and family.
If you are looking for ways to keep in touch with family and friends back home, check out this post: 12 Ways to Stay Connected with Friends and Family
Overcoming the language barrier
The most common challenge people face when moving to a new country is learning a new language. Learning languages is HARD, especially if you’re older. Even if you do successfully learn a new language you may never have the level of finesse that you have in your native language. So, your communication may always be a bit clumsy and broken because of a lack of fluency.
Learning a language isn’t just restricted to speaking and listening either it’s also suddenly not being able to read. Things like menus, street signs, place names and documents that you would usually take for granted are now foreign and although technology can help with overcoming the language barrier in these areas, it gives a much better impression if you can learn a few phrases of the local language before arriving in your destination. Simple things like Hello, please and thank you will go a long way to breaking the ice and making friends with locals.
If possible, sign up for a language class in your new country, not only will it help you learn but it’s also a good way to meet new people in the same situation as you. If language classes are not available, then we recommend downloading the Duolingo app, you could even start learning the language before moving.
If you are moving to a new country with a family or even just a spouse, you may encounter some relationship strains as not everyone will acclimatise in the same way to living abroad. Spouses may become anxious if they don’t find work right away or if they are working online, the stresses of different time zones might cause disruptions to routine.
Likewise, children often have trouble adapting to new schools or circumstances, and there is the challenge of knowing how to school children abroad. Will it be easy to put them into a local school or will the language barrier be too much? Should home schooling be considered as an option or maybe they would be better off with private or online schooling.
There is also the never-ending story of finding good childcare, this is a common problem of parents around the globe, but it may be significantly more difficult when living in a foreign country. Parents do need a break from their children and to spend some quality time together though so finding a reliable babysitter should be a priority.
It is crucial to communicate as a couple or a family and discuss any issues you may be facing so that you can work through them together. A daily check in when you first move abroad is a good start to talk about what is going well and what needs to change.
Adjusting to a new job can be tough at any time and it is likely most people will have changed jobs at some point in their career but adjusting to work abroad can be slightly more challenging. Not only are you dealing with a new role with new responsibilities, but you are also trying to learn a new culture and what is acceptable. Cultural difference in the workplace can be significant and require being flexible and open minded.
For example, when I moved to St Kitts to work even though I had been a registered veterinary nurse for 10 years, there were differences in veterinary treatment that I hadn’t even considered. From what people can afford to what treatments are actually available on island. Sometimes the gold standard treatment just isn’t a feasible option, so I had to think outside the box to be able to do the best for my furry patients.
Another challenge of living abroad with a spouse can be finding a job for them and serious job opportunities for accompanying spouses can be hard to come by. Depending on their qualifications there may not be anything suitable that uses their expertise and if that is the case, will they be ok with finding a regular job to make money if needed. Or would they be better putting their talents to use in the digital world, many jobs these days come with remote work opportunities so that could be an option.
One of the first things that you must do and probably one of the most stressful challenges of being an expat is finding housing in a new country. There are many horror stories about landlords abroad taking advantage of green expats not knowing their rights as tenant. Also be aware of landlords making up rules, charging more for tenant that are expats or charging for services that are supposed to be included in the rent.
The best way to overcome this challenge is to find a reputable real estate agent in the country you are moving to on google and get them to manage everything regarding renting a property. Or try asking on local expat forums or Facebook groups for recommendations for reputable landlords.
Always view a property before moving in and check any fees that may be charged before signing a contract. If you have any doubts about a place or a landlord then look elsewhere, it’s not worth the stress to be in a house that you are not happy in when you are already dealing with living in a new country.
There is also the challenge of being a legal resident in your new country. There is a certain amount of uncertainty with a work visa because if you lose your job, you have to leave the country which could be heart breaking if you have dedicated everything to living in a particular place.
Accompanying spouses may also face difficulties if they don’t have a work visa, they will need to get a temporary residence. Most countries offer a spouse visa but if you are not married your new country are not obliged to honour a partnership which could cause problems. There are solutions to work around this like only having a tourist visa, but these don’t allow a person to work and if you overstay your visa you could risk a hefty fine and being deported.
If you are 100% certain about the country you want to live in, then it would be worth looking into a permanent resident visa so if the worst should happen and you lose your job, you won’t have to leave your home.
Another difficulty you may face when moving to a foreign country is driving. Not only because you may be driving on the opposite side of the road you are used to but there may be new road signs you are unfamiliar with or laws you need to know about before getting in a vehicle.
Like here on St Kitts it is a legal requirement to carry your insurance and driver’s license in the car in case you get pulled over by police. You should find out all these quirks before driving as you don’t want to get in trouble with the police on your first outing.
There is also the difficulty of finding your way around when driving as many places abroad might not have street names or road signs. Or worse they may be known colloquially as something different to what is on the sign and it can get very confusing.
Some useful apps we have found when driving in a new country are google maps, maps me and using location pins on WhatsApp.
Finding insurance when living abroad
Health insurance for expats is included with some jobs but having a comprehensive medical insurance isn’t always easy when living abroad. Sure, there are insurance covers for long term travellers, but these usually need a fixed address in one of the countries they provide cover to. What about when you live in a foreign country or if you move around a lot? A few companies recommended by expats are Bupa international, Cigna, Allianz, IMG, Aetna and AXA.
It is not just health insurance that can be a problem either. We have also encountered many troubles trying to find a holiday insurance policy that will cover us from St Kitts when we travel and although we have a house in the UK to put on the policy, travel insurance is invalid if you do not start your travels from the country you have specified as your home.
Although lots of health insurance policies cover you for medical emergencies and expenses when on holiday, they don’t cover specific travel needs like lost luggage, theft, missed connections and delayed or cancelled flights. Only a true travel insurance policy will cover these loses, here are some travel insurance companies that are recommended by expats and digital nomads: world nomads, true traveller, safety wing and seven corners.
Disclaimer: We are not experts in the field of insurance and before purchasing any medical or travel insurance, we recommend doing your own research and comparing companies to find the best policy and cover for your needs.
Starting out in a new country is hard and can get lonely especially without your regular support network. Being an expat in an unfamiliar culture can have a massive impact on mental health, particularly when every day brings new challenges from learning about cultural differences to understanding the locals. Even here in St Kitts where the language spoken is English, it can still be difficult to understand the Kittitians because they have their own dialect and accents.
There are also certain cultural etiquettes that should be followed, such as greeting everyone with “good morning/afternoon/evening” and wishing them a “good day”. But you will get to learn these little quirks as you go.
If you are moving from a western society to an eastern country, then things like morning calls to prayer will become part of your life. When you first move you may experience imposter syndrome or feeling like you don’t belong in your new country. After a little while once you have settled into a home and made some great friends you will start to notice things that used to worry or frighten you are now becoming part of your routine. Moving abroad helps you to reinvent yourself, even if you don’t realise it to begin with.
Homesickness is one of the hardest things about life as an expat and it’s not just missing friends and family and your home comforts. You will also miss the scenery and the weather, even certain local events and there are times of the year that just feel a little odd in your new country- like having Christmas dinner at the beach when it’s usually cold outside.
Sometimes you will get FOMO watching your family and friends meeting up and going out and you may even feel like you’ve been forgotten. Just remember why you started out on your adventure and embrace your new expat life and all it has to offer and soon the FOMO will be reversed. After all, you only live once! #YOLO
Another challenge of living abroad can be adapting to a different climate. This can be really tough and I’m not just talking about going from mild to hot or hot to cold weather. There are also different weather phenomenon’s you may encounter in your new home, like hurricanes, tsunamis, tornados, dust clouds and bush fires to name a few. Being an expat means being adaptable to weather changes too and something that we never would have considered before moving from the UK to St Kitts where we can get hurricanes.
Make sure to research the weather patterns and changes that might happen in the location you are moving to and be prepared for the worst events that might happen. Prior planning means that even if we do encounter a hurricane we have our hurricane supplies well in advance of hurricane season including fresh bottled water, battery powered lights, a gas stove for cooking if we have no electricity and a battery operated cooler for keeping essentials cold.
If you are not used to different weather types then reading about what you will need to do in such an event is so important as these weather disasters can be life threatening if you are not adequately prepared.
Dating as an expat
Dating as an expat is something that we have learned from friends can be very difficult due to multiple factors. One of the main things to consider is cultural differences on how people see a relationship, monogamy is not something all cultures believe in so don’t be surprised if the new love of your life has multiple partners.
There can also be different attitudes towards women in some societies whereby the woman becomes the property of the man she is with. This is a very real consideration as a female traveller coming from a western world, always make sure that there are boundaries, and that consent is understood by both parties when dating abroad. There is also a common misconception that you are a “rich foreigner”, and you might be seen as a status symbol rather than as a person.
There may also be situations where you meet someone and they won’t introduce you to their family because you are not what the family believe is right, either because you are a different race or religion or even the wrong gender if you are in a gay partnership. The language barrier may also be an issue when it comes to meeting your new partners friends and family or even with your partner themselves.
If you are going to be dating abroad there may be certain laws that you need to be aware of in different countries too, many of which may seem like old fashioned values. However, you must remember you are a visitor in their country and laws should be obeyed. When dating always try to be respectful of different cultures but don’t comprise your own safety or values to try and please someone new and exotic.
If you are dating as an expat or a traveller then take a few simple safety precautions. Take a friend to meet new people on a first date and gauge the situation. If you are going alone always let someone know where you are going and who you are going with, provide a picture of the person if possible. Have a plan in place for leaving if you need to or if you suddenly feel unsafe. Keep the number for a local reliable taxi handy and make sure your phone is charged, set up for roaming and has credit and data available. Use your common sense, if you wouldn’t leave a public area with a strange person at home, don’t do it abroad either.
Feeling unsettled and fitting in
When moving to a new country there will always be a period of feeling unsettled, just like moving to a new job. Everyday things like where can I buy a lightbulb? Or Where to buy medications like allergy tablets or ibuprofen? And even where things are in the supermarkets can all seem a little daunting on arrival.
This period of feeling unsettled usually passes in a few weeks once you find a routine and settle into your new way of life. Making new friends can also help you feel more at ease so they can show you the ropes. Fitting in, in a new country is one of the major challenges of being an expat but making friends with locals normally pays off because they can show you all of the secret areas and shops that expats may not know about too.
Whatever your reason for moving abroad whether it’s a new job or wanting to live in a different country for a while, now you know what challenges to expect these tips should help you transition to being an expat more easily.
Have you ever moved abroad? What were the main difficulties you faced being an expat? Let us know in the comments!
Like this post? Save it on Pinterest!
Pingback:5 December 2020 at 3:09 pm