The Hardest Part about Being an Expat

Expat life is a wonderful adventure but it is not always easy to say goodbye to a life you have known and start a fresh in a new country. Many of us struggle with different aspects of adjusting to our expat lives, some more than others.

Here I detail some of the hardest parts about being an expat: which ones do you struggle with the most?

  1. Living away from family: Family and friends usually form the basis of our support network back home. So when we uproot ourselves and move to a foreign country, often the hardest part is to do so without any support, companionship or long lasting friendships to help us along the way.

  2. Making new friends while staying in touch with old friends: Friendships conducted over distance can often be hard. For expats the biggest challenge is to stay in touch with their old friends while putting themselves out there and trying to make some new friends in their new country.

  3. Forging a new identity: When we take ourselves out of our familiar environment and place ourselves in a new one, it can often lead to the formation of a new identity. Many expats struggle with this, since the experience of being a foreigner means we have to learn everything from scratch. Often times we struggle to forge a new identity, and cling on to our previous ones.

  4. Learning a new language: Possibly one of the hardest parts about living abroad is learning a new foreign language. Not being able to communicate with others or understand small talk on the streets or read a menu in a restaurant highlights the need to learn the language of the country you are in. But this is often a frustrating process and requires time, energy and patience.

  5. Understanding a new culture and experiencing culture shock: Many expats experience culture shock as they try to understand and come to terms with a new culture. Culture shock is part of the adjustment process and can often make the initial settling in period quite hard.

  6. Finding a job: Finding a job abroad can be very stressful. Your qualifications or degree or work experience may not match the new country and economy you find yourself in. Maybe you are not entitled to apply for certain jobs (in many countries there are quotas for local positions) or you may find that your scope is very limited. Many expat spouses in addition struggle with not having work visas or the necessary permits/sponsors to be able to work, so a potential employer definitely has to go through more paperwork to hire you, which can also be a factor.

  7. Being financially dependent on your spouse: If you cannot find a job, then you are thrust in the new position of being financially dependent on your spouse. This can change the dynamics of your relationship and can often be a stressor in your marriage abroad.

  8. Raising children abroad: Raising children abroad, in a culture very different from yours or your partners can have you re-evaluating and second guessing almost all of your parenting techniques and instincts. Living in a foreign culture does impact our parenting but often the toughest part is trying to raise children in a new culture and learning the do’s and don’ts along the way.

  9. Dealing with homesickness, loneliness, alienation: These are all real emotions that expats experience in their new country. Homesickness is often a tough one to deal with but also loneliness is a very real emotion that often gets swept under the rug. Alienation from those around us can often perpetuate feelings of loneliness.

  10. Repatriation blues: Many agree that while being an expat is tough, being repatriated to your home country can often be tougher. This is so because so much has changed since you last lived there, including yourself. People will expect you to just fit back into life there, but it is not so easy and can take time for you to re-adjust to life back home.

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