Expatations

12 Reasons Why You Should Never Become an Expat

July 31, 2017
never become expat

Metaphors for choice and stuff.

Life as an expat can be unbelievably exciting, but doesn’t come without its hardships. You’ll find yourself constantly flung out of your comfort zone, scrambling to make new friends, settling down in your new home and building yourself a new life, from the ground up.

So, is giving up everything to embark on a new life overseas really worth it?

From experience, I don’t think the answer to the question is that black and white. Yes, living as an expat can be a wonderful and rewarding adventure. Yet, there are ultimately a lot of sacrifices to be made and sometimes the repercussions of your decisions will follow you all the way home.

To expat or not to expat? The decision is yours and yours alone, but here are some points worth considering.

You’ll constantly have to build a new community

How easy was it to make friends when you were younger? Plenty easy, I’m sure is your answer. You could start chatting to people at school, university, an extra curricular activity, or a party, realise you had 10,000 things in common and become firm friends from that moment on.

This suddenly gets twenty million times more difficult when you become a fully-fledged adult. You and everyone else you know are suddenly so busy, rushing around with work, family obligations, gym time as you no longer have the metabolism that you did when you were 22, etc. It can be hard enough to pin down your well-established friends, let alone go through the motions of forming new ones from scratch.

Plus, you then get faced with the question of – wherever do you go to meet people?! Work is always a good place to start, but where on from there? Should you take up a language or sculpting class? Strike up conversations with people at your yoga studio? Go to a bar on a Friday night and try to worm your way into a conversation there? Attend MeetUp events? Give “friendship” apps a whirl?

It can take a really long time to form a new friendship circle – months, sometimes years in fact. And it will take a lot of effort on your part. It can be ultimately rewarding – you’ll meet people from all walks of life and make some forever friends in the process. Yet, it’s an exhausting endeavour.

never become expat

Well, I made ONE friend at least in Doha, Qatar.

You’re going to be lonely

And ultimately, it takes time to settle in and find a tribe.

You’ll have many moments of being alone – days and nights. Whole weekends, stretching ahead with no one to share things with. Thanks to social media, you’ll quite possibly be inundated with photos of your mates back home, having a grand old time without you. You’ll think: “How dare they?! I am the life of the party!” and then feel quite sad.

I mean, there’s not much you can do. This is the path you have chosen and it will take time to adjust.

Related: What They Don’t Tell You About Moving Overseas

Relationships become temporary

It takes a big commitment for any relationship – personal or otherwise – to transcend distance. There needs to be a willingness to commit to FaceTime or Skype chats, text every day, write emails or letters, send postcards, all with the acknowledgement that it might be some time before you’re in each other’s company again.

Is being an expat as good as it's built up to be? Here's 13 reasons to never become one. #ExpatLife Click To Tweet

Some friendships or relationships are like a burst of light. They shine brightly but are quick to fade out when the flame that fuels it – that being one on one interaction – is no longer readily at hand. Thankfully, there are other, rare friendships that are constant and enduring. They’re not location based – you could live in the Arctic wilderness for thirty years and that person would still be your friend when you returned to sunnier shores.

A lesson I learnt early on is not to force friendships to carry on past their expiration date (unfortunately, some do have one). When one door closes, another door opens, as the age old adage goes.

never become expat

There’ll be a lot to reflect on whilst living life as an expat.

People back home move on without you

It’s not just the people you meet abroad who move on when you leave – it’s the people at home too.

I used to get quite annoyed (am trying to be a calmer person these days) when I would read accounts of people coming back home after living overseas or long-term travel, where they would write something along the lines of: “time doesn’t stand still… people will keep living their lives whether or not you’re in it”.

Well, duh because it’s not like you’re the sun and they’re some poor hapless planet that is forced to revolve around you. Yet to be fair, it is a bit tough to come home and see that some former friendship has disintegrated, without the one on one interaction needed to fill it. Absence makes the heart go wander and all.

However, remember this – there’ll presumably always be new people walking in and out of your life, to fill the gaps that others have left behind.

Related: The Hardest Parts of Expat Life

You can’t have pets or house plants

I dunno about you, but I love to fill my abode with living things. Succulents, ferns, cacti – I like my flat to generally represent a jungle. I’ve also always had pets around. If not at home with my mutts, I’ll buy a fish or a hermit crab to keep me company.

This is obviously quite an irresponsible thing to do if you know you’re going to be in a country temporarily. I save pet ownership now for my forever home, wherever and whenever that may be.

And what of those who are already proud pet owners? Some people move overseas, pet in hand and I am in awe of them. Others are left with no choice but to leave their precious Fido or Whiskers at home with family or friends. It’s tough.

never become expat

But books and plants make a house feel like a home!

You can’t hoard items the way you’d like to

Expat life really suits a minimalist outlook, but for some people (like myself) this can be a real challenge. You want to collect things – souvenirs from your travels, books, cooking implements, whatever. These things are important. They help you feel at home!

Suddenly, you find yourself in a position where you’ve actually bought a small library over the course of two years and are having to ship seven boxes back to your home country, at a somewhat upsetting expense. But giving the books away would of course, be out of the question. What if you want to read them again?!

It’s difficult to get involved in causes you care about

As an expat, you’re usually in a place for a good time, not a long time. If you’re even slightly socially, politically or environmentally minded, you may see the odd cause that you really want to sink your teeth into.

This doesn’t necessarily have to be in your adopted country – it could be a cause directly affecting your home. You’re seeing stuff play out and you want to get involved – to volunteer, to protest, to fight – but you’re just too far away.

Related: 7 Lessons Expat Life Will Teach You

Been putting off that sketching class for years now.

It’s harder to commit to a hobby

There are two things I’ve wanted to do my entire adult life – take self-defence classes and start playing the violin. However, I’ve never really taken the plunge back into either of these hobbies, as I’ve never stayed in a city long enough to do so.

It’s pretty easy to adopt a mindset of “I’ll take up ‘x’ thing when I’m in a place long-term”. Realistically – what if that day never comes? You’ve wasted years thinking about doing something, when you could have spent that time, well doing it and probably getting really good at it too.

It can hurt your finances or career long-term

Life as an expat can be beneficial for many reasons, but sometimes it’s more of a hindrance than a help.

If you’re lucky, you can move overseas to a place that has fair visa laws (so, not Australia) and nab yourself a job that correlates directly to your career. I’ve been pretty lucky in that when I moved to Qatar and the UK, I was working in the same field that I’d been involved in whilst in Australia. I walked away with international experience that I could then add to my CV, which would hopefully impress future employers.

Other times, it can be a real struggle. My heart tends to go out to those who travel to Australia for work and play. As aforementioned, our visa laws kinda suck and the jobs you can get on the average working holiday visa don’t always pay enough to thoroughly enjoy what is rapidly becoming a hugely expensive country to live in.

Those who do make the trek out here tend to make the most of it. However, the come down of returning to their home countries sounds tough, if the blog posts I’ve read about the experience are anything to go by.

Truth be told, I know I’d probably be in a better place financially if I’d never moved overseas – but I saw it as an investment in myself and my future happiness… which is priceless!

Related: How to Avoid Expat Burnout

never become expat

Sydney, stop changing beyond recognition, please.

The places you know and love best will inevitably change

Big cities in particular are vibrant organisms, forever changing, evolving, adapting. I remember venturing back to Sydney after a year abroad and there being whole buildings in the CBD (Central Business District) which had not been there previously.

Yet, it’s the little changes that wig you out the most. Coming home and discovering that the café you used to while hours away in has permanently closed. Or that your favourite burger bar is now a well-known institution. Or that Coldplay of all bands filmed a music video in your hood and it has changed beyond recognition. Thanks Coldplay, you jerks.

You’re always leaving something behind

Friends, family, a favourite library, yoga studio, bar, café. No matter where you are, there’s guaranteed to be something that you’ll be missing.

Related: Why You Should Move Overseas

never become expat

You can always come home and move to a city that feels like it’s in an entirely different country.

You get used to and so, addicted to moving

Sometimes moving abroad can feel a bit like running away. You’re leaving any problems you have in your current life well and truly behind, in order to forge a new life, elsewhere.

Yet, as an expat, it’s easy to believe that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. When I lived in Sydney, I dreamt for years of moving to the UK. Upon arriving, I immediately started longing for home, a feeling that grew with intensity over time and eventually pulled me back.

Thing is – despite regularly professing to wanting “an easy life”, I didn’t go home. I migrated even further south to Melbourne instead, a city where I knew few people and there were subtle differences to my home state. Living here sometimes feels like being in another country and I often have moments where I want to leave any crap that’s happening in my life behind and forge a new identity elsewhere.

I am reminded of a quote from the memoir Without You There is No Us, where author Suki Kim writes about how a parent once said to her:

If you keep moving like this, one day you’ll be too far away to come back.

And as an expat, the most important thing is knowing when it’s time to come home.

Have you spent time living overseas? What did you find was the hardest thing about being an expat?

You may be lonely and it could negatively affect your finances or your career. Here are a few reasons why you should never become an expat.

You may be lonely and it could negatively affect your finances or your career. Here are a few reasons why you should never become an expat.
You may be lonely and it could negatively affect your finances or your career. Here are a few reasons why you should never become an expat.

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43 Comments

  • Reply Amanda Walkins July 31, 2017 at 4:51 pm

    What a fantastic post! Thank you for sharing the realities behind being an expat. I completely agree – looks like we’re on the same page based on similar expat experiences 🙂 Cheers!

    • Reply LC August 2, 2017 at 2:25 pm

      Thanks Amanda! It’s weirdly gratifying to hear people agree.

  • Reply Diane August 1, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    Hi LC! One of my readers linked me to this post and I’m so glad she did! So much to relate to! The part about “friends” moving on without you really hits home for me. I moved to France 5 years ago and people who I once thought were friends for life have become distant. One woman I’ve known for years actually had a baby and guess how I found out? FB. She didn’t even take 5 min to email me she was pregnant. It’s funny how self-involved people are and how moving abroad can bring out people’s true colors. Ultimately, it’s rewarding for me to live abroad or I wouldn’t still be here. But it’s not without its struggles, that’s for sure. Excited to look around your site!

    • Reply LC August 2, 2017 at 2:31 pm

      Hello Diane! Thanks for all your lovely comments – it was nice to wake up to. That’s crazy about your “friend”! If it makes you feel any better – I organised a dinner when I arrived back from Australia in the town where my parent’s live and I know a lot of people… only two showed up. Really shows you who are your forever friends, I guess and that’s a blessing in itself.

  • Reply Zoë August 2, 2017 at 1:25 am

    Hi LC,
    I would like to add paperwork. Lots and lots and lots of paperwork! Visas, taxes, health insurance… it never ends.
    Everything you have written here is true, but even more so if you are the trailing spouse. I have had the same discussion with many expat partners in my position and its always the same: the great loss of purpose with giving up their work; and the resulting diminished confidence; the boredom; lonliness; and the mundane tasks (like paperwork) that you take on so your spouse can do their dream job. It takes a strong person with a positive outlook that’s for sure.

    • Reply LC August 2, 2017 at 2:48 pm

      Zoë that is so true! I know the bureaucracy in Britain drove me bananas. I’ve never been in the position of trailing the spouse… but have been on the other side of the fence and agree, it’s a hard thing to get through. One thing when you’re following YOUR dream… you have to have a strong commitment to follow another’s.

  • Reply Jasmine August 2, 2017 at 8:14 am

    Hey LC, Diane sent me your post and I read it with my morning espresso (I’m an expat in Italy, so gone are the days of the mug and the half-sweet vanilla latte haha!). I agree with everything you’ve said. Another one I would add, though definitely something no one likes to have to think about but that I’m currently experiencing, is that you will inevitably be faced with friends and family who become sick and even terminally sick back home. Time passes for everyone so it’s just a fact. And as terrible as it is, if you’ve built a life somewhere across, it’s not that easy to pick up and leave for an indeterminate amount of time either. I hope for most expats, that this is something that stays elusive for a long time but I think it’s worth mentioning because many of us leave “home” young, without even considering this kind of thing until it happens. Anyways, always happy to know we are all in this together and thank you for this post, it brings to light many things that people never see on our Instagram right!? Hugs.

    • Reply LC August 2, 2017 at 2:52 pm

      Thanks for your comment Jasmine! I hope it was a jolly good accompaniment to your espresso. That’s a very good point too. It’s not a person, but I lived in fear of losing my dog whilst I was overseas. Luckily he has kicked on and I got to spend the whole summer with him, which I was grateful for. I know a lot of my expat friends still struggle with knowing when the right time is to pack up shop and head home, due to family issues. It’s a horrible thing to go through. And yes – expat life is still real life, and brings with it the same ups and downs of anyone’s life, anywhere! It’s not like some big long holiday – as one of my friends says, you still have to count calories in that foreign country you’re living in. Sending good thoughts to Italy.

  • Reply Rhiannon August 3, 2017 at 12:21 am

    This is completely off topic BUT the self defence thing. Have you consider a martial art instead? If you find one that has a worldwide federation, the chances are that you’ll be able to find a class in almost any city (apart from the really obscure cities no-one’s heard of). I used to do Tang Soo Do but then quit before heading to Uni and I thought it’d be hard to find classes (in Swansea – an hour down the road from my house), then I moved to Italy and coincidentally there were classes in the little town hall thing around the corner from my apartment. Tae Kwon Do would be a good one I reckon; you’re probably as close to a Tae Kwon Do class right now as you are to a lamppost.
    I haven’t been an expat (yet) but am seriously looking into it (hello opposite side of the globe) for a while so it’s good to know what to expect 😉

    • Reply LC August 3, 2017 at 7:48 am

      I have! I did Tae Kwok Do as a teen and didn’t like it, but then did Goshun Ryu when I was little and that was jolly good fun. The thing that really gets in the way is my job – most of these sorts of things start at six and I currently don’t finish work til seven, which is rude. It makes having hobbies quite difficult!
      I know you’ll probably choose NZ due to hobbitses but Australia would welcome you with wide open arms (I hear Melbourne’s a pretty liveable city!).

  • Reply Chetan Jadhav August 3, 2017 at 12:59 pm

    Laura , totally agree with all these 13 points highlighted. But have to adjust accordingly to the circumstances.
    Keep posting such offbeat topics
    Cheers:)

    • Reply LC August 5, 2017 at 2:29 pm

      So true! Thanks Chetan.

  • Reply Rianne August 5, 2017 at 12:16 am

    Can relate to this so much! I moved to London five years ago and it’s not always easy. Still worth it though! I have a feeling if I moved back home now, it would take me some time to get used to it again. I would like to come home at some point in the future, I miss my country more than I love London. But living abroad for a while is always a great experience 🙂

    • Reply LC August 5, 2017 at 2:30 pm

      So true. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t moved back to my home country, but then am just grateful to have had the experience of living abroad – it makes me appreciate home more!

  • Reply Tasha Amy August 5, 2017 at 4:57 am

    Interesting read! I feel like the whole expat lifestyle shown these days is so over hyped with poolside photos and beach instagrams, its nice to read a refreshing take on it all

    • Reply LC August 5, 2017 at 2:31 pm

      Thanks Tasha! I know what you mean. There are good points and bad points to it – like anything in life!

  • Reply Nina August 5, 2017 at 8:13 am

    This post is so true! I moved to Spain to teach and I feel the financial dent. The other thing that sucks is even a visit home for a few weeks sucks. Like it can be so expensive.

    • Reply LC August 5, 2017 at 2:31 pm

      Yeah, what is the deal with the expense! I could only afford to go home to Oz once… couldn’t justify it beyond that.

  • Reply Lien August 5, 2017 at 10:07 am

    I loved your honest post! I am thinking of becoming an expat but of course it has advantages and disadventages…

    • Reply LC August 5, 2017 at 2:32 pm

      Thank you! I think it’s ultimately worth it, but it ain’t easy!

  • Reply Ciara August 5, 2017 at 10:33 am

    Interesting post with some really valid points, as an expat in the UAE for the last two years I think we have some shared experiences but I personally love being a expat despite these downfalls

    • Reply LC August 5, 2017 at 2:32 pm

      It is worth it overall, thank goodness!

  • Reply Ania | Snow to Seas August 5, 2017 at 1:06 pm

    This post was definitely an interesting read! I’ve been an expat for 3 years now and am actually considering moving back to my home country. I love the country I live in now, but in the long run, I have realized that I don’t want to live an ocean away from my family and friends I grew up with. Like you said, their lives go on without you there, and I miss taking part in family gatherings and other celebrations.

    • Reply LC August 5, 2017 at 2:33 pm

      I did almost three years and moved back for similar reasons (and then moved to a city hours away… sigh). It’s hard, you miss so many milestones being so far away. I don’t know what the answer is!

  • Reply TINA August 5, 2017 at 2:47 pm

    Great post! As a former expat, I agree with a lot of what you describe, especially the part about becoming addicted to moving. While the grass can be greener, it isn’t always. It took me a long time to realize the importance of being happy where right where I was.

    • Reply LC August 6, 2017 at 2:16 pm

      Yes! I think that’s the most precious lesson to learn in life. This moment is the only one that is currently happening and so the only one that matters. If you’re not happy in the now – when will you be?! Thanks for your comment, Tina.

  • Reply Samantha August 5, 2017 at 9:53 pm

    I was an expat from the US to UK for a year and it was very hard. But since moving back to the states, I’m still an expat in the way that I live on the east coast now and my family and most of my friends are back home on the west coast. It’s a difficult lifestyle and part of me wants to move closer to home, but I also crave living in new and different places so I don’t know what to do sometimes.

    • Reply LC August 6, 2017 at 2:18 pm

      It’s a hard one and I completely empathise. I needed something new too, which is why I chose Melbourne. I guess at least it’s the same timezone as my friends and fam, but it’s still difficult not being able to see them all the time.

  • Reply Jessica August 5, 2017 at 10:22 pm

    It’s a good callout about not being able to get involved. I had to leave my Big Brothers, Big Sisters program in the US when I left and that was one of the hardest parts.

    • Reply LC August 6, 2017 at 2:19 pm

      Argh, that super sucks!

  • Reply Sarah Shumate August 6, 2017 at 12:26 am

    YES to so many of these things, especially the first 5 and the last 3. For me, those are definitely the hardest parts about being an expat. I have wanted a dog for years, but because we move so often and travel nearly every month, I wouldn’t feel right bringing a pet into that situation.

    Thankfully, all the pros of being an expat outweigh the cons for me, at least for now. If I’ve learned anything from being an expat, it’s that things can change in an instant, so who knows how I’ll feel in the future!

    • Reply LC August 6, 2017 at 2:20 pm

      I feel your pain… I want a puppy sooooo much, but pet ownership requires certain responsibilities that life just can’t currently allow.

      There are many good and bad points – I know I came home on a high, so am thankful for that much!

  • Reply Tim August 6, 2017 at 5:01 am

    I left Australia 5 1/2 years ago having never been overseas before. Arrived in Moscow.
    Of course struggles can arise, but if to embark on an adventure it is impossible to plan for EVERYTHING!
    While I can see most people will identify with your reasons, I tend to disagree.
    However when I left, I didn’t ever intend on going back. So my perspective and plan doesn’t really coincide with your travel and return mentality.
    I have heard and do agree, that not so many people would take the risk that I did, or stick it out to see it work for the better!

    • Reply LC August 6, 2017 at 2:25 pm

      Everyone is entitled to their opinion Tim and I’m glad you are loving your life overseas! I was fortunate enough to have a rollicking good time too in the end and actually only ended up coming home so my foreign boyfriend could have a taste of the Australian way of life. I know I hope to live overseas again in the future and will definitely be better prepared next time around.

      Everyone’s experiences in life are varied and different after all and thank goodness for that – as music kings Groove Armada once sang: “If everybody looked the same, we’d get tired of looking at each other.”

      • Reply Tim August 6, 2017 at 2:29 pm

        Very true.
        I am planning to marry a Russian girl. But to stay in Moscow. We are happy here. Europe is near. Everything we want. We can visit Australia at anytime with my family there. But they know I am safe, happy, and my life is here. Moscow is home.
        All the best for your future plans. 😀

        • Reply LC August 6, 2017 at 2:35 pm

          So many positives for sure! Same to you. 👍🏽😎

  • Reply Jade August 6, 2017 at 7:29 am

    Thanks for sharing! I hear so much about all the good things about becoming an expat that it’s refreshing to hear about some of the negatives. I have up and moved all over Australia for my entire life but have to yet to take the plunge into moving overseas. Maybe one day!

    • Reply LC August 6, 2017 at 2:26 pm

      The positives are gooooood but there can be many difficult days! Wouldn’t change a thing though and would advise anyone thinking of doing it to certainly give it a go.

  • Reply Susanna August 6, 2017 at 11:41 am

    Very honest post and refreshing to hear. I am an “expat” in Munich and definitely struggle with some of the things, especially making new friends being very draining on you. It is exhausting. Also, not being fluent in German I want to do stuff like take a cooking class, but sometimes the language barrier scares me a bit.

    However, I still make a point to volunteer and get involved. I participated in a women’s march in Munich recently, we always march in the pride parade and I’m volunteering to work with refugees. I’ve found that doing stuff like this really helps me feel passionate about where I live and enjoy life here a little more

    • Reply LC August 6, 2017 at 2:28 pm

      Thanks Susanna! As I said on your post, it must be 10,538 times more difficult in a country where you don’t speak the native tongue. Although the UK is so similar to Oz that I’d start feeling at home and then some little thing would come out of nowhere and completely throw me off balance, ugh why.

      It’s pretty damn important to get involved and hopefully also works as a good way to meet people! I’m trying similar things in the city I live in now and it’s helping a bit.

      Good luck!

  • Reply Lena August 6, 2017 at 12:31 pm

    Wow, I really enjoyed this write-up! I am in the same shoes and though living and working abroad is fun, most of the time I feel that I have no community at all. At the end of the day, people at work aren’t necessarily fit to be your friends and share you passions and after that, what’s left? I am lucky I have a husband.
    And the last point – so true! You get used to moving and though I love the place I am now, I can’t wait to move somewhere else, cause it’s time 😀

    • Reply LC August 6, 2017 at 2:29 pm

      Thanks Lena! The lack of community is hard – I don’t think I could travel long-term for that reason. Having someone along for the ride with you definitely helps!

      Haha damn that itch, but sometimes the only way you can be rid of it, is to scratch it!

  • Reply 12 Surprising Signs That Mean You've Been Living Abroad Too Long • The Invisible Tourist August 10, 2017 at 3:55 am

    […] If you’ve ever lived abroad, you’re bound to notice differences in even the smallest of things when you finally return back home. These smaller “first world problems” might be enough to make you groan but there are also meaningful dilemmas that may be reason for you to convince others why they should never become an expat. […]

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