13 Reasons Why You Should Never Become an Expat
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.
This post is by no means suggesting you SHOULDN’T live overseas (perhaps despite its somewhat deceiving title!).
In my opinion, it’s one of the best things you can do in life.
You’ll meet amazing people and have all sorts of experiences you would never have dreamt of having if you’d stayed in your native country. I know I don’t regret doing it for a second.
This is merely a case of peering over the other side of the fence, past the Facebook posts and Instagram filters and appreciating the fact that some things in life aren’t as easy or simple as they appear… although typically, they are ultimately the most rewarding.
So – to expat or not to expat? The decision is yours and yours alone (as is the experience), 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.
You’re going to be lonely
And ultimately, it takes time to settle in and find a group of friends.
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.
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.
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.
Here are some more thoughts on friendship in the digital age.
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.
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.
You’ll have to adopt a minimalist lifestyle, which isn’t for everyone
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.
Some of these need a surplus of time invested before you can start to see a payoff. It can also be disappointing to have to move on, particularly before you feel you’ve given it your all.
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.
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!
You may have to do taxes for two different countries
When really, filing taxes for one country is upsetting enough as it is.
You will have to learn and navigate a whole new tax system, which is definitely a challenge (it can be hard to understand your own country’s system, let alone any others!). In some cases, you’ll have to continue to file for two different countries, or at least continue to let your home country know you’re still abroad.
And if you’re extra lucky, you’ll hail from a country where you’re still expected to pay tax even when you’re not living in it. Which is insanity, but that’s just the way it is.
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.
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?
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!
Thanks Amanda! It’s weirdly gratifying to hear people agree.
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!
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.
I mean, is it really fair to call her self-involved for not reminding to message you. You left her and everything else behind. I don’t understand that mentality. There is so much that goes on in day-to-day life. I don’t think it’s fair to be so judgmental of someone for that sort of thing
I know where Diane’s coming from – it’s upsetting to find out about friend’s life events on Facebook. I don’t buy into that “life is busy” crap. It takes two seconds to send an email or text. If you want to make time for someone, you make the time. She has every right to feel hurt by her friend’s actions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jasmine I feel this so strongly. I have been in Canada for almost two years and since then my entire family seems to have fallen apart. My mother hasn’t worked for 3 months due to psychological issues, my grandfather has Dementia back in New Zealand and it’s very hard watching and hearing all of that from so far away. I definitely feel kind of guilty but also I don’t want to go back yet – and don’t feel comfortable to. But I may when my visa runs out next year and that terrifies me.
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 😉
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!).
Laura , totally agree with all these 13 points highlighted. But have to adjust accordingly to the circumstances.
Keep posting such offbeat topics
So true! Thanks Chetan.
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 🙂
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!
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
Thanks Tasha! I know what you mean. There are good points and bad points to it – like anything in life!
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.
Yeah, what is the deal with the expense! I could only afford to go home to Oz once… couldn’t justify it beyond that.
I loved your honest post! I am thinking of becoming an expat but of course it has advantages and disadventages…
Thank you! I think it’s ultimately worth it, but it ain’t easy!
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
It is worth it overall, thank goodness!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Argh, that super sucks!
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!
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!
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!
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.”
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. 😀
So many positives for sure! Same to you. ???
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!
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.
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
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.
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 😀
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!
Interesting post and I can totally relate to this as I have lived in three countries in the last five years. I always find myself missing my friends and family, and my work and career has also been pretty tough. Some of my friends who I used to close to have now moved on, as I have never been around for social events and catchups.
I also agree on the hoarding of items too. I’m pretty much reluctant to buy anything that isn’t small and portable these days, which does make home a bit less homely.
I definitely think anyone thinking of moving and living abroad needs to really consider if it’s for them before making the decision.
Thanks for sharing all your thoughts.
Exactly right Mike, I think many people jump into life overseas with two feet, without considering the consequences. EVERYTHING in life has its ups and downs and it’s so much easier when you approach a situation whilst keeping this point in mind. Thanks for sharing your thoughts in return!
Really cool post! A friend sent me a link to this and it coincided with planning of my own expat life list. I decided to turn my list vlog into a reply/discussion of my own experiences and opinions about the themes you brought up (as mine was shaping up to be similar to this one). here’s a link to my reply to your list https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yAwcx91Deag
Well done, LC. I lived in Germany with my wife for 4 years, and I regret it. Looking back, I realize that my anxiety level is too high to be comfortable as an expat, and it prevents me from becoming fully functional in the native language. You have to have a certain self-assuredness to do well abroad, and I lack that. Wish I’d understood that before.
Hi Gordon, thanks for your comment. Living overseas can be a really rewarding experience but there are so many other factors that need to be taken into account… is it the right time? The right place? The right job? So many things can tarnish what could otherwise be some really wonderful and challenging years of your life. But hey, you live and you learn. I’m sorry it wasn’t a positive experience for you, but I hope everything is going swimmingly now.
The taxes where almost a deal breaker for me. The are so dreadful…Thank god I pushed through, best decision of my life. Changes a must for me. Do not be afraid.
YES they are bad enough doing in one country, let alone two! Haha I ended up coming home and moving to a different state, which still feels very adventurous and I don’t regret it in the slightest. 🙂 All the best, Darryl.
Hi. I retired 3 years ago to a beautiful place in Mexico. I shook my head several times while reading this post, thinking, “oh yeah, that’s so true.” The biggest challenge I have faced is the lonliness thing. There were a lot of North American expats where I first lived, but they all seemed to be involved in heavily guarded cliques, really like highschool. Constant drama and unbridled really vivious gossip were quite common. I tried to fit in to avoid being so lonely, but found myself being rejected in several ways. At times it felt really bad, but eventually I resolved that these people were basically a bag of cats that I really didn’t like anyway, so, perhaps they did me a favor. Being lonely at such a deep level actually had some benefit. I was determined to not let it cause me to loose the joy of people. So, now I live outside of Tijuana, and have easy and quick access to San Diego where I am slowly but surely developing some early stage relatedness with people I encounter at Meetups. Thank God for them. It just takes a long time. You were so right when you asked how easy forming friendships was when I was young. Now, as a 65 year old single guy it seems much harder, but actually worth it because I want truth in my friendships, and I refuse to let just anyone into my life because I am lonely. That fear of lonliness has caused many people to settle for toxic and unrewarding relationships, which I now understand for me are much worse than the illusion that I am alone. I am not. In late April I am walking the Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain. I am excited and confident that I can more fully resolve my fear of being alone on that spiritual journey.
Thank you for your comment Lenny. Loneliness can be so hard to deal with but I think the way you have approached it is a wise one – particularly your point about not getting involved in toxic relationships for the sake of having people around. What’s the point? They’re only going to make you feel miserable in any case.
As hard as it can be to deal with, I think loneliness can be empowering in many ways – it strips you bare and you really get to know yourself on a deeper level. I know my experience of being alone and lonely forced me to look at some aspects of myself that I wasn’t happy with and change them for the better and years on, I’m far more comfortable in my own skin and with myself as a person, as I might have otherwise have been.
I hope the Camino is a wonderful, healing walk for you. Sending lots of love from Australia.
Everything listed is spot on.
I’m one of those expats (well immigrant) who unfortunately had more cons than pros. That’s something that we don’t’ hear often; People are always going on about what a great experience moving abroad is (it can be), how they got used to it and will stay forever, etc… but rarely do we hear from those who didn’t find it to be a great experience.
I’ve lived abroad for over 3 years and now am in the slow process of returning home — it will take me about a year to get back. I admit, It does feel like a failure, that I couldn’t stay. But in the end, things became too difficult, despite my many efforts to integrate. The lack of a career, community, being involved and the inability to settle down (in my 30s) is really not worth it. Perhaps I could keep trying to find a place where people were less insular, but then I’d have to spend more money and start over and over and over again. That’s too much of a price to pay for living next to a castle or delicious food.
What’s that saying? The grass is always greener from afar, but when you approach, the grass has just as many weeds as home.
I’ve had a few friends who have had similar experiences living abroad where it has been largely negative. Mine was a mix of both. I don’t regret it but I’m glad I moved on when I did.
I don’t think it’s a failure at all, it’s just an experience. There will have been benefits to your time abroad, although sometimes it takes awhile for them to marinate and sink in.
Good luck with the move home! I hope everything works out for you.
What a wonderful and insightful post! It really hit home with me. A little bit about me: I’m German, just turned 31, and have – over the past 2.5 years – lived in Sydney (6 months), Berlin (1.5 months), London (14 months) and now New York City (for approx. 1.5 months) with various travel in between. I grew up experiencing a lot of family trouble, especially in my teens and most of my twenties, so always felt the need to “escape” and “run away” as far as I could. I had always dreamed of Australia and New York, London and Berlin kind of happened because of job opportunities, which I didn’t want to let slip through. I absolutely relate to all of the points you made in your post and I’m currently at a point, where my gut tells me that it’s time to go home to Germany (even though over the past years, I wasn’t sure where “home” really is for me anymore). My family troubles are behind me now and I am very tired of contantly moving and trying to make new friends. I have made some of the most amazing friends over this time, but they are all in different parts of the world, so I really feel the loneliness creeping in constantly. I’m longing for an actual “home”, with a stable job and where I feel comfortable and am actually able to establish long-term friendships (and a romantic one as well). I am just afraid that once I’m back there, it won’t feel right again and I get the “travel bug” again – as you said, the grass is always greener somewhere else. How is it for you now? I’m in a similar situation: would not return to the city I was born and raised, but another one further away. So I would have to build a completely new life again.
Sorry for the length of this comment. Was just so grateful that there are people out there who understand. Thanks for writing and posting this!
Thank you in return for your thoughtful comment! I have to say, you’ve lived pretty much everywhere I hoped to live in my twenties. But yeah, it does get exhausting and a bit same-same after awhile – the gleam wears off a fair bit after you’ve constantly been on the go.
The concept of home is an interesting one – I’ve never really believed it to be a place, having had “home” change so many times in my life. Sometimes it’s the people who make a home – a romantic partner or family, whether that be chosen or blood relations. Sometimes it’s simply a feeling or a vibe.
To answer your question, everything has worked out really well for me. It’s been 2.5 years since I moved to Melbourne and I have zero regrets. Being in a new city has continued to keep me on my toes. I have new friends, a new(ish) romantic relationship. I’ve got to know my local community and I’m about to start a new career, one which I’ve always dreamt of doing. On the flip side, my family and old friends are not far away at all, so I feel as though I have the best of both worlds.
It’s taken time and it wasn’t easy at first and I certainly had the itch in my feet for awhile after moving here and considered moving on several times. I’m glad I waited it out – I actually haven’t had the desire to go overseas once this year as I’m having too much fun exploring my new city, state and home country!
I hope you end up making the right decision for yourself.
I constantly here from EVERYONE who becomes an ex-pat that they”recommend it for everyone, and that they wish they would have ‘done it sooner” and yet, many of these people move back home! When I ask them why that is, all of them give a vague, ambiguous answer (as though they do not know themselves) and has left me wondering if I should go at all.
Honestly? I don’t think it’s for everyone. I’m glad I did it when I was the age I was. I’m glad I did it in general. I’m glad I came home when I did.
If it’s something you want to do, you should do it. As with any experience in life, there’ll be good moments and bad.
Hey LC, what a wonderful post. I mark 15th year as an expat. The part about the temporary relationships resonates so much.
I was nodding all the way down to the end of this blog post until that one quote really hit me hard – “if you keep moving, one day you’ll be too far away to come back”. While I find it a bit pessimistic as a worldview, I must admit that that’s exactly how I feel at the end of 14 yrs abroad. The longer you stay away, the less there is anything to “come back to”. Going back for me would mean basically starting from scratch that I’m supposed to be a local in, but really, I’d just be yet another foreigner. Thank you for this super honest takedown of expat life!
Wow…I don’t relate to any of this…whenever I’ve felt like there were these many problems wherever I was, I left because I’ve worked to make my life look the way I want it to look…I don’t accept that life has to be difficult, lonely or limiting.
as a matter of fact…living life in the USA has always been more stressful, filled with unnecessary obligations and in terms of paper work being a thing abroad…I find it exactly the same in the USA (if everyone you know is a citizen, then you don’t have to deal with that part of immigration logistics…but I find immigration is the same everywhere)…
I have an USA accountant that does all my taxes online, I have pets and plants in my homes abroad and my USA home and friends all over the world that I visit for each holiday or I organize events for folks to come see me (extended dinner parties)…so really, I see who I want to see not who I’m obligated to see.
I guess it all depends on why you decided to live abroad. The experience of new worlds is the community…the ability to make one and adapt wherever you are is exciting….I found the grind of American life at the 9 to 5, work till you drop and then spend your retirement seeing countless doctors and navigating the scam of insurance filling my life exhausting and limiting…
Granted, I work for myself which is the first thing I learned I was built to do and grew up amidst people who were from different places so that seems normal to me (homogeneity is what frightens me). I assume the world is much larger than the one I was presented in America (at least I prayed to the Gods it was)….living abroad made me appreciate how privileged and sheltered we are as Americans and westerners in general. It made me grateful for what we take for granted and more deeply appreciative of how people who live differently can be just as happy with less…I’ve found something deeply meaningful that we as Americans have never been able to find in each place I’ve lived.
I guess it’s just frame of mind. If you’re attached to the “illusion” of security and comfort of America, then living elsewhere does seem like a grind, to learn new ways to acclimatize. I never found America easy or convenient, so I was totally open to learning some things that people abroad do better. I think when you leave looking for something different, your experience is different.
My expats communities around the world split right down the middle. Those people who moved to learn different ways of living are really interesting and build amazing full lives and those who left for jobs or partners constantly trying to rebuild the world they left behind are often overwhelmed because the world they’ve entered doesn’t measure up to the one they left. The latter feels exhausting, the former freeing and enriching…
The freedom of the American dream was never a reality for me, so I didn’t miss it…I found freedom in so many other places ….being an expat means letting go of expectations…and the west is full of them…I don’t experience that in countries that I travel to…for me it’s about choice…and creating my own reality…there is joy in that I’m creating a life I chose, not the one expected of me.
that quote ‘if you keep moving then one day you’ll be too far to come back’ hit me hard. I lived in Europe for 15 years (2 UK, 6 France, 2 Bavaria, 5 Berlin) and I had to return to the US very unexpectedly 3 years ago. Being abroad gave me the incredible and unique chance to ‘grow up’ and develop a relationship with myself and the world around me in ways that I never could in the US. I had experienced many turbulent years in the US with bipolar depression and could not crawl out of that hole until I moved to Europe. Different cultures, ways of life and thinking outside of the narrow and privileged scope of the US helped me get well and I made great strides. I realized I had everything that I needed within me no matter where I was. Life in the US for me was and remains based on struggle, money, greed and never being or doing enough. Living abroad gave me the freedom to be myself and that I am good enough. I have returned to family who asks me why I came back. They have not forgiven me for running away and not fulfilling their expectations as a good daughter who would dutifully become the caretaker for elderly parents who are 88 and 90. They are no longer my people, my tribe. This is not my place in the world where life expresses itself so differently outside the walls of the USA. I guess one day I did go too far to come back.
Back in 2006 I lived abroad in Tenerife for three years but within a month of living there I was so bored out my head that I forgot I was living abroad.Going out and drinking at night all the time gets boring and eventually the cost adds up.Then after a while you’re so use to the weather and scenery that the affect of living abroad wears off and by that point it feels like you’re living back home again.You also work double the hours abroad for the same amount of money that you get in the UK.I didn’t get home sick or anything like that I just found living abroad boring and especially if you don’t speak that countries language because you’re very restricted both hobby wise and job wise.They also try rip you off too.I moved back to the UK after three years and the only reason I didn’t leave earlier was because I was under 18.
It’s definitely not for everyone! Thanks for sharing your experience, Mike.