How to Survive Christmas as an Expat

survive christmas as an expat
Christmas in Australia seems very strange.

Expat life can be a beautiful, beautiful thing… but Christmas can kinda suck.

If you’re close to your family, it’s when the homesickness can hit hardest. If you’re now living on the opposite side of the world, the change in seasons can really do your head in. And if you’ve just moved to a new country or city and your friend circle is minimal, it can be a really hard time of the year to get through.

However, there are ways and means of surviving, of getting through the day with minimal impact… or sometimes, having a really good day, regardless of the distance.

Here are some ideas, to get you started.


Sad as it may seem, you’re probably not the only one who’s going to be lonely this Christmas.

So, why not give up some time to help out others? Particularly elderly folk who may have no one to share in the day with.

Contact some nursing homes and see if they have a program where others can pop in on the day to spread a little Christmas cheer. You’ll feel eleventy-seven times better for it.

Related: Why You Should Move Overseas at Least Once in Your Lifetime

survive christmas as an expat
Melbourne gets into the festive season.

Try and work on the day

My first Christmas abroad was saved by the fact that I could work, if I wanted to. For once in my career, I seized upon this opportunity with great enthusiasm.

It didn’t matter that my family were thousands of miles away, across the other side of the planet (and tucked up in their beds asleep by this point in the day). I watched a colleague fly a remote controlled helicopter he received for Christmas around the office, tucked into the extensive spread of a lunch that was on offer during the day and enjoyed the fact that I was making crazy money, simply because I had nowhere better to be.

Not everyone has this “luxury” of course, but if it’s there, it’s sometimes worth taking. It makes Christmas Day feel like any other day of the year, which can be a good or bad thing, depending on your mind frame.

Have an “Orphan Christmas”

If you know a few people in your city who are going to be in a similar situation to yourself this silly season – well, rally the troops!

Pick someone’s house for the setting and have a potluck Christmas lunch, with turkey, seafood (if you’re in the southern hemisphere), potato salad, the works!

Lay out some crackers, read the silly jokes and have a kick butt Christmas-themed playlist streaming off Spotify in the background.

survive christmas as an expat
When all else fails, go to the pub (source).

Spend the day at the pub

This may be an option only for those who live in Britain, where some pubs open for lunch on Christmas Day. What an excellent idea. It’s just one of the reasons why it’s worth spending Christmas in London.

You throw on your best Christmas jumper and join other patrons in a lovely, steaming hot lunch, in a cosy pub setting. It’ll certainly help spread some holiday cheer… and where all else fails, there’s always alcohol.

Related: 13 Reasons Why You Should Never Become an Expat

Or at least do something different

If you have the option, try something new that will completely take your mind off the day.

Spending your first Christmas in Australia? Pack a BBQ and head to the beach, along with what seems like every other person in the country.

Living in the northern hemisphere? Why not fly somewhere where you can try skiing for the first time in your life?

Some theme parks are open all year round – maybe Christmas Day would be a good day to avoid the lines at Disneyworld.

survive christmas as an expat
Exploring the Christmas Market in Oslo.

Don’t go full Grinch – get into the spirit of Christmas in your new city

Most cities around the world go above and beyond when it comes to celebrating Christmas.

Australian cities do Carols by Candlelight and many houses completely go to town on their Christmas lights. Europe has its famous Christmas markets. America and Canada will often have snow, which just adds to the festive cheer. Japan decks out its trees in fairy lights and KFC sales go through the roof on Christmas Eve.

London in particular is at its best in the silly season, with outdoor ice-skating, a stack of night markets (I like Southbank’s a lot) and mulled wine here, there and everywhere.

So, go exploring and check out what your new city has to offer.

Do Christmas, just how you want it

Christmas can often be a highly stressful time – family politics can get in the way, some child will inevitably have a tantrum because Santa didn’t bring them exactly what they wanted. Sometimes it just is better spent on your own, particularly if you just want a quiet life.

I love spending Christmas with my family but when work or plain old life gets in the way, I’ll make the most of it. My plan this Christmas is to stock up on food, have an attempt at making a Christmas ham and if all else fails, get steadily drunk on eggnog while watching horror-themed Christmas movies off YouTube.

Now that’s a Merry Christmas.

Have you spent the holiday season living abroad? What did you do to survive?

Pin me baby, one more time.

NB: Picture one courtesy of Pavlina Jane and two of Pug Girl.

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  1. I’ve never actually spent Christmas itself abroad (I flew home for a week or two over Christmas, because it was doable), but I can imagine it’s not the easiest time for expats, especially if you’re still fairly new to a town/city/country. I love how the Great British Pub is always there in the hour of need, though… something I missed when I was away, as no pub outside Britain is quite the same. Hope you have a good Christmas down under!

    1. Me too, entering a pub sometimes feels like a warm hug. Hope you had a lovely Crimbo and New Year’s too, Rosie! All the best for 2018. 😀

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