The reality of expat life- everything you need to know about the good, the bad, & the ugly

Like most things in life, social media makes expat life seem very glamorous and enticing and even though sometimes, expat life feels like wanderlust on steroids, there are a lot of good, bad, and ugly things when it comes to staying in a foreign country. Staying in a new country sure can be a fun and culturally-enriching experience, but in reality, there will be a lot of hard times. If you’re reading this article, you probably considered living and working abroad for some time, but there is still a lot to consider before you make the decision to become an expat. In this article, I’ll discuss some of the pros and cons of becoming an expat and the goal of this article is to prepare you for everything that the emotional rollercoaster known as expat life.

Get ready to change the way your brain works

People will do a lot of things differently in your new hometown. There will likely be a language barrier. And even in places where the language barrier isn’t an issue, your slangs might draw confused looks and your efforts of adopting local slangs or making funny comments will provoke a lot of giggles more often than not. This will require a lot of learning. Learning about the culture, the current political landscape, and everything trending in your new country. Some of these things will be hard to digest and will require getting out of your comfort zone to understand them. And this is where the real growth happens. Life always begins one step away from your comfort zone and it’s here where you’ll realize that a part of you has changed and your brain has been re-programmed. But more about this below.

Expat life comes at a cost

flight clouds

And no, I’m not talking about the lengthy bureaucratic procedures and financial costs related to moving. These costs are obviously there. I’m talking about missing things. Missing people. Your favorite food, favorite bar, favorite neighborhood. Missing weddings, birthday parties, funerals, and a lot of other hard pills to swallow. But you don’t have any time to think about these things. Whether your expat life in your new home is permanent or has an expiry date, you are now a part of this society and should do everything you can to make your new hometown flourish. Not an easy task to do having everything else in mind. Especially when you’re…

Confused as F…

kaneo monastery snow

In the beginning, you don’t understand why some things are done differently. You’re struggling to overcome the language barrier and take a lot of time to complete simple tasks that would only take minutes back home. You might be in worry-free vacation mode for a few days and might not feel bothered by any of these things but reality strikes fast. The climate might not suit you. You might get sick.

Repeatedly. If you are seriously considering expat life, don’t forget to look after your health and wellbeing with international health insurance which will allow you to access quality healthcare while working overseas.

But this won’t solve your rent, phone bills, medical bills, delivery services struggles, ridiculous bureaucratic procedures, and a lot of other things that come out of nowhere without any warnings.

This is just a friendly reminder that…

This is real life, not a vacation

kathmandu monkey temple

Even if you live on a tropical island where the sun is always strong and the days are always long, you still have to pay the bills, do the laundry, work, and after some time, start pretending to work out (like you do back home). This is not a vacation and bad things happen here too. You might hear bad news from home.

There will be hard times and you’ll start…

Missing the things you could do home but can’t do them here

This feeling usually comes around the holidays when you realize you’re alone miles away from most of your loved ones. This is followed by a wave of other things you realize you missed all these months. Drinking with your friends, visiting your favorite street food stall, watching your favorite (ex) hometown sports team in person… The list is endless.

At times like this, you get this feeling that all expats are very familiar with. It’s called…

The guilt of living abroad

Guilt of missing events, not being able to help your loved ones who are struggling, not being there for them. You start to feel like you betrayed your country by moving away. To put it simply, you feel like a…

Fish out of water

Khardung La

It always happens when you try to adapt to a drastically different environment. It doesn’t help that no matter how much you try to learn the language and adopt the local culture, you’ll always be a silly foreigner in the eyes of a lot of locals. Or if not that, you’ll probably hear a lot of stereotypes about your country, some of which even you weren’t aware of. It might be funny at times, but this might cause a feeling of being left out.

Especially because…

Most of your friends/relatives don’t really understand you

It’s not because they’re not trying or not being there for you, but because it’s difficult to comprehend. You can’t expect them to relate to situations thousands of miles away. In situations like this, it’s very important to remain patient and not to blame anyone.

It’s in time like these that…

Most relationships take a hit

travel depression expat life

“Out of sight, out of mind” is, unfortunately, a harsh reality. Real, strong friendships won’t disappear but they will fade away. It’s very difficult to keep in touch with all of your old friends and try to make new friends at the same time. Also, as helpful as they might be, Skype and What’s App can’t replace a conversation in four eyes.

Sooner or later, you’ll have to accept…

The new meaning of ‘home’

India day celebration

In the first month or two, you still refer to your old home as ‘home’. But as you develop new routines, you start referring to your new home as ‘home’. And revisiting your old ‘home’ awakes new, strange feelings. You see that some of the places you love(d) are not there anymore. You start lamenting the good old days and realize that you’re not comfortable there anymore. It kinda feels like finding an old outfit that you used to love and even though it still fits, it’s just not you anymore. But this isn’t a bad feeling. It just shows you that…

Things that seemed so different aren’t that different after all

unusual religious festivals india

Of course, living in India isn’t the same as living in Europe. The locals have very different ways of doing things. But the end goal of all those things does not differ at all. Twist it as much as you want, but people are people in every corner of this globe.

We share the same fears, we live and long for the same things, we all want to have people that we can rely on when things go south, and we all are trying to get to the same “final destination”. We just use different paths to get there. It’s at times like this when the lightbulb lights up and you realize that ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ are not that different and you belong to both groups. You start feeling the first signs of acceptance and…

Discover parts of yourself that you probably never would have 

reasons to travel solo

When moving to a new environment, you may have to rely on yourself more than what you may want to. It’s a challenging experience, but most of the time, you know no one here in the beginning. The truth is that in most cases, the beginnings of expat life are lonely and are accompanied by culture shock and regrets. But difficult times often bring out the best of people and had you never left home, you might have never discovered “the best of you”. Before you know it, you start to…

Reinvent yourself

Kashmir travel

When moving far away from what you used to call home, things may not always go the way you want them to. But even if they do, becoming an expat life is turning a new leaf, one that doesn’t have space for some of the things you used to do, but has space for some new things. I’m a great example of this.

I went to India to work at the marketing department of a big IT company, became a basketball coach in a local school, worked for a consulting company, and a tourist agency, before starting my blog. When you discover new talents, you get to reinvent yourself. You understand how easy it is to change your life around and…

How little you actually need

India Slums

Even though this isn’t necessarily true for all expats, most of us learn to live in a minimalistic way. Nowadays, I use and need only a fraction of the things I used/needed before. I have donated a lot of my clothes and other things to charity. I got used to carrying my life around in a suitcase and I understand this doesn’t sound very appealing and probably something most people wouldn’t do, but I have no regrets.

Throughout the years, I realized that the more things you own, the more beholden you feel to one place. And personally, that makes me feel less free and less willing to broaden the horizons of my world; a world where…

Culture shock and language barriers are learning points, not obstacles

walk in Kathmandu

My moto is that just because something is foreign and unfamiliar, that doesn’t make it unpleasant but you do need to discover a new dimension of patience to thrive in such an environment. Patience is key to overcoming all cultural and language barriers and starting to feel like home as an expat. But even when all that happens, this won’t stop…

The never-ending goodbyes

expat life

As much as you’d want to meet locals and not hang out with other expats, that’s inevitable, mainly because they are the people who understand you the best. Most of them are in a similar situation and are experiencing similar struggles. And it feels good to have some of these people around. Unfortunately, most of them won’t be there as long as you will and you will have to say a lot of goodbyes which isn’t easy, especially after saying goodbye to all of your dearest people back in your previous hometown.

Another downside of hanging out with a lot of expats is…

Marginalization

When you look at it deeper, you’ll realize that most expat communities consist of people who don’t fit in their home countries. And this isn’t a bad thing by default. You can and will meet a lot of people who think outside of the box and are citizens of the world, rather than a town. But you will also meet a lot of misfits who might blur your senses and confuse your understanding of what’s socially acceptable and what’s not. And this can lead to…

Loss of identity

expat life

It might not be a popular opinion, but travel disconnects as much as it connects. Just try traveling the world full-time for a longer period of time and you’ll see what I mean. First, you get disconnected from the hobbies that were once your favorite because they just don’t fit in, then you stop following the things you’re interested in because you just don’t have the time, and in the end, the same happens with your best friends. You get colored by all the places you visited and lived in and after that, there’s no coming back. You can’t fit into a single societal box. Many people might call this consequence of expat life a loss of identity.

BUT, the thing about not fitting into a single societal box is that you also develop a different definition and sense of identity. Always remember that identity is something that comes from within and is not necessarily related to a region, religion, ethnic group, or even social status. It’s a mix of all the lessons all those different cultures taught you throughout the years, all the valuable experiences that made you connect with your gut feeling on this emotional rollercoaster ride called expat life, and all the people you met along the way that showed you how limited your understandings of different topics used to be…

Understand this and you’ll…

Find the balance between connection and (dis)integration

expat life

Meeting expats abroad is x100 easier than meeting new people at home. This is a fact. The fact that they can relate to you and your situation also helps a lot. BUT, the more you hang out with expats, the less time you have to connect with locals, you know, people who can help you learn a lot about the local culture and help you fit in. Sure, making a genuine local friend is a lot harder than making an expat friend but don’t underestimate the friendships with local people. Hanging out with people who are different than you helps you…

Broaden your horizons

reasons to travel solo

And this is the most important benefit of expat life. When you live in one country, you see the world from only one corner. Best case scenario, you hear one-minute snippets about the world on the news and that’s all. But living abroad opens your eyes and mind to a whole new world. A world that’s not centered around your country. A world that challenges you every day, changes the way you think and allows you to grow with every new experience, encounter, and culture shock.

Did you ever experience expat life? Would you like to move abroad? If so, where would it be? Let us know in the comments!

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9 thoughts on “The reality of expat life- everything you need to know about the good, the bad, & the ugly”

  1. This blog is related to my story, as a traveler the life became more unstable like a journey of rollercoaster than a normal person. You have mentioned nicely how the life became heavy while travelling a different country, the main problem will be local language: language played a crucial role while traveling to new place. I can relate this thing very much. You also pointed out things like – Not understand by the family and friend. The life of a traveler becomes hectic sometimes but we all have to face this while traveling.

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  2. Wow, so exciting text. It is an important topic. I am not an expat, but when I decided to make my dream as a road trip and living in a camper truck, I left my comfort zone, too. It’s only a long journey, but I was sad so that I’m not at friends’ birthdays, I don’t spend the Christmas with my family. It’s hard to find a new reality and understand another culture. So I can only imagine how many dilemmas have expat.

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  3. I love reading this post, it is very informative. Sometimes, our travel is not as glamorous as our travel photos. Most people see travel and being an expat as something so glamorous but there’s actually more about it than what they know. Thanks for sharing this.

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  4. I’ve not been a full-time expat (yet) but I can relate to some of your points. The cost of missing family, friends and the convenience of life at home is something I identify with. Goodbyes are never easy, and it’s also hard to stay in contact after you leave.

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  5. I had contemplated an expat life many years back. However due to a very good break here in India the thought never materialized. Reading your post makes me realize all is not always rosy as it may seem initially.

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  6. We have been living an expat life for more than 3 years now and I echo all your thoughts. Language barrier to struggle with genuine friendship. Integrating with locals is not that easy too. I love the experience that is so different from your home country but at the end of the day nothing like your home country with all its flaws.

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  7. Loved reading this. I have applied for jobs abroad a couple times and haven’t followed through. My main concern is missing people but I also wonder how well I would adjust… likely not well. I believe in the end I would look back on it see everything I learned and how I grew as a person. Maybe I’ll take the jump one day

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  8. This is a very interesting post which explains the many things to consider before embarking on an expat lifestyle. I’m not sure it’s for me as I’m very close to my family. The freedom must be wonderful but the pressure to still make a living and do the day to day things makes it a reality and I agree with you that it’s important not to treat it like a holiday.

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