Culture, Expat, Multicultural, Politics

10 Hard Expat Lessons Learnt on the Way to A Happy Life Abroad

No matter how idyllic expat life looks, there are lessons to be learnt

 It is impossible to be an expat for thirteen and a half years and not learn something. I have watched expats around me, and learnt from them. I have learnt some things the hard way, but looking back I wouldn’t have it any other way. Every experience has helped mould me and the expat life I lead today. I have reached a point of happiness, contentment and satisfaction with the life I have carved out overseas with my husband and three sons. But there is no denying there have been bumps in the road leading to the present day. There have been tough, tough days. But each bump is a lesson learnt. Here are ten bumps…..

1. Habits can be broken. When you move to a new country the things you are used to doing, and the way you do them,  may no longer be acceptable, possible or feasible. It means changing what you do and how you do it.

2. Necessities can become unnecessary. All those foodstuffs you thought you could never live without? Turns out you can – with a little weaning and cold turkey. That particular shop you loved? When it’s gone the world doesn’t stop turning. You may miss things for a while, but eventually you move on. You learn to live without.

3. Every negative feeling has an end. Expats go through culture shock, even experienced expats who have done it all before in different countries. It’s a lot easier going through a hard, negative period when you know those feelings will come to an end. It is part of the expat package.

4. Your way is not always the right way. The people in your host country may do things a little differently. They may turn everything you know on your head. And sometimes you find a better way of doing things.

5. For everything there is an alternative or a substitute. Can’t get something you deem essential? Ask around and the natives or seasoned expats will have a secret ingredient as a replacement for you.

6. Adapt or wither. You cannot move to a new country and expect life to carry on as it was. And truth be told, if that is what you want why move in the first place? If you don’t change your mindset, embrace change and adapt to your environment you will lose a little piece of yourself every day until you realise you have withered away to a shadow of your former self. Tough lesson, but true.

7. Go local. Learn the local language. Being able to confidently communicate with the local people helps you adapt, feel at home and find your way around your new environment. It makes everything a little less daunting and the idea of leaving the house a little less scary. Learn about the history and culture of the new land you call home, even if it is a temporary home. If you know why things are the way they are it helps you accept the things that may be wildly different from life as you knew it. Learn about the politics of your new home.

8. Explore. There is a whole new world around you. Seeing new sights is uplifting.

9. Make friends with the locals, they are your best tour guide, information source and linguist aides. Make friends with other expats, they are the voice of experience and they know what you are going through.

10. Expat life is not a holiday. Normal life continues at home or away with all its ups and downs. Moving overseas does not mean there is no more drama in your life, or that you can escape what happens back ‘home’. Sometimes it can actually make problems worse as solving issues back in your home country is harder. Expat life is not an escape from life.


28 thoughts on “10 Hard Expat Lessons Learnt on the Way to A Happy Life Abroad”

  1. Right with you there Nerissa – and I have seen it so often and watched really unhappy expats come out the other side and flourish. But it's hard when you have no idea most other expats go through the same thing. And that it does end.


  2. Some great points thanks. My husband moved to Australia with me 17 years ago. We now have 2 kids and want yo move back to Scotland. Some valid points you have made. Will be checking back


  3. for those of us who left blighty 20 years ago, the homesickness just grows and grows, and as statistics prove -60 percent of brits move back after 10 years (me included)


  4. You have hit the nail on the head with all your observations. My Brit husband and I have lived in the US for 18 years and have 2 dual nationality “American” kids. No 7 is essential. By going local you feel at home so much more!


  5. #9 was the hardest for me. It took me a long time to convince my friends that if I wasn't saying something right I wish they would correct me. It wasn't rude, it would help me. And at some point I was going to have to communicate with a stranger and I'd really need to know what to say.


  6. Learn the language,explore, read books and enjoy! But the most important thing is to get your children settled and then understanding the host country fits into your life.w


  7. I think the last point is a good one- when you're living in another country, and you go on holiday and return back to your home and it feels like “aaaah, we're home”– then you know you've started to settle:).


  8. As an expat, while you are dealing with your adaptation, sad news come from home. The first years you make it back home to visit your old relative, later you make it to a funeral to another one, and then you can't or don't even go to say the final goodbye. Or the worst thing, you don't even receive a phone call. Then you grieve with your loss, and also to the realization that you are not part of that home anymore…


  9. Agree completely – running back at a moments notice is just not possible at all times. I also think sometimes the fact that you are so far away there causes problems back home because things are not easy to fix with the people you leave behind.


  10. Number 10 is the one we find hardest to get some people to believe – they think a life in France is all wine and sunshine where-as in fact I reckon we work harder now than we did before we left the UK. A different kind of hard and an enjoyable one but it is certainly not a holiday!


  11. Number 10! No, it is not a holiday, and a surprising number of people back home think that it is. No, expat life is regular life but now in a different language or at least with a different accent. It's going to be hard but that's where number 3 comes in. Every negative feeling does end. A lesson I hope to teach my daughter.
    Great lessons! All of them!


  12. I'm finishing up my first week as an Expat here in the Netherlands and can hopefully keep these in mind as I go through the process. I'm still in the “wait am I on vacation phase” as we are still getting settled.


  13. Agree with it all! I like, how being an expat made me more adaptable. It makes you realised, that things are not that important in the end – you can always learn to do without one thing or another. What is important is your attitude and positive outlook.


  14. Amanda, I agree with that all. But how to possibly deal with those feeling that are traceable to aspects that are irreparable? in fact, i have one feeling in this category and it's traceable to two facts: the combination of cold summer and high taxes. The joint impact of these two aspects drew us to a point to purchase a vacation apartment in the South of France, so that we secure some sun for us in the summer months and any time when rain here just feels too much:-)
    I evaded the harsh Canadian winter and do enjoy the mind winter climate here:-)
    But little I knew about the overcast and he low temperatures in the summer:-(
    We ended up spending thousands of dollars flying to the South of France and other warm places in the world, for all our vacation days. The Netherlands now became the place to work, and the real life is actually happening elsewhere. I'm actively think on how to resolve this and so far did not come up with a viable solution. i must say, i'm working hard on this…
    Just a thought…
    Have a great day!


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