10 worst things about being an expat

10 worst things about being an expat

17th May, 2013

It is often just as useful to look at the negative side of life as the positive, because the down-side gives us a good idea of what can be improved.  Having spoken to a range of expats in our community, I have come up with the top ten worst aspects of moving to another country. I have also looked at the things you can do to mitigate them and make your expat life as enjoyable as it can be. 


  1. Being homesick – homesickness can strike when you least expect it. You might feel perfectly happy about leaving your home country but when you get there, you’re surprised at how you miss the simplest and subtlest things. You are away from friends and family, your culture, the unique way your society works, the landscapes, climate, flavours, working practices, language, aromas… absolutely everything is unfamiliar. Some expats cope by immersing themselves totally in their new home country. Some plan regular return journeys and family visits far in advance, order familiar foods from ‘home’ and spend a great deal of time on social networks and Skype. Others take it slow and steady, gradually integrating themselves. It depends on your personality, outlook and feelings. But it’s better to take action rather than let it get the better of you.
  2. The language barrier – it’s understandably frustrating when you are unable to communicate fluently and fluidly. You might have a school-level grasp of your new language but it isn’t always enough, without all the subtleties you need to make yourself heard and understood fully. Luckily being surrounded by a language 24/7 makes it much easier to pick up new words, meanings, phrases and so on. Our expats usually find it doesn’t take long to get a better, deeper understanding of the language and be understood better.
  3. The financial side of life – At home you had a credit rating. You could borrow money, apply for credit cards and store credit without much trouble. But you might have to start from scratch when you move. It can take time to build up the ‘trust’ you need to qualify for, say, a mobile phone contract without having to pay large sums up front because you’re an unknown quantity. Thankfully being forewarned means you are forearmed and can make financial and emotional allowances.
  4. The inability to support family and friends – imagine a close family member falls ill or someone has a crisis of one sort or another.  Perhaps your parents are elderly and frail. The guilt aspect of moving abroad can give expats problems, unable to ‘be there’ when things go wrong to offer love and support in person.  It makes sense to plan ahead and set in place regular communications, using as many ways as you can to stay in touch virtually. A letter in the post means a lot, Skype pets you see the people as well as hear them, email takes no time and instant messaging is… well, instant! As a general rule the more often you’re in touch, via as many means as you can find, the better you will feel about being away from your family.
  5. Loneliness – You might not realise how much you rely on your own private community of friends, family, colleagues, and neighbours. You might not see them in person very often but being a long way away in geographical terms instead of around the corner, in the next town or elsewhere in your home country, you suddenly feel oddly isolated.  Bear the possibility in mind and you’ll be better able to cope with it. If you’re convinced it won’t happen to you, it’ll be a bigger shock and harder to deal with. Making friends in a new country can be tough but your workplace is a good start. In some countries, like the US and Japan, work ties are especially strong, which makes it easier to join in and feel as though you actually belong.
  6. Culture shock – When you are used to stopping for a tea break every few hours, the lack of a decent cuppa can have a strangely powerful impact! Human beings are creatures of habit and a relatively small change in the way everyone around you carries out their daily life can make you feel very uncomfortable. Feelings like this tend to wear off fairly quickly, with new habits forming to replace old ones, making you feel more in control of your life and emotionally at ease within it.
  7. Getting used to the money – When you have used the same currency for your entire life, you develop an amazingly deep and intimate relationship with the value of things. Your home currency is your barometer and it can really throw expats when they find they have to consciously calculate prices, making an often-complex value decision when comparing costs used to be completely instinctive. It’s another case of practice makes perfect. One day you will notice you don’t have to calculate as often. Eventually you will learn to think in your new currency automatically.
  8. Unfamiliar bureaucracy – Our expats sometimes find unfamiliar bureaucracy stressful. The simplest administrative and financial tasks can get bogged down in paperwork, which can be incomprehensible and frustrating. Getting a mortgage might be easy enough at home but every nation has its own laws, rules, habits and regulatory landscape. If there’s a community of expats in your new country they may be able to help with recommendations for local support through tried and trusted lawyers, financial advisers, translators and so on.
  9. Health Issues – Any expat worth their salt will buy good quality international health insurance so they can seek medical treatment wherever they want. The first time you need to access healthcare in your new country might be a completely different experience than what you’ve been used to, so make sure that you have the right insurance provider to support you throughout the process – from seeing a GP right the way through to specialist and hospital care.
  10. The weather – When you are choosing a holiday destination, the weather features high on the list of things you want. But people who move abroad don’t seem to find the weather anywhere near as important – it isn’t one of the main motivators. Having said that, you might find yourself missing the climate you grew up with more than you’d expected to. Make sure you have suitable clothing so you at least feel physically comfortable.  Research the local weather or climate so you know exactly what to expect. And do your best to glory in the differences rather than bemoan them.   

Discover our expat country guides

Would you like to know more about expat living? Why not download our free eBook, The New Expat? It goes into detail about the medical side of expat life, family matters, accommodation, financial arrangements and more, designed to make your life easier in all sorts of ways. We also produce specific Country Guides each month, from A to Z, full of details to help you make the best decision and make the most of your new life.

Join the conversation

What’s the most difficult aspect of being an expat? Sharing your experiences can help our community lead happier lives, so feel free to share them. You can join the conversation by leaving a comment below or connecting with us on Twitter: @now_health or on the Now Health Facebook page so we can share them with our readers.


Image source: ponsulak

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Alison Massey

Group Marketing Director

Now Health International

Alison Massey is a 15-year digital marketing veteran, who has spent the last seven years using social media to help expats and soon to be expats find out what to expect from a life overseas. An expat living in Hong Kong herself, Alison is the Group Marketing Director of Now Health, the award-winning international health insurance provider.

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