I often get emails from people considering becoming expats. I try to present both the good and bad sides of expat life, for a balanced view of what they can expect. Here on CheeseWeb, you will usually find a positive view of expatriation, because for me, the benefits of living life abroad far outweigh the negatives.
But life has its challenges, whether in your home country or abroad. Sometimes being far from home can make those challenges even more difficult. Expat life certainly isn’t all about glamorous international travel and fitting in with the locals. There are still bills to pay, laundry that piles up, rude people to deal with, and a million other stressful situations you would deal with, wherever you live.
But expat life has its own unique difficulties too. That’s why I’ve compiled this list of 7 reasons why expat life sucks.
1. Missing out on the Celebrations
Family and friends are very important to Andrew and me. We try our best to schedule our annual visits home around weddings, births and other milestones. But the fact is we can’t always be there in person to celebrate these happy occasions.
Holidays like Christmas and Easter are celebrated via Skype. Birthdays, anniversaries and other special days are lumped together in one big celebration when we are able to visit.
When children are involved it gets even tougher. Although we don’t have kids ourselves, we do miss out on watching our nephew grow up and celebrating his special milestones with our family. We see our friends kids grow up in photos and Facebook status updates and know the world back home is marching on without us.
2. Not being there through the bad times
Sometimes not being with family and friends is even harder during the bad times. Funerals are always tough but not being there to support your loved-ones through them is even tougher. Waiting by the phone or computer while someone you love is under-going surgery is gut-wrenching. Simply not being able to give a dear friend a big hug, when I know she needs it, is something I often struggle with.
Luckily Andrew and I have each other, and we have a network of wonderful friends here in Belgium, but when we go through our own bad times here, sometimes we just wish we could be with our friends and family who have known us forever.
3. Not having all the convenience of home
Sometimes you just want what you want, when you want it. Especially when you first move to a new country, this can be next to impossible. Finding a shop that stocks a particular food, medicine or even clothes that fit you just right, may take months or even years to discover. Certain things you love simply may not exist in your new country, requiring you to order them on-line or carry them from home, in your luggage.
Maybe items are available in your country, but not when you need them. One of the biggest frustrations for expats in Belgium is shop opening hours. I have to admit; sometimes I just miss the convenience of the huge 24/7 supermarkets in Canada.
4. Cultural differences can get on your nerves
One of the main reasons for living abroad is to be immersed in a new culture and to expose yourself to new ways of thinking and doing things. Sometimes though, things you find funny or quirky as you travel through a country as a tourist can just get plain frustrating when you have to live with them every day. Rude shop clerks, bad drivers, people cutting in line, outspokenness (or lack of outspokenness depending on your background), attitudes towards gender, sexuality or religion can all become big issues when you’re adjusting to life in a new country and they can wear you down over time.
5. Communication Problems
Moving to a country where you don’t speak the language is hard. Even the simplest of daily interactions can seem next to impossible. But even if you’re fluent in your new country’s language, you may still have communication problems. Local slang can often be very different from what you are used to and accents or dialects can make understanding difficult. It’s also very difficult to be funny or angry in your non-native language and some multi-lingual expats say they have a slightly different personality for each language they speak.
6. Red-Tape and Paperwork
Sometimes the paperwork involved with expatriation can be red-tape hell. There is always one more form to fill out, one more stamp to get, or one more photo to submit. You can feel like you’re wasting your life standing in line or jumping through more hoops than a dolphin at Sea World. In some parts of the world, getting the documents you need may involve greasing a few palms. But even when the spending is legit, getting your expat paperwork in order can be expensive, frustrating and extremely time consuming.
7. Not fitting in anywhere
One of the biggest complaints I hear from expats, is that they’ve lost their sense of identity. They no longer feel they fit in back in their home country, because of the experiences they’ve had abroad. However, they will also never be fully accepted or integrated into their new country. There can be a sense of being caught between two worlds. I’ve talked about the benefit of having multiple places I feel at home. But this can also be challenging when you feel your old friends back home moving on without you, or when you feel you can no longer fully relate to family because your life experiences have been so different.
Expat life isn’t easy and it isn’t for everyone. But even with all of these challenges, I wouldn’t change my expat experience for anything. For me, the benefits far outweigh the challenges and even on days when expat life sucks, I know it’s making me a stronger, more flexible person.
Is there something about your expat life that sucks? Feel free to vent in the comments below… you know you want to.