7 things that will happen to every expat

7 things that will happen to every expat

Even though people move internationally more than ever these days, starting a new life abroad is still quite daunting. What awaits you is a lot of adjusting – both big and small – so it is a good idea to prepare yourself as much as you can. Luckily, so many people live as expats that there is a whole corpus of experiences you can tap into.

Even though everyone’s journey is different, there are some unifying experiences of living away from your home country. We have compiled the 7 things that will happen to every expat so you can know what to expect.

1. Patience testing

Firstly, arm yourself with nerves of steel. Your patience will be tested on every corner – from lost luggage to struggling to communicate efficiently with your landlord. The lucky will be able to avoid these annoyances altogether.

What you won’t be able to avoid no matter how hard you try is the immigration process. You have probably heard that Benjamin Franklin phrase – “Nothing is certain but death and taxes.” Well, one of the sure-fire things that will happen to every expat in that same vein is facing bureaucratic hell.

Some countries are very well organised and the process should be fairly easy. Others are very much not. Dealing with bureaucracy can even be one of your first culture shock experiences. However, bureaucrats are strict and specific everywhere – there are no two ways about it. In order to make it go as smoothly as possible, see what horror stories other expats have to share.

It will take a lot of time, money, and effort filling in endless forms, but once you’re done, you’ll feel a sense of achievement and a huge weight off your shoulders. So hold on to that thought while you’re traipsing through all of the paperwork.

2. Maintaining relationships

Making the choice to become an expat implies missing your friends and family for prolonged periods of time. Physical distance and the inconvenience of time zones can make it really difficult to maintain close relationships with your loved ones. If you’re used to meeting up with your group of friends for coffee and just shooting the breeze, that can be tricky to replicate over the phone or video call. Your best bet is to be honest with the people close to you and tell them what you need.

Another thing that will happen to every expat is missing important moments in the lives of your loved ones. You’ll miss countless birthdays and all other kinds of celebrations, but try to keep a positive outlook through it. You can always celebrate it together on your next visit.

3. Food

Food plays a big role in how we experience the world. Adjusting your diet is another thing every expat experiences to a larger or lesser extent. At first, you’ll probably be really excited and curious to try different dishes and foods in your new place of residence. Often it will take some practice for your palate to adjust to the new taste combinations. Of course, you’ll also probably start missing your favourite home-cooked meals from back home – perhaps even things you weren’t a huge fan of to begin with. Luckily for you, we are living in a global village, so you will probably be able to find some specialist shops that will sell spices or foods from your homeland.

4. Unforeseen challenges

Living as an expat has a way of turning your whole world upside down. Things you took for granted and did without thinking now require much more effort and time. One such thing is often grocery shopping. You might not know where to go or what to get once you’re there. Sometimes you’ll buy something that seems familiar, only to find you have no idea how to make it once you’re home.

Obviously, the main reason for this would be the language barrier. If you are not fluent or do not feel completely comfortable speaking the language yet, simple things like shopping for groceries or asking for information can suddenly become very tricky.

5. Travelling vs. visiting family

One of the things that will happen to every expat is experiencing your own version of Sophie’s choice. For many, it will be deciding between travelling or visiting family when they get some vacation days. Most people will have a very limited number of days off. If you really wish to travel, one of the solutions could be to have your family visit when you’re back.

6. Making new friends

For many people, making new friends in adulthood is unexpectedly difficult. You’re out of school, so there is no drama club or soccer team to force you to spend time together and build a relationship. We have to be much more proactive in adulthood.

This is particularly true for expats. It can be quite difficult living in a place where you know no one. Picking up a hobby is a great way of remedying this. You are bound to meet people that way. Plus, this is the internet age. One of its benefits is being able to find a community online no matter what you are going through and move that community into the real world pretty easily.

7. Expat depression

The last item on our list of 7 things that will happen to every expat is quite a serious one. Culture shock and its stages present themselves in different ways for different people, but it can make you quite vulnerable to different mental health issues. Expat depression is one of the ways these issues can manifest themselves.

What’s important to keep in mind during this situational depression is that you are not alone, it happens to many people, and you should definitely ask for help if you’re finding it particularly hard.

Mia  Tolentino


Mia Tolentino

Mia Tolentino works at Transparent International NYC ( as a consultant. She uses her extensive experience in the international moving industry in her writing as well. After living as an...

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Anne Kathleen 11:16 | 15 October 2020

It's worth remembering that even though you are adventurous your family might not be. I have friends whose family visits regularly but not all families do. Apparently we left so it's our job to visit them, not the other way around.