Expat dilemma: should I stay or should I go?

As expats, most of us will be faced at some point with the issue of moving to another city/country or going back "home" (unless we stay expats forever). We will all go through a whole range of emotions and pressures during this decision-making process.

Many of my clients have described this dilemma as one of the most stressful in their current life stage and they wonder how they can make this decision more easily.

They express things like:
 "I am happy here; everything is familiar now that I’ve finally adjusted."
 "I have routine in my life; I know my way around."
 "I have a good job, my kids go to a good school, but I feel there is something missing."
 "I would like to move to another country / my partner is unwilling to stay here
 much longer and is only here for me / I miss home so much - but I am afraid that I won’t have such a good quality of life or find an equally good job. I don’t know what to do and what is more important for me."

Do you find that the more you think about it, the more confused you feel?

What to do?

Let’s give some space and time to reflect on the "Should I stay or should I go?" dilemma, which is rarely clear cut.

Take time to reflect

This is one of the most personal decisions you will ever take and no one other than you can give you an answer. So, it is important to take time to reflect.

What are your priorities in life? Family, career, travelling, money, the people you love? What are your core desires? Take a minute to ponder these key questions and then list your responses on a piece of paper.

Spend time clarifying your goals and your priorities. Make this time a gift to yourself and navigate the decisions in your life based on your principles, values, dreams, aspirations and what matters to you the most.

Project into the future

Imagine you are 10 years older and that you could turn back time: would you have stayed or gone? How we would like to be in the longer term can be a compass for the choices we make now.

It can help to place our decisions within a larger context. Once your goal is clear, the best choice between the alternatives often becomes more evident.

Clarify the difficulties

Consider the difficulties of staying versus leaving. Ask yourself:
 Is the country you are thinking of moving to safe?
 What will the opportunities for your children to have quality education be?
 What will your career opportunities be if you go?
 What other factors are important for you?

Next, separate those difficulties into those you can do something about and those you cannot influence. This will give you a clear picture of what the situation is now and might be in the future.

Make a list

List how you can obtain support. You may underestimate the help available from friends, relatives, counsellors and others. If you feel that you must carry the entire burden of such difficulties, you will have a heavy load indeed!

Nonetheless, self-reliance is an important characteristic to nurture when it comes to decision making. Ultimately, the decision must be yours.

Ask for help

If the pressure to decide becomes too much for you, you can always get professional help. A counsellor or a coach can help you put things in order in your mind and explore what options are available to you, as well as point out any upsides and downsides you may not have considered.

The more alternatives you explore, the better. Also, having a safe place to express your thoughts and feelings can be comforting in itself.

Decision-making is a process

Remember: decision-making is a process, which means that there is a beginning, a middle and an end.

In time, your dilemma won’t feel as intense, especially after you’ve taken some time to reflect on what you really want and what makes you happy, and you have made a step-by-step plan on how to get there.

Whatever you decide, I wish you all the best... and may you enjoy the journey of self-discovery!

Now, I would love to hear from you. What have been your criteria in deciding whether to stay or go? What has helped you make a decision in the past?

Vivian  Chiona


Vivian Chiona

Vivian Chiona is the founder and director of Expat Nest (, which provides emotional support to expats and their families through online counseling services. A bicultural, multilingual expat with family...

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