What they don’t tell you about expat life

What they don’t tell you about expat life

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As they move around in the world of expats, Peter Koijen and Ligia Koijen Ramos from In2motivation, an Amsterdam-based personal and professional development company, have found that the expat life is much more than just moving countries every four years.

Everything starts with an “irresistible” proposal or the vision of a new and bigger opportunity for your life. There is lots of help on offer to arrange a school for your children and find a house. The dream starts growing and the reality gets a bit interesting, so we get a little more into the dream.


The day comes when the dream becomes reality: we are in our new house and we see the truck arrive with our most precious belongings. We are getting ready to start new jobs, the kids are starting new schools, and it is time to get in touch with what is really on offer in our new home.

Companies that have experience with expats have detailed expat programmes and lots of knowledge of the do's and don’ts. If you are in a company that has just started one of these programmes, make sure that you create a strong list of all the things that are important to you and you want to know more about.

Being an expat is much more than moving countries - it is all about living in those countries and adapting.

Loss of connection

One of the things that we hear the most is that, as an expat, you learn how to lose, and you will get used to seeing friends go. We would say that above all, this sensation of loss of connection is the most difficult thing for everyone in an expat family. Individuals in the family may have different views on the change and move, but the need for connection is the most intense one in humans.

So, everyone in your family probably misses that long-term connection, showing it in different ways. Once we had a coaching client whose child refused to speak her mother tongue. During the session, the child started to cry, saying that speaking the language made her miss her grandmother even more.

Staying connected

It is important to make sure that moving countries does not involve leaving connections, and that even if you are far away from your roots, you bring with you the things that make you happy from the different countries that you have lived in. We would like to leave you with simple ways of making sure that all family members have a healthy sense of connection:

  • Leave space in the moving boxes for each family member to bring the memories that make them happy.
  • Keep a book of phone numbers, addresses, names and photos of people that you like and appreciate (we know that you probably have social media, but having a book is a totally different sensation). 
  • Create a photo album for the little ones to remember later on. Make sure there are people in the photos as well, not just places.
  • Talk about people: not talking doesn’t make them disappear and does make it easier.
  • Keep calling all your good friends, even if you are really busy.
  • Tell people that you miss them.

All this is very simple, but still easy to not do. With a new country, new life and new people, you tend to be busy. But in such situations, many people get sad and do not really know their way anymore. The sensation of not belonging and losing one's roots can be devastating.


In one family coaching session, we heard about a ten-year-old girl who started to wet the bed whilst sleeping, and her parents were very concerned. During one of the sessions, the girl said that she felt like a baby without a mum. Her parents were so surprised because she had always reacted with enthusiasm to all the moves and changes, but not this time. She needed roots and the feeling that she belonged somewhere.

Being a traveller is great when you know where to come back to!

Peter Koijen and Ligia Koijen Ramos are life coaches and motivational speakers at In2motivation, offering personal and professional training courses to optimise individual and group motivation and performance. Follow In2motivation on Facebook to find out about future events!

Ligia  Koijen Ramos


Ligia Koijen Ramos

Master coach and founder of family dynamics at in2motivation. With more than twenty years of experience in different countries and contexts, Ligia has the profound belief that simplicity and dynamics...

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Leave a comment

nathandavidson 16:05 | 6 May 2019

I reckon that it's really hard to live overseas, but the word "expat" in itself more or less connotes that you're going to be living a pretty blissful life in your new country of residence. I don't know very many expats who aren't being paid well to live in nice houses because their jobs required them to be somewhere else...

Ligiakoijen 09:35 | 7 May 2019

Thank you for your comment. Yes, normally the expat has a package of conditions that are helping them and their family to feel comfortable. But is also real that lots of times these practical packages forget the "human part", the adaptation, the people inside of a job. And great that a lot of companies are getting more aware of that need as well.

MelBrandle 08:52 | 16 May 2019

In my personal opinion, I don't think living an expat life is healthy for young children. Having to change schools every 4-5 years could take a toll on their mental state. That period of time is usually how long children take to finally adapt to their surroundings and having to start all over again from scratch would simply cause them to be in a state of shock.

Ligiakoijen 14:07 | 17 May 2019

Thank you for your comment. This is exactly why I wrote down these words. It is possible to do it in a way that is good and healthy for the kids, but of course, needs big help from parents.