The first weeks or months of being an expat are usually the most challenging. But follow these tips, and you'll be right at home, even away from home.
March 1, 2019 — 6 min read
Once the stress, adrenaline, and excitement of moving to a new country abates, newly-minted expats often find themselves yearning for their home country. Even emigrants that move abroad with their family often find they miss their friends, extended family, and the environment they grew up in.
Many emigrants who struggle with adapting to their new surroundings find connecting with an expat community is helpful. You can find communities near you with in-person meetups on websites like InterNations or Meetup. Feelings of isolation and loneliness are natural, and a blended community of compatriots and locals is a great way to stave off isolation.
Once expats depart their homeland, many feel like they are like fish out of water, beyond the comforts of:
Long-term friends and family
The city or neighborhood they grew up in
Familiar languages or dialects
The stores, products, and entertainment experiences to which we are accustomed
Cultural traditions including music, fashion, religion, and food
The first weeks or months of being an expat are usually the most challenging. Drivers might be piloting their cars on the opposite side of the road from where we are used to. Healthcare might be challenging to access in your new surroundings, or it may seem archaic or complex to access.
Before you call your boss, quit your assignment, and take the next flight home from New Xeland (meaning wherever you've emigrated to), take a deep breath or two, and follow these five suggestions. If they don't address your concerns, you'll find more great resources sprinkled throughout which will surely get you feeling as right as rain.
The sooner you have a roof over your head in the country to where you migrate, the better you'll feel. Though the air might smell foreign and the sky might seem a different shade of blue from what you are used to, having a home to store your gear and to hang your hat will give you a feeling of groundedness that will get you through the early stages of becoming an expat.
It doesn't have to be your forever home, just four walls (or more) to help you get acquainted to where you've migrated.
The five phases of expat life are:
Phase 1- Excitement sprinkled with doubt. When you are packing, saying goodbyes and traveling. You're torn between anticipation for getting there, and wondering if you should go back.
Phase 2- The Honeymoon Expat Phase - You're experiencing local foods, meeting new people, and hope abounds.
Phase 3- Frustration - The honeymoon is over, and some of the characteristics of your new environment (even ones you liked at first) have lost their lustre.
Phase 4- Acceptance - This will work. (Really)
Phase 5-**This is My Life Now - **Your new surroundings are nearly as familiar as your memories of the neighbourhood you came from.
Getting settled in your new home is great, but your home shouldn't become a fortress of solitude.
Connecting with other expats from your home country is great, but you should mingle with the locals and make friends too. Walk the streets and browse the shops, bistros, and cafes in your the area where you live. Making new friends and immersing yourself in the local culture will help you realize that the people in your new environment aren't as different from you and your family as you may have thought.
If you are an "expat in training," and deciding which country to emigrate to, InterNations' 2018 lists of the best countries for expats in terms of Ease of Settling In, Friendliness, and Feeling at Home are great resources you should check out once you finish reading this great resource.
Some of the countries the lists offer (so you can resist the temptation to click until you finish here) include:
Kuwait, India, and Saudi Arabia have the dubious distinction of ranking in the bottom three of these lists, though the ease of learning the language is generally the reason why these countries are rank poorly among other countries. For expats on assignment in those countries, a community of those who share your language and culture can be especially supportive.
Many expats that move abroad (31-40%) say that it is difficult for them to make new friends and build friends with locals. Some expats feel the locals aren't friendly or approachable.
In 2014, British expats had a reputation for staying within the "bubble" of a social sphere their fellow Britons. Exceptions include British expats that migrate to countries like Canada and New Zealand, where the culture is quite similar to what they are used to "across the pond" at home. Expats with friendly, gregarious, "over the top" personalities from countries like the USA or Australia often have the best fortune making friends with ease.
For the rest of us, many expat advice forums and hubs suggest that to make friends with local natives, expats should:
Volunteer, and get involved in community organizations
Join groups on Meetup.com
Get a part-time job in places where there are lots of people, such as a bistro or retail store
Make the most of family connections or friends of friends
It's interesting to note that in InterNations' most recent Expat study,
79% of British expats are satisfied with their life abroad
54% said making friends is easy
51% plan to never return to the UK
40% said they have many social opportunities with locals
It seems like Brits are expanding beyond their compatriot bubbles with greater frequency.
Homesickness can strike when it's least expected. Cure it with a call, Skype or Facetime session with friends or family back home. Maybe invite them to visit you on their next vacation opportunity. Just don't overdo it with calls back home, or you'll really isolate yourself within your bubble, and resist getting out and building new relationships.
Last point - if you are an expat overseas, there's no harm in reaching out for help. If you've been transferring money home to your loved ones, the least they can do is provide a shoulder to cry on or send a care package of your favourite treats from home now and then. If you've built relationships with other expats on your journeys abroad, ask them how they have endured homesickness.
Expat communities can be a great foundation to provide you with the confidence and peace of mind to make the best of your international life abroad. Just ensure you apply some of these tips to get out of your expat bubble, and make friends with the locals.
Do you need help tracking expenses like meals, rent payments, or memberships to networking groups as an overseas contractor? Check out the XE Travel Expense Calculator. It converts the local denomination to your home currency, allows you to include bank service charges, and best of all, it's free!