Expat Living: 4 Challenges Of Living Abroad As An Expat

Whether you have secured the job of your dreams in a location you have always wanted to live, or are moving abroad for more practical reasons, working as an expat is an exciting prospect. I have lived and worked all over the world, from South Africa to Australia, Canada to South Korea. In fact, I’m such a big advocate of living overseas that I have an Expat Interview series here on my blog. With all the positives of life abroad, however, there’s bound to be some downsides. There is so much to do in the run-up to the move and when you first arrive, it can be some time before you realize moving to another country can bring its own set of challenges.

An important thing to remember is you are not alone, many of these challenges are also encountered by the wider expat community. There are actions you can take to help deal with the most common problems with expat life, and below I talk about some of the most common challenges of living abroad.

1. Expat depression

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimate 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression. Research by Sean Truman, a US-based clinical psychologist found expats were 2.5 times more likely to internalize problems when compared to those who work in their home countries. This was found to increase the risk of developing anxiety or depression and highlighted the need for mental health services amongst expat communities. It is important when choosing International Healthcare, you consider your mental health and choose a plan that offers supports, should you need it.

Common symptoms of depression include:

  • Not enjoying life as you usually would
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Unusual mood swings
  • Changes in sleep patterns (sleeping more or less)
  • Loss of energy

While we all experience some of the above in certain situations, if the feelings last for an extended period without a specific cause, you may be suffering from expat depression.

There are steps you can take to improve the way you are feeling:

Sleep: try and get enough sleep but avoid sleeping too much. The average adult should get about eight hours a night.

Exercise: although you may not feel like it, try to get regular exercise. This has two benefits: it may help you sleep better and it is a great way to release endorphins that can help your mood. If you are struggling to get motivated, set an alarm and walk for ten minutes. At the end of that time decide whether to continue or return home.

Limit alcohol: Alcohol can heighten feelings of anxiety and depression, if not immediately then the following day. It is best to reduce alcohol intake or avoid alcohol altogether when you are feeling down.

Talk: one of the most effective treatments for depression is to talk about how you feel. This can be a challenge, especially if you have only just moved to a new country without your usual support network. If you don’t have someone to talk to locally, consider calling home to talk to friends or family. It is also advisable to speak with a professional. Expats who have international health insurance will have access to an expatriate assistance program.

Services provided by the Expatriate Assistance Program include:

  • 24/7 confidential professional counseling – available face to face or via phone, video, email and online chat
  • Critical or crisis incident support
  • Legal and financial support services
  • Access to our wellness website

Seek medical help: visit your doctor, explain the situation and seek their advice.


2. Expat Social life

It can be difficult to meet people socially and form friendships in your new country. Whether you have travelled alone or with your family, it is important to have friends to spend time with to feel truly settled. As an expatriate, it can be a challenge but there are things you can do to make it easier.

Ways to make friends as an expat:

Learn the language: language classes are beneficial in two ways. In time you will be able to communicate more easily with locals while in the meantime, you will meet others in your class who are also learning.

Meet other expats: join one of the many expat online forums and see if there is a group who meets in your city or country. It’s a great way to meet other like-minded people who may be experiencing the same challenges as you.

birthdays in South Korea
Birthday celebrations in Korea


3. Career

While working abroad as an expat, it is common to have concerns about your career. Anxieties can begin before you start your new role; fitting in, organizational culture and differences in how things are done in your new country are all common concerns.

How to overcome expat career concerns?

Key to minimizing career concerns about your role abroad is to get a clear picture of what is involved before you leave.

Speak to:

  • Your new employer.
  • Other expats in the organization.
  • Other expats in your destination country.

Ask questions about work life, finances, expat taxes. Are there differences in social norms? How do you greet people? What is the dress code for work? Will there be opportunities to progress?

My students in Korea

4. Healthcare

A survey by HSBC found that 29% of expats worry about health care, how they access it and the quality of healthcare in their destination country. We all remember my Koh Tao horror story with a hit to the head, a concussion and a broken tooth!!

How to overcome healthcare concerns:

  • Research healthcare systems in your destination country thoroughly.
  • Ensure you have a comprehensive international health insurance
  • Plan for the unexpected, ensure your plan includes medical repatriation in case of emergency and an expatriate assistance program if you do struggle to settle in and need some support

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