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Expat Life: the Good, the Bad & the Adventure

WORLDWIDE | Thursday, 22 March 2012 | Views [7892] | Comments [1]

The dreamer imagines expat life to be a new world full of possibilities and romance, where they will feed off of the hum of a new city and encounter excitement around every corner. The realist knows that the challenges of setting up life in another country, knowing no one and sorting through foreign bureaucracy will be a huge undertaking. So, take these two ideas, plop them smack dab in the middle of a new country, and here you find the expat.

Travelling and actually living abroad are two very different experiences. As a traveller, you never have to figure out how to set up a bank account, where to get the freshest produce or where to get your teeth cleaned. For those are the things of regular life, not life on the road. But if you choose to settle in somewhere for awhile you will eventually need to figure these things out.

For many expats, the misconception by family and friends at home is that you are free to frolic around your new town, carefree, on a long sabbatical from "real life", when the reality is that you're going to work, folding your laundry and paying the bills too - just thousands of miles away. 

To find out what life is actually like as an expat, we've asked a few of our friends to share the joys and the difficulties of life as an expat.

What do you love about life as an expat?

Every day is a new adventure when there's a language barrier to be negotiated. Even when there isn't, you're still going to be seeing new things and learning from new experiences wherever your day might lead you. – Chris Walker Bush, Aussie on the Road

As an expat you really get the chance to live by the rhythm of another country – you commute, work, grocery shop, eat and drink with the locals. And if you do this long enough, they aren’t just “locals” anymore, but friends. As a traveller you usually don’t get this level of interaction, of understanding or of acceptance. When that happens, you belong there too; that country becomes more than just a stamp in the passport, an album of photos, and some beautiful memories – it becomes another place in the world to call home.  – Alicia Smith, WorldNomads.com

I love the surprises
that come with living in Mexico. From mariachis singing in the food market, a campesino walking with a parrot on his shoulder or dodging fruit like mangoes and chico as they fall from the tree, every day offers a new and unexpected experience or flash of beauty. Michele Petersen

I've lived in both Nice, France and Melbourne, Australia mostly because I love creating a routine: becoming a regular in a café, knowing the public transportation lines like the back of my hand, experimenting with local ingredients, settling into a friendly circle of locals and fellow expats. – Christine Amorose, C'est Christine

I really enjoyed living amongst the locals. Women and children in Vietnam would wave and practice their English with me. It's the lovely local encounters that make living abroad worth its many challenges. – Marissa Toohey, The Bubble Buster Project

What are the difficulties of being an expat?

There's no avoiding homesickness. When you're out traveling and it's all go-go-go, you might be able to avoid it. But expat life means a certain amount of downtime and with that quiet time will inevitably come a little sadness. It's also hard to be away from your support network when times are rough. – Chris Walker Bush, Aussie on the Road

In addition to missing family back home, I miss Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Ukrainian and other ethnic cuisine. My hometown of Toronto is an incredibly diverse city so it's easy to pick up foods like Dodonis feta in Greektown or naan hot off the grill in Little India.  Here (in Mexico), it's not so easy! Michele Petersen

I had trouble finding safe food during my first weeks living in Vietnam as I'm allergic to seafood! When it's tough to do something as basic as eat, everything seems difficult to manage. But it only took a couple of weeks to find some trusty vegetarian eateries and I managed to keep smiling by having fun while getting to know my new and intriguing surroundings. – Marissa Toohey, The Bubble Buster Project

In a certain respect, if you’ve haven’t grown up in a place, there are some things, some references that you just won’t understand. This is because you weren’t around to experience them with the rest of the country.  That joke or story about “the big event of 1993”? Forget it. – Scott Ward, WorldNomads.com

My "fixed life envy" is the hardest part of being a constant expat: I'm never staying anywhere quite long enough to fully put down roots. I'd love to invest in beautiful things for the home and buy a puppy; instead, I get really good at detaching emotionally from objects and learning how to say goodbye, yet again. I also think that being an expat is a lot more exotic in theory than reality: my friends at home think I'm constantly on vacation, but I'm really just working and grocery shopping on the other side of the globe. – Christine Amorose, C'est Christine

Related Articles:

Career or Travel: How to Do it All

How I Found a Job and a Flat Within 2 Weeks of Arriving in Sydney

Have you ever lived abroad? What did you love about it, and what were your struggles?

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Tags: adventure, challenges, expats, lifestyle, living, locals, travel



In the last year i have lived and worked in two very contrasting countries. The first was in Australia, which was actually a working holiday visa for 5 months, and i managed to settle very fast into the way of life as it's very similar to Scotland in many ways. The food, culture and beauracracy presented no challenges to me whatsoever and i had a job in catering - an industry i feel very comfortable working in. Within just one month i was settled!

In contrast i moved to Madrid on a more permanent basis last summer and i felt it took me around 5-6 months to really feel comfortable here. Paperwork and setting up residency is slow, i had to adapt to a new teaching job, the people and culture are very different to what i'm used to and the major difficulty for me was being able to express myself freely. Now i feel i have overcome the biggest struggle of culture shock and i feel able to explore and get to know my new city so it will eventually become part of me.

  Nadia Mar 22, 2012 8:52 PM

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