Little did we know 25 years ago, when we were young wild and free, that when we left our homes on separate adventures, we would meet each other, become life partners and experience a wonderful life together! We were eager to get into the real world and live an adventurous life. This is what we have done and although it is exciting living in different countries it can also be challenging.
The hardest part of being an expat
Leaving material possessions behind is difficult for some people, but for us, even after 25 years, we still find the hardest part of being an expat is saying goodbye to friends we have made along this journey. Even saying farewell to friends and family after holidays or visits, it is still difficult to say goodbye!
As an expat it is easier when moving to a new place if you already have some friends or new contacts in your host country or friends in nearby countries. It’s also good if you have established hobbies and pastimes since it will be easy to make new acquaintances.
Challenges to deal with when becoming an expat
Firstly, we feel very lucky to be able to live abroad and realise that not everybody has the same opportunities. In addition, we appreciate expat living isn’t for everyone and some people simply don’t have the courage or inclination to leave their own countries.
Starting a new life abroad is challenging, but it is not impossible and can be done with a little planning and support. If, and when the opportunity knocks on your door, you are the person who decides whether to take it or leave it!
While being an expatriate you will learn invaluable lessons and have experiences that will be conversation topics for the future. For some it might even mean that the new destination becomes “a forever home.”
Nowadays, with the internet available in every corner of the world, it is easier to prepare and plan compared to 25 years ago. Being open minded and willing to indulge in all new experiences and challenges, as well as learning about new cultures, traditions, habits, cuisines and so on will help you to integrate and get to know new people. Your perspectives may change, but always stay true to yourself while respecting your new ‘world.’
When we left our homes in 1995, there was no internet and phone calls were incredibly expensive and often with very bad connections. Connecting with family and friends was mainly through handwritten letters and sending them by ‘snail’ mail. You can imagine that it was at times confusing to read and answer about 3 months after sending a letter.
When fax machines became popular, my parents installed one just for me, meaning we didn’t have to wait too long to communicate, and of course faxing was much more affordable than telephoning. And then came the internet and emails which made connecting much more convenient. Nowadays social media and video chats make it really easy.
Good connections make it easier to maintain relationships.
Connecting with family and friends usually depends on the time zone where you live. Most expats manage their time well and set up weekly calls. We usually know when our family and friends are available, so we call when we have time and need a chat. And yes, we call a lot because it is nicer than watching TV.
Don’t forget to make new friends wherever you settle for a while. The only thing you need to do is get out and about, then start interacting with locals and other expats. It is often easier to connect and network as expat communities are rich in variety with people from all over the world hanging out in a place that is foreign for everybody. We have built beautiful relationships and strangers have become friends for life! These forever friendships are one of the most precious things to gain from expat living.
You’ll know all about paperwork
25 years ago, we felt it was straightforward to get visas and paperwork sorted. Nowadays the path to new destinations in our expat emporium has been lined with applications, certificates, and contracts. It might be the destinations we have chosen, but it surely has to do with increased opportunities for travellers and the willingness for people to give the expat lifestyle a try!
If you get invited by a company to work abroad, then they will certainly help you with the procedures, but you still need to ensure you have the relevant documents available and may need translations, copies and notarised paperwork.
Discover new interests and develop new skills
Once all the paperwork is ready, visas are organised and travel completed, you will arrive at the new ‘home’ and it will be time to build new relationships and to start this new chapter in your life.
It is highly likely you will have to step even further out of your comfort zone. This is a positive thing; you will become more confident and learn how to depend on yourself and this can be life changing. You may choose to start a new hobby or become more active. Perhaps you might become a blogger and share your stories with family and friends. Joining different clubs is also a great way to meet new people. The possibilities are endless!
It is not true for everyone but most of the expats we know, including ourselves, have learned new languages. For many it is already a great opportunity to learn English because this is most widely spoken. Through our expat lifestyle I have personally improved my English, French and my German immensely, and I have learned Thai. We have also picked up some Chinese, Arabic and Bahasa along the way.
Expat living versus vacation
Since starting our expat life, we’ve travelled more than ever before. We have lived in Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore, Qatar, UAE and China. In every new country we advise always starting by exploring your new neighbourhood before venturing further out into your new country. After a while you will automatically start exploring other horizons.
Traveling opens up your heart and your mind and soon you’ll start to appreciate many of the cultural differences and you will make memories that will last forever. Through travelling you also learn how other cultures feel about your home country and you see your own habits and culture through an international eye…it is interesting!
But expat living is not only about vacation. It is in fact a constant battle between vacation and real life. Expat jobs are usually more demanding compared to working back home. You often work more hours, and many countries have a 6 day work week. Partners might not be able to work because of visa restrictions, and a complete career change or lack of career for a partner can take some adjusting to. Don’t forget that besides the glamorous expat lifestyle stories you may have heard, there are also the usual everyday household tasks and errands to take care of.
We believe that a person creates their own opportunities, however some may find that their current role at home does not offer the opportunities to advance a career. Moving abroad can be beneficial and many people have found their dream job overseas. You will learn to be more flexible and adjust to local habits while bringing your own strengths and values to a new team. Your first expat role can help you advance to bigger and better opportunities.
Other people choose to move abroad as the cost of living can be cheaper and this is very much the case for retirees and digital nomads. Living abroad can provide the opportunity to have a more rewarding lifestyle with the same income.
Is an expat life for you?
There are struggles and challenges when relocating and we have missed out on lots of happy events back home, but when visiting home, we make sure to have the best quality time. Most of the time, living as an expat is exciting, adventurous and enriching. We not only found each other but we have also gained endless other benefits during our many adventures. We don’t regret that we took the chance to start our expat life adventure.
It might be for a 1-year contract or for longer ; we encourage you to take this leap of faith, start exploring new horizons and have a fun ride!