What Is An Expat?

An expatriate, or expat, is someone who lives abroad outside of their native country for any length of time.  Years ago, you may have heard other terms, such as traveler, backpacker, emigrant, or foreigner.  

But an expat is more widely used now and means someone has left their country to live in another but still has ties to their native country, such as maybe one day will return, or all their money is still there.  An emigrant is someone who leaves their country permanently with no intention of living there again.

Why Would You Become An Expat?

One would want to live abroad for various reasons, and it is easier to do nowadays.  Just a few examples are:

While Traveling, You Decide To Stay

This is how many people began living abroad years ago (yours truly!)  While traveling, you may enjoy the lifestyle, find a job, or fall in love.  Let’s say it is one way to start a fantastic adventure!

You Get A Job Abroad

Your company is international, and you have the opportunity or promotion to go elsewhere for a few years.

Retirement Has Arrived, and You Choose To Live It Abroad

There are many expat communities all over the world.  Why?  Many people enjoy the economic benefits of living in a cheaper place where they live well while not spending their savings quickly.  Others have always wanted to travel or live abroad, and now that they are retired and their children are out of the house, they can do so.

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Not Content in Your Own Country

People are not happy with the social or political atmosphere in their native country, so they want to live elsewhere.  In the end, every country has its own social and political problems that it deals with.  You may feel less involved with it as a foreigner, or you may not understand all that is happening there due to language or cultural barriers.

How Do You Build A Home Abroad And Feel Like You Belong?

Meet People

Join a class, meet the neighbors, or find other expats is a way to feel a sense of community.  Usually because of the language barrier and cultural reasons, many expats look for other expats and form friendships.

Learn The Language

Being able to speak the language can open many doors for you and give you options for meeting new people with common interests.  

Join Communities

The expat communities online are very active, especially Facebook groups.  Once you are a part of these groups, let’s say for the city you will live in, you can ask for recommendations and advice and get a feel of life there.  It is a great way to meet other expats and meet others with similarities to you.

Have a Routine of Things You Like To Do

By having a store you like to get groceries or the cafe with your favorite latte, you start to feel like you belong.  When your daily routines are more familiar, you think it is home!

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Maintain Connections with Home While Abroad

Keep in touch with family and friends.  Although many may need help understanding what you are going through or what your living abroad entails, be patient and maintain these relationships.  You will feel more grounded no matter where you are, feel loved, and have support from those who know you as you undertake many new experiences.

Explore, Explore, Explore

Take advantage of your time and be a sponge. Immerse yourself in the culture and savor every moment that you can be in this new place with new potential friends!

What Are The Challenges Of Being An Expat?

Communication- Learning the Language

 It is possible to live abroad and only speak your native tongue.  Many people do it, but you are definitely missing out on so much by doing so.  Being able to communicate even basic needs is essential for your independence and also for adapting in society.  As a foreigner, people will try to take advantage of you, and you will be in situations that you need to be able to deal with.  As for having a more enrichening experience, when you can dominate the language and understand the slang and the jokes, you can have deeper relationships with people.  Here you can see more tips for learning the language.

Culture Shock

As in a previous post, culture shock is a process that hits you sooner or later; the more you are prepared for it, the better.

  • The Honeymoon Phase - When you first arrive in a new culture, the excitement is real, and your curiosity is in high gear.  
  • The Frustration Phase comes when the novelty has worn off, and you are exhausted from the effort you put in for speaking or cultural circumstances.  You feel things are complicated here.
  • The Adjustment Phase is when you start to see progress in your language skills or feel you have achieved small achievements, such as getting the internet fixed after many tries or meeting a friend.
  • The Acceptance Phase is when you feel more like you belong in this new culture.  You are more independent and are living your life with routines, friends, and participating in traditions.

While each person has an individual experience with culture shock, knowing that these feelings are real but normal and will pass.  Don’t give up!

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Keeping yourself safe is the top priority.  Crime is up in all countries, and sometimes as a foreigner people may think you have more than they do so they will rob you.  Being present in what you are doing and not getting distracted is a good place to start.


Missing your family and FOMO can be expected, as when you live abroad, you can’t go home for every special occasion.  Although it may be difficult, making new traditions and enjoying time with new friends and relationships is great.  Virtual meetings have changed our world so you can be there by video!


Depending on where you are from, healthcare in other countries can differ significantly.  Organizing this as a foreigner is necessary.  Is the hospital near where you will live advanced?  Would you rather go back to your country if there is a medical emergency?  What healthcare is best to have as a foreigner?  Researching and deciding what is best for you is good to have done before your trip.

Food and Diet

The menu where you may travel will probably be different.  Also, the delicacies may be surprising.  These days you can find other stores in most countries that do carry international foods, although it is more expensive.  Taking a cooking course to understand what is available and how to cook it can be a great way to learn to cook the foods there, meet new friends, and learn the language!

Different Laws

Remember when you travel and live abroad, you have to live according to the laws in that country.  What you can do in your home country may not be possible elsewhere.  Don't think you have special privileges because of where you come from.

Different Traditions

Is Christmas celebrated in the country you are traveling to?  If so, who brings Christmas gifts for children - Santa Claus or Baby Jesus?  Or, on a daily note, is the largest meal of the day at lunch or dinner?  Traditions will be different but you can learn so much about the culture this way by participating in some way if it is something you are comfortable with.

Finding housing

Getting an apartment or house can be challenging when you first arrive.  Some countries prove to be more restrictive for foreigners to start as you don’t have a credit score there or you don’t have a bank record.  While there can be challenges, there are resources and people that can help also.  Look for trustworthy recommendations.

Dealing with Different Ideas and Attitudes about Gender Roles

In some countries, women can be expected to be more in the kitchen while men work.  Or, women in business have a more challenging time proving their worth on the job.  While this can be anywhere, there are some countries where it is more extreme.

Money and Banking

Nowadays, you can easily use ATMs and wire money internationally.  Deciding where you have your money and how to access it is a personal choice, but it is best to get financial advice with this ahead of time.

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With the correct visa, you should be fine if you work remotely, are a digital nomad, or have a secured job.  It is harder to get a job when you are in a foreign country because you need a work visa.  Also, it has to be clear on what taxes you will pay for working there.  This varies from country to country.

A New Perspective

Overall, this is what expat living gives you, a new perspective on life and what is important.  You may change as your eyes open to different ways of doing things and seeing all you have accomplished just by living abroad.  Let your experience and new awareness motivate your curiosity and empathy now and in the future!