5 Common Misconceptions About Being an Expat Family

I didn’t imagine I’d be living abroad or that I’d become an expat mom. Yet, here we are living our life abroad as an expat family.  Before I became an expat, there were things I was certain were true about expat life. I thought I’d move to Mexico, meet my new best friend right away, become conversational in Spanish in 3 months, and go skipping off into the sunset of a perfect life.

Yes, I seriously believed I’d be conversational in three months.

Little did I know that language learning is difficult even when you’re immersed and not knowing the language limits your friend making skills a bit. Here are some other misconceptions that need to be cleared up.


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A unique bronze statue that doubles as a chair. The head is a cross between a deep diver and sea monster.

Artwork you can sit on! Found on the Malecon walk in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Number 1: immediate cultural immersion

Of course, you ARE immersed in a different culture, but if you don’t already speak the language or have a chance meeting with someone who clicks with you, the cultural immersion is not immediate. Of course, depending on how different your new country is from your old country, the culture shock may arrive more quickly for you.

number 2: sticking with other expats and expat families is wrong

It’s definitely a misconception that sticking with other expats isn’t a true or authentic experience. In the beginning, having other expats to rely on is a necessity. Trying to navigate in a new culture and language is difficult. It is very helpful in the beginning to get advice from multiple expats in order to avoid making a faux pas or avoid potentially dangerous situations. Plus, they can introduce you to their non-expat friends!

Finding another expat family or two to hang out with is also beneficial.

Number 3: Being an Expat Is all awesome, all the time

Okay, it isn’t a misconception that being an expat is pretty great. But you are still the same person. You will still experience up and down emotions. Some will be magnified while you are getting comfortable in your new locale. If you are prone to loneliness or depression, those things will follow you. You can’t run away from the fundamental truths about yourself.

A woman, smiling in front of a fountain. One child hides behind her and the other has her back to the camera.

Kids being kids and choosing to not have their pictures taken.

Number 4: Children Adapt Easily

All humans have the ability to adapt to their surroundings. It doesn’t mean it will be easy. Children also respond to our emotions and if we are distressed, they will pick up on it. Our last month in Ohio and first 6-8 weeks in Mexico were very difficult. My big feelings often escalated with the slightest provocation. My children followed my lead. It wasn’t until I calmed the heck down and acted in a peaceful manner that they were also able to calm down and return to a happier state.

Children will also grieve the life they left behind, including friends and family members. Do your best to acknowledge their emotions and listen to their concerns. It’s a huge change for kids, too, and the younger they are, the more difficult it will be for them to verbalize their problems.

Number 5: Living abroad is dangerous

This will definitely vary by location, but it isn’t a universal truth that all countries, other than the one you call home, are dangerous. Mexico does have a bad rep in the USA, except the resort locations. While there are dangerous areas to avoid, the same is true of the USA. In fact, I feel safer living here than in some US cities. I’m a little jumpy at times, knowing that I could possibly become a target. I don’t sound like a local and that may make me look like an easy “job”. I also have two young children and being in a permanent distracted state could also identify me as “easy money.” Yet, I’m far more worried about being pick-pocketed in busy areas than about violent crime.

What are misconceptions you have about expat life? If you are or have been an expat, what misconceptions did you have before moving abroad?


17 thoughts on “5 Common Misconceptions About Being an Expat Family

  1. Melissa Parcel says:

    This is very fascinating, my husband would love to move to another country, but I’m very reluctant to give up the “creature comforts” of living in the US. I’ll be looking at your blog some more to learn more about your life!

    • Natalie says:

      There are a few things I’m currently unable to find in Mexico, like gluten free pizza (I have celiac disease). However, there are many stores that are US-bsed and also Mexican stores that carry an amazing selection of products. I’ve only been here 3 months and I’m quite enjoying it.

  2. Brittany says:

    I love this! We often toy with the idea of up and going. But we also get fearful of the what ifs. What if we look back and regret not raising our kids the ‘traditional’ way, what if I actually miss car pooling, school parties, proms, etc. Silly questions huh?! I admire that you all are following your hearts and living a life of no regrets. Your children will thank you later. I am sure you are instilling a sense of adventure in their little hearts. Not to mention they will have the ability to appreciate all the difference cultures. Love it! Great blog!

    • Natalie says:

      Currently, two of the expats I’ve met have highschoolers and there are still school parties and a lot of parties for kids. Another two have younger children (who came here around the same ages as my kids now). There are also a lot of parties, school shows, school parties, and such. Our neighborhood has two park areas and kids of all ages gather to play futbol (soccer) and other games. So, maybe that will help urge you towards the pro-moving-to-another-country side.

      There are other options, such as taking a longer-than-normal-trip during the summers. You could even look into summer camp options in other countries. Yes, all of these take money, but probably less than an actual move would cost.

      I’m really hoping that we return with a more global perspective on life.

  3. Stacey Billingsley says:

    I think you are so brave! I like to dream about living in another country, but I don’t know if I actually would like it. I sometimes dream of moving to Florida, and that seems so far from home. I like how you cleared up some misconceptions. I’m glad you are able to socialize with some other ex-pats. I would need someone to show me the ropes for sure!

    • Natalie says:

      Thank you, Stacey! I figure as I go along, I will discover more misconceptions as we go along. Mexico is a wonderful country, so far, and I’m really, really glad we were able to do this. I’m learning so much about Mexico and that is busting my own personal misconceptions out of the water. It took me 38 years to get to this point (though maybe only 36 years to consider it) and the decision didn’t happen overnight.

    • Karen says:

      Hey Stacy!!! Florida isn’t so bad. I moved here from Ohio and haven’t looked back while I am proud of where I came from I have no plans on moving back.

  4. jenny says:

    Props to you for living out your dreams! You make a very good point about it taking time to make friends and meet people. I am interested to see what all you are up to on your blog and get motivation from you to live out my dreams.

    • Natalie says:

      Wow, thanks, Jenny! I never even dreamed of living outside my home country until recently. It is a very big change and it’s been mostly smooth (well, I blogged about the craziness of the actual move, but that is becoming a distant memory).

      The friend thing is moving along slowly. I remain ever hopeful.

  5. Vicki says:

    Hi Natalie!
    Thank you for writing this, I have been wanting to move to another country and experience life outside of the US. I am adventurous and think it would be fun, but my husband is more on the cautious side due to his job here and isn’t quite so sure about it. I hope you continue to write about expat life among your other posts here on your blog and I will be following along. 🙂

    • Natalie says:

      Thank you, Vicki! My husband is a little more adventurous than I am in some ways, though my adventurous side is growing. I’m very happy that we made the move here and I hope your husband will at least consider it in the future!

  6. Niki says:

    I would LOVE to eventually follow your lead on this and become an expat. I dream of living in another country…far far away, but so afraid of leaving behind family and friends and wondering if all of our furry family members would make it there with us safe and sound. Not sure if I could live in another country that didn’t speak English as the primary language so maybe I can eventually convince my husband to start us off in England and then work our way through Europe over time.

  7. Karen says:

    Thanks for sharing, Natalie! I think we all have that dream of picking up and moving to someplace exotic. You were brave enough to actually do it. Kudos to you!

    • Natalie says:

      I’m shocked I was brave enough – of course, my husband was also excited to pick up and move (and had done it twice before in his life) and we moved with his company, which helps take care of many things (visas and paying for the move). It can be done without those things, of course, but requires a lot of due diligence.

      And one of my single friends lived in Mexico city around 2008 and later moved to Germany, so I had a lot of insight prior to moving.

  8. Victoria @The British Berliner says:

    ‘Nice one Natalie!

    I’m a British person living in Germany, but before that I live in the Czech Republic & Slovakia!
    Ha! Ha! And the funny thing was that I hadn’t intended to be an expat. I was told that I would be in the Czech Republic for 6 weeks, and it ended up being 2 years! However, once you become an expat, it becomes quite easy to move to other places thereafter. In fact, at one point, I was quite eager to go to Hong Kong as I really like the city!

    When I finally moved to Berlin, it was very different to what it is now, and even though I quickly made loads of friends and found a managerial job 3 months later, I found learning German quite difficult at the beginning, and I missed English food and British voices..!

    15 years later, my husband is German, our son is bilingual, I speak fluent German, and I’m considered a firm part of the community. Mind you, I still can’t find a proper cup of tea or biscuits, and have to import them!

    • Natalie says:

      That’s wonderful! It sounds like you have had such a full and rich life so far.

      After arriving here and being settled for a month, we were still dealing with some of the crazy stuff state-side, and I started a sentence with, “The next time we move to another country…”

      My husband has been an immigrant and now an expat twice. He’s game for adventure!

      And not being able to find the good stuff (for you tea and biscuits, for me, just a few gluten free staples) is one of the downsides. But everything else is worth it!

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