Things You Need to Know Before Becoming an Expat

Congratulations, you’ve taken the plunge and immerse yourself into a new country.  Or, you’re thinking of becoming an expat. It’s so exciting! It won’t always be all ice cream and tacos, though. There are things to know in order to mentally prepare for and have a great expat experience in your new country.

Things New Expats (and those who want to become Expats) Need to Know about living abroad

I’m an expat mom, an American living in central Mexico. From the minor faux pas to dealing with culture shock, there are things it helps to know about the expat lifestyle before committing to it or at least to learn early on the expat experience. Here are some of the things I’ve learned so far by living abroad with my family.

You’ll Make a Lot of Mistakes

You will make so many mistakes, from language faux pas to offending someone by saying something that wouldn’t offend anyone at home. If you already have social anxiety, these mistakes may exacerbate it. Alternatively, it may make you realize that making mistakes in social situations is okay. You know you didn’t mean to offend anyone and true friends will forgive you for the faux pas.

you’ll laugh at language mispronunciations (and be laughed at in return)

It’s going to happen and it’s okay, as long as you aren’t being a jerk about it. It’s also inevitable you’ll mispronounce a word and that the mispronunciation means something different entirely. You might also accidentally say a bad word.

It’s also easy to try and translate a thought into something that doesn’t mean anything . For example,  in English, we say, “the fridge isn’t working.” If you translate that exactly into Spanish, it doesn’t make any sense. Instead, it must be translated as “the fridge isn’t functioning.”

It’s okay to have a chuckle over screwing up. Again, don’t be a jerk about it. It’s great to be able to laugh at yourself, too.

Sometimes, Life Will Feel SO Difficult

There will be days you feel like you can’t possibly endure another minute in your new country. Everything feels too hard. You’re lonely. You’re tired. Maybe you can barely communicate. You miss home. It just feels like too much.


Other times, Life Will Feel SO Easy

You will feel like you never want to leave your new country because things are so great. You feel like you’ve adapted and everything will always be wonderful and perfect. It won’t always be, but enjoy those high times! It will eventually even out.

You’ll Feel Lonely and/or Misunderstood

You’re a foreigner in a strange land.  Even if you initially thought there wouldn’t be any big differences between your home country and new country, there will always be some differences and you will notice all of them. They won’t always be so glaring in your life, though.

There will also be similarities. Focus on those things and the other positive aspects when you’re feeling down.

Culture Shock Comes in Waves

All of these items are related to culture shock and culture shock is not a static thing. It can rear its ugly head after several months of feeling content. It doesn’t make you a bad person because you’re experiencing it. The stages of culture shock can affect you far longer than you realize.

It May Be Difficult to Find Your “Tribe”

You may meet a lot of neat people, but you may also feel like you’re acting a part. No one wants to be completely alone. If there are language barriers, meeting people may be difficult. Sometimes, you’ll feel like people are uninterested in meeting you. Embrace what you can and look at the positives whenever you find yourself wishing things were different. You will eventually meet people who appreciate you for who you are.

You’ll Learn How to Adapt

You will learn how to adapt. Really. It doesn’t mean your personality will change and a type-A who likes to be in control will suddenly become a person who can always go with the flow and no longer needs to plan anything. That isn’t likely to happen. However, you will see changes in yourself. Maybe you will be able to handle changes in plans better than before. Maybe you will conquer the worst of your social anxiety.  Or you’ll be a little more comfortable trying something new. Perhaps the changes will be far more subtle, but living abroad does change a person.

You Might Cry in a Public Place

You may have a period of time where everything feels so difficult that you end up crying in a public place. Today, that was me in the mall. Yes, I felt like an idiot. I’m sure I’m not the first person to cry in a mall in Mexico and it’s unlikely that I’ll be the last. And it’s okay. It just happened to be where I was when my emotions overwhelmed me.

Is moving abroad all negative?

No, not at all! There are so many positive aspects to living abroad. More often than not, living abroad or traveling long term opens the way to have beautiful and life-changing experiences. Sometimes, you’ll have negative emotions and that’s okay. Your feelings on any given day are valid. They also won’t last forever. Your experience in your new country will be yours alone. It will even differ from other expats who are from the same area. Knowing that you’ll have down times along with up times can help you adapt that much quicker.

What else do you think new expats or wannabe expats need to know? What have you experienced when moving abroad? Were here changes you noticed in yourself?


4 thoughts on “Things You Need to Know Before Becoming an Expat

  1. Kathleen says:

    Most of these have definitely gone through my mind as an expat. Especially the days when everything feels so difficult! Sometimes it is hard not to be negative and to not blame the country for everything that goes wrong. But those moments pass and the experience is worth it!

    • Natalie says:

      Kathleen, you are right! It does pass. It’s important to acknowledge that the yucky feelings happen, as much as you wish they wouldn’t. It’s also important to know they will pass.

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