This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please read my disclosure for more details(Last Updated On: December 2, 2019)
Expat living seems like a dream come true. Whether you have secured the job of your dreams or are moving abroad for more practical reasons, such as studies in my case, working and living as an expat is an exciting adventure.
Leading up to the move and in the first few months, you will feel a bunch of positive emotions. However, once you begin settling in and establishing a routine, you may find yourself faced with a whole new set of challenges. Compounded with the fact that you’re alone and far away from friends and family, living abroad can take a toll on your mental well-being and more.
An important thing to remember is you are not alone. Many of these challenges are also encountered by the wider expat community. That’s why I’ve teamed up with Allianz Care to both share my personal experiences with these expat problems and provide actionable steps to help you deal with the most common problems of expat life.
1. Expat depression
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression. Research by Sean Truman, a US-based clinical psychologist, found that expats are 2.5 times more likely to internalize problems when compared to those who work in their home countries. This was found to increase the risk of developing anxiety or depression and highlighted the need for mental health services amongst expat communities. When choosing international healthcare, it is important that you consider your mental health and choose a plan that offers the appropriate amount of support that you need.
Common symptoms of depression include:
- Not enjoying life as you usually would
- Feeling hopeless
- Unusual mood swings
- Changes in sleep patterns (sleeping more or less)
- Loss of energy
While we all experience some of the above in certain situations, if the feelings last for an extended period without a specific cause, you may be suffering from expat depression.
I actually suffered a bout of expat depression recently. Still, I am not used to the Swiss winters (we often go weeks without seeing much sunlight), and getting used to cloudy weather was tough. I found myself sleeping over 12 hours every day and lacking energy to do regular tasks like cooking and cleaning.
I really hope you don’t have to go through something similar because it really wasn’t fun! However, the good news is that there are steps you can take to improve the way you are feeling:
Sleep: Try and get enough sleep but avoid sleeping too much. The average adult should get about eight hours a night.
Try to establish a regular sleep routine instead of sleeping odd hours. I know that I used to stay up late so I could talk to friends and family in a different time zone. This was a huge no-no and I’ve since stopped doing that. Sleep and health are more important!
Exercise: Although you may not feel like it, try to get regular exercise. This has two benefits: it may help you sleep better, and it is a great way to release endorphins that can help boost your mood. If you are struggling to get motivated, set an alarm and walk for ten minutes. At the end of that time decide whether to continue or return home.
I try to take at least ten minutes a day, even if it is just taking a stroll to the grocery store. Getting a breath of fresh air really helps me clear my mind and lifts my mood!
Limit alcohol: Alcohol can heighten feelings of anxiety and depression, if not immediately then the following day. It is best to reduce alcohol intake or avoid alcohol altogether when you are feeling down.
Luckily, I am allergic to alcohol, so I don’t have this problem. However, drinking is not a great coping mechanism and I encourage you to talk to someone if you really need help!
Talk: One of the most effective treatments for depression is to talk about how you feel. This can be a challenge, especially if you have only just moved to a new country without your usual support network. If you don’t have someone to talk to locally, consider calling home to talk to friends or family. I often call my friends back home and it always lifts my mood. I’m surprised that they have put up with listening to me complain about my depression for this long!
It is also advisable to speak with a professional. Expats who have international health insurancewill have access to an expatriate assistance program.
Services provided by Allianz Care’s Expat Assistance Program include:
- 24/7 confidential professional counselling – available face to face or via phone, video, email and online chat
- Critical or crisis incident support
- Legal and financial support services
- Access to their wellness website
Seek medical help: Visit your doctor, explain the situation and seek their advice.Sometimes it’s nice to talk to someone you don’t know so they can give you an “objective” view on your life. I find chatting with professionals really does give me a new perspective on my life and helps me to make some rather important life decisions.
2. Expat social life
It can be difficult to meet people socially and form friendships in your new country. Whether you have travelled alone or with your family, it is important to have friends to spend time with to feel truly settled. As an expatriate, it can be a challenge but there are things you can do to make it easier.
Ways to make friends as an expat:
Learn the language: Language classes are beneficial in two ways. In time, you will be able to communicate more easily with locals while in the meantime, you will meet others in your class who are also learning.
I had the great fortune of already speaking French when I moved to Switzerland. However, there were still a few weeks of getting used to the local lingo because it’s not the same as the French I learned back home!
However, when I spent 3 months living in the German part of Switzerland (Zurich), I couldn’t speak a word of German and it really did leave me feeling quite depressed. If I could redo one thing, it would be to enroll in some German classes during my stay in Zurich and to try to meet more locals!
Meet other expats: Join one of the many expat online forums and see if there is a group who meets in your city or country. It’s a great way to meet other likeminded people who may be experiencing the same challenges as you. I also found Facebook groups and Meetups to be an excellent way to connect with other expats.
While working abroad as an expat, it is common to have concerns about your career. Anxieties can begin before you start your new role; fitting in, organizational culture and differences in how things are done in your new country are all common concerns.
For me, the greatest challenges with my career was the difference in culture. In Switzerland, everything is a lot more bureaucratic than Canada. There are also longer working hours compared to what I’m used to back home.
To this day, I still get some anxieties over my future career perspectives. I think this is totally normal, but luckily there are some ways to lessen your anxiety.
How to overcome expat career concerns?
The key to minimizing career concerns about your role abroad is to get a clear picture of what is involved before you leave for your new destination country.
Make sure to have serious conversations with:
- Your new employer.
- Other expats in the organization.
- Other expats in your destination country.
Ask questions about work life. Are there differences in social norms? How do you greet people? What is the dress code for work? Will there be opportunities to progress? What’s the work culture like?
Before I left Canada, I met up with a few Swiss people and did exactly this! I asked them everything about the differences between Canada and Switzerland. Whenever something strange happened, I always thought, “Oh yes, so-and-so warned me about this.”
A survey by HSBC found that 29% of expats worry about healthcare, how they access it, and the quality of healthcare in their destination country.
How to overcome healthcare concerns:
- Research healthcare systems in your destination country thoroughly.
- Ensure you have a comprehensive international health insurance
- Plan for the unexpected. Ensure your plan includes medical repatriation in case of emergency and an expat assistance program if you do struggle to settle in and need some support.
Healthcare is super important, and I cannot stress enough this last point! So far, I never had a medical emergency while abroad, but I love the peace in mind knowing that I have access to healthcare in case I need it! You never know what could happen, so it’s better to be safe than sorry!
Expat living is amazing, and I strongly believe that everyone should give it a try! On my blog, I always talk about the positive aspects of living abroad, but there are a lot of negative aspects too that I don’t mention a lot. This post covered four expat challenges and I gave some solid advice on how to overcome them.
Are you planning to live abroad? What is your greatest fear? Comment below!
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