There are many reasons why being an expat is the best life ever (check out my Top 5 reasons being an urban expat is the best), but living abroad also comes with a fair share of struggles and sacrifices. Here are my picks for the top 5 struggles of expat life.
1. Being so far away from family and friends
Although it is definitely possible to make new friends and form a new family in a foreign country, you will always miss the family and friends you’ve left behind, and living abroad means seeing them a lot less often than you’d like.
2. Immigration issues
Immigration restrictions are different in every country, but as a general rule you usually need some kind of visa or residency in the foreign country, unless you want to constantly stress over the possible consequences of not having it (getting kicked out, or not being let back in). In many cases, the process can be difficult, time-consuming and expensive. In other cases, it’s not even possible to get residency because you don’t meet any of the residency “options” (such as finding an employer to sponsor you, getting married, or having money at your disposal to invest or meet minimum income requirements).
3. Language and Cultural Barriers
Even when an American moves to an English-speaking country abroad, language barriers can be an issue (do you understand everyone in Scotland??), so let’s not even talk about moving to a country where you have to learn a new language. Most long-term expats will tell you that it takes years to reach a fluency in the local language that truly allows you to integrate and live your day to day life with ease, but they will also tell you that when you do get to that point, you realize that there are cultural barriers that will take even longer (or forever) to break through.
4. Dealing with discrimination (anti-americanism)
Anti-americanism is a real issue that Americans all over the world experience. For economic, political, social and cultural reasons, the United States is often a target of resentment, anger, ridicule, and teasing. Being an American abroad means that you have to face this kind of attention on a daily basis.
5. Feeling homeless
The feeling of “homelessness” is a real consequence for many long-term expats, and Greg Madison brings up this issue in his theory of “existential migration”. The hard truth is that some expats left their home country because they never completely felt at home there in the first place. But moving abroad doesn’t usually resolve this issue, because expats rarely feel completely at home in a foreign country either. Finally, some long-term expats that return to the United States, whether they felt at home there before they expatriated or not, find that now they feel like foreigners in their home country. So where do these people call home? Well, usually nowhere. Although this can be a devastating aspect of expat life, you’ll probably meet few expats that would do things differently if they could go back and start over.