The thought of living abroad—whether it be for a few months, a year, or indefinitely—is one that entices many.
But even if you’re among the most hardcore adventurers, the experience is one that will undoubtedly change you and repeatedly test you.
Speaking from personal experience, I can say that moving to another country was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made (perhaps the best) and it changed my life in ways that I never would have imagined.
Nevertheless, there were some things I wasn’t prepared for when I first landed.
What to Expect When Living Abroad
Below are 7 things you should expect to experience if you’re thinking about settling down in another country.
1. So. Much. Paperwork.
If you’ve decided to move to another country, you probably understand that you’re due for some paperwork. But you won’t realize just how much until you’re making your third trip of the day to the fifth government building of that week.
At times, you might literally be up to your eyeballs in documents and files. Your bureaucratic odyssey will begin when you file for a visa (if required). But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Anything you needed at home—bank accounts, health insurance, a driver’s license—you’ll have to get in your new country, as well. And depending on your destination, there’s a good chance you’ll have to navigate all this in a foreign language (or hire a really good interpreter).
Remember: You will eventually cut through that red tape, and your communication skills will significantly improve as a result of this experience (whether you speak the local language or not).
2. Homesickness Is Real
Even if you don’t think you’re particularly close with your family—even if you think you can’t wait to get out and finally be on your own—you’ll learn (perhaps surprisingly fast) that homesickness is very real.
You might feel it in the obvious ways, like missing your mom or your dog. But homesickness can rear its ugly head even in smaller moments, like when you can’t find peanut butter at the supermarket, or when that morning talk show is no longer the background noise to your breakfast ritual.
Homesickness can feel quite a lot like heartbreak. Some days, it might even be hard to get out of bed and face your new, strange world. These feelings will pass as you find your place in your new home, though they might return every now and then, even when you thought you were over it.
Remember: Things will get easier with time (really!), so hang in there. Plus, home is only a video call away, and when you’re feeling down, a few minutes with a familiar face can do wonders.
3. You’ll Surprise Yourself Every Day
Once you make the big move, you’ll see how daunting and complex even the smallest tasks can be, like mailing a package, especially if you have to attempt them in a foreign language.
But guess what?
You’ll do all those scary things and more! You’ll run around town gathering documents while speaking a foreign tongue to finally open that bank account; you’ll figure out public transportation; and, when you get lost, you’ll get yourself unlost.
Whether you’re catching a bus or simply shopping for groceries, these everyday actions can help you to develop a routine and create your own little nest.
After a while, you’ll know the name of the local butcher, where to find the best coffee, and how to (really) hail a cab. You’ll surprise yourself every day with little victories.
Remember: Take time to look around and appreciate the life you’ve built out of all these small moments.
4. You’ll Realize How Small the World Is
Once you live in another country for an extended period, you’ll notice plenty of differences between your home and host cultures.
But you’ll also see some surprising similarities (spoiler alert: humans are basically the same, no matter where they are).
A few friends or relatives will probably come to visit you at some point, and trust me when I say that few things feel more surreal than meeting up with a hometown friend on a street corner on the other side of the globe.
And, thanks to technology, you’re only seconds away from seeing your mom’s face or venting to your best friend about your rough day. Never underestimate just how much these conversations can help, especially in the fight against homesickness.
Remember: Even when home seems light years away, you’re never that far thanks to technology.
5. You’ll Learn to Say Goodbye (Many Times)
Before you make the leap abroad, “goodbyes” might be a major preoccupation for you. But this is only the beginning; the goodbyes won’t stop after you make the move.
Once you establish a life of your own in your new home, you’ll find your people.
And when it’s time to visit home for the holidays, or maybe even move back, you’ll have a whole new crew to bid farewell to… and it won’t be any easier.
Remember: Now that you’ll have roots in another place, you’ll learn that these goodbyes are really “see you later’s”—because once you’ve tasted this global life, it’ll be hard to quit it.
6. “Home” Will Take on New Meaning
It may take time before you feel at home in your new country, but sooner or later, you will. (Even if you have more of a love-hate relationship with your new environment).
This means that your original home won’t feel so much like home anymore. This can be hard to accept at first, and you might even experience some guilt for feeling this way.
But all of the growth you’ll undergo as part of your move will change you, and like a slightly misshapen puzzle piece, you’ll find that something just doesn’t fit quite like it used to.
For this reason, returning “home” can feel just as daunting as your move abroad, and it may take some time before you’re able to fully adjust.
Remember: “Home” is really a feeling; the more you travel, the more you’ll learn to adapt and feel at home wherever you are.
7. You’ll Learn to Take Chances
Once you’ve overcome one of the most trying experiences of your life, you’ll realize just how much you’re capable of. You’ll push yourself to boundaries that were once unthinkable, and with that comes an exhilarating rush that can be quite addictive.
Thus, it’s safe to say that your adventure abroad won’t be your last. You’ll learn to take chances and challenge yourself, which will lead you to continuous personal growth. And there’s no telling where all that opportunity can take you!
Remember: Taking chances and learning to challenge yourself can be a great way to alleviate homesickness, because it will help you to adjust faster to your new surroundings and build your own life in this new environment.
Lessons from Life Abroad
Travel can provide a wealth of life lessons, and the experience of living in a new country will undoubtedly teach you more about yourself and the world.
And even if you aren’t planning a globetrotting journey anytime soon, you can still challenge yourself by stepping out of your comfort zone. You might just surprise yourself!
Have you ever lived in another country? What was one of your biggest challenges? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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