11 Things To Know About Expat Life

Being an ex-pat or immigrant is marvelous, and the experience can be life-changing. However, there are things you don’t know about ex-pat life until you experience it for yourself. Not every one of these points will hit home for all, but it’s safe to say that at some point, you will experience something.

Hopefully, after reading this list of 11 things to know about expat life (there are more, but l will stick to these for now), you won’t feel alone and take comfort in the fact that it happens to everyone sooner or later.

11 things to know about expat life: What you wish you had known:

11 things to know about expat life. View from the castle in Andalusia

Getting there will always be more expensive than you think:

No matter how obsessive you are about your checks and balances and your budget, your cost of moving will most certainly be more than you budgeted for.
Among the costs you will incur are:

  • Visa costs (except for the lucky few who have this covered by their jobs). You might need courier costs, extra papers to be submitted can cost you more. Translation…and do on add to your tab.
  • Transportation costs: This will include your plane ticket, trains, buses, taxis, and any other forms of transportation to get you to your new home. Even if you have your ticket, hunting for an apartment or house at your new destination will include getting there. You might have to pay for extra luggage because you overpacked (yep, we did that to the tune of $1500 in excess luggage costs).
  •  Deposits: Depending on where you move to, you might have to put down a larger than the expected deposit to secure an apartment. In some places, such as Valencia, the renter also pays the leasing company the equivalent of one month´s rent, something that catches a lot of people by surprise. The rules are sure to be different.
  • How long to find accommodation: You might get lucky and find a flat on the first day. You might not be lucky and are still hunting three to four weeks down the line and have to extend your temporary accommodation, thereby paying even more money and blowing your budget.This is why l always recommend that people have an additional cushion so they are not caught off-guard.

You are starting from scratch:

You might be under the impression that as a grown person, you already know how to navigate life, and would therefore have no problem adjusting to your new life. Wrong! You will be sorely tested. You will feel like a newborn in diapers as everything is strange and new.

Unless you already speak the language, you will be learning all over again, and yep! sound like a toddler to the locals. You have to build your new life from the ground up all over again. Simple tasks become monumental as you struggle to make yourself understood. This leads to the next point.

Market stall at mercado Tarragona Spain in 11 things to know about expat life blog post Nextbiteoflife

Living life as a local is not possible for a long time, if ever:

This is a weird one because you feel like you are floating somewhere in between. Language barrier will make you feel like a foreigner when you are with the native people, but yet you feel like a local when talking to tourists because you are familiar with the area.

This is something that takes a long time but improves as you put in the effort. I have mentioned in a prior post about people just choosing to live in expat enclaves. That is something l don’t approve of, and will perpetually make you feel like a stranger.

You will miss your old life:

It’s to be expected that you will question your choice when faced with difficulties. Things were so much easier then. You had your routine and knew what to expect. It’s always important to remember why you left in the first place.

Customer service is a big one that we miss, and something people complain about all the time. In most other countries, the customer is hardly ever right as opposed to the U.S and other westernized countries where it’s more like the customer is always right.

You will make cultural mistakes, and a lot of them:

You will look back and laugh at your mistakes from the past, but you cringe at the time. The way words are spoken and the way the accents are pronounced can change the meanings. I have been guilty of it, and continue till this day as l learn. Yeah… 

Your tastebuds will change in your expat life:

Unless you are prepared to splash out big bucks for the food you used to eat at home  (imported into your new country), you will learn to start eating the local food. Hopefully, this is one of the things you considered prior to moving. Good thing is, most locally sourced food is generally better than the sugar fortified ones from back home.

The vegetables are, fresher and the meat is not enhanced in any way. You will get your cravings every so often of course, but nowadays, all the chains back home can be found in your new country, so easy fix, or you learn to cook.

You´ll feel like everyone else but you is having the time of their lives:

Social media has made it so easy to share every part of our lives. You will feel like something is wrong with you because you are not on vacation every day. Check out Instagram and Facebook, and all your friends are going away someplace even nicer than where you live.

They are constantly on the move and you feel bad because you stay home a lot, and do regular everyday stuff like laundry and grocery shopping. Things are not always what they seem, these people do everyday stuff too, but it’s not sexy to put those online, so keep that in mind and travel vicariously through them.

salmorejo de cordoba in white bowl soup on 11 things to know about expat life.
Salmorejo de Cordoba, one of the many things we started eating.

Your new life is not a vacation:

See the above point. Your ex-pat life is not a vacation. Bills still need to be paid, dogs walked, grocery shopping to be done. House cleaning, pet care, and the list go on. Everything you used to do in your old life still needs to be done, just in a new setting.

Sure, you will discover new places on your getaways, but life still goes on. Spain suits us well because we are able to get away to such wonderful and historic places on the cheap, but most of the time, we are home doing homey things like watching too much TV, cooking and cleaning.

You are still you: No matter where you go, there you are.

No, you don’t suddenly become a new person when you switch geographical locations. Were you a loner before? You’re probably still one. Social butterfly? Still one. Moving is not some sort of magical pill that changes you that way. You can make the effort to start anew with purpose, but it doesn’t just happen.

The colosseum in Rome from the top. 11 things to know about expat life.
The Roman colosseum. One of the 11 things to know about expat life is that yes, it seems like everyone except you is having the time of their lives.

Your baggage comes with you:

Just as you don’t transform into a new person after your move, your past problems will follow you. It’s pretty much impossible to run away from your problems. You can put them off for a while, but you will eventually have to face them.

Nothing is more freeing than starting your expat life with a fully clean slate. Take care of all your problems before embarking on a new life. Clear your debts, fix the family problems, or whatever might be detrimental to your mental health otherwise you will be in for a harsh surprise.

Your circle of friends will be other expats or immigrants:

The reason being is that they are in the same boat as you. You can navigate the new waters together. In a lot of countries, it is almost impossible to make native friends. Most grow up and live their whole lives with the same circle of friends and are not looking to expand them.

They might not want to put the effort in because they consider you a “temporary” visitor no matter how long you stay there unless you’re married to a local. You can have casual friendships, but rarely have them as close friends. The small group of friends you will make will be international though and they will be lifelong ones.

Madrid, the capital, and a melting pot in Spain

11 Things to know about expat life: conclusion:

This post is not written to discourage you from pursuing a new life. It’s just to prepare you for what to expect. Knowledge is power. Expat life for us after eight years and counting has been fantastic and we highly recommend it if you get the chance. We know a lot of people also enjoying life, so yes… join us if you can.

2 thoughts on “11 Things To Know About Expat Life”

  1. Excellent article, I loved reading it! You are absolutely correct and even though I am not an expat (yet), I did spend longer periods of time in different countries to get to realize that everything you mention above is correct.

    For people like me who are always searching the “perfect” place, it’s a difficult realization the fact that it doesn’t exist – at least not as my mind wants it to be. There are Pros and Cons everywhere, so you just have to pick what matters the most for you. And accept that not everything will be flawless 🙂

    • I think most people are so focused on finding the perfect place and it leads to such disappointment upon finding out that there is no such place. It can be devastating. We are conditioned to look at all the videos online that only show the good stuff, you assume there’s something wrong with you if don’t have that life. Not true, as you have indeed found out. Life will always be full of ups and downs. Yep! You have to figure out the most important ones and let them be the deciding factor. A tough lesson to learn.

      You are doing it the right way l think by trying out a whole bunch of places to see which one will fit your lifestyle:-).


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