I am Austrian but have not lived in Austria for over 13 years. I am an expat who has lived in several countries and cultures. I love the richness of this life and it’s in line with my life philosophy. In this article, I want to discuss the promise and perils of the expat life and how to maximize happiness as an expat.
Living as an expat can be an extremely exciting and fulfilling experience. It can bring a sense of adventure, new cultures, and unique opportunities to grow and learn. However, it can also present some challenges.
As expat, I have faced some of these challenges directly myself. I have also learned many valuable lessons that have helped me live a happy and fulfilling life abroad. Expat life has what I call “hard-fact challenges” such as relocating and logistics, and “soft-fact challenges” such as health, relationships, personal growth, and overall well-being. There are tons of resources that cover the hard-facts, hence I cover the soft-facts in more detail. But for completeness sake, let's revise briefly the hard-facts.
The logistics of moving to a new country can be a daunting task. Relocating, setting up a mobile phone, finding insurance, and opening a bank account are just a few of the things that need to be considered when moving to a new country. If you are lucky and your employer supports your expat project, most of these logistics are taken care of.
The relocation process is a lot of work. You need to research a lot and plan ahead including topics like visa, apartment, transportation, packing up and shipping your stuff. I strongly recommend using a relocation service. That may cost you some money but will save you a hell of a lot of time and stress.
Finding a job in a new country can be a challenge, especially if you do not speak the local language. Obviously, try using job search websites or working with a recruiter to help find job opportunities. But more effective is networking (eg, with other expats), which also has the beneficial side effect to get to know local people.
Opening a bank account in a new country can be complicated. Research the available options and find a bank that meets your needs. Some banks may require certain documentation, such as proof of address or a work permit. Sometimes in order to get work you need to have a bank account. So this can lead to a stupid deadlock. Make sure you understand such things beforehand.
Apart from these, there are a range of smaller topics like insurance or mobile phones. Health insurance is of course critical. Also think about other useful insurances in line with your lifestyle such as car insurance, home insurance or sports – for instance, if you plan to do a lot in the mountains.
Setting up a mobile phone may sound trivial and often it is but it’s essential. Understand your needs and get a plan accordingly in order to avoid expensive surprises.
For most of these hard-fact challenges, you can hire an expert. If you decide to do it yourself then set some time aside before you move and research and plan carefully.
The key to overcoming these logistical challenges is to plan ahead and research the available options. Consider using resources such as expat forums, local expat groups, or working with a relocation service to help navigate the process. By being proactive and prepared, you can make the logistics of moving to a new country much easier and less stressful.
As an expat, everything is new and different. You are far from family and friends, and in a new environment. This can be stressful. On top of all the logistical challenges, you need to make sure that your health is not suffering. After all, your well-being is your most important asset.
My big claim is that happiness is health plus freedom. Taking care of your health is crucial to living a happy and fulfilling life as an expat.
I am a big nerd about being proactive about my health, which allows me to engage in . Do your research and find a good health center – just in case. But there is a lot that you can do to avoid getting sick in the first place. I wrote a detailed article about How to Improve Your Health in a Way That’s Easy to Execute and Sustainable.
Health has various dimensions including physical, mental, and emotional health. Some simple things like good nutrition, moving a lot, being in nature in the sun, good sleep, and reducing stress are very powerful mechanisms to stay healthy. Healthy habits and routines can help a lot to “automate” a healthy lifestyle.
This is a big one. This can be true for you if you go on your expat journey alone. But this could also be true, which is an underestimated problem, for your spouse. Spouses actually suffer more from social isolation and loneliness than the expats, who are usually well-embedded in their jobs. This is referred to as the Trailing Spouse Syndrome.
It is not easy to leave behind family and friends and start a new life in a foreign country. However, there are ways to combat loneliness by building a new social network in your new home.
One way to connect with people is to join local clubs or organizations that interest you. This could be a sports team, a language exchange group, or any group that addresses whatever you are interested in.
Volunteering is another great way to build a network. This provides an opportunity to give back to the community and meet new people at the same time. It is also an excellent way to learn about the local culture and customs.
Starting a new life abroad can also put a strain on your relationships, especially with family and friends back home.
Obviously, try to stay connected with your loved ones. Today’s technology makes this easy. Regular video calls and messages help bridge the distance and maintain relationships.
In your new location, try to be curious, open-minded, approachable, and respectful. This will make it a lot easier to meet people and create new relationships.
If you are an expat, you are by definition brave. It takes balls to leave everything behind and move into the unknown. But this is also the exciting part, especially if you are a bit of a risk-taker. Every risk also has a lot of opportunities on the upside. Living the expat life has a lot of opportunities for personal growth and self-actualization. Here are some ways to navigate the challenges and embrace the growth opportunities that come with being an expat.
Depending on where you go, but typically one of the biggest first challenges of living in a foreign country is the language barrier. Learning a new language is a lot of work, but it is a rewarding experience. It’s a huge area of personal development. Speaking several languages is extremely powerful and opens doors. You can take courses or play with apps but the best way to learn a language is living it by interacting with locals. Or you get a girl-/boyfriend who only speaks that language.
Cultural differences will present challenges when living in a foreign country. Embrace the differences, try to be open-minded but in any case respectful. It is extremely interesting and will broaden your horizon if you learn and adopt new things from different cultures. It will help you understand the world better and will make you a better person.
I personally love being efficient and effective. Nothing demotivates me more than fuffing around not getting anything done. An expat project is complex and needs planning, decisions, and efficient execution. This is something that you can learn on the way.
An expat adventure is expensive. But the right mindset is to see it as an investment rather than just spending or losing money. As such you need to think about how you finance everything and where you allocate money too. Ideally, you have several buckets that include liquid money, allocated money (for travel, shipping, fees, etc.), passive income money, and some safety net. An expat project will require you to think about how you manage your money, which are personal growth skills that will serve you forever.
Living in a foreign country or culture is a transformative experience that allows you to discover new aspects of yourself and your capabilities. Embrace the opportunity to step out of your comfort zone, try new things, and pursue your passions. Don’t be shy. Don’t be too risk-averse. In case of doubt, do it. Take advantage of the possibilities that come your way, and use them as a way to grow and self-actualize.
I took my experience as expat and created a membership platform together with five highly experienced coaches. The goal of this platform is to share our learnings with other expats to help them focus on and improve their well-being. What’s the point of moving to another country when you cannot enjoy due to not feeling well?
We call this membership platform Live better, not perfect (Livebnp). All the coaches are expats so we understand the pain and gain. We chose this naming because we want to stay realistic. Way too many services promise to achieve a perfect state which is impossible. We are not aiming for perfection. We aim to live a life that gets better every day a little bit. We achieve this by focusing a lot on forming healthy habits.
We created a unique coaching model that we call the Live better, not perfect Well-being Triangle. This triangle covers:
Health: includes mental, physical, and emotional aspects
People: includes relationships and social aspects
Personal Growth: includes effectiveness, spiritual and life purpose aspects
We deliver our Livebnp expat coaching through three main platform features:
Bi-weekly expert live calls
Community and discussion forum
If you want to learn more, take a look at our introduction to Live better, not perfect.
I love my expat life. It’s not always easy but on balance, I incredibly enjoy the upsides (like traveling in a camper van).
Living as an expat can provide a sense of adventure, new cultures, and unique opportunities to grow and learn. To thrive as an expat, it is essential to take care of your health and well-being, build a social network, and maintain relationships with loved ones. Be open-minded, and use the experience as an opportunity to learn, grow, and discover new aspects of yourself. By doing so, you can create a happy and fulfilling life as an expat.
Remember, you are not alone. There are many expat communities and resources available to help you navigate the challenges and build a new life in a foreign country. Reach out to others, seek advice and support, and most importantly, enjoy the journey.
Do you want to improve your well-being as expat?