Home Living Abroad Cultural Integration How to overcome the most common expat problems
Last update on 09/11/2023
Sophie Pettit Written by Sophie Pettit

Regardless of where you move, some expat problems always seem to pop up. But knowing how to overcome them will help you embrace your exciting new life.

Moving abroad is a big decision and not one to be taken lightly. To leave your comfort zone and be thrust into an entirely new environment, with its own climate, culture, and customs, is a bold move – to say the least. With all these sudden changes, it’s hardly surprising that expat problems arise during the tricky adjustment period.

The silver lining, however, is that once the initial culture shock fades away, and you overcome these challenges, expat life can bring numerous rewards; the opportunity to learn a new language, travel the world, and make life-long memories – to name a few. So, to help you make that positive transition, and better prepare yourself to move for the adventure that lies ahead, here are some of the most common expat grievances, and some suggestions for how to manage them.

Overcoming the language barrier

Unsurprisingly, learning a new language is usually the biggest problem for expats; especially in the early stages of living abroad. Finding a house, opening a bank account, buying a car, and sorting out health insurance are all mammoth tasks. Now add an unfamiliar foreign language into the mix and suddenly your ‘to do’ list feels ten times more stressful.

Language barriers

If you are lucky enough to live in a country where English is widely spoken, the language barrier will, of course, pose less of a challenge. For the rest of us, however, learning the local lingo is really the only solution to overcoming your frustration and integrating. If you prefer a classroom environment, then taking language lessons is a great way to develop your conversational skills with a qualified teacher. If you’re looking for a more flexible way of learning, on the other hand, there are several great language learning apps that can help you learn the local lingo at your own pace. Duolingo, Mindsnacks, and Babbel are just some of the popular apps on the market. These offer a variety of courses in multiple languages, which you can complete in your own time, such as your daily commute to work.

Understanding the local culture

Living in an unfamiliar culture will inevitably bring about some degree of culture shock. Whether you are struggling to understand the local sense of humor, adapt to a new work culture, or simply buy groceries at the supermarket, these daily challenges that can bring about feelings of frustration, homesickness, and maybe even regret. However, it is important to remember that everyone experiences negative emotions in the early stages; these are all part of the adjustment process.

Pedestrian crossing in Hong Kong

The good news is that these feelings will eventually pass. And with some effective culture shock management strategies, you’ll be stepping off the rollercoaster of emotions in no time. Embracing your host culture is key to dealing with culture shock. The more you research your destination before you arrive, the better prepared you will be for the challenges ahead. Learning more about the local customs and traditions, for example, will help you bridge your knowledge gap and better understand the country. Taking language lessons, making friends with locals, and connecting with the expat community will also help reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation and improve your wellbeing.

Dealing with the cost of living abroad

A high cost of living is one of the main expat problems people face when they move abroad. While indicators such as ECA International’s Cost of Living Survey provide a general outlook of the most expensive cities for expats, it is often difficult to know how tight finances will be until you reach your destination. Factors such as housing, transport, food, clothing, household items, and entertainment all come into play when considering where to live. But wherever you end up moving to, chances are that certain costs will seem significantly higher than at home. And this can create feelings of resentment.

Empty wallet

So what is the solution? Well, aside from considering moving to a more affordable country, managing your finances and budgeting for living expenses is key. You can also follow some simple finance tips to help reduce your spending and save for the future. This might mean cooking at home instead of eating out, shopping at cheaper supermarkets, or using public transport. Researching the rental prices in different neighborhoods can also save you money in the long run.

Adjusting to the new pace of life

Another common expat problem that usually arises once you have moved is adjusting to the new pace of life. Depending on where you have come from, this transition can bring about a variety of emotions. For example, if you move from a bustling ‘city that never sleeps’ in Asia to a quiet town in Europe; where everything closes at 5 pm, you might feel frustrated that things flow a lot slower. On the flip side, you may feel overwhelmed when moving from a laid-back environment to a hectic one. This is where time, patience, and a lot of research can really help you out.

Blocking out the noise

Reading up on the way of life, and connecting with the expat community, in a foreign country can help you decide whether it is compatible with your personality, goals, and desired lifestyle. After all, you probably wouldn’t choose to move to London if you dislike crowds, noisy places, and crave nature. Similarly, the idea of moving to a sleepy town in Spain might be unappealing if you’re a night owl who loves going out. Doing your research beforehand will better prepare you for your life ahead, and avoid any surprises further down the line.

Losing touch with friends and family

Party for one? Sadly, losing friends is one of the biggest pitfalls of moving abroad. In today’s fast-paced world, we are all so busy with our jobs, social lives, families, and so on, that finding the time to maintain friendships – or even long-distance relationships – can be a real challenge. And even with the best intentions, things don’t always go to plan. While some friends may promise to stay in touch but don’t, others might follow the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ way of thinking and disappear.

Birthday party alone

Friendships can only survive if both parties make the time and effort to maintain them. And for those who are prepared to put in the groundwork, modern technology can be a savior. With so many messaging apps now on offer, it is easier than ever to stay connected with our loved ones. Whether you schedule a weekly Skype date, chat on WhatsApp, or share fun videos, it all makes a big difference. And let’s not forget the joy your buddy will feel when they receive your hand-written card from overseas. Sometimes, old school is best. Find more tips on how to stay in touch with friends while abroad.