7 Things No One Told Me about Expat Life

I got a lot of advice, good and bad, about moving abroad, and when a friend who is moving from the U.S. to Australia asked me about the pros and cons of moving to another continent, it got me thinking about the things I had no idea about before I moved. So here is a list of things I wish I’d known before hopping on that one way flight from Logan airport to Manchester. 

  1. You’ll eat things you thought you never would (and like it sometimes!). I’m looking at you instant coffee. I’m ashamed to say I’ve gotten used to it. I’ve also tried fish for breakfast, reindeer and fries in mayo. And I’ve gotten to like a little black currant in well… Everything. 
  2. You’ll try to guess how long it will take someone to comment on the fact that you’re not “from here”. Usually it’s as soon as I start to talk. Or I say elevator instead of lift. Oops. 
  3. Trips to the grocery store can be a source of heartbreak and homesickness. No Kraft macaroni and cheese or refried beans?? I can’t even make myself comfort food to feel better. And sometimes you’ll buy that £8 box of Oreos in the imported food aisle because dammit you are homesick!
  4. Everyone else doesn’t always know best. You’ll get a lot of advice, solicited and unsolicited. People will tell you how to do everything from choosing a mobile provider to selecting your home. It can be overwhelming but do your own research too. What works for them may not necessarily work for you. 
  5. Get memberships as soon as possible. If I had known that the English Heritage membership also gave free admission to Welsh and Scottish sites after a year, I would have definitely joined earlier to maximize the benefit. I also use National Trust car parks on a regular basis, so joining that made sense as well. So as long as you think you’ll use them enough to pay for the membership, join early. 
  6. Sometimes it feels like you have no control over your life.  How long you can stay and when you must leave are often in the control of the government, a job or a partners position. Things can be bureaucratic or last minute. The agency in charge of your visa doesn’t care about your plans, or whether 6 weeks is enough time to plan a move home…or un plan one. The future can feel very unsure and if you are a planner ( I am) this is extremely frustrating, but you learn to live with it. 
  7. It goes by way too fast. Ok, maybe everyone did tell me that. It’s true though, between the learning curve, the travel and adventures, before you know it you’re 6 months or a year in. So enjoy every minute!

What do you wish someone had told you about expat life?

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    20 Comments Add yours

    1. I agree with all of those. I would add that no one told me there would be moments when you have never felt so lonely, surrounded by a sea of people living in a city where no one knows your name. When they do learn your name – suddenly your world expands at an exponential rate. Cheers from Denmark!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The loneliness is definitely true, it’s hard to be far away from everything and everyone you know. But it definitely gets better!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. angharadeyre says:

      All so true. I still use lift instead of elevator, much to people’s amusement.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I use lift at work (where I design buildings and have to) but the rest of the time it’s usually elevator that comes out!

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    3. Refried beans are really important.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Obv. Mom is sending me a care package this week so I won’t be deprived for long!

        Liked by 1 person

    4. Surely you can get refried beans!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have heard this but have yet to see them!

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    5. We also join the National Trust, it’s so worth it !! So many great sites. I agree with #2… from taxi drivers, to stand owner at the fruit market…. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, we’ve definitely been taking advantage of our membership! And good to know I’m not the only one, it is pretty entertaining sometimes 🙂

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    6. YES to all of this! I wish someone had told me to start planning our repatriation earlier. Not that I would have followed their advice because I was in total denial, but truly- it’s a different kind of crazy and I wish I had started that process sooner. Good luck to you Amanda! Hope there are some refried beans in your immediate future. It’s the little things that get us through the days sometimes… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve got a year before we (possibly) repatriate, and I have a feeling I’ll be in denial as well. Luckily, my boyfriend’s company takes care of logistics, I’m more worried about mental preparation though!

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    7. Inger says:

      #2 is definitely a repeat …. I wish someone had told me about all the tax complications of working abroad…or maybe not, maybe it would have scared me from travelling:)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, paperwork is a pain, glad it didn’t scare you off! Although I’ve found my taxes are actually fairly simple here, the UK doesn’t make you do much and the US is just a few forms saying you’re living abroad, but I’m sure it varies.

        Liked by 1 person

    8. estelea says:

      oh yeah, the food section of the grocery store…Been there, able to pay a ridiculous amount of money for chocolate 😛

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    9. I’m really happy to have found your blog as I can completely identify with all of it. Choosing to move to England has been the best decision of my life, but it comes with its own challenges. #6 really rings true for me. I’m definitely a planner and not having control of whether or not the government will let me stay is really unsettling. My visa extension application is coming in January and I just want to rush all these months by and get it over with!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Good luck with the extension! It’s so stressful, but I have to try not to think about it too much. Glad you’re loving it in England so much, I’ve enjoyed checking out your blog as well!

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    10. tinyexpats says:

      Can very much relate to this.. I guess, I’m in a bit of a down stage of my expat experience at the moment, feeling like I have no control over my life whatsoever! Anyways, that too shall pass 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Good luck! It will get better! That’s always a frustrating time, when you feel like your future is in someone else’s hands.

        Liked by 1 person

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