The Best and Worst Things About Being an Expat

The dreamer imagines expat life to be a new world full of possibilities and romance, where they will feed off of the hum of a new city and encounter excitement around every corner.

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The realist knows that the challenges of setting up life in another country, knowing no one, and sorting through foreign bureaucracy will be a huge undertaking. So, take these two ideas, plop them smack dab in the middle of a new country, and here you'll find the expat.

Traveling and actually living abroad are two very different experiences. As a traveler, you never have to figure out how to set up a bank account, where to get the freshest produce, or where to get your teeth cleaned. For those are the things of regular life, not life on the road. But if you choose to settle in somewhere for a while, you'll eventually need to figure these things out.

For many expats, the misconception by family and friends at home is that you are free to frolic around your new town, carefree, on a long sabbatical from "real life". The reality is, you're still going to work, folding your laundry and paying the bills too - just thousands of miles away. 

To find out what life is actually like as an expat, we've asked a few of our friends to share the joys and the difficulties of life as an expat.

What Do You Love About Life As an Expat?

"Every day is a new adventure when there's a language barrier to be negotiated. Even when there isn't, you're still going to be seeing new things and learning from new experiences wherever your day might lead you."

– Chris Walker Bush, Aussie on the Road

"As an expat, you really get the chance to live by the rhythm of another country – you commute, work, grocery shop, eat and drink with the locals. And if you do this long enough, they aren’t just 'locals' anymore, but friends.

As a traveler, you usually don’t get this level of interaction, of understanding or of acceptance. When that happens, you belong there too; that country becomes more than just a stamp in the passport, an album of photos, and some beautiful memories – it becomes another place in the world to call home. "

– Alicia Smith, World Nomads

"I love the surprises that come with living in Mexico. From mariachis singing in the food market, a campesino walking with a parrot on his shoulder, or dodging fruit like mangoes and chico as they fall from the tree, every day offers a new and unexpected experience or flash of beauty."

Michele Petersen

"I've lived in both Nice, France and Melbourne, Australia, mostly because I love creating a routine: becoming a regular in a café, knowing the public transportation lines like the back of my hand, experimenting with local ingredients, settling into a friendly circle of locals and fellow expats."

– Christine Amorose, C'est Christine

"I really enjoyed living among the locals. Women and children in Vietnam would wave and practice their English with me. It's the lovely local encounters that make living abroad worth its many challenges."

– Marissa Toohey, The Bubble Buster Project

What Are the Difficulties of Being an Expat?

"There's no avoiding homesickness. When you're out traveling and it's all go-go-go, you might be able to avoid it. But expat life means a certain amount of downtime and with that quiet time, there will inevitably come a little sadness. It's also hard to be away from your support network when times are rough."

– Chris Walker Bush, Aussie on the Road

"In addition to missing family back home, I miss Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Ukrainian and other ethnic cuisine. My hometown of Toronto is an incredibly diverse city, so it's easy to pick up foods like Dodonis feta in Greektown, or naan hot off the grill in Little India.  Here (in Mexico), it's not so easy!"

Michele Petersen

"I had trouble finding safe food during my first weeks living in Vietnam, as I'm allergic to seafood! When it's tough to do something as basic as eat, everything seems difficult to manage.

But it only took a couple of weeks to find some trusty vegetarian eateries and I managed to keep smiling by having fun while getting to know my new and intriguing surroundings."

– Marissa Toohey, The Bubble Buster Project

"In a certain respect, if you’ve haven’t grown up in a place, there are some things, some references that you just won’t understand. This is because you weren’t around to experience them with the rest of the country.  That joke or story about “the big event of 1993”? Forget it."

– Scott Ward, World Nomads

My 'fixed life envy' is the hardest part of being a constant expat: I'm never staying anywhere quite long enough to fully put down roots. I'd love to invest in beautiful things for the home and buy a puppy; instead, I get really good at detaching emotionally from objects and learning how to say goodbye, yet again.

I also think that being an expat is a lot more exotic in theory than reality: my friends at home think I'm constantly on vacation, but I'm really just working and grocery shopping on the other side of the globe."

– Christine Amorose, C'est Christine

Have you ever lived abroad? What did you love about it, and what were your struggles?

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