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9 Difficulties of living in a foreign country that no one tells you

Living in a foreign country isn’t all roses, it comes with many positive and negative experiences too. It isn’t for everyone, but if you’re wondering whether to move abroad, just think about how you’ll know it is or it isn’t for you if you have never tried it.

I know how it feels to see others having a great time abroad. But like with everything, people mostly show the good things and, of course, everyone has a different experience.

This is the main reason why you should experience living in a foreign country on your own and not by other people’s stories.

Personally, it’s one experience that will teach you many things and it will make you grow, but before you grow, you sometimes need to go through less pleasant situations, you need to step out of your comfort zone.

In this blog, you’ll learn the difficulties you may come up with in your expat journey. 

what is it like to live abroad

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What are the difficult things about living in a foreign country? 

1) Getting overwhelmed with the moving process

Who said moving abroad is easy? If moving to a different flat or city in your country is tiring, moving abroad is even more so. You need to think about what you really need to take with you and what you don’t.

I found myself overpacking, and if you’re in that situation, I completely understand what you’re going through. Something that can help you is writing down a list of all the essentials you must take with you – from your passport and important documents to electronic devices.

By writing a list, whether you do it on your phone or on paper, you’re decreasing the chances of forgetting important things you can’t buy in your new country.

packing items for moving abroad

📌 Related post: The Ultimate Checklist for Moving Abroad

2) Dealing with paperwork in a new country

This is probably the most daunting thing when moving overseas and it’s one of the main challenges of living abroad.

You aren’t familiar with the legal and administrative system in your new country, and therefore, you’re likely to struggle with filling in or reading documents.

Bureaucracy varies from country to country, but the truth is that some countries make things easier for new residents. For example, Spanish bureaucracy is very slow, and documents aren’t easy to read (I’m telling you from a Spanish native perspective). 

However, you can always find help and advice from expats in your new country because they had to go through the same process as you. Alternatively, in some countries, you may find some associations that help expats to fill in and translate documents for free.

3) Learning a new language

Moving to a country where locals don’t speak your language is another challenge of living abroad. You really need to learn the language if you want to fit in the place and immerse yourself in the culture.

I find learning a language a very exciting process because you go from feeling uncomfortable because you only know very basic words or sentences to being confident and proficient in the language.

Something that I wish I knew before moving to the UK was the fact that I was going to struggle with the local accent. When you normally learn a foreign language, you learn the “standard” language, and you don’t get to hear a diversity of accents. This is what happened to me.

Once I landed in Leeds, I felt upset because I couldn’t understand everything! This doesn’t only happen with English, but with other languages as well.

If you’re new to the language, it’s very important you try to talk with the locals. I know how easy it is to get away without talking to anyone in the supermarket or library because you’ll find that some countries will have self-service checkouts.

However, you can attend language exchanges, join a class to socialise with new people, read books, etc.

Another simple thing you can do is get a language app to improve your vocabulary and grammar. Babbel is the best language app to level up your skills – you can learn anything from basic vocabulary to pronunciation.

4) Finding the right job

Finding a job is sometimes a challenge for new expats. If you’re struggling with the language, it can be even more difficult. 

There are job opportunities that don’t require you to have great communication skills but they often pay less and may not be the jobs you want.

Alternatives to this are working remotely or for an international company that communicates in your native language or a language that you’re proficient in. 

📌 Related post: 10 Best Expat Jobs in Europe

5) Experiencing cultural shocks

Living abroad comes with many surprises, and of course, culture shocks that come from experiencing a different culture than yours. What’s normal to someone may not be to you. 

The best thing to overcome cultural shocks is to accept them. This doesn’t mean you need to agree with the way something is done but understand there are other ways to do it and you must respect them.

Depending on the destination you move to and your culture, you’ll have bigger or smaller cultural shocks. But you’ll definitely experience some! 

I remember the first time I heard the cashier calling me “love”, I felt awkward and confused. However, I discovered later this is a common thing to say in Yorkshire, the area I moved in.

6) Fitting in the country 

You may feel you don’t fit in your new country, however, you must remember that this is often a temporary feeling. It takes a bit of time to familiarise yourself with the place, culture, people, etc.

Every time you’re in a new environment, it’s ok to feel this way. Give yourself some time to adapt to the place and look for ways to adapt quicker – attend cultural events, make friends, join a class, improve your language skills, etc.

However, if you continue feeling like you don’t fit in for a while, this can be a sign that you may have moved to the wrong place.

In that case, don’t worry about the time and effort you’ve put in to fit in this new place because I’m sure you’ve learnt something from it.

living in a foreign country

7) Making friends

Are you an introvert and new to a country? I’ve been there, and it can be overwhelming. But, if you put effort into meeting new people, you’ll make friends more quickly.

Making friends quicker will depend on how the local culture is and how you are. But even, if the locals are more reserved than in your culture or you’re an introvert, you’ll meet new people for sure.

There are many ways you can meet local people (I mean you’re surrounded by them!), so you just need the right opportunity to start a conversation.

Here are different ways you can make friends with the locals and expats:

  • Use social media (there are plenty of expat Facebook groups to join and meet people).
  • Attend a language exchange. People do go there to improve their language and make friends.
  • Join a society at university.
  • Invite work or uni colleagues over for some food and drinks.
  • Get involved in a volunteering project.
  • Be open-minded and always accept invites. 

8) Leaving family and friends behind

By moving abroad, you leave behind your previous life, including family and friends. That doesn’t mean you won’t see them again or lose them, but the relationship will likely change. 

Something that you can’t do is not move abroad because of the fear of losing friends and family. This will only make you regret not moving abroad later.

It’s important to remember that although your relationship with them will change, they will be there for you if you ever need it. If they aren’t there for you, that means they weren’t your real friends.

Overall, leaving family and friends behind is one of the major cons of living abroad.

9) Feeling homesick

Every expat misses home, family and friends at some point in their living abroad experience. Be kind to yourself and understand this is normal.

The moment you move abroad, you go through many changes in your life, some you’ll love and some you won’t, so it’s inevitable to compare your hometown with your new city.

Not only will you miss family and friends, but things you hadn’t considered before such as food, weather, a special place, smell…you name it! 

When I used to live in Spain, having sunny days was something usual and normal to me. However, once I moved to the UK, I started missing the weather and appreciating it. 

Sunny days, especially during the winter months, are rare. So whenever there’s a bit of sun, I’m super happy.  

📌 Related post: How to Deal With Homesickness Abroad 

So is it worth moving abroad?

Despite all the challenges and cons of living abroad, you find along the way during your expat journey, the advantages of living in a foreign country outweigh the disadvantages.

I can’t fully describe how rewarding it is and how much you grow from the moment you leave your home country. Moving abroad does change your life.

It opens your eyes to a new culture, teaches you invaluable lessons, and makes you grow and be more independent.

If you have any questions or want any advice on expat life, reach me by email at cristina[at]mylittleworldoftravelling.com or on Instagram @creina.diary. I’m always happy to help.

Cristina xx

P.S. Do you know any friends who are moving abroad? Share the blog with them 🙂

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  1. I just signed up for your checklist! Hoping to live abroad for the next year!

    1. Cristina Reina says:

      That’s amazing to hear! I hope you move abroad next year.

  2. Barbara Farfan says:

    After 9 years of International Petsitting, I can honestly say I’ve only had challenges with two of these things… the language barrier in Slovenia (it’s impossible to fake your way through Slovenian). And there were some definite paperwork/VISA challenges in Mexico during the year of pandemic-monium. International travel is TOTALLY worth it! There is SO much to be gained! Great article – thanks!

    1. Cristina Reina says:

      Oh wow, it’s great to hear you have been living abroad for so long 🙂 I totally agree with you, moving abroad is absolutely worth it. It teaches you many life lessons, and you get incredible memories too!

  3. I have blogged about very similar feelings about living in a new place so your blog post really resonated with me! Thank you for sharing your experiences too. It is nice to know that we aren’t alone.

  4. It’s definitely a big step to move abroad, especially if you don’t know many people or speak the language. But I think the positives outweigh the negatives overall!

  5. These are some great cons about living abroad. I feel like the homesickness is such a real thing. I really appreciated your great tips for connecting with people and using social media help in all the transitions!

  6. Ummi | Ummi Goes Where? says:

    Moving abroad is one of my biggest dreams right now. Partly because of my love for foreign lands, and partly because I really just want to escape from the discriminations I face as a marginalized person in a conservative country. Now may not be the right time to do so yet, buf hopefully someday. Thank you for this inspiring article. ❤️

  7. MacKenzie says:

    Part of me wishes I lived in a country that spoke a different language so I had to learn one! But I definitely experienced that struggle traveling.

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