Do you know the number one searched pros and cons list when someone is moving abroad? Yep, it’s this one – the advantages and disadvantages of living abroad. Well, you have come to the right place. Moving to another country is one of the most exciting experiences you can decide to pursue.
At 22 years old, I decided to pick up my entire life and move to Spain for a year to teach English abroad. Though an exciting time full of travel, food, and wine, it also showed me what I did and did not want from living abroad. Some factors impact your experience based on the country or city you choose, currency conversions, culture and traditions, and more.
So what are the advantages and disadvantages of living abroad?
To answer that, you have to ask yourself some other key questions. What climate do you want? How luxurious or budget-friendly do you want to live? How do you handle the pressure? Will you need to learn the language? If so, are you a quick learner? How will you get around without a car? How will you navigate working abroad?
Well, this post is here to break down the advantages and disadvantages of living abroad from someone who did it. Every experience is different; however, there are some similarities among expats too. You’ll see there are pros and cons to living abroad, but only you can make that decision for yourself. Here are things to keep in mind when you do.
Disadvantages and cons of living abroad
Let’s start with the disadvantages of moving to another country. Just as there are positive effects of moving abroad, there are also negative effects of living abroad. Once the adrenaline of living in a new country wears off and a standard sets in life, it can return to normal. You have to sit in your decision and come to realize if it was a good decision or more challenging than you anticipated. How you adapt at that moment can make or break your experience.
Learning a new language can be challenging
If you pick a destination where you do not know the language, think about the challenges that can ensue. How will you commit to immersing yourself if you can’t converse with the people you want to engage? What are your options to learn the language, and how can you get connected? Learning a new language can be challenging and a lot to take on on top of packing, moving, and then working abroad. Therefore this should be a factor and where you decide to move.
But don’t worry, there are ways to combat this issue! You can enroll in a language school, take classes, or participate in language exchanges to better navigate your new home. However, it takes dedication, time, and a lot of confidence to put yourself out there and practice language too. Just remember that taking classes will not be enough.
It would be ideal for forcing yourself to speak the language as much as possible. You have to be willing to make mistakes in front of people. While some people may laugh on occasion, most locals are excited and encourage you to learn their language. Attempting to understand is the least we can do when we live in their country. Choose progress over perfection, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes! Learn from them and grow.
You are far away from family
Homesickness abroad is real. Assuming that you are close to your family, living abroad can be a significant change. Most people who move abroad are moving overseas and away from their families. You won’t have your parents or guardians, siblings, grandparents, etc., within reach. While you may be thinking, “oh, well, I live away from my family back home,” living abroad is a little different.
Not only are you away from your family, but you are away from anything familiar. And sometimes you want to have your family to talk to and share news. You may wish to vent if you had a bad day or tell them something exciting. They may not always be available to you at your fingertips. Be prepared for that change.
Yet, there are some ways to remedy this challenge. If you schedule times to video chat or group chat as a family, it can make it easier when you know you’ll be talking to them. Be mindful of time zones when scheduling these calls too. However, that is something you all can organize and workaround. You can also send voice notes instead of regular text messages too. It may be difficult to adjust if you are a family person, but it’s not impossible.
It takes time to build a new community
On top of not being near family and dealing with homesickness abroad, creating a supportive community takes time. You have to find people you like, which requires you to put yourself out there. If you had the guts and confidence to move your entire life abroad, then I’m sure you have the confidence to make new friends too. They are experiences that go hand-in-hand.
Building a community can also be difficult if you live in an international expat hub like Berlin or Mexico City, where people are more transient and leave. You can find like-minded people, and one by one, they move onto their next adventure. It is one of the downsides, but hopefully those friendships last across borders.
Relationships depend on how much effort you are willing to make and how much they want to engage. Since building a new community relies on you making connections with others, it is a two-way street. Finding events to attend through community centers is one way to meet people. Sport is a universal language that requires no (actual) speaking! You can join a gym or an intramural sports team.
It can be awkward at times if you go to bars alone or go out by yourself. However, it’s a great way to test your extrovert personality. Do you want to be home alone every night, or do you like to share your experiences with new friends? You have to put in the effort to make friends and build the community you want to see in your life abroad.
Culture shock happens
Culture shock, the gift that just keeps on giving. Your experience with culture shock may vary. Yet, culture shock is something that you should plan for when you move abroad. It can creep up on you unexpectedly, and sometimes you may burst out crying in a grocery store if you can’t read the labels. Or you have to adjust to walking or using public transportation if you were more accustomed to driving the car.
It’s the little things that I can sneak up on you and make you feel the most homesick. But overcoming culture shock is possible. While there are stages to culture shock, they often don’t work linearly, and they will not last forever.
Some strategies to overcome culture shock include journaling, setting time with family and friends back home, and even taking a few deep breaths before feeling overwhelmed. Culture shock looks different for everyone, and it is more of a trial-and-error experience to find the strategies that work best for you.
Adjusting to a new diet
Even the most experienced traveling foodies have to adjust to a new diet when they move abroad. Living abroad means that you are eating foods that you may not be that familiar with back home. And occasionally, food poisoning or overall bodily changes occur as you physically move yourself to a different continent or country.
Even if you research the food in a destination, you never really know how your body will react until you arrive.Sometimes you just have to let nature take its course. Some essential oils can help your stomach adjust, such as oregano oil. But be prepared for body changes when you eat new foods abroad as you are adjusting. The more you go grocery shopping and try fresh foods, the more you will understand how your body reacts.
Be sure to go to the doctor’s office before you move to ensure you do not have any new allergies that could affect the move. When you arrive in your country, get connected with other expats. Ask around to see how and where they go for their health needs. Destination-specific Facebook groups for expats are excellent resources to get more of this information. You may find there is a doctor in your destination that expats recommend, who has helped other expats adjust to living abroad and can help you too.
The bureaucracy of moving abroad
Visas, passports, rent agreements, oh my! Yes, it takes a lot of paperwork to move abroad. You may even live abroad to escape the bureaucracy of your own country. However, you will learn that bureaucracy is everywhere.
Renting an apartment, getting health insurance, and buying a car for long-term expats can require many office visits and applications. Depending on your level of travel privilege, you may need a proper visa to travel to destinations, even as a tourist. And as you research where you want to live abroad, you may find your dream destination does not have a visa for you to move there long term.
Read what you need to do is key for a better bureaucratic transition. For visa situations, some people have enlisted in lawyers to make sure they are legally moving abroad. Staying up to date on any political changes to your country is helpful as these changes could affect you as a foreigner.
Not only are you staying informed on the news, but you can also understand more about your new home. Being knowledgeable in your expat home’s social, economic, and political environment makes you more connected with what is going on. While these situations may be stressful at times, they are necessary. Everyone has to go through it, and expats are no exception.
Moving abroad can cost you a pretty penny. In addition to organizing and planning your work and packing, you need to plan out those finances. If you plan on using storage, and not selling all of your stuff, that will cost money. Visits to the consulate to get your visa, or go through visa interviews, can add up if it is not close. If you need to expedite anything, such as a passport, to align with your move that will cost extra money as well.
Finances can also pile up once you arrive. Depending on where you move, Airbnbs and hotels can be expensive to use over time if you are looking for permanent housing. You also have to know the tax and currency conversion needs when you arrive.
Not properly researching the funds you need to move abroad is a no no. Be sure to do your research so you know what to expect to avoid any unexpected expenses. Yes, it is cheaper to not move, but if you were satisfied with that you would not be reading this post!
Advantages and pros of living abroad
Ok, the disadvantages of living abroad are out of the way! Now let’s break down the advantages of moving to another country. This section is the fun part because the advantages of moving abroad outweigh the disadvantages of moving abroad.
If you fully embrace what living abroad has to offer, it is truly an exciting experience. Everyone has their good days and bad days. But thankfully, the bad days are few and far between. Let’s unpack the positive effects of living abroad.
Traveling to new places is easier
Moving abroad means you are in a new country and or continent to understand and learn more about its history, culture, and traditions. Therefore you have more opportunities to explore the new region of the world. Even if you go to a different city in the same country, there is so much variety.
You can maximize your weekends in ways you may not have been in your own country. Having that weekend time is especially helpful if you have a nine-to-five job. Freedom of movement is one of the many top reasons why people become expats.
Whether you are a foodie who loves to try new foods or someone who loves to go hiking, living abroad opens up so many unique destinations. Everything is new, and therefore you have a different outlook on what your daily life can be.
And you don’t even have to fly! You can ride around the city on the bus or metro to get acquainted with a new destination. Moving abroad means you can create new travel memories every day if you wish. Living abroad opens up new places to see and explore.
You learn a new language and soft skills
The advantages and disadvantages of living abroad play off each other. While learning a new language can be difficult, it is one of the highlights of moving abroad. It is one thing to learn a language when you are in school or learn a language that is not widely spoken in your home Community. However, when you move abroad, you have the opportunity to immerse yourself in a culture fully and its language.
You not only learned about grammar and vocabulary, but you also get the inside scoop on colloquial languages like slang or shortened ways to say words you learn to textbooks. Yet, language skills are just one of the skills you can attain when you live abroad. You can get other soft skills, such as intercultural communication, adaptability, flexibility, and more. When you put yourself out there, the more you will grow.
Attaining new skill sets is also great if you want to continue living and working abroad and eventually work for an organization in the country in which you live. Building up those soft skills while also having those hard skills can be a great career opportunity if you want to work abroad permanently.
You can make friends from around the world
Once again, the advantages and disadvantages of living abroad are two sides of the same coin. After building that community of friends, life is more abundant. Interacting with people from different places worldwide is one of the most memorable parts of living abroad. Moving and itself as daunting as you are going away from the family and friends you have grown to love and adore.
However, making friends is an impactful experience because you are often making friends across language barriers. You are also making friends with people from countries you may have never visited nor heard of before. Those kinds of connections do not go away. They can even turn into something more.
Take the time to nurture those friendships and relationships you have abroad. You connect with people who have similar interests because it takes a particular brand of person to move to a new country. You are also connecting with people who have their own stories and experiences too. These friendships can last forever if you invest in and allow them to do so. You never know what you may have in common, so get out there and try.
Life may be cheaper
Let’s be honest; money rules many aspects of our lives. When you go abroad, you may learn that life is cheaper in your destination than at home. For many expats who move abroad, this is one of the main reasons they decide to live overseas.
Rent is unaffordable in many cities and places around the world. When you move abroad, you find that the cost of living is more in your price range. Everyone loves to save money, and living a comfortable life elsewhere is a significant plus to move abroad. While this does not mean you live in luxury abroad, finances heavily influence our way of life, self-esteem, and happiness.
Finding a more affordable destination for your lifestyle can genuinely change how you view yourself and the world around you. Food may be more affordable. You may be able to afford a car or switch it up and walk, bike, or use public transportation. There are so many reasons to move abroad, and a cheaper destination is often at the top of the list.
To expand your worldview and learn
Going to museums means you can learn history you did not have access to before. Living in another culture means you can experience another way of life. If you are accustomed to taking public transportation, you may not have to do so abroad. You may find a healthier version of yourself adapting to another culture’s country and customs of biking and walking.
When you live abroad, you can talk to people of all backgrounds, both locals and other international expats alike. You learn about where they’re from and what they believe. Mundane activities such as grocery shopping and cooking can become full learning experiences when you have to adapt recipes and dishes based on the local culture.
Even though you are working abroad, you may decide to volunteer somewhere. And through volunteering, you understand more about the destination that you now call home. There are so many ways to expand your worldview that you don’t want to limit yourself. As traveling is about that cross-cultural experience, you shouldn’t limit yourself. Lean into evolving and reject ethnocentrism.
Your family and friends back home have a place to visit
It is always exciting to have people you met before you moved to your new home visit! You share your love of your new home with old friends. When you live abroad, that allows your family and friends back home to have someplace to visit. While it can be challenging to maintain these relationships, building time to see each other in person can help. Everyone loves a good vacation!
And when your loved ones can visit, you can be their tour guide. All of the knowledge you have learned from living abroad in a different country can be passed onto others seeing. The countries that expats call home give a lot to expats, and the relationship is not always balanced.
Having your family support the local economy as much as they can on your visit, and go beyond the guidebook, is the least we can do. Show them your go-to spots. And take them to your favorite mom and pop shops, local artisans, etc., to still be tourists with a mix of local and expat perspectives.
How will the advantages and disadvantages of living abroad play out in your experience?
That is up to YOU
So many decisions, so much to explore and understand about the advantages and disadvantages of living abroad. The excitement can be overwhelming and welcoming at the same time because it is a new adventure. However, that does not mean that moving abroad is easy. Nor does it mean everything is smooth sailing when you arrive. There are some advantages and disadvantages of living abroad to take into consideration. From money to language barriers, plan carefully! I know you can do it. I’m rooting for you to succeed. Good luck.
Still not convinced you should move abroad? Here are 18 reasons why you should do it.