Being an expat is hard.
I don’t mean to start a pity-party over here, but moving abroad has had challenges I didn’t imagine. There are so many upsides to making the move; the self-growth, the opportunity to see more of the world, and being able to step wildly outside of your comfort zone. It’s a brave, beautiful thing, when you leave what you know and plunge into the unknown.
But damn, it’s tough.
From struggling to make friends and burning through my savings, to missing sushi and well, the sun, there’s been so many things about moving to Scotland that I didn’t anticipate. Thinking about making the move overseas? Check out this post to discover 10 things I wish someone had told me about being an expat.
10 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Being an Expat
1. It Takes a Lot Longer to Make Friends Than You Think
I left New Zealand scared of two things; navigating the tube (during my 5-day stopover in London) and making friends.
Catching the tube turned out to be a doddle compared to the marathon task that is making friends.
Ok, I kind of knew I sucked at making friends. As an introvert with social anxiety putting myself out there was always going to be a challenge. But I wish someone had told me that making friends doesn’t happen overnight. That even now, almost a year later, I’d have friends, but it’s not the same as having friends I’ve known forever. Friends you make as an adult require effort, and planning, and it’s hard to build those kinds of friendships where you can just hang out and do nothing. Damn, I miss those friendships.
I kind of thought it was just me. But talking to friends who have also moved abroad, I think making friends is hard for most expats. So make that move, absolutely. But go into it knowing it may take more time to build your new community than you’d think.
Read More: 7 Easy (Ish) Ways to Make Friends Abroad
2. Moving Abroad is Expensive (*and Difficult)
Honestly, I didn’t think too much about my visa before I applied for it. I recognise how privileged I am here, but I knew I’d apply for a 2-year Youth Mobility Visa, I knew I’d get it, and I knew there wouldn’t be any problems with me wanting to live in the UK for two years.
But even for someone lucky enough to be in my position, I didn’t realise just how expensive moving abroad would be. First, there’s the visa costs to contend with. A two year Youth Mobility Visa cost me $1600 NZD (including health surcharge), and for those wanting to live in the UK that’s a pretty minimal cost. Ouch.
And then once you move there’s a whole wave of unanticipated costs. I came with a safety net of around $5000 NZD. But between paying bond and rent and (oops) travelling to 10 countries last year, I burnt through it a lot faster than I thought I would.
So I guess what I’m saying is come prepared. Moving abroad is expensive, and it’s a lot easier to make the move if you have some kind of savings and don’t have to stress too much while you look for a job. And for those of you for whom moving abroad is a lot more expensive and difficult, you have my sympathies. That really sucks.
3. You’ll Miss the Weirdest Things From Home
When you make the move abroad you’ll find things in your new home country that you’ll fall in love with. Like Tunnocks Tea Cakes, Percy Pigs and tattie scones. But on the flip side, you’ll also miss the weirdest things from home.
I totally didn’t expect it, but one of my weirdest cravings from home has been sushi. Sushi? Sushi in the UK is overpriced, tiny and just doesn’t compare to the stuff you can find on Dominion Road in Auckland. Or really, anywhere in Auckland. Dammit, now I really feel like sushi.
I also miss Whittakers peanut butter chocolate. TimTams. Sunshine. If you’re moving to the UK, friend, make sure you nip into Boots and pick up some Vitamin D tablets, ok?
4. You Won’t Magically Become a New Person Because You Moved Abroad
I’ve changed a lot since I’ve moved to Scotland. I’m more confident (maybe?), I know how to enjoy my own company, and I can go to a party where I only know one person and not shrivel up in terror.
But I still suck at making friends. Sometimes talking to the checkout operator at the supermarket can make me weirdly anxious. There are times when I’d rather stay home and play the Sims than go out* (*most of the time).
I’ve changed, but I haven’t magically become a new person.
I still have the same problems I had at home, and moving abroad has only served to make those problems glaringly obvious. So while I appreciate the increased confidence and the life skills and stuff, I kinda wish someone had pulled me aside and told me that being an expat wasn’t the solution to all of my problems.
5. You’ll Feel Like You’re Starting From Scratch
And honestly, you kind of are.
There were challenges I expected when I moved abroad. Making friends, finding a job and sorting out somewhere to live; these were all things I had anticipated.
But I didn’t count on all the other, small challenges that make you realise just how foreign your new life is. Simple things like buying new sheets requires a Google search to figure out shops that sell sheets. (And BTW, what’s up with Europe not sleeping with top sheets? Weird). Supermarkets are filled with strange brands and honestly, in the UK, too much damn plastic.
And then there’s all the other things you have to set up to make your life resemble something vaguely normal. You’ve got to sign up to a gym, and find a local doctor, and set up a Subway card.
There’s so many little things that went into your old life that suddenly become more difficult because you’re in a new place. You’re starting your life from scratch, and that’s kind of terrifying.
6. You Won’t See All the Places You Wanted to See
I moved to Scotland with a list of places I wanted to see. I was convinced I’d do something in Glasgow every weekend, and do a trip away at least every month. I’d explore from Aberdeeen to Applecross, and dammit I’d make the most of being an expat.
That hasn’t happened.
Somewhere between my first trip to Inverness and landing a job, life got busy. It got to the weekends and my adventurous plans took a back seat. Instead of catching a 3-hour train to some remote Scottish town I’d probably rather stay home, eat vegetarian chicken nuggets, down a glass of pinot and watch Love Island. Life abroad had become normal.
You might not think it’ll happen to you, but I think it happens to every expat.
Now, I’m not saying to scrap your bucket list. As the countdown is on til the end of my time in the UK I’ve been increasingly keen to see more of Scotland. And I would say since I’ve moved I’ve inevitably been more adventurous than I was at home. But go knowing you can’t see everything, and that’s ok.
7. Talking to Friends & Family is the Best Medicine
I kind of didn’t think homesickness would be such a big deal for me. Naive? Absolutely.
I’d done a little bit of travelling before I moved abroad. In 2017 I spent three months exploring Southeast Asia, and honestly I could have stayed longer. But there’s a big difference between three months of travel and uprooting your life to live on the other side of the world.
While I didn’t miss home at all during my three months in Asia (well, except for maybe flushing toilets), it got to the three-month mark of my living in Scotland and I was desperately homesick. The everyday life of being an expat, especially in the beginning, was hard and I craved familiarity. (And sunshine)
But luckily, thanks to modern technology, we’re able to stay more connected than ever before. Social media may have its downsides, but being able to FaceTime my mum has helped immensely with homesickness and loneliness. Turns out talking to friends and family from home really is the best medicine.
8. The Highs Feel Higher and the Lows Feel Lower
Of all the challenges I anticipated, the emotional rollercoaster that is being an expat was not one of them.
Let me explain.
In the first six months of living in Scotland, honestly, not much in my life felt easy. Because I was starting from scratch and had moved to a country where I didn’t know anyone, everything felt harder than it was back home. And because of that, I think I was in a pretty vulnerable place, emotionally. I’d cry over the silliest things, like my flatmate not buying more toilet paper, or feel weirdly triumphant over finally registering at a GP. In this stressful, difficult phase of my life, the highs definitely felt higher and the lows felt lower.
So be kind to yourself when you move abroad. Go into it knowing you’re about to face one of the wildest challenges of your life, and know it’s ok to celebrate when you discover your local Morrisons sells your favourite New Zealand brand of pinot gris. I mean, that’s definitely something to smile about.
9. You Won’t Feel Like a Local, But You Won’t Feel Like a Tourist Either
You know one of the reasons why I didn’t move to London? Other than it being wildly expensive and crowded, I didn’t want to become one of those kiwis who move abroad and just live with other Aussies and kiwis. Which is what they do in London, right?
Well the jokes on me, because I’m now flatting with an Australian and 99% of my friends here are from Down Under.
But I think it’s because one of the things about being an expat, especially in the beginning, is that you won’t feel like a local, but you’re not a tourist either.
Even after being here for a year, I’m not remotely close to being Glaswegian. I don’t have the patter, or the accent, and when someone says “clatty” or “pish” I don’t have a clue what they’re on about. But this has become my second home, so I wouldn’t call myself a tourist either. Guess I know why expats band together now, huh?
10. You Have to Rely on Yourself, and That’s Empowering
Being an expat is hard. In the first six months after you’ve moved abroad there’s daily challenges to face. From figuring out where to buy sheets, to registering with a GP (when you’ve run out of your inhalers and can’t breathe), everything you do in your adopted country is more difficult than it was back home.
And you have to figure it out alone.
Without your friends and family around you, decisions like whether to take that job, or where to live, rest solely on your shoulders. When you drop your glass drink bottle and it smashes and slices open three of your fingers (#awkwardadventurer) it’s up to you to get yourself to the A&E.
While that level of responsibility makes me want to curl up in a ball and not leave my bed, it’s also kinda empowering. Being an expat is hard, but dammit you’re a boss babe who moved to a new country and built a life from scratch. Nothing can be that hard after this, right?