Living as an expat in Dubai for over 5 years, I can honestly tell you that expat life is full of adventure and once in a lifetime experiences. You get the chance to experience new cultures, meet new people and make expat friends from all over the world, and you have the opportunity to explore a new country inside and out.

Everyone has their reason for moving abroad. You may be looking for a more adventurous life, wanting the opportunity to save more money for a future back home, or just seeking a change of scenery to your everyday life. Those living the expat life will have experienced some, if not all, of the following harsh truths.

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Harsh Truth No. 1 – It can be stressful

They say moving house and starting a new job are two of the most stressful things you can do in your life. So what about moving house, starting a job AND moving half way across the world from all the people you know and love? You got it. Stress times three.

There’s so much to do before you even contemplate moving abroad: choosing the right location, securing a job, finding accommodation, tying up lose ends in your home country.

Getting your head around local culture and the local language (if different from your own) can take some time and it can be a culture shock for some expats.

Harsh Truth No. 2 – Expat life may not be for you

Over the past five years in Dubai, I have seen people come and go quicker than you can say ‘Yalla!’. It’s a life-changing event and sometimes the reason you left your home country is what makes you want to leave expat life and go back there again.

Expat life is often extremely fast paced, especially if you move to a city. Here in Dubai, there is certain pressure to go out and socialize midweek and all weekend, something I would never had done back home. Too often, expats burn out and just want to go back to what they once called their ‘mundane’ life.

Harsh Truth No. 3 – Your friends and family might not visit

This is one of the saddest realities of living as an expat. They may have the best of intentions and you have discussed how exciting it will be when they visit, but your friends and family may not actually ever come visit you. They will always see it that it was your choice to leave (which of course it was!), and therefore you should put in more of an effort to visit.

While I have travelled home for birthdays, weddings, and simply just because, some friends have said that they just don’t fancy visiting where I live and would rather go somewhere else, not taking who they’re visiting into consideration.

There will always be those friends you remain great friends with no matter how long its been since you’ve last spoken, but staying in touch can be difficult for expats and for those at home, which means that you can end up losing friends and relationships you once thought were sturdy.

Harsh Truth No. 4 – Homesickness is real

No matter how long you live the expat life, no matter how many countries you go on to live in, home will always be home.

At some point or other (maybe multiple times) during your time living as an expat, you will long for home and it’s not always possible to just hop on a plane for a quick trip back. During the Covid-19 pandemic a lot of expats didn’t get to see their friends and families (and still haven’t) for over a year, some even longer.

Holidays and special occasions are often difficult and expats can feel as though they’re missing out on things back home.

Harsh Truth No. 5 – It can be hard to make friends

Living as an expat in a foreign country means you have at least one thing in common with all the other expats living there. But that doesn’t meant that you’ll instantly connect. It takes time to meet new friends and life abroad sees people coming and going all the time. So when you do make friends, they may move on to another country in time.

Harsh Truth No. 6 – You miss big life events at home

You can’t always travel home to make the big events (made even more apparent over the last two years during the Covid-19 pandemic) and sometimes you will have to make difficult decisions about what events to miss. There will be big birthdays, weddings, holidays and babies born that you might miss out on while living the expat life.

Harsh Truth No. 7 – Having an emergency in a foreign country can be scary

Having an emergency at any time isn’t great. But in a foreign country, it can be pretty scary. Landing yourself in hospital, losing your job or apartment, especially when you don’t have family or haven’t made close friends yet.

A family emergency could happen where you need to get back home in a hurry and it’s not always possible. This is just something that expats have to deal with unfortunately.

Harsh Truth No. 8 – People move on at home

Expats often have a different way of living life. They don’t tend to follow the social norms of going to college, getting a great job, buying a house, getting married and having kids, or at least not in that order.

So while expat life often means moving from country to country seeking out the next adventure, or where to live next, life for those at home is changing in other ways. Friends are getting married and having kids, moving to the country. When you go home for a visit, or if you eventually move back to your home country, you can’t expect things to be as they were when you left.

Harsh Truth No. 9 – You may not be able to stay

It’s an incredible scenario if you fall in love with a country and decide that you want to live there for the rest of your life and make it your forever home. But it isn’t always the case that you will be allowed to stay, as an expat.

Some countries only allow expats a couple of years on a working visa before they have to leave. Others only allow you to live in a country if you’re on a working visa, so as soon as you retire you are forced to leave. Its heartbreaking to see people having to return home after living the expat life in a country for over 40 years

Tips for settling into expat life easily

Having read all of the above, you might be thinking why would anyone want to live abroad! Is expat life even worth it? For some, absolutely! It’s been the most rewarding experience for me and has led to so many other experiences I would not have otherwise encountered. For others, not so much. But the only way to really find out is to give it a try. The worst thing that can happen is that you don’t like it and you head back to your home country.

Some things you can do to ease your transition into expat life are:

  • Join online groups prior to moving over and arrange some meetups with other like minded people for when you arrive. That way, you’ll instantly feel like you have some support.
  • Book a trip home before you even move. This way you’ll have something to look forward to during your first few months and will feel less homesick.
  • Join groups to meet people who are interested in the same things as you: running club, book clubs, dance classes, etc
  • Arrange a weekly video chat with your family and another with your friends so you can catch up with what’s happening back home

For those contemplating life as an expat, hang tight for a post coming soon on the many (and there really are a lot) advantages of living abroad!


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