This article was originally published in April 2021.
Despite our planning, preparations and intentions, sometimes the move to another country does not work out as expected or what you hoped it would be. For reasons beyond your control, the relocation can take an unexpected turn and have you headed to the airport and on the next flight. In other cases, the reason for leaving can simply be an intentional decision you made based on personal factors. Whatever the cause, an unexpected departure is often thought of as a failure, but this should not be the case.
No one decides to move and then have it not work out. There are plenty of reasons why your move abroad could goes off track, but typically they fall in the following categories: personal, work/business, cultural and finances.
Family life, at home or in your new location, can create a reason to leave your new country. Often these disruptions fall into two primary areas: challenges with the transition or personal crisis in your home of origin. In some cases, the family challenges in the new location include the adaptation of the children to the new environment. Even though you have adjusted, your family has not been able to settle into their new location and life. Your children are yearning for their old friends, family, foods and a familiar culture. Homesickness is common, but in extreme cases it can leave all or part of the family separated. Thus, the sense of an unsuccessful expat move emerges, and no one can thrive in their expat experiences.
A second and common situation is when an unfortunate situation occurs at home, such as a sick loved one, a tragic accident, or the death of a family member or close friend. These situations tug on your emotions and the reality of being so far away from your loved ones. It’s difficult to anticipate when a problem will happen and what flexibility you might have to address it while staying abroad or commuting between countries. In many cases, personal/family tragedy can leave an expat feeling the need to abandon the work, adventure or love to return home.
As an expat employee, your company or organization releases you from your position. It can happen with or without any advanced notice. Redundancy or layoff can happen for various reasons such as loss of profitability, reorganization of your unit, poor performance, completion of the project before contract timeframe and more. The year 2020 gave us an excellent insight into such circumstances. Remember, these types of departure are beyond your control and, in many cases, unforeseen. Since many positions are attached to a company sponsorship, once you lose your job, you may also lose your immigration status in the country.
If you are a digital nomad or entrepreneur, depending on your business, you can have challenges too. If your visa is based on a stipulated income and you fall short, or your product has production obstacles, these matters could create a departure. Additionally, fluctuation in currency or challenges with local hire could drain your resources and force a closure, pivot or move.
Remember, if your sponsored work or business visa is canceled, you are required to leave the country.
You researched and prepared, joined online groups, made local acquaintances before you arrived, read the books, watched the videos and you might have even visited for a few days or weeks. So in your mind, you know what to expect once you arrive and start your permanent transition, right? However, the adjustment has still been a challenge to the point where you are ready to catch the next plane.
Cultural adjustment is hard work, and it takes time. Culture shock has several stages, and you cycle through them. Some stages take a while; others can be short. Yes, you can also revisit a stage based on what is happening in your environment. Your level of shock can be impacted by the climate, poverty, societal norms, traditions, discrimination, and even how time is managed.
All these areas may require some level of adjustment, which could leave you feeling uncomfortable. So, it would not be surprising if you opted to return home or switch countries.
Moving overseas is an investment. It’s personal and professional. If you are an entrepreneur, you might need a backup plan, especially if your business is digital in a low digital infrastructure nation. Have emergency funds – for a flight home or extra funds for rent in your location – in the event your income stream hits a low. If a business sponsors you, they paid a high price to relocate you, and the inability to retain you is also costly to them. Your departure can leave a bad taste in their mouth, which could impact how your departure is handled or even affect recommendations for other opportunities. Not to mention, you could be asked to repay a part of your relocation cost based on your contract.
In most cases, an untimely departure can go from investment to burden. Going home or moving to another country can significantly impact your finances unless you have created a Plan B and some cash reserves. Being prepared is your best defense for precipitable circumstances.
Some things are out of your control, such as business reorganizations/layoffs, change in visa requirements and so on. However, when it comes to personal or cultural failure, there are some steps you can take to avoid bailing out early.
It all starts with going the extra mile to manage your expectations. It can be as simple as knowing the cultural differences between the cities and villages or taking time to understand the nuances of when multiple languages are spoken.
I know I keep repeating this point but it’s very important, as so many aspiring expats do not know what to expect when they move abroad.
If you moved for a job, a nomadic life exploration or because of a romantic relationship, you will need to make a mindset shift to flexibility. Life in a new country will not be the same as it is at home; thus, you will need to be adaptable. It requires a lifestyle change which could include a new work culture, day-to-day life or family culture.
Remember, the transition requires time, and things like where you live, what you eat and how you build relationships, are things you manage and can adjust. Start with making decisions to improve the comfort level in the new ‘home’. If your child is unhappy at his or her new school, change it. If you or your partner are not satisfied with your new house, move. Taking the approach ‘that many facets of your life are changeable’ will help to minimize the feelings of frustration or being overwhelmed.
So, your transition has been miserable. Be flexible and start working on a new plan for your circumstances. If you moved for a job, then it is time to start another job search. It can be within the same country based on visa regulations or try a new location. If your move was for adventure, then research and plan for a new place that better suits your purpose and personality. If it was for romance, then there is no better time to regroup and move forward than relocating.
While you consider your options and prepare, take the time to save the funds you need for the next location and develop a plan for the job, which might include succession planning. But also find ways to enjoy your remaining time in your present location; take a local tourist approach and visit what you can.
Just know that you are not stuck, and that includes going back to your home country. Yes, you can have a feeling of failure if you have to go back home unexpectedly, but it is better to return to a place where you are safe and comfortable rather than remain in an unbearable situation.
Leaving a location without a plan and dream can feel like a failure. If you start believing these feelings that are demoralizing and upsetting, then things will only seem more challenging. It can cause your sense of self-worth to decrease. Take the step to seek help from family or friends. If talking to loved ones is not a good option, then try counseling or life coaching. My word of advice is that your departure is not a failure, it is a redirection. Regroup and move toward your next goal or dream, whether it is another move abroad or to return to your home location.
Ignore the naysayers; expat living is not for everyone. At least you tried and gained new experiences. You took an opportunity others are too afraid to attempt. You have memories, life lessons and probably some new people in your network. You can start or return to being a traveler, but if you decide to try again, do your research, be prepared, be flexible, be positive and know that it is a journey!
Knowing that expat life is a journey before you move abroad is essential for a successful life of thriving in another country.