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The Expatriate Experience: Some Good, Some Bad, Some Ugly

You will soon become an expatriate. How can the expatriate experience be summarized?  Living overseas is definitely different than visiting a foreign country as a tourist! Tourists often just see one side of the place they’re visiting – the one advertised in the travel brochure. Expatriate living means you’re immersed in the culture – the day-to-day experiences – of another land.  
Some move overseas due to a military assignment, some to further their business career or acquire special skills. Others simply go because they want to get to know a different culture.Whatever the reason, moving to another country can be exciting and rewarding. It can allow you to discover an abundance of wonderful things that you never accessed before. But the expatriate experience can be tough, too.  Before you make the move, consider the good, bad, and ugly side of being an expatriate.

 The Good Expatriate Experience – 


  • Experiencing the country as locals do and learning about cultural differences
  • Spending time with people from other cultures and making friends all over the world
  • Excitement of a new adventure (sometimes freedom)

expatriate 10Life Lessons

  • Adapting to foreign cultures teaches understanding and tolerance
  • Developing the skills of embracing change, simplifying life, travelling lightly, and being able to move anywhere and feel at home
  • A tangible feeling of achievement when you master the challenge of living outside your comfort zone

   Furthering Career

  • Obtaining the unique perspective and selling point of your skills and acquired experiencesexpatrjate 6
  • Learning or becoming fluent in another language


 – The Bad Expat Experience –

  Relationship Issues

  • Missing out on time with family and friends at home, especially for special events or during holidays expat 3
  • Difficulties arranging to talk with family and friend at home due to time differences
  • Constantly saying goodbye to new friends and dealing with the pain of leaving
  • At times, having trouble making friends with people in some cultures not accustomed to getting close to someone that will eventually move away
  • Adaptation problems, when a family relocates together, each member experiences culture shock at a different moment

 Financial Difficulties

  • Not having your own place or difficulty finding a new house or apartmentphoto_1055_20060210
  • Spending more money than you should or would in your home country to re establish yourself
  • Different currency and unstable exchange rates

 Confusing Regulations

  • Unexpected fees for things that may be free at home (such as paying for use of public restrooms)      photo_75754_20160913-1
  • Having to get used to different traffic rules, like which side of the road to drive on

Extreme Climate

  • For those who do not get to choose the location…
  • Either the weather is super hot or very cold
  • It is either very dry or very humid

expatriate 5 Everyday Living Problems

  • Different dry/liquid and temperature measures, clothing sizes, or appliance usage (might shrink you favourite sweater when you’re unfamiliar with wash cycles and temperatures)
  • Lack of transportation or getting lost on public transports
  • Becoming sick and having to negotiate the task of getting over-the-counter medicine or going to a doctor (language or procedural problem)

 – The Ugly Expat Experience –

Distressing Administration Tasks and Paperworkphoto_80874_20161002

  • Dealing with permits and work visas (having to submit piles of paperwork)
  • Setting up and cancelling bank accounts, rental leases, internet and cable TV access, insurance policies, phones, and post office boxes
  • Selling the things you accumulated because you can’t use them where you’re going next

Health Concernsexpatriate 2

  • Unsafe food or bad environmental conditions (such as horrible pollution)
  • Relocating with a health pre-existing condition that may require treatment, medication or surgery in the new location

Lack of Tolerance

  • Unfriendly locals that don’t have tolerance for foreigners or that try to take advantage of them
  • Embarrassing fellow expatriates that make trouble over local beliefs and culture

No matter whether you’re thinking of having an adventure, working in a foreign country, or completing an assignment to go as military personnel, it’s good to be aware of the pros and cons of expatriate living. It will help you consider your move carefully and prepare you for the good, bad, and ugly of the expat experience.

About the author
Cristina Fandino, Ed.D., M.Ed. R.P.
Cristina M. Fandino, Ed.D.; M.Ed. is a registered psychotherapist who currently owns a private practice in the Beaches, Toronto. She specializes in depression, anxiety, addictions as well as expatriate and multicultural issues in couples and families.

Click here to learn more about my practice and services in The Beach and Guildwood Village

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In my private practice, I offer individual counselling to young adults, adults and elderly people. I also provide therapy to couples and families. I welcome the diversity that clients may bring; thus, every ethnic background, religious beliefs, family composition and sexual orientation is respected.

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My office is in Toronto [The Beach Village] and I also offer distance counselling to those who are geographically distant from my office.

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