When we finally made the decision to move abroad, I remember the rush of emotions coming over me. There was excitement, fear, sadness, joy, nervousness, pretty much the full spectrum of feelings.
The sentiment I remember most is the giant sense of relief.
I would say it stemmed from the fact that I had finally committed to something I’ve always wanted to do, but in reality, it had more to do with the fact that I could start over.
Shed myself from unnecessary possessions, leave all the excuses behind, and not worry about the “what if’s”.
I guess moving from blistering cold winters to the beach and year-round sun didn’t hurt either.
As freeing as it felt to head out on an adventure abroad, there are many things I wish I had known to help us better prepare for the journey.
Of course, every country and each individual experience is unique, but here are my words of wisdom…
New Level of Loneliness
This is definitely the worst part about living abroad. I knew it would be difficult living far away from family and friends, but it’s much harder than I ever imagined.
We have missed countless holiday gatherings and special occasions, and we’ve had to mourn loved ones from afar.
As much as you tell yourself that you’ll visit often and that your bond with family and friends will remain rock solid, it will change.
You will be miles away and video calls cannot replace warm embraces and in person laughs together.
Friendships are a bit easier to navigate. There are countless ways to stay connected abroad, and we’ve found that the bond with our closest friends picks up right where it left off when we see each other again.
However, being away from family is a major sacrifice, it’s especially hard if you have children. It pains us that we have to raise our two boys so far away from an abundance of loving family members.
And we sure would love to drop the kids off at Grandma and Grandpa’s for a weekend, date nights are few and far between living abroad.
It's Tough Being a Foreigner
As much as you try to fit in, you will always be seen as a foreigner.
You will often feel like a fish out of water.
As much as you try to fit in and integrate, you’ll still have this sense of being an outsider. You will miss your sense of belonging and crave the connection to your home country.
We live in Ecuador, speak fluent Spanish, hang out with locals, and do our best to integrate, but we get still get the foreigner treatment.
What is the “foreigner treatment” you ask…I can sum it up as follows:
There is a mindset among the locals that all Americans are wealthy. This has led to us being taken advantage of on more than one occasion.
Americans are targets for petty theft. I would bet every American living abroad has at least one theft story to share. Yes, theft happens everywhere including the US, the difference is that abroad you stick out like a sore thumb, making you more susceptible to theft.
Unwanted attention and stares while in public. It’s kind of fun at first because you feel like a minor celebrity, but it gets old pretty quick.
Unfair treatment and difficulties navigating the legal and governmental systems.
On a positive note, we have spent extended periods of time in various South American countries, and the locals have been kind and welcoming to us. Many have become close friends and we’ve been able to connect with some amazing expat families abroad.
The difference is that abroad we often have our guard up, a feeling we rarely had while living in the US.
Culture Shock is Real
Culture shock is definitely a thing and your daily life will be different.
There will be initial challenges and your emotions will change daily.
Adapting to a new environment, integrating, and learning a new language will take time.
You will miss certain comforts from home and question whether moving abroad was a good decision.
Some of the biggest cultural shocks or adjustments that we’ve faced are:
Getting by without a car, we travel mostly by foot or bus.
Missing comforts from home. For us, food and ease of purchasing essentials items are the hardest to deal with. Amazon and many of our favorite foods are not available here.
Customer service is not a priority for businesses. The motto “The customer is always right” hasn’t been the case for us. Less attention to the customer experience and longer lines has been the reality.
Life moves at a slower pace. This was an adjustment for us as we had grown accustomed to things getting done quickly. However, it has done wonders for our stress level!
Less social class segregation. You will often see big expensive homes situated close to families living in extreme poverty.
Zoning restrictions don’t exist. Property can be used as see fit – restaurant, bar, clothing store, anything your heart desires.
Disparity between local pricing and “gringo” pricing. Vendors will often raise prices when selling to Americans. This can be anything from home repairs to taxi rides.
While there are challenges adjusting to a new culture, in time you’ll turn flexibility and adaptability into your superpower.
You’ll learn to go with the flow, stepping out of your comfort zone will become a ritual, and many of your inhibitions will vanish.
Our family has experienced profound growth living abroad.
We’ve felt uncomfortable and embarrassed many times, but the beauty is that you’ll discover the resilience in your family and realize that together you are capable of anything.
Rejuvenated Family Bond
Living abroad we often feel like ducks on a pond.
We do everything together as a family, which has its good and bad.
We’re fortunate that we can work from home, so we get to spend a lot of time with our children.
I love that I rarely have to kiss my children goodbye, however I do at times feel like I have two new shadows as they tend to follow me everywhere – it’s been awhile since I had an uninterrupted trip to the bathroom.
Living abroad has allowed us to create an unstructured life. We can travel freely and dedicate time to pursuing other life goals and hobbies.
But sometimes, like any parent would admit, we need a break from our kids. Hence the reason we have a part-time nanny. Another wonderful perk of living abroad, as childcare is very inexpensive.
We've created an inseparable family bond living abroad and our marriage has flourished more than ever before.
We love more, laugh more, and annoy each other more.
Overprotective Parent Syndrome
This may not apply to all moms and dads, but for us we sort of became helicopter parents abroad.
Since everything is so new and it takes time to build up trust in your new country, you will likely become more protective of your children.
Things like choosing the right doctor, school, and even who your children hang out with will weigh more heavily on your mind.
We worry more about our children getting hurt or sick because we don't yet trust the quality of care they'll receive.
Choosing the right school for our children requires additional consideration since our kids will be foreign students.
Over time it gets better and your comfort level grows, but since you are the only line of defense for your children, you will tread more cautiously.
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Our family is truly an open book, if you have any questions or need additional insight please reach out to us directly, we would be happy to offer any assistance we can.