14 Bad Things About Living Abroad No One Tells You

Are you thinking of living abroad?

Starting your expat life in a foreign country is challenging.

Before packing your bags, moving to another country, and starting your expat life, take a look at these disadvantages of living abroad to prepare for your journey.

You can’t communicate smoothly

Okay. Let’s start with the basics.

Not all of us have the privilege of moving to an English-speaking country or a country where we know the language well.

The language barrier is one of the main problems of moving abroad, so learning the language a bit in advance is highly recommended.

It was tough for me when I first moved to Japan.

Although I studied in an international environment, I still had to communicate with the locals in Japanese at the bank, market, or city hall. 

Even though I had already learned Japanese for four months before going there, it was stressful. I felt isolated in a country where I could not understand what they said.

Things got better when my Japanese improved. But still, life was not as easy as it was!

Homesick – You will be sad after a week or two

It’s all fun and exciting in the first weeks when you have just moved to a new country.

You just moved there, and there’re many new things to do and see. You’ll be busy arranging a new place to stay, unpacking your clothes, visiting the attractions in the city or town where you’re living.

However, you will feel sad and miss things back home after a while.

Ky Co beach Quy Nhon Vietnam

The loneliness and extra work/study pressure make you tired. You miss the feeling of having someone to share with or something familiar to you.

Sharing becomes more difficult when moving to a new place with different cultures and values.

Besides, you may not want people back home to worry about you, so you keep quiet about those bad things to yourself and just share the good ones.

You become nobody

When you move abroad, you become nobody.

You will have to start everything again: new relationships, new house, new job, etc. Also, you will have to manage to live, study, work well, take care of yourself, and learn independence.

For those who are moving with your loved ones, you’re fortunate. Otherwise, it will be a challenge that you need to face.

You may feel like an outsider

Initially, it can be challenging to have native friends until you learn the local language.

People speak their native tongue with their families and friends, and only English when needed.

Even if you can communicate well with the locals, it’s hard to get into their social friend group. Sometimes you will feel like an outsider because you’re not the same as them.

It’s hard to fit in the society!

You were not raised in the same environment as them. You don’t have the same culture and living styles. Even the food you like is different from theirs.

You will not be comfortable with the changes

They do things so differently!

Living abroad is a learning process, and this process is not easy at all.

You will learn new things every day, even from basic things such as using chopsticks or carrying a garbage bag with you because there’re not many garbage bins on the street (Japan).

Sometimes you feel uncomfortable with the differences. “Why can’t they just do like this?”

You will find it frustrating often because getting out of your comfort zone is hard.

You don’t know about Bureaucracy and Laws

Every country has its Bureaucracy and laws. No matter how well you prepare, you will have difficulties living there.

Simple things such as setting up your bank accounts, utilities, renting an apartment, or registering a residence card can involve many surprises and difficulties.

The problem will worsen if the language instruction isn’t your native language or the language you’re familiar with.

When I first moved to Japan, going to the bank or government was a nightmare.

No one could speak English at my former bank. They only understood Japanese, but my Japanese at that time was limited. Although using Google Translate helped, it was far from perfect.

You may get discriminated

It’s sad to point out, but there’s still discrimination against people of color.

Some people will laugh at you because of your skin color or how you look. They may mock you for your pronunciation even though, honestly, their English sucks.

For example, when I moved to Denmark, I got mocked many times. They called me “Chinese” and laughed at how I looked. It happened when I traveled to other countries in Europe too.

Note: I’m Vietnamese, by the way, and I don’t know why being Chinese is such a bad thing to them.

Once, a Danish girl accused me of living in Denmark to make use of their benefits. I politely replied that I paid my tax like the locals, even though I don’t get some benefits because I’m non-European.

—–

You will meet these people lots of times. The best thing to do is to ignore them and live your life.

It’s somewhat sad to get discriminated against, but I’m grateful to have more experience and new opportunities when moving overseas.

You will miss your country food crazily

Food is the thing that I miss most when living abroad. It’s challenging to find the taste you had in your home in your country.

Although there’re restaurants everywhere, the taste is not the same.

Also, your home food abroad is changed to cater to the locals’ taste, so trying them can be somewhat disappointing. Oh, and the price is high too!

Banh xeo Vietnamese street food

Your old life is fading away

The obvious thing about living abroad is that you will lose many relationships and opportunities back home.

Maintaining relationships with people back home is challenging due to the difference between time and distance.

Also, you will change to adapt to a new society, and you will become a different person. You may have different thoughts and ideas than your old friends. You will be more open and stronger as well.

Although you can call them or meet them once a year, it can be challenging to catch up like the old times.

Everyone will have new relationships and changes over time. Therefore, fading out old relationships and opportunities, though predictable, is impossible to avoid sadness, deprivation, guilt, and regret.

You can’t be there with your family in times of need

There are countless times that I missed my family members’ weddings or important events.

Or even worse, when my dad had surgery, I could not do anything or visit him because I was thousands of miles away.

In these situations, I felt powerless and could not do anything because I chose to live abroad.

You may have difficulties in finding jobs

Is it challenging to find a job as a foreigner?

Yes, surely.

Although you may not recognize it instantly, you will notice that your values are reduced when applying for a new job with the same position as the locals.

Some countries have laws that require companies to hire their citizens before considering foreigners, and even without the law, some corporations prefer hiring their “local people,” too.

It makes the job market harder for expats, not evening mentioning the language barrier issue.

Also, you will have to worry about your working visa if you have to switch jobs or find a good enough job to prolong your permission.

You may feel depressed with the weather

Imagine you’re moving from a tropical country where it’s sunny every day to a super windy place, and the sky starts to get dark at 4 pm.

It was my situation when I moved from Vietnam to Denmark.

In Denmark, there’s summer with sunny and lovely days, but it only lasts about two months. The rest of the year is cold and windy.

The wintertime is the worst. When I leave home to work or school, it’s still dark outside. When I come out of my office, it’s dark again.

Although I love cloudy days, not seeing the sun for a long time brings sadness and depression. I have to take a vacation during the winter to Southern Europe to enjoy the warm days.

The naturalization process will be difficult

You may or may not seek to stay in the country as a permanent resident or get citizenship. However, if you do, you will need to wait a long time and face complicated procedures.

That process may last from 5 to 10 years, depending on the country. You need to comply with many rules, and you may need to take classes and tests to apply for citizenship.

I would recommend doing extensive research before moving to a new country to prepare for that process.

You may HATE the country that you move to

It may seem exciting and promising before you move to the country, and you can’t wait to go there.

However, as you’ve lived there for a while, you may hate the place and want to get out and go somewhere else.

Living abroad is not as rosy as you imagine. The differences in languages, extremely stressful jobs, homesickness, horrible food, and countless things that “bump into your face” may make you feel exhausted.

Things sometimes are too much for you to endure.

living abroad

I must admit that I did not enjoy the time when I was in Japan. I love traveling around Japan but not living there. Life wasn’t enjoyable, and I didn’t feel like belonging to society.

However, I love living in Denmark (except for the weather). I guess everyone has their preferences.

Final thoughts on moving abroad

Living abroad has lots of benefits too. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be so many expatriates, and foreign want to move overseas.

This article is merely intended to answer the original question: What are the bad things about living abroad? And I wrote it based on my experience and feelings while living in different countries.

So, what do you think about the cons of living abroad? Feel free to share with me in the comment section.

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11 Comments

  1. Love this post and agree with every point! I think your “old life fading away” is especially well-expressed!
    Of course it can be a good thing…we don’t grow when we cling to the past…I suppose the key is to be mindful to create a rich life experience to replace what fades.
    I’ll be moving from the US to Europe soon. Thanks for the thoughtful reminders of what to be prepared for!

  2. It seems to me that the most difficult thing in life abroad is a longing for a family, friends and lifestyle that you are used to …

  3. Hello! I read and recalled my experience of living abroad. It was not long, about a year, but it was not easy … I was feeling sad and missing home.
    For me, it was the most difficult.

  4. Racism in western/northern Europe rarely gets spoken about on blogs, mostly because they are run by people who don’t face it, even if they may encounter other forms of xenophobia. I appreciate you mentioning it. It is under addressed.

    1. I’ve noticed that, too, that Europeans think that racism is an American problem or South African, not their country! We all have our issues to face and all of us need to do our work.

  5. So comforting to know that others have also struggled with living abroad. I moved from California to London a few months ago and while I had been to London for a few days 10 years ago, it in no way prepared me for the realities of living here. In a weird way the fact that it is close to US culture in some ways makes it harder. If it was vastly different then I wouldn’t really have many expectations, but when it’s just close enough to my own culture but then not finding things that I am used to back home, it can be difficult. Also the weather is awful. I came just in time for the coldest, darkest part of the year and it can feel isolating to have to be inside my own studio so much when it’s cold and dark out so early. In addition things with my professional plans are not going quite as smoothly as I had hoped. So I know that things will likely get better in time, but truth be told this was not an easy move.

  6. Hi,
    I stumbled with your post today because I am facing the dreadful decision”should I stay or should I go?” Bear with me that right now we are in the middle of a pandemic and I’ve been living in Japan for 4 years now.

    “…I guess everyone has their preferences” This resonated so much with me since I lived in Singapore before and I totally hated it! I could not stand the weather, the food has a certain smell I cannot tolerate and I faced the worst cases of racism & misogyny in my life. I come from Latin America. I was starting my Ph.D. but I aborted the mission after 8 months because I was miserable and in the end, I was enrolled in a program I did not choose (they missed my application but gave me the scholarship, so last minute they found me a space, yeah red flag right?)

    After a year I came back to Asia and I fell in love with Japan. My life here has been good, I traveled and learned a lot. However, there’s this feeling that I am stuck and isolated. It seems that loneliness is a common feeling among foreigners here and it started to take a toll on my mental health. Maybe is time to move…

    My question is how do you know is time to go? and how do you manage the feeling of not belonging anywhere?

    1. Hi Mar,
      I think when everything starts to take a toll on you and you don’t enjoy living in that place anymore, probably it’s time to move. To feel like you belong to somewhere, I suggest making more friends and having a home where you feel comfortable. However, we’re still in a pandemic so it’s hard to meet people and join activities. It sucks to be in limbo and isolation, but I hope when things get better, you’ll feel better too.

  7. I have been living in Spain for four months now, working through the Spanish government’s program for native English speakers to teach in their schools, and I am so relieved to have found this post. I feel like everyone back home expected me to have a wonderful time and it’s true that I’ve had many amazing experiences but I hate living here. The culture is not to my liking and I hate the food. It’s difficult to find a place in society when you only speak a moderate amount of the local language. I think the greatest problem I’ve had is that my job contract only allows me to work 16 hours a week. That is a lot of free time to fill when you are starting a new life from scratch. I’ve decided, for all of the reasons you mentioned, to go home halfway through my 8 month contract. This is a beautiful country, but it isn’t for me. I hope to travel here again someday but not to live here. Thank you for everything you said, especially about not enjoying the first country you moved to.

  8. I lived in Tenerife for three years back in 2006 after going on holiday there a few times and it was also cheaper living there at the time compared to the UK but after six months of living there I was bored out my head because I didn’t care about lying on the beach all day or getting drunk on a nightly basis and if you’re not interested in them then you’ll be bored out your head living there.I also thought the customer service in Tenerife was shocking.I couldn’t buy a new book or a new video game there to entertain myself because the language was in Spanish and if you cannot speak or read Spanish then you’ll get nothing out of living there.The only jobs you could do was either apartment cleaning, construction or bar work and most of the times you didn’t get a contract.I didn’t get home sickness I just didn’t like where I lived anymore so I left Tenerife after three years and moved back to the UK and I’m still living in the UK now.People think it’s cheaper to live in Tenerife than it is in the UK but the Spanish constantly try rip you off and you also work double the hours in Tenerife for the same amount of money than you get in the UK.The last time I went on holiday there was five years ago and 95% of the people I knew there at the time have left and I also thought the living cost prices over there now are more than the UK.

  9. I personally think age plays an important part… I first moved abroad when I was in my early 20s… It was exciting… despite of all challenges (I didn’t even speak the language at the time) I had so much fun and incredible experiences… I loved every minute of it… originally I went for a year which turned into five…

    Now in my mid 40s I have just recently moved again…I am way more experienced, I speak the target language fluently, I got a great job, yet I am thinking of quitting and moving back home… I am so homesick… I would have never imagined…

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