If you have been pondering whether or not to move to a different country, the below expat story collection will shed some light on the realities of living abroad. Like with anything in life, there are both positives and negatives when it comes to starting a new life in a strange country. And although different people might struggle with different things in their host country, you will find common threads across these expat stories.
Expat Story Collection:
The expat stories that follow are set in Argentina, Chile, France, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Spain, and the USA. And the expats in these stories are originally from the USA, Britain, Poland, Canada, Italy, Serbia, Ireland, the Philippines, Germany and the Netherlands. Enjoy!
Erin’s Expat Story: An American in Argentina
My name is Erin and I’m originally from a small town in Texas. After I graduated from university, I moved abroad to Spain but have spent the past nine years living in Buenos Aires. I moved here because I wanted to continue studying Spanish but was unable to get a work visa to remain in Spain, being in the midst of the 2008 crisis. Shortly after moving here, I met the man who is now my husband, which is the real reason I have stayed in Argentina so long.
For me personally, the greatest challenge has been living in such a large city. I’m from the country and I often get overwhelmed and tired of the stresses of such a large metropolis. I know it may not look like an expat specific problem, but I have been living abroad for my entire adult life at this point.
So, for me, the real challenge that I hadn’t expected was feeling more out of place in my home country than when I am abroad.
Experiencing “reverse culture shock” when I visit the US is something I hadn’t expected, but I wouldn’t change a thing. The experience of living and traveling abroad is irreplaceable.
You can follow Erin’s blog here: SolSalute.com
Nina’s Expat Story: A Brit in Chile
Hi, my name’s Nina and I live in Santiago de Chile. We’re a very mixed bunch in our household. I’m British, my husband is Spanish, we met in Belgium and our kids were born in Switzerland, the UK and Chile. In fact at just two and four years old, our kids speak more Chilean slang than English!
We love it here in Santiago. It’s really easy to make both expat and local friends, and the lifestyle is especially good for small kids. The culture is very laid back and family-oriented. If you’ve got small children or you’re pregnant, expect to be treated like royalty here!
In some ways, I find Chile to be like Spain of 20 years ago. But on the other hand, I find it more switched on in terms of doing business. Yet it’s a very traditional country, for the good and the bad. On the one side it’s an easy way of life. Health and safety aren’t an issue. But we also have experienced frustrations. For example, our middle child has life threatening allergies which, I feel, people here just don’t take seriously enough.
Before moving to Chile, I did a lot of research and I got in touch with people on the ground here, which helped a lot. But perhaps I didn’t allow for the unforeseen nasty surprises – falling sick and being unable to care for my kids while my husband was working long hours, the true cost of living here (Santiago is not cheap!) and the hassle of finding suitable housing.
Having said that I love life here and I don’t have any regrets. My experiences of having lived in eight countries, including Syria, Angola, Belgium and Switzerland have all shaped who I am today and I feel so lucky to live as an ‘Expater’ here in sunny Chile!
You can follow Nina and her expat lifestyle blog here: TheExpater.com
Bea, Pete & Kas: a Canadian family in France
Hello! Our names are Bea, Pete & Kas. We are a Canadian family with international roots living in France. Each of us was born in a different country and we have grown up in several different ones. As a result our household is a mishmash of nationalities and languages spoken. I (Bea) was born in Poland and have grown up in three countries (Poland, Spain and Canada). My husband Pete was born in the UK, but he has also lived in French Canada before moving to the Canadian prairies as a kid. And our son Kas was born in Canada but for the last few years we have been living in France. We are (as most other expats) what some call third culture kids.
Why are we living in Europe? We have been digital nomads for quite some time and have been mobile for awhile. When we had our son, we decided that we wanted to give him an opportunity to experience living in a culture other than the one he was born into. Just like we did growing up. Moving to Europe was a natural choice for us. Because my husband and I are originally from here, we didn’t have to worry about visas and permits.
The greatest thing for us about living in other countries has been learning languages and meeting people from other cultures. The younger you are when you move, the easier it is to absorb the culture of your host country. We find that we feel at home in several places in the world.
However, such a life is not without its challenges. There is always an adjustment period during which you don’t feel like you belong, no matter how many times you may have moved before. And depending on your age or personality, that period can vary in length. I am living in my fourth country now (France) but I have to say in some ways this has been a very different experience for me.
It’s my first country where I moved to as an adult and it definitely feels different than when I moved as a kid or as a teenager. In some ways it’s easier and in others it’s harder. It’s easier in terms of me knowing the stages you go through, so I know what to expect that way. It’s harder in terms of learning the language. I am not going to school or work daily in French, so although I am making progress, it is much slower going than what I am used to. But I know I will get there one day!
You can follow our travel and expat life blog here: PackYourBags.org
Ilaria’s Expat Story: An Italian in France
My name is Ilaria. I was born and raised in Milan, Italy. I arrived in Paris almost 20 years ago, armed with my Art History degree and the contract for an Art Gallery Director position. I’m in my mid-forties, mum of two teen boys and married to a French physicist. After having spent 13 years in Paris, where I met my husband and where our kids were born, we moved to Aix-en-Provence in 2013, mainly for professional reasons. That’s when I decided to leave the art market world to become an Interior Designer.
But why am I in France? I studied foreign languages and I wanted to have work experience from abroad. So I almost ended up moving to Oxford for a job but in the end I found my place in Paris. I moved to Paris with the idea of staying a couple of years, to get work experience I could use back in my country. Initially, I wanted to build my life in Italy. But things turned out differently.
I found that living abroad can be difficult at moments but it’s definitely an adventure. I get to experience a different culture and a different way of life. And if you embrace these differences, you can learn and grow every single day. When I look back at these years abroad I cannot really see huge difficulties, however the first year in Paris was tough. Making friends was the most difficult thing for me because I was working so much. But in the end things worked out. I made friendships and I made my home here.
I love France, the French way of life and every single experience I have had in this country, but deep down I feel very much Italian and I miss my country every day. It’s been 19 years since my move and I still haven’t applied for French citizenship. Interpret that as you may.
Ilaria is an avid blogger. You can follow her interior design blog here: IlariaFatone.com
Nina’s Expat Story: A Serb in Germany
My name is Nina and I am originally from Belgrade, Serbia but I have spent more than half of my life living outside of my home country. At the age of 18 I moved to Canada, where I lived for 15 years before moving across the pond yet again, relocating my life to Hamburg, Germany where I have been for the past ten years.
Although my life in Canada (I lived mostly in Toronto) was good and secure, there was always something there that was missing from my life. Was it history? Architecture? I’m not sure … Maybe I was feeling like I was stuck in a bubble that made me toy with the idea of moving back to Europe.
Germany was a new territory to me, but not completely unfamiliar. I have visited Hamburg multiple times in the past because my mother and brother have been living here for a long time (I made a move to Canada on my own). I guess that family connection made the decision that much easier to choose Hamburg as opposed to another place. The best thing about being in Germany has certainly been geographical closeness to my family, opportunities to travel a lot more because so many countries are relatively close. After a short flight or train ride you get to hear a different language, experience a different culture. For someone like me who can’t get enough of travel, that is a huge bonus! And of course, I ended up meeting my (now) husband here.
However, I found that moving to a new country doesn’t come easy – there are always obstacles. Each time I moved, I had to get used to a different culture, learn the dos and the don’ts, how people tick, … and of course – the language!
My advice would be: learn the language!! It is essential.
I have created a bit of a challenge for myself by deciding to be self-employed so in terms of that has been my greatest challenge. Now, ten years later, I can honestly say I have no regrets.
You can follow Nina’s graphic designer business here: Hanse-Schilder.de
Tiffany & Tom’s Expat Story: An American Couple in Mexico
Hi! Our names are Tiffany and Tom and we are originally from Winter Park, Florida. We moved to Queretaro, Mexico just over a year ago. For years, we had talked about moving overseas and we spent our vacations visiting other countries trying to find the “right” one for us. At one point in time, we took a long weekend trip to Mexico for my birthday, and it just felt like home. We spent the next six months researching different parts of Mexico before visiting a few cities that met our criteria. Queretaro was perfect for us! It had the old charm with modern conveniences, an international airport, and many pueblos mágicos within an hour’s drive, perfect for day trips.
The people in Mexico have been so helpful, even with our limited Spanish. Tom and I both work remotely in the wine industry, and Queretaro is one of three main wine regions in Mexico. Of course, the best part of Mexico is the food! Experiencing local and regional specialties has been a tasty way to learn about our new country.
Our biggest challenge while living in Mexico has been the driving: the roads, the speed of driving (both too fast and too slow), turn signals aren’t used, etc. Even being a passenger in a car is stressful in Mexico. Your head is on a swivel at all times.
I had previously lived in three other countries before meeting and marrying Tom. I knew that life was a little slower in Mexico. And I knew we could live on less, but still have more quality time together.
I think the only thing we wish we had known before we got here was more of the Spanish language.
Even though many international companies have their headquarters in Queretaro, the locals don’t necessarily speak English. That’s been challenging to us and it’s where we need to improve.
You can follow Tiffany and Tom’s blog about food and travel here: EpicureanExpats.com
Zoe’s Expat Story: A Brit in the Netherlands
Hello! I am Zoe and I have been living in the Netherlands for the past eight years. Originally from the UK (Isle of Wight), I packed one suitcase and moved abroad for love. At 18 years old this might have been a bit silly, but now, more than ten years later, my Dutch partner Lennart and I are still together. When we are not travelling the world, I am often found exploring the city of Rotterdam where we live.
The most positive thing I feel about living abroad is the new culture and experiences that open your heart and mind beyond what you were used to before.
The UK weather is pretty much the same as the Dutch, but the rest is all a bit different. I’ve fallen in love with the culture, the food and how welcoming Dutch people are to foreigners. However my biggest challenge has been really fitting in, finding friends and trying new hobbies. So far I wouldn’t say I’ve achieved what I want, but I’m working on it! At 18 I also didn’t research much about what I should have known before moving abroad. It was very easy as a British citizen to arrive with one suitcase in 2012 – luckily no visas or work permits were needed!
You can follow Zoe & Lennart’s blog here: TogetherInTransit.nl
Cath’s Expat Story: An Irish Family in Portugal
I’m Cath, originally from Ireland but now living in Portugal after 15 years in the UK. My hubby is also from Ireland and our young son was born in Wales where we were living at the time. We’ve been in Portugal for almost two years now and we chose this country after my parents decided to retire here. You could say we hijacked their retirement.
We mainly moved for the opportunity to give our son a more outdoor life. And that’s what we are achieving. He spends a lot of time outdoors and is much healthier for it. Plus, he is learning a second language and is fluent now, even going so far as to correct his parents when we get it wrong!
One of the biggest challenges for us, and possibly more so for me than for my husband, is the language barrier.
I find that Portuguese is a hard language to learn and I dread any ‘official’ letter or department because it either takes me hours to translate the letter or I have to ask if anyone speaks English and hope to God someone does. I’m taking Portuguese lessons but it’s slow going. So far, I haven’t overcome this hurdle just yet. I also haven’t settled at all. Perhaps living in a very small holiday home for almost two years hasn’t helped making it feel like home.
I wish I’d known how hard I would find it to settle before we moved. I do think I might not have agreed to it had I known. The people are lovely, the climate is amazing, the cost of living is more affordable, but it can be very hard at times where the language barrier comes into play.
You can follow Cath’s travel blog here: PassportsAndAdventures.com
Mart’s Expat Story: A British-Filipino Family in Saudi Arabia
We’re a British-Filipino family currently living in the far north east of Saudi Arabia. I’m Mart (originally from the UK), the voice behind our blog and Instagram, which features my wife Mirasol (from the Philippines) and our son Rafael (born in the Philippines). Saudi Arabia has been our home for more than two years. Like most expats, saving money is our primary focus here. Longer term, we’re planning to develop our Airbnb business in the Philippines and leave Saudi Arabia forever.
For us, the best thing about Saudi life is the tax free salary, flawless winter weather and awesome Arab cuisine.
However, sometimes we find life to be challenging here due to poor air quality, rules about clothing for women, and police hostility towards surfing on the odd occasion the Persian Gulf produces waves. I had already worked in Saudi Arabia previously, so I knew it wouldn’t be a perfect place for us to live.
Nevertheless, it’s definitely been an adventure. So far Rafael has become Arabia’s first surfer, Mirasol’s embraced hijabi fashion, and I’ve survived one of the toughest teaching environments in the world.
You can follow Mart’s blog here: RafsWorld.com
Alannah & Collin’s Expat Story: Canadians in Spain
Hi! We are Alannah and Collin, originally from Ottawa, Canada. I am a Dental Hygienist and my husband is a Software Developer. We currently live in Malaga, Spain on the Costa del Sol. We have been living here for the past five months.
My husband’s job brought us here. We weren’t planning this move at all. In fact, our life was going in a completely opposite way. We were pretty settled, had just bought a house and we were in the process of planning our wedding.
When my husband got the job offer in Spain, we jumped at the opportunity to change our lives. We began the visa process, rented out our house in Ottawa, sold most of our things, quit our jobs in Canada, said goodbye to our family and friends and bought a one way ticket to Europe. Without a doubt it has been the best decision we have ever made.
The greatest bonus about living in Spain for us, has been the climate. We are Canadian so the weather and being on the Mediterranean is a huge positive.
And the greatest challenge so far has been limited job opportunities for me here. To remedy that, I decided to focus on blogging and social media.
One thing we wish we would have known before moving to Spain is how slow life moves here. It wouldn’t have changed our decision but it would have prepared us for it.
You can follow Alannah here: instagram.com/LifeOnACoast
Christin’s Expat Story: A German in Spain
¡Encantada! My name is Christin. I was born in Germany and so far I have lived in six countries and counting. I’ve been in beautiful Barcelona, Spain for over three years now. Initially I moved here because the weather in England (where I was living at the time) was so bad. Besides the weather, what attracted me to Barcelona has been its vibe. Barcelona and I just clicked.
What can I say about living here? Life is easy in Spain. People don’t seem to get stressed so easily, they don’t over-complicate things.
The biggest challenge for me has been working in Spain. For the first time in my life I took a 9-5 job when I came here and it was so hard to adjust to each day being the same! So I compensated by travelling even more and spending a lot of time with friends visiting me in Barcelona. Many of them come here on holiday, so my summers don’t have a set routine.
I am grateful for every lesson my nomadic life has taught me. For instance, I think now that I was too young when I moved to London. I think I would have enjoyed it so much more had I moved there a few years later. Whereas Barcelona is a young city full of students. I should have moved here when I was younger. And I lived in Nashville just before the boom and because of that I appreciate it for reasons very different than those who go there today. But if I could, I’d do it all over again! No regrets!
You can follow Christin’s blog here: ChristinHasFernweh.com
Nicolette’s Expat Story: A Dutch Pole living in USA
I’m Nicolette, a European expat living in New York. I was born and raised in The Netherlands to a Polish mom and a Dutch dad. Growing up in a bilingual household, my family encouraged curiosity about the world. I’m grateful that my parents instilled that sense of wonder in me from an early age.
In 2000, we moved from The Netherlands to New Jersey for my dad’s work. I’ve lived in New Jersey, then in Boston to attend college, and now I’ve been living New York since 2012.
I didn’t find assimilation to life in the U.S. incredibly difficult, though I do miss the sense of home from Europe, and our family and friends. Prior to moving from The Netherlands, I’d been learning English and thought it was exciting to put it into daily use.
I’ve always been proud of my Dutch and Polish roots. I love cooking Polish food with my mom (we celebrate traditions around important holidays), and find the affability of Polish people to be really heartwarming. I love the efficiency of the Dutch, our country’s focus on sustainability. And I really miss delicious Dutch snacks like bitterballen, stroopwafels, speculaas, cheese, and comfort foods like hutspot, boerenkool and pancakes.
You can follow Nicolette’s blog here: CultureTrav.co
Final Word on Realities of Living Abroad
First, I would like to thank all the individuals and families who shared with us their expat stories and their photos. Although different people struggled with different things in their new life, you can see some common threads throughout these stories. Probably the biggest challenge for most adults is language acquisition. A good command of the host country’s language opens up many opportunities in terms of feelings of belonging and participating in local life.
Moving at a young age is often easier than moving later in life. And in some cases, when a host country’s culture is drastically different from your own, you may never fully belong. However, despite any of the challenges described by our contributors, one thing is clear. Living abroad has been an unforgettable adventure. And even though some of these expats would have done things differently, knowing what they know now, most of them see their new life in a very positive light.
There are many reasons why people become expats. Sometimes, we may move for work opportunities, a more agreeable climate, for retirement, for a slower pace of life, for love, or just for a culturally enriching experience. Are you thinking of moving abroad? Or perhaps you are an expat yourself? What are your reasons for moving to a new country? What have been your greatest challenges living abroad? Share your thoughts with us in comments below. And if you know someone who’s thinking of embarking on a similar life-changing adventure, please share this expat story collection with them.