What Makes An Unhappy Expat? Part 2

Moving Abroad and Being Unhappy

As an expat, there are times when the journey becomes miserable. In the previous post, I covered the internal stuff and what you can do to turn your thinking around. In this post, I want to focus on the things that are outside of our control. These are the external problems that can make an expat assignment an unhappy experience.

Dealing with External Stuff:

No support from work: This is a common complaint. A lot of great companies recruit overseas hires and then fall down on the in-country support. Local bosses may have no idea how hard it is to get a phone hooked up when you don’t speak the local language. They don’t realize the difficulty you are having trying to send money overseas or talking to a doctor. The best solution for this is to try and chat with your company about how they can help you.  No guarantees this problem will be easily sorted, but if you don’t ask, you can’t receive.

Uncertainty about visa, contract: This is another big problem which can cause a lot of stress among overseas hires. Without a valid visa and contract, most of us will find ourselves heading for the departure gate a lot quicker than expected or, even worse, detained on arrival. Accept it is normal to have some uncertainty about this process and try to go with the flow as much as possible. But speak up if it is getting too uncomfortable.

Broken promises: When you are promised the moon during an interview it can come as a rude shock to find none of the promises upheld on arrival. Three options, make a big issue about it and hope things change, accept it, or move on.  This one can really be out of your sphere of influence. Decide how bad the broken promises are in the larger scheme of things and try to get a better perspective on the problem.

No meaningful work for spouse: Hopefully you will have known in advance if there was work for your spouse. But sometimes it can be a surprise. What seems like a chance to have a break from working can, in reality, be a difficult change for a trailing spouse. Try to find others in the same situation, and get involved in similar things. There may be chances to work volunteering for local charities, or maybe this is the time to study or change career to a location independent job. The solution to this problem is really all about reframing and thinking outside the box.

Inadequate Healthcare: Finding out on arrival that the medical cover promised is less than adequate for expensive expat clinics in a country where the only alternative is run-down local clinics can be a shock, especially for families. If your employer is not willing to move on this one, the only option is to seek private medical insurance.

Adequate Schooling: If your package does not include international schooling for your children, be prepared to be shocked at the price of an average international school offering an IB curriculum. The idea of sending your kids to local schools can hit the rocky road of reality when you try helping them do their homework through tears in the local language.

There are so many reasons expats hit the slippery slope towards hating their time abroad. But often turning the unhappiness around is just a matter of reframing your thinking and going with the flow.

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