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  • Writer's pictureMatilda

How to Overcome the 7 Biggest Challenges All Expats Face While Working Abroad

Nothing will turn your life upside down as working and living abroad. This experience often comes with unimaginable and exciting opportunities for personal and professional growth. However, living and working abroad isn't always smooth sailing, as you'll navigate through various challenges in an unfamiliar environment.

Culture shock, bureaucratic problems, safety concerns, and loneliness are just some of the hurdles expats deal with when they move abroad.

It's also natural and common to experience a sense of isolation and helplessness, as those back home may not fully understand the challenges you're going through. Plus, the absence of a support system in your new location adds to the complexity of managing these issues.

Ana and I know. We've been there. And our clients have been there too. But all these challenges are easier to overcome if you a) are prepared for them, b) have the right support, and c) are informed on possible solutions. Good news: that's exactly what you'll get here! From navigating cultural differences to dealing with bureaucracy, we'll go through the seven biggest challenges you might encounter while living and working abroad, including:

But we won't leave it at that. We'll share practical solutions to help you overcome them.

By being prepared and knowing what to expect, you can make the most of your international experience and thrive in your new surroundings. And we've got you covered!

Btw, while you're here, you may also be interested in:


#1 Cultural Differences: Adapting to Local Customs

As much as it's exciting to explore a different culture, it can also be challenging to navigate new cultural norms and customs.

Culture shock is a common experience for those who work in foreign countries. The further away you go, the more profound the shock, even if you go to a "better" location.

Culture shock is a common experience for those who work in foreign countries. The further away you go, the more profound the shock.

It is a feeling of disorientation that can arise from the unfamiliar surroundings, language, and customs of your new country.

Here are some tips to help you understand and adapt to local customs:

  • Do your research: Before you depart for your new country, take some time to research the local customs and traditions. This will help you understand what to expect and how to behave appropriately. You can find information online, in guidebooks, or by talking to people who have lived or worked in the country before.

  • Observe and learn: Once you arrive in your new country, note how the locals behave and interact. Watch how they greet each other, dress, and act in social situations. This will help you pick up on the subtleties of the local culture.

  • Be respectful: This probably goes without saying, but remember to respect the local customs and traditions. This means you should avoid doing anything that might be considered offensive or disrespectful. Be open-minded, willing to learn, and always be polite and courteous to the locals.

  • Try new things: One of the best ways to adapt to a new culture is to immerse yourself in it. Try the local cuisine, attend cultural events, and try to meet new people. This will help you better understand the local customs and traditions.

By understanding and adapting to local customs, you can make your transition to working abroad much smoother. Remember—adjusting to a new culture takes time, so be patient and open-minded.


#2 Communication: The Language Barrier

Working abroad is a fantastic opportunity to gain new experiences, learn about different cultures, and expand your professional network.

However, one of the biggest challenges that you may face is the language barrier.

Communicating with colleagues, clients, and customers in a foreign language can be daunting, but there are ways to overcome this obstacle and succeed in your new environment.

Learn the local language

Obviously, learning the local language is the most effective way to overcome the language barrier.

Not only will it help you communicate more effectively, but it will also show your colleagues and clients that you are making an effort to understand their culture and way of life.

There are many ways to learn a new language, from traditional classroom instruction to language exchange programs and online resources.

Find a method that works for you and make a commitment to practice regularly. Learning just a few key phrases can go a long way in building relationships and making a positive impression.

Using translation tools and apps

While learning the local language is important, it may not be practical or possible to become fluent quickly.

In these situations, translation tools and apps can be lifesavers.

There are many options available, from basic translation apps that can help you understand simple phrases to more advanced tools that can translate entire documents and conversations in real time.

Some popular options include:

Remember that while these tools can be helpful, they are not foolproof. Always double-check translations with a native speaker or use multiple tools to ensure accuracy.

Ultimately, the key to overcoming the language barrier is approaching communication with an open mind and a willingness to learn.

Don't be afraid to ask questions, seek clarification, and make mistakes.

You can build strong relationships and succeed in your new environment by trying to understand and connect with your colleagues and clients.


#3 Emotional Toll: Homesickness and Loneliness

Working abroad can be a dream come true. You get to experience new cultures, meet new people, and challenge yourself in ways you never thought possible.

However, with all the excitement comes some challenges, and one of the biggest ones is homesickness and loneliness.

Being thousands of miles away from friends and family in a foreign country can be overwhelming. Here are some tips to help you overcome these feelings of homesickness and loneliness.

Finding a support system

When you move to a new country, it can be hard to know where to start when it comes to making new friends.

However, finding a support system is crucial to beating homesickness and loneliness. Joining clubs or groups that share your interests is a great way to meet new people. You can also try attending local events or taking classes to get involved in your community.

Another way to find a support system is to connect with other expats.

There are numerous online communities and forums dedicated to helping expats connect and share their experiences. These groups can be a great resource for finding new friends and getting advice on navigating life abroad.

Keeping in touch with loved ones

Just because you're on the other side of the world doesn't mean you can't stay connected with loved ones. With technology, keeping in touch with friends and family back home is easier than ever.

Make sure to schedule regular video chats or phone calls with loved ones. Seeing familiar faces and hearing familiar voices can go a long way in easing feelings of homesickness and loneliness.

You can also try sending care packages or letters in the mail. Receiving a package from home can be a great pick-me-up when you're feeling down.

Remember, feeling homesick and lonely is perfectly normal when you're working abroad.

However, it's important to take steps to combat these feelings so that you can fully enjoy your experience. By finding a support system and staying connected with loved ones, you'll be well on your way to overcoming, or at least effectively managing, homesickness and loneliness.


#4 Work-Life Balance: Maintaining Healthy Lifestyle

When you relocate abroad for work, your new job becomes a cornerstone of your life until you establish a social life beyond the workplace.

However, during this transition period, it can be tempting to dedicate yourself entirely to your work, neglecting personal time for relaxation and rest.

To maintain a healthy work-life balance while working abroad, setting boundaries, engaging in personal activities, and achieving a healthy work-life balance is crucial.

Here are some tips to assist you in achieving this:

Setting boundaries and priorities

Establish clear boundaries between work and personal time.

This means setting specific work hours and sticking to them.

Having a set routine and planned activities outside of work can help you be more productive during work hours and allow you to enjoy your personal time.

Additionally, prioritize your tasks and responsibilities. Make a to-do list and focus on completing the most important tasks first. This will help you avoid overworking and allow you to have more free time for activities outside of work.

Finding hobbies and activities to relax

Engaging in hobbies and activities outside of work can help you relax and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Try to find activities you enjoy and that are available in your new environment. This can be anything from joining a local sports team, taking cooking classes, or exploring the local attractions.

Participating in these activities can also help you meet new people and make friends in your new community, which is crucial when living and working abroad.

Remember—maintaining a healthy work-life balance while working abroad requires discipline and self-awareness.

Setting boundaries, prioritizing tasks, and finding relaxing hobbies and activities are all important steps to achieving this balance. By doing so, you can make the most of your experience working abroad and enjoy all your new environment offers.


#5 Money Concerns: Financial Management

Moving abroad is expensive. It's a fact.

Not many people talk openly about it. But it can really dent your wallet. (Anyone who's taken the leap can vouch for that.)

From shelling out for relocation expenses and visa fees to figuring out your daily budget and understanding those tricky currency exchange rates, it's a whole financial juggling act.

From shelling out for relocation expenses and visa fees to figuring out your daily budget and understanding those tricky currency exchange rates, it's a whole financial juggling act.

Let's explore some of the biggest financial challenges you may face while moving, living, and working abroad and how to overcome them.

Setting a Budget and Saving Money

One of the most important things to do when working abroad is to set a budget and stick to it. This will help you keep track of your expenses and ensure that you have enough money to cover all your essentials.

To set a budget, you must consider accommodation, food, transportation, and entertainment costs. It's also important to save money for emergencies and unexpected expenses.

One way to save money while working abroad is to live like a local. Avoid eating in expensive restaurants and instead try local street food. Use public transport instead of taxis.

Also, look for free activities to do in your free time, such as visiting museums and parks.

Understanding Local Currency and Transaction Fees

Another important aspect of financial management is understanding the local currency and transaction fees. Familiarize yourself with the local currency and exchange rates as soon as possible to avoid being overcharged.

Also, be aware of transaction fees that may be charged for using your credit or debit card abroad. Consider opening a local bank account or using a prepaid travel card to avoid these fees.

Overall, managing your finances while working abroad requires careful planning and budgeting.

By setting a budget, saving money, and understanding local currency and transaction fees, you can handle and overcome some of the biggest financial challenges of working abroad.


#6 Bureaucracy: Legal and Administrative Challenges

The #1 root cause of headache among expats? Bureaucracy. Working abroad is an exciting adventure, but it comes with its own set of challenges. One of the biggest challenges you will face is navigating the legal and administrative requirements of your destination country.

Here are two major legal and administrative challenges you'll likely encounter and some tips on overcoming them.

Obtaining work permits and visas

Before you can work abroad, you may need to obtain a work permit and/or visa. These documents give you the legal right to work and live in your destination country.

The process of obtaining a work permit or visa can be complicated and time-consuming, so it's important to start early and be patient.

First, research the specific requirements for your destination country.

Some countries may require you to have a job offer in hand before you can apply for a work permit. Others may require you to show proof of financial support or certain qualifications.

Ensure you have all the necessary documents and meet all the requirements before submitting your application.

It's also important to note that the process of obtaining a work permit or visa can vary depending on your nationality, the type of work you'll be doing, and other factors.

So, it's a good idea to consult with an immigration lawyer or a reputable agency specializing in work permits and visas.

Finally, be prepared for the possibility of rejection. Even if you meet all the requirements, there's always a chance that your application will be denied. If this happens, try to find out why and see if there's anything you can do to address the issue.

Understanding Local Laws and Regulations

Another legal and administrative challenge you'll face when working abroad is understanding the local laws and regulations. This can include everything from labor laws to taxes to cultural norms.

Start by doing your research before you leave.

Research the laws and regulations in your destination country, especially the ones related to your industry and job type. You may also want to research cultural norms and expectations to help you adjust to your new surroundings.

Once you arrive, connect with local resources, such as expat groups or business associations.

These groups can provide valuable information and resources to help you navigate the local laws and regulations.

It's also a good idea to consult with a local lawyer or accountant who can help you understand the laws and regulations that apply to you. They can also help you comply and avoid any legal or financial issues.

Remember—the key to overcoming legal and administrative challenges when working abroad is to be prepared, patient, and willing to seek help when needed.


#7 Staying Protected: Safety and Security

Whether you're moving to a new city, country, or remote location, it's essential to research the area and be aware of potential risks. Sadly, we must add that staying protected is one of the key priorities for women moving abroad.

Here are some tips to help you stay safe and secure while working abroad.

Researching and avoiding high-risk areas

Before you move to a new location, research the area and identify any high-risk areas. These could be places with high crime rates or areas that are prone to natural disasters.

Once you've identified these areas, you should avoid them if possible. If you need to travel to these areas, make sure you take extra precautions to stay safe, such as traveling with a group or hiring a local guide.

Research the local customs and laws to avoid any cultural misunderstandings that could put you at risk.

For example, some countries have strict laws about drinking alcohol or displaying affection in public. Make sure you understand the local laws and customs before you arrive.

Staying alert and prepared in emergencies

No matter how much you prepare, emergencies can still happen. Stay alert and be prepared for any situation.

Ensure you have emergency contact information for your employer and the local authorities. You should also have a plan in place for what to do in case of an emergency.

By researching and avoiding high-risk areas and staying alert and prepared in emergencies, you can help ensure your safety and security while living and working abroad.


TL;DR: How to Overcome the 7 Biggest Challenges All Expats Face?

Living and working abroad is an amazing life experience. But, it doesn't come without its own set of challenges, from bureaucracy to homesickness and loneliness.

However, with the right mindset and strategies, overcoming these obstacles can turn it into a life-changing, rewarding, and brilliant adventure.

By tackling language barriers, adjusting to cultural differences, and managing homesickness, you can grow both personally and professionally. Additionally, fostering a strong support network, staying adaptable, and planning for financial uncertainties will help ensure a successful transition to life in a new country.

Embrace the adventure and remember that facing these challenges head-on can lead to a fulfilling and unforgettable experience while working abroad.

What's Next?

Two female career coaches. Cutout headshots on purple background.

Matilda Patsou & Ana Colak-Fustin

Hi there—we're Matilda and Ana, founders of MoreThanCareers, expats, international corporate recruiters, and HR professionals with 18+ years of combined HR experience. Since 2018, our career-building techniques, tools, and resources have helped over 500 coaching clients and 8,000 individuals worldwide land new, more fulfilling, higher-paying, career-changing jobs. Now it's your turn and MoreThanCareers is here to support you!

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