Expat Life – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Expat life is vastly different from visiting somewhere as a tourist. Tourists enjoy the best of places but rarely experience the difficulties that expats face. Daily life, encountering and rising to the challenges, as well as enjoying the highlights of life overseas can be very rewarding, but it can take time.

The Good

The Bahamas is very different from home in Europe

And now for something completely different

Expats live in a different country from their country of origin. As such, those choosing to live as expats are often seeking something different. It may be different weather, a different language, or different food. It may be simply for the challenge of being outside their comfort zone. Whatever the reason, expats embrace change.

Learning about another part of the world

One of the largest changes to daily life is often caused when there is a difference of culture. Cultural difference can be enormous and sometimes challenging. However, I enjoy discovering and learning about the small cultural changes from place to place. When I lived in Turkey I quickly became used to the generosity of the people. Wherever you go, you are offered at least a drink. Should you call at someone’s house while they are eating you are offered some and they are very insistent. Growing up in the UK however, I would feel embarrassed if I interrupted someone’s meal. Funny the difference, isn’t it?

Discovering new Brands and Products

It is not just cultural experiences that differ, but every new country brings new ‘stuff’. I love exploring local shops and supermarkets whenever I arrive somewhere new and trying to work out what is actually in the packets on the shelves before me. Everywhere I have been I have always fallen in love with something new. In France I love the salt with herbs mixed in. In Barbados it was Cadbury rum n raisin chocolate bars. In Turkey I became addicted to cherry juice. In Australia I have fallen for Milo, hard.

The Bad

Is this Turkish back street not the obvious place to look for a second hand fridge?

Being sick in a foreign land

Being ill is never fun, especially, if like me, you get grumpy and would rather the world just left you alone to recover. Try being sick in another country where you don’t have all the over the counter remedies that you know and understand. I remember it being especially frightening in Turkey, where until I had learnt enough Turkish to understand it for myself, I simply had to trust people that whatever medicine I had been given in the pharmacy, was what I thought I had asked for.

Confusing Labelling of similar products

Everyone has a few favourite recipes that they proudly make from time to time, or perhaps live off! But when you are somewhere other than where the recipe was devised, you cannot necessarily find all the exact ingredients. Take my recent attempt to make Chocolate Mousse, for example. I needed ‘thickened cream’ and bought something labelled ‘thickened cream’ in the Australian supermarket, only to find it to be the runniest and least whippable cream I have ever encountered. Whipping cream for over an hour, by hand with a fork? Very dull indeed.

Time Differences

Being an expat invariably means spending time apart from your family and friends. These days, with the development of new technologies such as Skype, this is nowhere near as difficult as previously. However, the time differences cannot be escaped. When I lived in the Bahamas by the time I got home from work and wanted to talk to a mate, Europe was asleep. Nowadays, living in Australia, I find that I have to be a night owl if I want to talk ‘live’ to friends, as Europe is still sleeping at lunchtime and most people are still at work when I am going to bed.

Assuming your local geography is up to scratch, catching a bus in Barbados is pretty straight forward

The Ugly

Not everyone chooses to live their life as an expat, but I do. Personally I love living overseas and getting to know and understand different cultures. The day I wake up unhappy with my life I will change it. I will not whinge about it. I love to embrace the different experiences of expat life and I don’t enjoy seeing expats resisting local norms and trying to make their new home like their old home with little or no sensitivity to local beliefs and culture. A classic example I have observed was some British people living in a tiny village in Turkey demanding that the volume of the call to prayer sounding from the mosque be turned down. I found that very embarrassing and felt tempted to ask them if perhaps Turkey was not the right country for them?

Village Mosque in Turkey

Expat life comes with many challenges but also brings a wealth of experiences that you couldn’t get any other way. I find it really interesting and rewarding. How about you?


  • Sally

    I definitely agree that being sick while living abroad is the worst! I never feel more homesick than when I’m sick. I just want some medicine I understand (and not some weird Chinese medicine that is supposed to cure my “heat wind”… seriously, that’s what they gave me when I had a respiratory infection) and family around to feel sorry for me (that’s what they’re there for, right?)
    My recent post 5 Travel Mistakes I Make Over and Over Again

  • Katrina

    “Tourists enjoy the best of places but rarely experience the difficulties that expats face.” So true! When my (Italian) husband and I answer peoples’ questions about why we choose Ireland over Italy, we generally say, “Italy is a great place to visit, but not to live.” Holidays often give an entirely different impression of a place than living there.

    I was really grateful for the opportunity to live in Italy for 3 years. It was a great introduction to just how different life can be in another country. Italy, especially southern Italy, is quite different from the rest of Europe. In many ways, it has more things in common with Africa. I’m really glad it was my first expat experience. And yet, I’m also glad to be living in a place that is more like home in many ways. Still different, still learning, and still looking forward to further travel and expat adventures. 😀

    Thanks for this post. I think I need to share this with some folks!
    My recent post Where Do I Find Me a Drunk Maya God?

  • Kyle

    Great post that does talk about both sides of being an expat. I think a lot of times things that a tourist thinks is cute and quaint and lovely — “Oh look! To buy something at a department store we have to stand in 5 different lines and then they give us a gift wrapped package!” turns into something annoying when you live in a place — “ARGH. WHY DOES IT TAKE ME 30 MINUTES TO PAY FOR A FORK. I don’t want it gift wrapped!!!”

  • Greta

    I like this post a lot. I have been in places very different between each other, or also places that you would consider close to your culture but they are not at all once you get to know them better. But also, it is amazing to find similarities from home when you are abroad. It happened to me ad an Italian currently living in Egypt! The key, I think, is to feel home everywhere you are. This doesn’t mean I live in Cairo as if I were still in Italy, but I can still organize my life in a comfortable way for me, get used to different habits and culture, and still feel at home, and not a foreigner. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • Erin

    Missing friends and fam is a hard one. Most of my friends back “home” are suffering hard from the recession, so they don’t have funds to visit which makes it even harder.
    Getting sick in Costa Rica is not bad (I hope I didn’t just jinx myself!!!!). It’s easier to get medicine and for $15 I can walk in and see a private doc immediately and get a shot of antibiotics in my butt if I have some sort of infection. They even make me a cup of tea 🙂
    Using the public health system is a different story, but with patience everything turns out fine.
    My recent post Photo: The OMFG Sunset

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    @Greta When you feel ‘at home’ rather than ‘a foreigner’ you are doing well! ;o) I agree, it is sometimes amazing how different, places that you imagined to be similar, can be.
    @Erin Being in Australia (with a lot of my friends in Europe) I can totally understand the difficulties of missing people ‘back home’ It is very expensive to travel here from Europe and don’t get me started on the time difference! Keep up the butt shots (though I hope you don’t need too many!)
    My recent post London’s Burning

  • farawayhammer

    I am puzzled about the cream! I expect that kind of thing here in Asia but imagined Australia would not be so different. Interesting.

  • ukate

    I’m so thrilled that I stumbled upon your blog from a Twitter post! I’m an expat as well, an American in the UK, and am brand-spanking new to the entire experience. I find it so comforting to read your stuff and see that the experiences I’m having are not unique and *are* handle-able. I keep finding myself in positions where I get this ‘deer in the headlights’ expression because I have no idea how to respond to something, and the moment I have a spare minute I rush online to find out if anyone else has had the panic… I’m really glad to know that I’m not alone. 🙂

    Thanks for your wonderful words of wisdom!

    Kate http://ukate.wordpress.com/

  • katrinamauro

    Really great post, loved it! When I was living in Denmark, I remember being on a hunt for peroxide, with which no-one could help me. They had no idea what peroxide was, which amazed me…and years later, I’m still not sure what they use instead there. I just went without, used soap. You adjust to your surroundings, and I feel like that’s what living in new places is all about – embracing new culture, and learning to understand (and thrive in) a different system.
    It’s clear that those people in the Turkish village should’ve chosen a better country…hearing the call to prayer is one of my favorite parts of being in Turkey – and clearly a huge part of their culture – a part that needs not be changed by the demands of visiting foreigners.

    *just a note… you whipped cream by hand, with a fork? I think that’s insane, even with thickened/heavy cream.
    My recent post Introducing Rare Beautiful Things New Website

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    Thanks Katrina – I think expat life is definitely better suited to some people than others for the reasons you put forward. Attempting to whip cream with a fork is insane and leads to sloppy chocolate mousse – I don’t advise it!
    My recent post Traveller Karma

  • waegook_tom

    I enjoyed this post a lot – new food and exploring new parts of the culture are my favourite things about expat life here in South Korea! I can’t believe that some British expats complained about the volume of the call to prayer in Turkey – I’m embarrassed for my homeland!

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      Hi Mandy – They are very different situations definitely. It is common for people to think expat life is just an extended holiday but, although I love living as an expat, it is really just normal life in another location. I enjoy the challenges and opportunities that presents, but many people decide it is not for them, Hope you have a good trip!
      My recent post Treasure hunting in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar

  • Lisa @chickybus

    Excellent write-up re: ex-pat life! I’ve done it twice–in two very different countries: Ecuador and Spain (Barcelona). Strangely enough, the one that was was more challenging (Ecuador) was a more rewarding experience. It was back when there was no Internet there and almost none here and cell phones and regular phone calls were cost-prohibitive. Therefore, I felt completely unplugged and off the grid–and frankly, a bit isolated. I missed my friends and family a lot. But I also lived life in the moment in a way that’s nearly impossible to do now.

    I’ll always be grateful for that experience.
    My recent post Trippy Travel Photo Game #28: Are they real or is it a painting? #ttot #nature

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      Hi Lisa – I think the most challenging situations are the ones that we grow the most from, like your experience with Ecuador. We didn’t have internet on phones when I started travelling but most people had mobile phones. I remember frequenting lots of internet cafes to numb the isolated feeling from time to time!
      My recent post You CAN afford to travel – here is how

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