Whether you are an expat, a digital nomad, or considering life abroad as a student, I can’t say enough good things about this potential decision. But, there are both advantages and disadvantages of living abroad, no matter your situation. Below, I will go over the major pros and cons of living abroad, in my personal experience!
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The Pros and Cons of Living Abroad
Living abroad is wonderful. It’s life-changing! Seeing ways of life so different from where you grew up broadens your mind in such a way that reading from books or watching videos just can’t compare.
But life abroad isn’t all roses, and it’s realistic to realize that there are both pros and cons to living abroad. There are advantages and disadvantages to building a life in another country.
When I first moved to Costa Rica years ago, I didn’t fully understand what I had set into motion. The experiences I had and the friends I made are simply irreplaceable. Travel and life abroad have changed me in a deep way that, for better or for worse, can’t be undone. (And no, I wouldn’t change any of it for the world!).
No matter your circumstance – whether an expat, or a digital nomad, or a student considering a study abroad program – there is a lot to think about. Read on to hear about all of the pros and cons of building a life abroad, based on my personal experience.
The Pros of Living Abroad
1. Everything is Exciting and New.
Your senses are awakened. The new sights, smells and tastes are endlessly exciting. Even mundane tasks like grocery shopping and cooking meals are new experiences, spent getting used to a new selection of grocery items or figuring out how a foreign cooktop works.
Moving into a new home is an adventure. On your days off from work or school, you are more likely to get out and do things, go on adventures, because your surroundings are all new and exciting!
2. You are Constantly meeting new friends and amazing people.
Whether they are expats or locals, you will be interacting with so many new and different people. From your landlord to your neighbors to coworkers and locals, every day you will find yourself talking to someone that you never knew before that moment. The awesome things is, some of this people will become friends for a lifetime!
3. Your understanding of yourself and your place in the world changes.
Leaving your home country and the society that has possibly been ingrained in you since birth is no small feat. Everything you took as “truth” might be challenged, in a very positive way.
When traveling or living abroad, you not only have to reexamine everything you learned about your way of life, but you will also inevitably merge other cultures’ perspectives and ways of life into your own personality. In blending these different ways of doing things, you will learn much more quickly what you value and what you don’t.
4. You get to design the life you want to live.
While none of us got to choose where we were born, in building a new life abroad, that all changes. You now get to choose the life you want to build.
There are so many aspects that go into how fulfilled we are in our life, and I believe that the majority of them are in our control. They may not always be easy to attain, but many are in our control.
Don’t like the climate from where you grew up? Living abroad is your chance to change it. Don’t like the cost of living in big cities like Los Angeles or New York? Now is the chance to move somewhere more affordable. Does the environment where you came from not seem to fit you? Life abroad can change that.
5. You learn to read people quickly and accurately.
I’ve recently mentioned in a post about solo female travel that one superpower you really hone in on is the ability to read people quickly and accurately. You will quickly learn to pick up on BS from a mile away.
In both solo travel as well as living abroad, I’ve learned to always trust my gut and that innate sense of safety or fear. Everything from a potential scam from a taxi driver, to haggling in a Cambodian market, to that niggling feeling in the back of your mind that someone’s intentions aren’t quite honorable… you develop a true sixth sense for these things.
And the result is a strong sense of self-reliance and an assertiveness that you may not have found otherwise.
6. You learn that we are all really the same across the world.
When you grow up in a particular place your entire life, it’s easy to feel deeply ingrained in that place and with those people, and to almost regard everyone else as an outsider.
But in developing a life abroad, you quickly realize that people across the world are way more similar than dissimilar. We really all want the same things out of life – to be happy, to have love from family and friends, and have a peaceful life. We all have struggles and desires, happiness and sadness.
Absolutely, there are a few bad eggs everywhere, but overall people are wonderful in every country you might visit. Life abroad really disrupts the whole concept of “us versus them”.
7. The world is smaller than you think.
You will start to realize that the world, which seemed so big and vast at one time, is actually a lot smaller than you thought.
We live in an age where most destinations can be reached in one day or less by flight. This is actually incredible – that you can be standing in the snow of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on one day, and the next be in the sweltering heat on a safari in Tanzania.
This is really incredible if you think about it. A journey that once would have taken months by boat is now less than a day away.
8. Your Respect for the Planet Grows Exponentially.
If you have lived and traveled abroad, it’s almost inevitable that your respect for the planet will have grown. You tune into how we treat the planet, and what feels right and wrong.
For example, it’s hard to be okay with trash littering the beaches once you’ve released a baby sea turtle into the ocean in Oaxaca, Mexico. And it’s hard to not care about the depleting numbers of cheetahs once you’ve seen them in the African wild.
How we treat the world matters. I’ve gained an even bigger respect for our planet and a call to preserve it’s resources.
9. you get to show your life to the family and friends who matter.
If you live abroad long term, you will eventually (hopefully!) have at least a person or two from your “old” life come and visit your “new” life.
This is really exciting – to be able to show off your daily life to those friends that matter most. It’s true that not everyone can or will visit, but for those few who do, it will bring you even closer together (though you may be geographically far apart).
10. You will be forever changed.
No matter how brief or extended your life abroad ends up being, I have zero doubt that you will be forever changed. You simply can’t unlearn your new perspectives or forget your new understanding of the world.
Assuming you keep in touch with friends from abroad, even after you move on or move home, you will always be reminded of that time and place.
Life abroad as well as solo travel have changed me in such an incredible way that I can’t even picture who I might be right now had I never moved or traveled abroad. Certainly a less interesting and insightful person, at least.
So, obviously there are incredible pros to living abroad that, full disclosure, to me greatly outweigh the cons. But, yes, there are both pros and cons of living abroad – so let’s get to the cons.
The Cons of Living Abroad
1. you are far away from family and friends.
I’m sure this is obvious in the general sense; you are far away from your family and friends. But let’s take a moment and think about what that actually means.
Beyond just missing them from time to time or experiencing homesickness, you will miss out on things. Daily life things and small experiences with them. But also, BIG things.
It’s tough to be far away and miss weddings and funerals and births, but if you stay away for any length of time, it is a reality. I even experienced this just living on the other side of the USA from family and friends.
And the longer you’re gone, you’ll start to notice that you don’t even get invites for these events after a while. Not necessarily because you’re not important, but because your friends and family will assume that you’re not available. It’s a reality of living far far away.
2. you don’t have a true home.
While it feels absolutely amazing to not be tied down by a lot of “stuff”, sometimes it can be difficult to not have a true home. If you’re moving into furnished apartments or villas, you can’t decorate how you want, you can’t paint, and you can’t design your space.
As an artist, I actually value creating a space that feels comfortable and reflects my style. But it’s something you likley have to give up unless you are purchasing a home abroad.
Additionally, if you are moving from country to country as a digital nomad or long-term traveler, it becomes very hard to really put down roots anywhere. Everything feels temporary and transient.
3. Constant Goodbyes.
Speaking of temporary, when you do eventually move on, there are lots of difficult goodbyes. Or, if you stay in a place more long-term, other expat friends and travelers you meet will likely be leaving before you.
So, while I’d never change the experiences gained from seeing the world, there are constant goodbyes along the way, and some of them are very very hard.
So, depending on your situation, this is another complicated issue. Have you left a boyfriend or girlfriend back home? Have you brought them with you? Are you a traveling married couple? Or, are you dating on the road?
Long distance dating comes with a whole set of considerations, particularly from across the world. But even if you are living abroad single, dating can be tricky.
Are you dating locals? Does that mean you’d consider staying permanently if a relationship worked out? Are you dating other expats? What if their visa expires before yours does? And, if you’re dating someone from another country, it can get very tricky with separate visa restrictions in different countries for the both of you.
5. the language barrier.
Unless you are completely fluent in the country where you are moving, language will inevitably be a barrier at times. Even though I spoke Spanish while living in Costa Rica, there were definitely phrases and words that I couldn’t easily understand from time to time.
If you don’t speak the language at all, it can create some difficulties. Signage is not necessarily in English, and not everyone will speak English. My best advice is to try to learn a bit of the language wherever you stay, but it won’t solve everything. It’s hard to have your brain constantly “on” and focused on understanding and translating.
6. You’ll need to adjust to the culture.
I mentioned in the Pros section how exciting and new everything is when you arrive in a new country. Luckily this can last for quite some time! But if you stay somewhere long term, the rose colored glasses will eventually start to wear off.
Even if you genuinely appreciate cultural differences (as I truly do!) there are definitely small frustrations and annoyances that start to rear their head. It can be anything from the way your apartment’s facilities are organized to the cultural norm of arriving two hours late.
If you stay long enough, I can tell you that something different than your previous experience is going to start to bug you!
7. The tax situation.
If you are not from the USA, this might not apply to you. But if you are from the USA and decide to work abroad, buckle up – you are still required to pay taxes to the USA even if you don’t live there.
I know. I know. Super frustrating. But, a necessary evil at the moment.
The USA is one of the only countries in the world that taxes it’s citizens regardless of where they live in the world. The easiest way to get a handle on this is to hire an experienced tax preparer, but it is frustrating nonetheless.
8. You’ll be asked about your home country’s government. a lot.
This one is just a fact that you will need to shrug off. Whenever your government is doing something ridiculous, you will be asked about it. You’ll basically be looked at as a spokesperson for your country and government, regardless if you even follow politics. So, just be aware!
9. You no longer fit anywhere.
The longer you are gone, the more of a life you build outside of your home country. Like I mentioned above, your friends and family move on with their life and you miss quite a bit. Life goes on, and things change without you.
When you return, whether for a visit or to move back, it’s normal to not feel like you really fit in anymore. You have just had a life-changing experience, and you no longer fit in the same box of who you were before you left.
At the same time, as an expat or nomad, you are by definition an outsider. You are a visitor in whatever country you travel to. It might be long term, and you may even eventually gain citizenship there. But in many ways you will always be and feel like you don’t fully fit.
10. What Happens next?
When your visa / job / school program runs out, what happens next? Do you go home? Do you move to another country? What is the end goal?
I don’t have an answer to this. I’ve spent years bouncing back and forth from traveling and living abroad to returning to my home country. As I write, I see this pattern continuing for some time. I don’t feel finished exploring, and I don’t feel ready to settle anywhere permanently. So, the pattern continues.
The pros and cons of building a life abroad are real. There are many advantages and disadvantages to living abroad, probably more than I’ve listed here. But it’s important to acknowledge these, particularly if you are planning to live abroad or travel abroad long term.
That being said, I do wholeheartedly think that the pros of living abroad greatly outweigh the cons! Even if you live abroad for a short time, you will absolutely be changed for the better.
Have you lived abroad before? Is there anything you would add to my list? Let me know below!
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