A global health insurer conducted a study recently that showed that a large number of expats believe their overall health has improved since they moved abroad. There were 463 expats participating in the survey and 61 per cent said their physical health was better than it would have been if they had remained in their home country. 64 percent believed that their mental health got better after moving overseas. The study showed that more than half of the respondents’ primary reason for relocating was the search for a new adventure.There are many who dream of living abroad but fail to realize the dream due to complications in their daily life caused by work, schooling or housing. Those complications result in any people deciding to remain in their home country. This has contributed to the perception that following your dreams is not always a realistic goal.
In recent times, many businesses and companies have made a point of focusing on encouraging health and wellness in the workplace. It is viewed as important to provide support for employees in any way possible in order to build a professional environment that facilitates employee happiness and wellbeing. Studies have shown that moving house is more stressful than getting divorced. These stress levels are also true when relocating abroad.
Apart from moving house, expats also face differences in language and culture. An additional pressure is the fact that they know very few people in their new destination and they are responsible for the lives of their spouse and children after the move. This is a lot to consider and naturally, many expats experience culture shock. A common phenomenon is a feeling of disorientation experienced by a person when they are suddenly exposed to an unfamiliar culture, set of values and lifestyle. Culture shock can develop over months, and commonly affects travellers who are living far away from home, in unexpected ways. It can even affect travellers after they have gained some familiarity and comfort in a new culture.
Considering all of this, you may be wondering how moving abroad can help to improve your health. Psychologists maintain that following your dream of moving abroad can beneficially affect mental health and well-being. Those who have always dreamt of living abroad also get a sense of satisfaction, accomplishment and happiness on fulfilling their dream. If the weather in your home country is not always ideal, moving to a country with better weather can also enable you to lead a more active and outdoor lifestyle, both of which contribute to an overall improvement in your health. The key then is to stay prepared. Many expats get wrapped up in the adventure of living abroad and fail to consider the daily practicalities of living in a new destination.
Excitement about your life is a good thing, but it is also essential to consider how that will play out in reality. To avoid culture shock or at least keep it to a minimum, ensure that you do your research and carefully consider where you want to live. This applies not just to the country, but also the location.
Consider how connected you are to the main transport routes, and assess the amenities that are available in that location. If you’re moving abroad with family, consider also the nearby schools. Healthcare is another important point for expats to consider. Find out the procedure for accessing healthcare. It is also a good idea to find out if there are social or expat groups in close proximity to your location, so that you can have the opportunity of meeting new people. All of this helps you not to put yourself and your family in a vulnerable situation in an unfamiliar country. So even though moving abroad is supposed to enhance your health, the isolation that could be experienced by you or your family can have the opposite effect on your health and wellbeing.
Here are four ways in which moving abroad can enrich your life.
Living the adventurous life
Those who have always wanted to live more than just an ordinary life will discover that moving to a new country is the ideal way to achieve it. Even daily experiences such as buying groceries at the supermarket or the local farmer’s market can become exciting when living in a different country. There will be plenty of opportunities to soak in the diverse sights and experiences and unlike the tourist experience, the expat life doesn’t end after just a couple of weeks.
Communicating in a whole new way
Those who have always had trouble with language lessons in school will find that there’s a whole new way to learn the local language in a different country. When you immerse yourself in a new culture, it becomes much easier and also more enjoyable to learn to communicate. Expressing yourself in a new language can be a rewarding experience. Plus, the skills you develop here will last for a lifetime.
A fresh perspective
Many people are stuck in a routine that adversely affects not just their physical health, but also has a negative impact on their mindset. Moving abroad is an excellent way to come out of a rut. It leads to a fresh perspective on the things that are really important in life. You get the chance to make new friends and explore new parts of the world. This enriches life in a way that material things simply cannot.
A boost to your confidence
Moving abroad can be daunting, but achieving it can be a great confidence booster. Since everything seems new, you start learning how to manage daily tasks again. It will push you in ways you never thought possible. You will also be nudged into working harder if everything around you is happening in a language that is different from your first language. You will also be forced to meet new people and make new friends, which also helps to build confidence.
While it’s true that moving abroad can improve your health and wellbeing, as indicated in the survey mentioned above, it can also have a negative impact. Studies show that expat depression is quite common on account of the fact that those living abroad face a higher overall risk of mental health problems.
Recent research found that 50 percent of US expats studied were at a high risk of mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. This figure was two and a half times higher than their US-based counterparts. Studies estimate that assignment failure rates of US expats were as high as 40 percent, and this usually occurs due to stress arising from cultural differences and demanding workloads. There are several reasons why expats may have mental health issues. Language differences, climate, cultural and religious disparities between the home country and the new, unfamiliar country can be significant. It is common for expats to worry about being accepted by their adopted country. Some of the other reasons that can trigger mental health issues include separation from family and friends, the need to build a high level of self-sufficiency, and anxiety and stress caused by exposure to violence, poverty, suffering, disease and death (depending on the country).
Homesickness and social isolation are also among the issues expats face. Since they don’t have support in the form of family and friends nearby, they find it difficult to cope with unfamiliar circumstances. Depression rates among expats are up to 50 percent higher. Due to anxiety, expats may lose interest in activities that were once pleasurable. They may stop wanting to go out and may begin ruminating on the past or stressing about the future. It is common for stress and anxiety to occur when moving to a new country. The desire to obtain a cure for mental health problems may sometimes worsen the situation. Lack of awareness about how to cope with isolation or homesickness can trigger more serious problems.
It can be difficult for expats, with mental health issues such as stress and anxiety, to find the right kind of support and help. This is especially true in less metropolitan areas where finding quality help in the small towns and cities is not very easy. Some expats may also be unaware that support is available in their adopted country. Many do not seek help initially as they believe it is not available for foreigners. Language also poses a challenge as depending on the country; it can be hard to find professionals who can speak fluent English. However, many major towns and cities have mental health services and offer counselling and other types of mental health support and treatment, which is also covered by insurance.
Those considering a move overseas may benefit from the following tips that will help them cope with the difficult initial months as an expat.
Take the time to get settled
It can take a while to find one’s place in a new country and culture, and it is natural to worry and feel lonely even a couple of months after the move. It can take months to integrate and settle in. This is a good time to accept invitations from colleagues or neighbours, join local groups or clubs, attend classes such as exercise or even music, or play a sport. Meeting people can help to ease the homesickness and isolation.
Happiness can come about by embracing your new lifestyle. It is still important to keep in contact with family and friends back home as well as tying up any loose ends such as final utility bills and change of address details. You can have your mail redirected to someone you trust back home and request them to inform you if there is anything that requires your attention, such as an unpaid parking ticket that can turn into an expensive frustration if left ignored.
Take care of practicalities
If your employer has not provided for your accommodation, you will need to look for a place and also obtain necessary services such as utilities. You will also need to open a local bank account and get yourself insurance coverage. Most countries have banks that serve international residents by offering services such as English-language information. Some even offer financial advice on local legal requirements. A helpful tip is to do some research on banks before opening an account and compare the fees and interest rates before choosing one. You can even shop around to get the best insurance deals. In some countries, it is mandatory to have health and home insurance. Expats will need to see which policies cover their lifestyle, for instance, some policies enable you to get hospital treatment in your host country as well as your home country.
Many expats get caught up in socializing only with other expats. But this can prevent you from discovering a new culture and obtaining useful local knowledge. If you do not speak the language of your home country, try to learn at least the basics. This makes daily life more convenient and will also help you to make new friends.
Keep your health in check
Most expats may not prioritize finding a good local doctor when they first move abroad. It usually becomes urgent only when they or their family require medical attention. In many countries, doctors have long waiting lists, and this can prevent you from getting timely treatment. It’s a good idea to start looking for a doctor as soon as you arrive. You can do this at local embassies that usually post lists of recommended medical care providers. You can even ask colleagues or acquaintances for recommendations.
Many countries in the world move at a much slower pace than what you may be used to. Punctuality may not be a priority, leading to less than punctual appointments. Your post may also arrive after weeks or months. This can be frustrating, but getting worked up doesn’t help. Instead, re-visit your reasons for moving abroad; one of them could have been for a more relaxed lifestyle!
How have you stayed healthy while living abroad? Let us know in the comments!