I cried when yet another of my close friends, who had taken early retirement, announced she was selling up and returning to the UK. The reason for her change of heart and even direction was due to disillusionment and boredom. She confided there were only so many coffees you could drink, social events to attend, weeds to pull, vegetables to grow, books to read etc etc. Life here was simply no longer challenging as one day just drifted seamlessly into the next.
I wondered if expats who move abroad on a fixed term work contract felt the same. Maybe because they know they are only going to be in xx country for xx number of years they are already physiologically adjusted to the transient nature of friendships. However, when you retire there seems to be a greater sense of permanence. You are almost mentally saying to yourself “the only way I am leaving here is in a box!”Sitting in a dreary office in the UK looking out at equally dreary grey skies made “La La” land in the sun seem like paradise. But for some, this is just not the case – paradise also has its down side.
How many people who retire to a “place in the sun” actually consider how they will fill their days once the challenges of settling in to their new home have been resolved and the initial holiday period and adrenalin rush is over?
Debating this very topic with friends, together with reading various heartbreaking stories in the newspapers, leads me to believe the dream of living abroad for a perceived improved lifestyle is not always in line with reality. Reality “checks” not only include boredom, but financial problems, health care and an overwhelming feeling of homesickness for familiar foods, language, culture or surroundings. Family ties tug at the heart-strings with aging relatives, children and grandchildren all adding to the feeling of solitude and emotional stress as you eagerly plan your next visit home.
I’ve touched on boredom but mental stimulation, especially for those who take early retirement, does seriously need to be considered. Stop and ask yourself the simple question “How WILL I fill my days? If you are the type of person who does need mental challenges think carefully as to how you will fulfil this need. It is surprising how often this particular topic arises in the expat community but is often overlooked in the initial wave of optimism when planning the move abroad.
Finance is another key area forcing expats to return. The lack of employment opportunities and the fall-out from the banking crisis, or “credit crunch”, still resonates for those who rely heavily on returns on their investments as a means of income. If this was not enough, desperate expats also saw their incomes slashed by nearly a third due to the plunging value of the pound. Expats continue to tighten their financial belts while they carry on reading in the newspapers that the bankers who caused the problems are raking in large bonuses once more…
The quality of healthcare together with the rising cost of medical insurance and medicines is yet another area of concern. A recent trip to the UK, to see my elderly mother, made me realize that the level of care she receives plus the extensive support network may not be available abroad. This made me stop and consider what will happen to a sick and aging population of expats? How will we cope?
Perhaps friends who returned to the UK have already seen the writing on the wall, enjoyed an extended holiday, but realized home is where the heart is and the grass is not always greener.
If you have relocated abroad how does reality match your dreams? Are you, like some of my friends, an unhappy expat in a rudderless boat drifting aimlessly on the ocean of life?