Moving to a new country can bring up a mix of emotions. It can be exciting and worrying at the same time. The transition can be an emotional rollercoaster, but when things settle down a bit, you will start viewing the overall experience as an overwhelmingly positive one. There are numerous benefits to moving overseas.Expats learn to speak and read a new language. While this can be a major challenge for most people, it unveils long-hidden skills and triggers brain functions to such an extent that scientists believe it can even result in increased brain activity and growth, and better health.
Moving to a new country can also make you step outside your comfort zone. You will be meeting new people and entering challenging situations. This can help you stay mentally agile.
Moving out of your home country causes you to become curious about things and also makes you more accepting of things that are unfamiliar. It will challenge your values and perceptions of the world.
Since you will be meeting a lot of new people, it can draw your attention to the intricacies of communication. You will start to notice body language, expressions and new customs and practices. This can help you become a good listener and a more effective communicator.
Moving overseas means that you may have to learn to give up some of the things you are used to. You will be forced to look for alternatives. It can be a liberating experience to lead a life that does not depend on the same old actions.
Many people shy away from asking for help. But as an expat in a new country, you are bound to need help from fellow expats or the locals as you navigate around a new lifestyle. It can be the simple things such as, ‘where is the nearest post office?’ to ‘which is the best school in the area?’
Growing older makes it harder to make new friends. But moving to a different country is likely to change all of that. You will be forced to make friends and acquaintances with fellow expats and with the locals. The good part is that you will soon realize that the expat community is a warm and welcoming one. Other expats are always glad to welcome new members to their group. You will also learn that the local population can be friendly and helpful to foreigners. Soon, you will be making friends with people from around the world.
The expat life makes you appreciate the simple things in life. You may be used to living a fast-paced and hectic life back home, but moving to a country where meals are shared with family and friends, and where is it considered rude to rush a meal, you will start appreciating the simple things that often get lost in the busyness of daily life.
More and more Americans are attracted to the expat life. Due to the many means of modern communication and ease of travel, moving overseas no longer means cutting off ties with people back home. Americans are also realizing that they don’t have to wait till retirement or sacrifice a lucrative job to travel abroad.
But while there are clear benefits of living the expat life, there are also some downsides. One such obstacle is that things in a new country and culture work very differently from your own country. This may cause you to miss a lot of things from back home. Here’s what Americans tend to miss the most when they move abroad.
Americans moving to Europe are likely to be shocked by the prices of almost everything, on account of Value Added Tax (VAT). In Denmark, the VAT is as high as 25 percent sales tax on everything. Americans may also be used to using coupons or deals such as buy one get one free. There may be demarcations of ‘regular’ prices and sale prices. But the sale prices are usually on par with regular American prices. Americans who like to shop for secondhand stuff will miss the thrift stores in the USA, which are filled with high quality, hardly used secondhand wares. It is possible to find secondhand shops in Europe, but these are likely to be tiny stores without much variety.
Ordering goods from other countries may prove to be a challenge because of the language barrier. And ordering from outside the EU can be an expensive proposition; goods that cost above a certain amount will be subject to import duties. Many countries may also not have the large grocery stores with aisles specifically for ethnic foods. In other countries, one may have to visit a number of small shops that sell specific foods. For instance, you may have to visit an Indian or Pakistani store for spices, or an Asian store for tofu. This is fun if you’re in the mood for a bit of exploring, but it can get inconvenient at times, and will have you missing the one-stop shopping that you are so accustomed to in America.
Even though Mexican food comes from a completely different country, it has become an intrinsic part of the cuisine in the United States. American expats will have to bid goodbye to burritos, tortilla chips and delicious salsas. It may be possible to find Mexican food in other countries, but this is likely to be a pale impersonation. American expats who are starved for those scrumptious Mexican meals may just have to buy the ingredients and make them themselves, although proper ingredients may also be hard to find.
The United States does customer service really well and there are few places where the concept of customer service is on par with that in the US. Outside of America, the customer is sometimes right in some places, or reluctantly right, or right after a lengthy discussion, while in other places, shop staff barely acknowledge customers and also give them the impression that they are an unwelcome inconvenience. In such situations, the best thing you can do is to stand your ground, stay calm and communicate in your host country’s language. It’s not possible to change an entire culture, but you can learn to adapt in these situations.
The United States is a vast, diverse country, and when expats move to smaller, more homogenous ones, they are immediately struck by the lack of choice. Apart from grocery stores, which usually have very little choice, the same problem exists even in clothing stores, cosmetic shops and home décor stores. For instance, in a home décor store, the prices and brands may be different, but expats will notice that every kitchen faucet looks similar.
In many countries, OTC medications may not be easily available as they are in the United States. In a country like Denmark, for example, paracetamol is sold in packs of 20, which are priced like packs of 100 because there is an issue of people abusing it. Many American expats resort to hoarding simple medications such as cold remedies. America has loads of options to choose from for everything! Some expats may have things shipped over, but since the US is not part of the EU, there will be import duties and high shipping rates. The other option is to stock up on things such as clothes, cosmetics, medications and certain groceries when visiting home. It may work out cheaper to fly back home, shop for the necessary items and return, rather than have them shipped over.
The northernmost cities of the world experience a dark sky over most of the winter season, and receive sunlight for only a few hours every day. The earth’s tilted axis creates these short, dim days and long nights by causing the sun to scatter light in varying amounts across latitudes. The opposite effect occurs in the summer, when the days are long with up to 20 hours of light. The tilted axis also causes light to reach the earth at different angular degrees. So, destinations that are closer to the equator get more direct light and northern countries receive more indirect light. Cities like Helsinki, Oslo, Tallinn, Reykjavik and Stockholm receive the least amount of daylight in the winters. American expats miss the reasonable daylight to darkness ratio of the United States. Those who have moved to the northern countries will find that darkness may continue for up to 18 hours while the daylight hours are dim. It can be difficult to deal with this much darkness for months. In summer, expats may have to handle 18 hours of sunlight when the night hours are never fully dark. This may seem pleasant at first, but over time, expats will miss seeing the night sky. It can also be disorienting as 10pm could very well look like 5pm!
In the United States, you can pay for almost everything with a debit or credit card. But in some countries around the world, such as Spain, you will need to carry cash with you. Only the bigger stores or supermarkets accept debit or credit cards. Sometimes even having cash is not enough, because they will insist on exact change and serve you begrudgingly if you try to pay with big bills. Americans, who are used to never carrying cash and even pay for taxis with a credit card, may find the adjustment difficult.
Americans, in general, prefer more personal space as compared to individuals from other cultures. Most Americans like their personal space and feel uncomfortable or upset when someone gets too close. This holds true especially when meeting someone new or when in a group. In a country like China, however, people have close personal space with each other, and it is not uncommon to see women holding hands. Even when waiting in lines, there will be close contact with each other.
Americans generally shop in bulk instead of daily food shopping. This is convenient and quick, and houses in the US have ample of storage space in the form of refrigerators or freezers that can keep months of food supply. They also have water fountains and ice cube makers built into the front of their refrigerators. In Europe, some apartments do not have an equipped kitchen, which includes a refrigerator, dishwasher and stove or oven. The ones that do have fridges will have really small ones, comparable to the ones in hotel rooms. These are usually built into the cabinets, making the kitchen look organized.
European homes may include a washing machine, but dryers are not commonly used. Clothing lines or racks are preferred. Americans are also likely to miss the water sprayers or food disposals in the sink. Food pantries are also not usually found in European apartments. Accommodation is expensive in most European countries and the space is usually small, with layouts that are very different from American homes. Expats may miss the old homes with architectural details still intact and the variety of styles of architecture in America. They may also miss the large kitchens and bathrooms, where bathtubs are almost always included. Another thing they tend to miss are closets, because all they get in many European houses are freestanding wardrobes.
Are you an American expat? What do you miss the most about home? Let us know in the comments!