Expat life: Time to return home?

November 2019

Presumably, every Expat has that moment where the question arises, "Should I go back home?". If your home country isn't an option for several reasons, the issue might be "Where to go next?".

I've been there several times, while my work usually decided for me. I always knew one thing: The country where I grew up wasn't my home anymore for a long, long time, and to go back there was never up for discussion.

Living the Expat life has many advantages; it widens your horizon, and you usually can't return once you've smelled the air of the big wide world. On the other hand, the more options you have, the harder it is to find the right place for you. I've been struggling with too many choices for quite a while, while my friends thought I was so lucky to go wherever I wanted. Sometimes, having fewer options is simpler to handle.

Well, after more than ten years of living the Expat Life, I'm not home anywhere. Too foreign for home, too foreign for wherever. Never enough for both.

Don't forget: They have changed back home; you have changed. It isn't the same anymore.

Where is home?

I often get the question if I would consider returning home, and the very first question popping up in my head is, "Where is home?". My birth country definitely isn't. I'm a foreigner there now.

I have no clue what's going on there, and people there see me as something exotic. I'm a foreigner where I live, too, but at least I'm not a stranger in my own country. And let's name it; there's a lot of jealousy to face back home. Most people think an Expat Life is kind of a high life where it rains roses, and you're having a great time while doing nothing.

From expatriate to repatriate

If you decide to return home, you must prepare for this move like all the others you've done to go abroad. No matter if you've been gone only for a few years, you've changed, as did the world at home. People have changed and maybe moved away, the places you know are not the same anymore, the political situation might have changed, rules, even day-to-day technical things might not be the same. Don't expect that everybody will welcome you with open arms. Usually, they didn't wait for you to return. Their life moved on, and so did yours.

Reverse culture shock

Especially if you've spent a long time abroad, you're used to other cultures. Now you have to blend in with what you think is your culture at home. But first, it might have changed, and then, you're not used to it anymore. For example, you might face more rules about how people do things, which can be a new kind of culture shock.

No matter where I've met other Expats, it's usually the same problems in all the seven countries I've lived in so far. Most move because of work, and when the project or limited contract is done, it's often the question of what to do next. Stay, move back home, or go somewhere else?

Reasons to return home

There are so many reasons to go home, if you start thinking about it. But the most common are:

  • Expectations in the new country have been too high
  • It wasn't how you imagined it
  • Too many issues with culture and language
  • Work situation
  • Financial situation
  • Health, for example, pollution, medical coverage
  • Safety issues
  • Missing family and friends
  • Tired of being the foreigner

New kind of homesickness

You might experience a new kind of homesickness when you're back home. Even though being a foreigner can have some disadvantages, it can also be nice to be somehow "exotic" to others. You usually have something in common with other Expats. You're all Expats and go through the same thing. On the other hand, often, that's the only thing you have in common. Back home, you would probably never hang out together.

So you see, everything has two sides. If you're unhappy with your expat situation and thinking about returning, make a pro and contra list. It can be very eye-opening to see the big picture. One good example from my personal experience living in Thailand: Lots of Expats are complaining about the strong Baht, and many of the Expats have an income from abroad, affecting their monthly budget. I always tell them they need to see the bigger picture. If they return home, for example, to the UK, they wouldn't be able to make a living with the money they need there. It's still way cheaper, even though the Baht got stronger. They couldn't afford a gardener, a pool man, a maid, etc. back home.

How to find out if it's time to go home

Think twice. Is it essential things you don't like where you are, like visa issues, unemployment, financial or security reasons? Or do you sometimes feel isolated, lonely, not at home, and miss your friends and family?

It's essential to find out why you need to move. If you don't know the real reason, you'll take the problems with you, no matter where you are, and will most probably face the same situation again sooner or later. One of the main reasons my customers encounter problems in their new home and/or want to return home is the lack of social life. It's not easy to find new friends and close relationships.

When a client asks me if it's better to move back home, I recommend they ask themselves first: Are your friends at home still your friends? You have changed, and they have changed. Often, the expectation is to return and pick up where you've left. I can tell you this won't be the case. Especially for people over 40, it's generally not easy to find new friends, and therefore you probably face a similar situation when you go back home.

1. Make a checklist

Make a list with the following items for both scenarios: Staying where you are and going back home.

  1. Financials: Job, savings, housing, cost of living, hobbies, etc.
  2. Social life: Friends you have here and there, possible opportunities to go out and meet new people, etc.
  3. Security: How secure is your current home? How safe is your life at home?
  4. Family: Family can always be a reason you want to return home. You might miss your family members if you still have your parents, but they are getting old, you might not want to miss out on spending time with them, etc. But will you actually live close to them if you go back home? Will you see them, in fact, more often than you do now?
  5. Other: For many people, the weather also significantly affects where they want to live. If you're from a cold country, moved to a warmer place, and now think about returning.

2. Why did you leave firsthand?

Try to remember what made you leave your country firsthand. Is it still essential for you? Maybe it isn't anymore. You might have experienced other things during your time abroad which are of importance now. Or did you run away? Did that change now?

3. Do you feel you have failed?

The feeling might come up that you've failed in your journey as an Expat and thinking about returning. Well, did you really, or did you find out it wasn't what you expected? That's not failing; that's called experience. At least you tried, right? Now you know what you're talking about, and you simply might have found out it's not for you. There's nothing wrong with that; you don't need to give an account to anyone.


Or you simply say it was an adventure, it was great, and you loved it, and now it's time to return home. Some might be anxious about reactions from people at home. Well, there might be some jealousy involved. You have at least tried it; you had the guts to leave everything behind and start all over again. The people reacting spitefully now might have been jealous when you've been gone and lived the Expat life and feel better now because they would never have the courage to do something like this. Forget about them.

There is no failure in trying!

4. Find out your options

If you don't want to return home, why not consider another destination? For example, after living as an Expat for ten years in seven countries, I'm pretty tired of starting all over again. I've changed my career, done what I'm passionate about, and now want to find my final destination. A real home and a social life where I know this can be for the long-term.

Going back to my birth country was never an option for me. I would be a stranger and simply don't fit in anymore. But one of the seven countries always felt like home. I have this strong, grounded feeling there, which I need now. Therefore, I've decided to relocate there and for good, hopefully. (Update after four years. I'm there; it's amazing; I found my final destination and won't ever leave.)

I know I'm lucky because I have found my place, but I meet many who don't know where their home is. That's a tough one. Before deciding where to go next, I wrote down what was essential for me and what I was looking for.

  1. Easy visa and work permit situation
  2. Climate and nature
  3. Costs of living
  4. Safety
  5. Suitable for my dogs

5. What is the most important for you?

Ask yourself: What's important for you and your family if you're not relocating alone? If you know what makes you happy, you can start to find out where this is possible. Maybe it's back home, perhaps a place you have never considered before, or you might even find out that the place you live right now isn't as bad as you thought.

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