The idea of living abroad is pretty attractive to a lot of people – it certainly was for me. My desire to experience life in another country began in 2013 when I attempted to move to San Francisco and whilst that didn’t end up happening, the desire to get out of my comfort zone and experience something new remained. Four years later and I was in Australia. Whilst living in Melbourne has been incredible and everything I had hoped for, expat life has presented me with a number of drawbacks and challenges that sometimes make me feel incredibly frustrated and tired. I’ve found myself considering packing it all in and heading back to London more than once this week because the realities of expat life have really dragged me down. On top of applying for an eye-wateringly expensive partner visa, I’m also about to have an eye-wateringly expensive tax bill. I’m not even sure if we’ll be able to head back to the UK to see my family as we’d hoped at the end of this year – which is fairly gutting. My husband is being ever the optimist, ever supportive – but I just feel pretty low about it all.
Even with two years of living in Melbourne behind me, I still often feel like an outsider. I’m so proud of the life we’ve built here and everything we’ve achieved, but I’m also in a transition. Living life attached to one visa or another is actually really difficult – I spend a lot of time having to research the limitations placed on me and what that means for certain situations. I can’t just ask my friends how to do something, because chances are the answer is very different for an Australian Citizen vs. someone on a temporary visa. It can feel really isolating. I wanted to put this post together not to discourage or scare other expat hopefuls, but to just be open and honest about some of the less wonderful sides of expat life. Sometimes things just aren’t as easy or simple as they may appear.
The logistics are a nightmare
Australia isn’t the easiest country when it comes to the logistics of making a move – it has strict visas with lots of rules. I managed a fairly smooth transition when moving over (I’ve discussed all my tips here) as I did a lot of research so was able to have things like bank accounts and TFN numbers set up when I arrived – but I’m still constantly making new discoveries that remind me that I still don’t fully belong, at least not permanently. As an example, I’ve had to learn to navigate a completely new tax system (something I barely had to think about in the UK) which is a real challenge and can often be fairly disadvantageous to visa holders – hence the eye-watering tax bill noted above. These sort of logistics that you wouldn’t of had to think about in your home country are things that you really need to be hyper aware of when you’re an expat – and for me it’s definitely the harshest reality of expat life.
Can an expat ever truly be home?
Melbourne is my home but London is my home too – my heart is basically scattered across the globe. The beautiful yet somewhat painful thing about being an expat is that I will forever be drawn to more than one place. I miss so much about London that sometimes my heart physically aches when I think about it: my family, my friends and the little things I never even realised I’d miss. Yet, we’ve built such an incredible life here that I can’t imagine giving it all up to return home. The grass may always seem greener, but it’s important to remember that weeds are everywhere.
Whilst it was easy to think that a visit home is only a flight (or two) away, the price of flights from Australia to the UK (as well as the length) definitely make it more of a challenge then I initially expected. On top of this, my desire to be able to see my family semi-regularly (at least once a year) means that I likely miss out on exploring new countries as I have to reserve the $2,000+ and my annual leave to go home. When I am back home, it’s usually a whirlwind of trying to see everybody and fit everything in.
Friendships don’t always last the distance
I’m lucky that my friendships haven’t really suffered since I’ve been out here but it can be really challenging to keep friendships alive when your lives are so different, or so far away. Something I’ve learnt over the years (not just specific to expat life) is not to force friendships that evidently have an expiration date. Whether your friends are for a reason, or a season (or forever!) it’s even more important when you live overseas to nurture your friendships but also accept when some aren’t built to last. Life goes on and people move on – you can’t expect everything to be the same when you return. Expect to miss your fair share of weddings!
Moving abroad is huge – it’s exciting yet terrifying, exhilarating and nerve-wracking and will definitely change your life. Despite being tough, it’s also amazing. I’d encourage anyone who has the desire to go for it. If you’re blessed with the curiosity – embrace it. Just go in with open eyes, and remember nothing is perfect!
Have you lived in another country? What were the hardest parts for you?