While there are many benefits to working abroad, there are likewise some disadvantages to making such a career move. I thoroughly enjoyed my experiences living and working in different countries, but there were likewise some aspects of the process that were a little more complicated.
I say “complicated” as I truly don’t consider them to be completely disadvantageous. Because I learned many lessons while living and working abroad – so the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. However, I do feel that it is incumbent upon me to present a balanced picture of what living abroad can entail. With that being said, here is a list of some of the main disadvantages of living and working abroad.
Being Homesick and Lonely
Being homesick comes with the territory of being out of your comfort zone in relation to living abroad. You will most likely miss your family and friends if you have close connections to them in your home country. This is inevitable and generally can not be avoided. There are tools and resources that you can use to stay in touch, like video calls, emails, letters, and the like. But there is nothing like being in the presence of your loved ones.
I emphasize this point because it is often the number one factor that causes people to give up, pack their bags, and go back home. A number of expat adventures are short-lived because people start to get lonely. They wish to be around their family and familiar surroundings. However, those who stick it out usually enjoy a very fruitful and adventurous expatriate life.
I experienced a degree of homesickness when I first moved to Africa. It wasn’t so much for my family and friends (though I missed them) – it was primarily for my local cuisine. I was very fortunate to move with my husband and two children during all of my expatriate journeys. So I had constant companions.
About two years prior to moving abroad, we had moved from my home state of Georgia. And my husband had been living out of his home state for more than ten years. So we were already used to communicating with our extended family and long-time friends via phone, text, and email (this was before video calling was so proliferative). Not being around them was not that big of a deal for us though we did miss the face-to-face interaction from time to time.
After the Honeymoon is Over
However, after the honeymoon phase of our first expat experience, which lasted about three months in West Africa, we were overdue for some American cuisine. The food options were very limited in the country that we were in. This was very different from the areas where we had lived in America. We were so used to endless food variety that we did not realize how spoiled and privileged we were. Food choice and food security had never been issues for us.
Fortunately, we got through this phase after a few months. We became accustomed to satiating our cravings for American-style food variety by eating at the local Lebanese, Indian, Asian, and American-inspired restaurants on a bi-weekly basis. Keep in mind that these options were very limited. We also had our maid try her hand at American-style cuisine from time to time. Though this was difficult because the ingredients weren’t always readily available. And they were heavily overpriced when they were in stock at the nearby international markets.
We had similar issues with purchasing clothing and apparel, electronics, and most other “luxuries.” Thus, we had a number of instances of homesickness during our first year in West Africa. But we stuck it out because the benefits of living there far outweighed the costs. At least at that moment.
Language and Cultural Barriers
Language and cultural differences are commonplace once you leave American soil. This is even the case when traveling to other English-speaking countries because there are many variations of the English language. However, I can say that West Africa spoiled me in this regard.
We lived in Liberia, which was colonized by freed slaves from America. This means that English is their official language, and their culture is very much aligned with that of America in many ways. Of course, there are different tribal dialects spoken and cultural differences, but this excited me more than anything else.
The UAE was a different ball game. Arabic is the official language of the country (English is the lingua franca). And there are countless other languages spoken by other expats, which makes communication difficult, to say the least. Not only was understanding foreign languages difficult but being mindful of cultural differences was also challenging. You have to constantly be on guard about how something you say or do may be perceived by someone of a different culture. This can be tiresome and overwhelming at times.
But it can also be rewarding to learn about new cultures. It was likewise inspiring to develop new language skills if you stay the course. This will make you an asset to any employer as you will develop and grow in vital soft skills. And these are assets very much so cherished by many organizations and businesses.
While working abroad has many economic perks and benefits, the financial aspects of such endeavors can likewise be disheartening at times. The goal of many of the higher-paying, expat-friendly countries is to eventually develop a home-grown workforce to replace the vast majority of their expat workforce. This means that expat job insecurity is common in such regions.
It is commonplace for foreign workers to live the life of luxury for a number of years and then suddenly lose their employment. This is effectively the life of an expat worker regardless of their education, credentials, or other qualifications. In fact, it is more common for higher-level expats to be replaced than laborers and migrant workers in such instances.
Job instability is another concern for expats working in more insecure areas of the world that often experience civil unrest. Multinational companies and non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) may temporarily disband during such occurrences. And this can leave expat workers displaced momentarily.
While such occurrences are becoming more commonplace as the landscape changes, prospective expats should not fear. Instead, they should enter such endeavors with the right mindset. You can easily save money and pay off debt within a year or so. Also, you can experience many other benefits of this lifestyle if you have a proper plan of action.
If you land a high-paying gig that comes with accommodations, utilities, transportation, etc., you can easily save and pay off debt. Of course, this requires discipline and hard work. If your goal for working abroad is to experience financial freedom, you need to act accordingly. This way, if you do lose your job, you will be financially free and less concerned about your economic or living situation.
Working and Living Conditions
Similar to cultural differences, the working and living conditions in other countries can be drastically different than those in your home country. You may choose to work in a country where 12-14 hour workdays are expected. Whereas you may be used to 8-hour workdays. You may be interested in moving to a country where minimalist living spaces of about 300 square feet are the norm. Whereas you may be used to living in a country where the average apartment size is 941 square feet.
What most westerners need to consider is that about three-fourths of the world lives and works quite differently than we do. In many developing and underdeveloped countries, the majority of the population lives in extreme poverty. They often experience frequent power outages, high rates of infectious diseases, low literary rates, unsanitary living conditions, etc. Life is often slow and laid back in these regions of the world. Advanced technology capabilities are not as common. And people generally live very humble existences.
That’s certainly not to say that life in these parts of the world is all bad. However, it is different – very different, especially for the local population. Expats who choose to work in such regions typically have a better standard of living, even in the most austere living environments. Yet, they are taxed with having to see other people live in such situations. And this can take a burden on an individual’s emotional and mental health.
The information presented in this post was not meant to discourage you from seeking international employment. Though, it was meant to make you aware of some of the challenges involved in such a lifestyle. I have personally encountered each of these scenarios during my work abroad experiences. But I enjoyed many benefits as well. I shared my journey with you to let you know that there are things you need to be mindful of when considering this option. You should be fully prepared for the journey that lies ahead.
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