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10 Tips on Moving Back Home After Living as an Expat Abroad

Hugo Huijer
10 Tips for Returning Home After Living Abroad
Moving back home after having lived as an expat can be emotionally difficult and intimidating. In fact, your home country may feel more alien than the country you’ve been working and living in.

Experiences that were mundane before, like doing groceries or going to the market, can suddenly feel disorienting and impersonal.

Luckily, your return home can be made easier by following a plan of action, mentally preparing yourself for the change, and by talking it over a counselor if necessary. Here are ten tips that will help you manage the transition when moving back home after a long time overseas.

1. Reconnect With Your Social Network Before Your Return

If you’ve been living abroad for a long time, you may have lost touch with some of your family and friends. In order to make it a smoother transition, you can get in touch with the people you care about before you return.

The easiest way to do this is by video calling, but why not take it one step further? Go on a little holiday to your home town and perhaps spend your weekends exploring your city with friends. By viewing your hometown with fresh eyes, you can generate excitement rather than a sense of going back to the “same old.” 

As a result, you’ll be reminded of the benefits of moving back home, while worrying less about the expat life that you’re about to give up.

2. Plan Fun Things to Do for After Your Move

Returning home after living abroad can be a big step in your life, and you might experience it as ‘taking a step back’. You might worry that the people you originally left behind may look at your return as if you “failed” to make it. Therefore, it’s important to make your return as pleasant as possible by planning fun activities. 

What were the things you enjoyed most prior to your life as an expat? What activities have you missed most? If you can’t wait to join your local sports team again, make sure you plan sufficient time for this prior to your move. Or if you’re moving back home to spend time with family and friends, try to coordinate holiday time with them.

If you don’t prioritize time for fun things, you can easily lose your focus on the benefits of your move back home. If you plan ahead for happy activities, you’ll be less likely to forget why you’re moving back home in the first place.

3. Get Organized

Relocating your entire life is a big endeavor, both physically and emotionally. If you want this transition to be as easy as possible, you should prepare yourself accordingly.

These tips will help you organize your move:

  • Create packing lists.

  • Create an inventory of your belongings in a spreadsheet, and write down which box contains what item.

  • Once you know your move date, start collecting quotes from moving companies.

  • Check your insurance policies, including whether they need to be updated.

  • Make sure your passport is valid throughout the entire moving process.

Above all, it’s important to prepare for the unexpected. No matter how well you’ve planned ahead, something will likely happen to catch you off-guard. Give yourself the time and mental bandwidth to deal with setbacks when they inevitably pop up.

4. Talk it Over With a Counselor

If you notice that your home country doesn’t feel like it used to, know that you’re not alone. It’s important to have someone to talk to before this emotionally difficult transition affects your mental health.

If you feel anxious about your move back home, but don't feel comfortable sharing your struggles with your friends or family, there are online therapy services that can help you look after your mental health. A therapist can guide you through this process in a way that promotes growth, self-awareness, and a sense of direction.

Keep a Journal

5. Keep a Journal

When experiencing a life-changing event, such as moving between different countries, journaling is a great way to capture your thoughts and feelings. This allows you to reflect on your life before, during, and after your move back home, which can stimulate personal growth and mental clarity.

Journaling can also boost your mental health. In fact, a 2013 study showed that people with major depression benefited significantly by journaling for 20 minutes a day. Journaling is also a great way to take time for yourself amidst the ongoing chaos of an international move.

6. Be Prepared for the Possibility of Reverse Culture Shock

The life of an expat is usually very different from what you were used to back home. Most expats work long hours when overseas, socialize mostly with colleagues, and spend their minimal free time as a tourist rather than a citizen.

When transitioning back to your old life, it can feel awkward to suddenly have to shift mental gears. The time you spent abroad may have changed your perspective about home. This is commonly referred to as reverse culture shock. People who experience it often find that home feels “different” and they can feel restless, bored, and depressed as a result. They expect to be able to acclimatize back to their old life in a heartbeat, while in reality, this can be a lengthy process.

You should not be surprised if returning home after living abroad is just as hard, if not harder than the initial transition to an expat’s life. You should manage your expectations accordingly in order to reduce the impact of reverse culture shock. Consulting an online therapist from a company such as BetterHelp could help you in a situation like this.

7. Join Expat Groups on Social Media to Find Support

Most countries or large cities have an active community of expats. As most of them will eventually move back home, the people in these communities can offer you guidance and support. 

By talking to other expats, you can hear their stories about the impact of reverse culture shock. This can help you prepare for and to acclimatize to your own situation. Moreover, these online connections can lead to new friendships in real life as well.

You can easily find these groups on social media platforms, particularly Facebook, and meet like-minded people who are familiar with your own situation.

8. Join Your Local Community Back Home

After having been gone for so long, it can take a while before the people around you are fully aware that you’re back in town. Instead of being greeted by your former neighbors, you might see puzzled looks on their faces. This can make your transition back home feel more difficult.

Joining your local sports team or helping out at a charity in your neighborhood are two ways that you might build a sense of togetherness and connection with your local community. This can help to counteract the detachment caused by reverse culture shock, so that you start to feel at home more quickly after your move.

9. Accept the Likelihood of Setbacks

Your relocation will most likely feel a bit like being on a rollercoaster. Most people experience emotional setbacks even weeks after having moved back home.

In fact, a study by NAFSA: Association of International Educators has noted that culture shock follows a U-curved pattern. After returning home from another culture, you can experience a “honeymoon” period where everything feels exciting and new. Soon after, however, the reality of the situation hits, and you realize just how much your life has changed as a result of your move back home.

So, if after a month you still don’t feel at home, don’t panic. The transition after moving back home can be a lengthy one with many ups and downs. Online therapy via a company like Cerebral could help you better manage these challenges.

10. Don’t Expect Everything to Be The Same

They say the only constant in life is change, whether we like it or not. If you’ve been an expat for a long time, it’s highly likely things have changed in your home country while you’ve been away.

For example, the people in your neighborhood might have all moved away, your hometown may have a new mayor, a family member may have passed away, or your local charity might have gone out of business.

These changes can cause stress if they’re not dealt with properly. The best way to overcome these challenges is to not expect everything to be as it was before you moved. 

As Tom Magliozzi once said, “Happiness equals reality minus expectations.” If you temper your expectations, you will find it easier to deal with any negativity that might surface after you’ve moved back home.

Conclusion

Moving back home after having lived as an expat abroad is no small feat. You should prepare yourself for the challenges to come, such as experiencing reverse culture shock, anxiety, or boredom. 

By focusing on the things that make you happy about moving home, and by finding support in friends, family, and resources such as online therapy, you can overcome the challenges of moving back home without looking back!

Hugo Huijer
Hugo is an engineer-turned-mental-health advocate and expert, health data junkie, and founder of TrackingHappiness.com, a mental health and psychology website that analyses hundreds of studies to provide insights on living happier, healthier lives. Its articles and independent research, based on insights garnered from the TrackingHappiness app, have appeared in Forbes, the Association for Psychological Science, Psychology Today and the Good News Network.

The author of this article has been paid by Natural Intelligence to write this article. Neither the author nor Natural Intelligence provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or your local emergency number immediately.