Three Years Abroad: The Cons of Living the Expat Lifestyle

A few weeks ago I posted about why I love being an expat. Of course, surely there are some things about the expat lifestyle that I hate, right?

Right.

Moving overseas doesn’t mean you’ll be landing in utopia, where all of your problems will disappear — or that you’ll have a life filled with 24/7 adventures. Eventually, life becomes routine just like anywhere else except for a few nuances. After three years of living in Australia, here are a few things that I dislike about residing abroad.

My first week in Australia.

Fresh off the plane for my first week in Australia. Margaret River Surfer’s Point when it was still under construction.

Obviously, my expat experience is unique to me. My observations would be different if somewhere with a larger cultural gap than the one between Western Australia and California. Many of these points are specific to living down under, and wouldn’t apply anywhere else.

The cons of being an expat

Finding a job might be challenging

Apply for almost any hospitality job as an American? Hired on the spot. Restaurants love the faux friendliness known as American customer service, and jump at the chance of squeezing those forced smiles out of us Yankees.

The problem is when you want to apply for another, higher ranking position. Due to visa restrictions and the criticism of giving an Australian job to an outsider, many companies or organizations won’t hire someone who is not at the bare minimum, an Australian resident. This is especially the case in Western Australia, a state that is very fragmented from many industries and the rest of the country’s big cities. With many positions, you will also have to get your university degree assessed, an expensive, time-consuming process that basically says, “Ah, yes! Your degree that you poured four years of sweat and tears into and sold that kidney for is worth something!”

When I had just a working-holiday visa, it was very challenging to land an interview in the industry I wanted. At one interview, the hiring manager sighed and told me, “We don’t want our clients to hear your accent and have a foreign experience…” Unfortunately, the job market is declining and businesses are hesitant to give a foreigner (who could leave) a job that an Australian is capable of doing. You know that whole, “the immigrants are stealing our jobs!” argument that comes up at every political election?

You’re one of those immigrants.

This ended up being both a blessing and a curse for me. My political science degree isn’t relevant to Australian politics and I couldn’t find a job in the media. So, I created my unique career.

Homesickness will strike

Unless you’re rolling in the dough, going home becomes an occasional affair. Big holidays in your native country are just another day in your new country, where you’re lucky to find a group of mismatched fellow expats to celebrate with you at a local pub. Homesickness strikes hard during these times and it can be painful to be so far away from big events happening with your family and friends back home. If you’re feeling too homesick, it’s best to plan a trip home to look forward to.

The months of November-December are hardest for me because my birthday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas all hit within just a few weeks of each other — FaceTime and Skype only help so much.

My first birthday in Australia? Hardly anyone showed up. Three guests were my roommates, a few were Mo’s coworkers, and one guy came because he got fired from his job and needed somewhere to crash for the night. Only my boyfriend and one friend (love you, Kate!) keep in touch today.

Me and all of my friends at my 23rd birthday party.

Me and all of my friends at my 23rd birthday party.

This is probably why I don't have friends.

This is probably why I don’t have friends.

Last year, I planned an American Thanksgiving at my house for all of my friends in Australia. I told everyone to bring a plate of food and prepare to give thanks. It was hilarious to see what foods arrived in lieu of your typical American fare, and my guests’ fascination with sweet potato casserole was priceless. This definitely eased the pain of being abroad for the holidays and is a strategy I totally recommend.

Visa issues and problems

Surprise! Some countries just don’t want foreigners in their land, and the visa you’ve been granted can reflect this. Depending on your nationality and skillset, it can be a pain to sort out work permits and extending your stay to avoid deportation. I arrived to Australia on the Working Holiday Visa, but went through the arduous process of merging to the De Facto Partner Visa until October 2017.

Mo (also here on a visa) better not dump me – else I’ll be packing my bags back to see Uncle Sam!

Always an outsider

No matter if you’ve been here three years or twenty, your accent and demeanor can separate you from being part of the dingo pack at times. You won’t be clued in on Australian history, cultural cues, or celebrity discussions and can feel very awkward. I’ve been known to slip a few cards back into the pile of Australia’s version of Cards Against Humanity because I didn’t understand the text.

And for some reason, taxi drivers love to ask you all about Obama. While I usually love talking politics, in public, I avoid it like Trump avoids showing his tax returns.

Or Hillary avoids releasing those emails.

For my birthday, can someone please give me a shirt that reads, “I am more than just a sounding board for your soapbox views on guns, the U.S. military, and Obama! Thx.” 

This is also awkward when people slam all-the-Americans (all 365 million with different backgrounds, views, and personalities but okay…) without realizing that you’re standing right there as one of said trollish, useless, loud Americans. I once went to a yoga class where the teacher whined about how she did her teacher training in Oregon and it was terrible because she was surrounded by Americans. What did you expect? 

“And, well, you know how Americans can be… Blegh!” She faked a puke sound and rolled her eyes.

The class let out a sympathetic sigh.

“How can Americans be?” I asked.

She turned bright red at the pang of my accent and back-peddled. “Oh, well… I guess you always notice when walks into a room?”

My friend giggled.

Hm, odd. You didn’t notice me.

I made a mental note to unlike her spammy Facebook pages (of which she has three) and take my greenbacks elsewhere next time.

Her class sucked anyways.

Cultural issues and blatant racism

There tends to be a belief that the U.S. is the only big bad guy in the room, when social, human, and environmental justice issues are a pervasive problem everywhere.  Many of my foreign friends have Facebook feeds filled with American political articles — meanwhile, they’re silent on issues of their own country. Sad to say that it’s not just the U.S. going bizzerk, the whole world has caught a case of the crazies. From the outside looking in, many of Australia’s issues disturb me.

Working with children in foster care, I spent time with both white and kids of color, with over half of them being white. When multiple white Australians learned of my job, their first instinct was to go on a tangent about how “Abbo families can’t take care of their children” — and they were genuinely shocked when I’d revealed that most of the children I worked with were white.

Segregation is a problem in Australia as a whole, with only 32% of the Indigenous population living in major cities, compared to 69% of the non-Indigenous population (source). I’ve had a six-year-old tell me, “White and black can never be friends. It’s just the way we are.” Said child also barked at person of color while walking in the grocery store after yelling, “black dog!” When distinguishing between a white person and an Aboriginal person, some white Australians equate the terms “Australian” for Caucasian and “Aboriginal” for a person of color.

Issues that you despised in your own country don’t always disappear once you cross borders into another.

(Other cultural issues include violence against women, sexism, shark culls, violence in general, inhumane detention centers, and the country’s newly appointed Environmental Minister denies climate change. And Pauline Handson is a thing. Yikes.)

3

Thousands of activists showing up to protest the shark cull.

Thankfully, Australia also has a large activist population as well. See: Amnesty International, Sea Shepherd, AseTTs, ICEA Foundation, and many others.

Don’t even bother trying to get your local food

San Diego, my home city, has delicious and authentic Mexican food in just about every neighborhood. Here? Expect curry flavored beans, unflavored white rice, and salsa sans spice as core ingredients inside your tortilla (emphasize the Ls in tor-tilla so that they understand you). American candy and foods are often in the exotic section, where a simple box of Pop Tarts can run you $15 a pop.

On the plus side, Western Australia kills it in the wine and cider departments, so you an easily drink away the gastronomical disappointments.

Yes, Australians really do eat kangaroo meat.

Yes, Australians really do eat kangaroo meat.

Neutral observations

Expats tend to attract other expats

It’s easier to befriend expats of all nationalities than it is to break into an existing clique of locals. At the moment, my friend base has maintained the 50/50 expat/Australian ratio for some time now. Though I love all of my friends no matter where they’re from, it’s an interesting observation. It took me a few months to make friends who I now call my true homies.

The “let me guess where you’re from!” game

“OMG… wait, if I say America, you’re going to be really offended aren’t you? Are you Canadian?”

You might be ordering a cup of coffee, talking to a friend, or asking someone for the time, not realizing that you’ve just walked into center stage of the “LET ME GUESS WHERE YOU’RE FROM :D” game show, hosted by *cue drumroll* Some Random Dude Who Just Eavesdropped on Your Private Phone Call!

Sure, it was fun and cute at first, but it’s hard to feign being impressed at a strangers accent-guessing skills for the third time that week. Sometimes you just want your damn coffee without shaking your head at “Montana… no? Wait, did I say Brooklyn yet? I want to say America but I know being American is like, really really really offensive.”

And, every time you say the words tomato, water, trash can, or any other phrase that’s akin to the sound of teeth against metal for those Down Under, you can expect a chorus of Aussies to mimic you. It’s not ketchup, it’s tomahhhto sauce. That’s not a bell pepper, it’s a capsicum. And don’t say trash can for Pete’s sake! Can’t you see it’s a rubbish bin!?

P.S. I still love it here

Everywhere in the world has its faults, and anyone with an iota of insight will never (and should never) be completely complacent with the culture they live in. Though I love Western Australia overall, it’s not always just another day in paradise.

Okay fine, maybe it is.

Okay fine, maybe it is.

In case you missed it, read The Pros of Living the Expat Lifestyle.

Planning to move abroad? Read about what I hate about living overseas as an expat in Western Australia.

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Have you ever lived overseas? What were the negative aspects of being an expat for you?

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51 Responses

  1. Paola says:

    I think being homesick is one of the worst cons. When I lived as an expat I really missed my friends at home. Especially because in some countries is not that easy to get to knw new people
    Paola recently posted…A place to stay in Val di Non : Agritur Tempo delle MeleMy Profile

  2. Jen Morrow says:

    We are quasi-expats in the Caribbean. US territory of Puerto Rico, acts and is treated like an entirely different country! I could definitely relate to your frustrations (except the VISA issue, no worries there). I lived in the UK for a year and it felt closer to the States, than the Caribbean!
    Jen Morrow recently posted…Exploring Castillo San Felipe del Morro Fort Puerto RicoMy Profile

    • Chantae says:

      That’s so interesting that PR felt more foreign than the UK. Glad you could relate though, it’s nice to see that some of these cons are universal. Are you liking the Caribbean?

  3. Sriparna says:

    Very aptly stated! I love the “lemme guess where you’re from” game point 🙂 and the “Always an Outsider” note is so true! I always say… home is the only place where you are warmed up despite anything you are or desire to be… anywhere else, is always a bed a thorns, covering the rose petals underneath!

  4. Tom says:

    I’m always so glad to see a post that shows the negative side of travel, as i firmly believe blogs should show both. Plus, it probably was fun to rant a bit, no?

  5. Cori says:

    I can totally relate to this! Now that I’m just in Canada, it’s easy to fly home and eat decent tacos — a lot harder when I was in Germany. My German actually got worse when I was living there, since 90% of my friends were other foreigners. My English got worse, too!

    I can’t wait until the elections are over so I can get a break from hearing everyone’s take on the US election!
    Cori recently posted…How to study in CanadaMy Profile

    • Chantae says:

      Oh no about your German! Haha, that’s so funny. I totally know what you mean though – being friends with other expats sometimes forces to you to talk in like, a simplified language hahaha.

  6. Anju says:

    Totally agree with the point of always being an outsider! I’ve travelled to a lot of friendly places too, but have also experienced my fair share of being treated like an alien lol. I think we tend to glamourize travel a lot, and yes, its amazing, but you bought out some excellent down sides we should keep in mind.
    Anju recently posted…Why travel?My Profile

  7. Dulice Reden says:

    Well said! The Republic of Hawaii has been easier.

  8. Justine says:

    Being an expat definitely comes with its ups and downs. I’m pretty sure I could relate to every point you made here – visa issues, job hunting challenges, homesickness. But of course the thing that resonated the most was the challenges of not being surrounded by all that San Diego Mexican food 😉 Oh how I miss it….

  9. Sarah Harvey says:

    Homesickness is a killer, you got that right. And always being an outsider- I think this doesn’t have to be true if you really embrace the new country, learn the language etc- but this also means letting go somewhat of your own homeland.

  10. Sheri says:

    I have pretty much always been a third culture kid/expat from moving so much and living in so many countries. I think for most homesickness is the worst. There will always be cons but the pros far outweigh them.

  11. Gabi says:

    After 15 years as an expat in Italy, I am now moving again to be an expat in Greece. I can totally subscribe everything you mention. I loved reading some of myself through your lines. Lovely post!

  12. Shane says:

    I was very lucky that my company sponsored me when I moved to Sydney so didn’t run into issues finding a job or with visas. Homesickness hit hard especially around the holidays

  13. verushka says:

    Such a interesting and real post. I wrote a post recently on the Truth about relocating it covers some of your points here. Each place we go to live in will have its ups and downs. Good luck x
    verushka recently posted…50 Reasons to visit South Africa atleast ONCEMy Profile

  14. Carmy says:

    I’ve always wondered about the whole job situation! I know a few people who do odd jobs but I’m too worried about where my next pay cheque will come from to go that path. I’d definitely get home sick too unless I can convince some friends to visit 😉
    Carmy recently posted…Race Day ChecklistMy Profile

  15. Indrani says:

    Relocating can be a challenge! You have highlighted the right issues with it. I am afraid I t may feel homesick.
    The guessing game isn’t to my liking either.
    Indrani recently posted…Tata Hexa Exteriors and Interiors – a Review with ImagesMy Profile

  16. Suanlee says:

    A majority of people cannot believe that Pauline Hanson is still a thing ( she comes back x years later and recites the same speech previously used to encourage the deportation of Asians to Muslims) and I’m quite ashamed about the way in which some West Aussies act, particularly around segregation, double standards and stigma – it’s actually really quite bad on Australia day (righteous car flags) but it’s getting better slowly. I hope that there a few more things in your “pro” post that you like about being an Expat!

    • Chantae says:

      Oh definitely, there are many things on my pro list (like how I’m so behind on catching up on comments because I’ve been in beautiful Margaret River… haha). Each country has its flaws 😛

  17. Janine Good says:

    I can totally relate to your post! I am Canadian and lived in the UK for 2 years while my Aussie hubby’s paperwork was being processed for him to live in Canada. It was very challenging at first to get going! I didn’t have the visa issue with a 5-year ancestry, but getting work was a challenge at the beginning. Favourite foods? No way…I must admit I do love English food, but I did miss things like Thanksgiving meals and pumpkin pie.

    • Chantae says:

      Oh, interesting! And gah – I am not looking forward to that type of paperwork someday. I imagine that it’s much more work getting a permanent visa processed then a temporary working one. But the things we do for international love 😉

  18. Aditi says:

    Your description and every point here is spot on! I’ve faced homesickness and visa issues whilst living in London. Moving abroad and living in a different country isn’t always as easy and rosy as it seems. I agree with everything you’ve mentioned in your post here.

  19. EG III says:

    I feel like after a while the homesickness goes away. I’ve been overseas since 2005 and, at this point, if I want a taste of home (or reminder) I’ll just head to the local mart, grab some things, and prepare it myself

  20. Komang ayu says:

    I want to try living abroad like you. can do a lot of traveling, discovered many new things. But perhaps it is not easy to live in a new place, but it can be a challenge and a great experience.

  21. Ami says:

    I can so relate to this post …for for sometime I have been an NRI. It has its own pros and cons as you have pointed out…especially about the blatant racism but on the whole, I think it taught me so much more in life. I am glad to have been an expat for sometime at least. Thanks for this post as it evoked quite a bit of nostalgia. 😀
    Ami recently posted…Giving it back to the community, inspired by SamsungMy Profile

  22. Joanna says:

    I can so relate to this! I think that the biggest challange for me, as I am an expat too, is finding friends in the area I moved in. I live in a very small town, while all the other young people live in the nearby student town. And you are right, trying to find my local food is hard and very expensive.

  23. La Dee says:

    I loved how real you are in your post. No sugar-coating what-so-ever. I’ve lived in Germany for about 5 years now. And I totally understand the visa issue. It’s always a hassle and it all depends on who I’m being interviewed by on that particular. Fortunately the city I live in is very multi-cultural and open-minded. Love it!

  24. blair villanueva says:

    If I will be an immigrant/expat, I think the most challenging part is becoming homesick. The rest are already given, and expected when you move to different country. It is juat a matter how easy you can adopt the new life.

  25. Neil says:

    After 4 years of living in a foreign country, i can really relate to some of the points above. But at the end, i think the pros definitely outweighs the cons 🙂

  1. February 10, 2017

    […] any semblance of city life. Nobody to honk at if you go .3 seconds too slow around a roundabout, no awkward accent guessing games, and as the Aussies love to say, “no […]

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