Planning to move back home

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Plan to repatriate

Moving back to your home country isn’t as easy as you’d expect. People have repeatedly told me that repatriation shock, or reverse culture shock, is harder to deal with than adjusting to a foreign culture in your original move overseas. [Edited June 2019 to add: – yes, it is! Read about Repatriation Struggles here.]

Mainly, this is because people assume that moving back to somewhere with an inbuilt familiarity – the culture, lifestyle, language and environment – will be easy. But life changes. You have changed and your home country has changed. Your family and friends will have changed too. People who have never lived overseas will not understand your new outlook on life. Tensions may surface and you can’t expect to pick up your life where you left it all that time ago.

This article aims to highlight some of the practical issues you may face and help you plan your move back home in order to alleviate potential issues.

Some of the challenges of returning home are the same as those experienced when moving abroad in the first place. Accommodation needs to be found and prepared, jobs secured, schools vetted and packing and unpacking organised.

Preparing for a return home as if for a new global assignment abroad can help repatriates make the practical and emotional adjustments needed. Yet, it can be easy to overlook the very real difficulties of setting up life in a new location because of the assumed familiarity of the destination on return.

Even those who received support from an employer on expatriation may receive little support on repatriation. This might further lead families into a false sense of security. Read more here – Repatriation and the reality of going home

Practical arrangements for returning home

Plan your repatriation as if you are moving to another foreign country. You will need to sort out:

  • Finding accommodation and all that entails – utilities and services, eg electricity, telephone, internet etc
  • School applications
  • Pet relocation – don’t forget to plan this in good time as bureaucracy can be difficult
  • Packing and removal companies

What have I missed?!

Unexpected challenges

One major problem you may encounter is finance. If you don’t have a bank account in your home country you may find it difficult to open one without any history.

Some interesting comments here about the difficulties someone experienced on their return to the UK after being an expat for several years:

Because there was no way I could afford to buy a property I decided to enquire about a place to rent.  I discovered that I was required to provide evidence of my financial standing, my good character, bank references and proof of former residences.  And as someone who’d been out of the UK for so long and who had no credit history or ranking in the UK, no assets in the UK and no idea of how things now worked in the UK, I quickly discovered I couldn’t even get a flat to rent despite the fact I could afford one! […]

And if you want to rent – you will need to provide references, have a credit history, have an address history that can be searched for evidence of your good character and rent payment history…and without all of this you really could fail to find a home back in the country of your birth. […]

I have heard from other ‘repats’ that if you return to the UK and you want to open a new bank account it is exceptionally difficult as the British banks are obsessed with the ‘know your client’ due diligence, and once again the tellers and staff are wholly inflexible and unable or unwilling to bend any rules as they fear losing their jobs – or else they love the officious nature of their work! 

Preparing to move back home

Involve your children in discussions about the move. Don’t assume they will automatically adjust to their ‘home’ country. Most kids will have spent their formative years overseas and will not have the cultural references an adult has with regards to ‘home’.

The (youth) culture and unwritten social rules of their ‘home country’ appear not to be so clear to the youngster. They will feel lonely at times and they will also feel like an outsider who hasn’t got a clue about what’s happening around them! They look and talk like a locals, but they are not. This may come as an ugly surprise. Especially since the adolescent is already in a phase of identity development. In this phase there is a strong urge to be socially accepted and be a successful youngster. Read more here – How an expat child experiences life in their home country.

Read the news about your home country and the news local to where you will be relocating. But try not to scare yourself too much! Remember that only bad news is reported globally.

Focus on the positive aspects of returning home.

Before you leave

Don’t leave with any regrets. Go out and do all those things you meant to do when you first arrived in that country. There is a great list here:

It does not matter whether you have just moved to abroad, or you have been living abroad for a while, there are things, which you probably think of as “it would be nice to do one day” up until your departure day and then you rush to actually do all what you have not done during all that time (usually years) while you have been living there.

Saying goodbye

Goodbyes are an important phase of relocation, regardless of where you are going. Leaving without the opportunity to properly express your goodbyes and feelings can have a long lasting effect on you.

Some light-hearted tips on this aspect of moving are detailed in this excellent post called “Leaving Well: 10 Tips for Repatriating with Dignity” from the Culture Blend.

Tip #6:  Rank Your Friends

You read me right. Don’t be afraid to rate your friends from best to worst. Write down everyone you know and tag a number on them. Your highest ranking friends need a special level of your attention as you leave. In contrast you don’t need to do dinner with people if you don’t know their name.

Here’s an example but make it your own

  • Closest Friends – Quality time alone – Go away for the weekend
  • Close friends – Go to dinner individually
  • Good Friends – Go out as a small group
  • Friends – Invite to a going away party
  • Acquaintances – Send an email about your departure
  • Stupid People – Walk the other way when you see them

Important side note – Once you have your plan you should destroy all evidence that you ever ranked your friends. Seriously. What kind of person are you? Jerk. Read the other tips here 10 Tips for Repatriating with Dignity

Above all, remember that leaving is a process, not an event.


Expatability Chat Podcast

If you’d prefer to listen to me talk about this topic, here is my podcast episode about Repatriation

Repatriation Blues

You may also like to listen to this episode, about Reverse Culture Shock and The Ex-Expat Club

Reverse Culture Shock and The Ex-Expat Club

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  1. This is helpful! I would also recommend providing books for your kids that help them feel they are not alone with transitions. Have a look at and click on the “change” category for some recommendations for both middle readers and young adults.

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