The reluctant expat

What if you don’t want to move overseas?

Not all overseas relocations are a welcome and exciting experience. Sometimes the news of a potential posting causes your heart to drop into your shoes while depression and resentment creep into its place.

Reasons for this reluctance can be numerous and variable, yet sometimes those explanations aren’t immediately obvious or even logical. You just know you don’t want to go. If it helps, there are expats all over the world in the same situation as you. Not everybody enjoys every country. One person’s ‘hardship’ is another person’s adventure paradise. Everyone is different, with different problems and different ideals and therefore, one solution does not ‘fit all’.

If you are a trailing spouse, you may feel that you lack control over your own life because decisions are generally taken away from you. Occasionally this feeling can turn into anger against your partner, the employer, the country and even yourself… obviously none of these are good feelings.

If you are in this situation, it’s important to have open and frank discussions with your partner, and the employer. Not talking about your qualms will allow the resentment to fester and that can only end badly.


Your mind-set before the move will have a bearing on how you cope with your relocation and new life. If you think you’re going to have a great time, you probably will; if you think you’re going to have an awful time, you almost certainly will. A negative frame of mind has the potential to ruin an international assignment, and possibly even break up your family. Be aware that negative feelings will be picked up by your children, so your attitude will influence their own adjustment, leading to even more problems.

Identifying precisely why you’re having difficulties getting to grips with a move is your first priority. Once you recognise the problems, solving the issue is easier.

It may not be as straightforward as having a tangible reason; you may have to delve a little deeper into your subconscious to discover the main issue. This is called the ‘what’s stopping you factor’  as recommended by Nicola McCall of Live Life Now Coaching. Ask yourself, “What’s stopping me from looking forward to this?” or “What would help me make this move happily?” and write down your thoughts and feelings in answer to this question. They may surprise you.

Prior experience of that country

Maybe you’ve taken against the move because you’ve already visited or lived in that country and didn’t like it for whatever reason. The key to coping with this issue is to remember that this new relocation to the same country will be different. Similar, probably. Different, definitely. Why would it be the same? You have changed over time, the children are older, the country will have altered, and the friends you make will be different. In fact, everything will be different.

Of course, there may well still be issues you find hard to overcome. In this case, the adage ‘forewarned is forearmed’ will stand you in good stead. If you know what you don’t like about the place and can therefore plan strategies to avoid or overcome them.

You may find it helpful to obtain a tourist book of the area and plan to view the place as if you are a tourist in the initial stages of your relocation. You might discover new interests and a fresh insight into the culture.

Focus on the benefits to you and your family and work out ways to tolerate the things you cannot change.

Be location independent; find something fulfilling you can participate in regardless of your global location.

Pre-conceived ideas about a country

Are you making assumptions about a relocation based on nothing more than pre-conceived ideas? Where did these notions come from? Are they valid? Open your mind and don’t allow other people’s thoughts have space in your head. Again, cold, hard research will help you here. Join online forums to find out the ‘real deal’ on the ground from people who are there.

It’s also vital to remember that everyone is different, as I mentioned before, and one person’s heaven is another’s hell, so take other people’s advice on that country with a pinch of salt.

Change your perception

Let go of the past. This is especially important if you found your last home to be fantastic, but do attempt to look forward and not back. I must admit to finding this part the hardest to do, but living in the past is unhealthy and ultimately holds you back from living in the present. Plan things to look forward to, outings, holidays, parties, for example.

Embrace all the opportunities a place has to offer. These may not be immediately obvious but look around and you should find something, whether it is proximity to another country you’d like to visit or the opportunity to try a new hobby or sport.

Consider seeking outside help. Using a professional life coach can help you change your outlook. Cross-cultural and relocation coaches are very experienced in dealing with this issue and have heaps of advice to offer and methods of dealing with your specific problems.

“What would happen if I DON’T go?”

If you really cannot reconcile yourself to this move in a positive mind-set, then it may help you to radically re-evaluate your questions.

Try this one: “What would happen if I DON’T go?” What are the positives of staying versus the negatives of going: what are the positives of going versus the negatives of staying. How would this impact on your family?

It’s vitally important that you acknowledge and admit your concerns about the relocation. Not to do so can make life extremely difficult for you, and if you’re not happy then that will filter out to the other members of your family too. It is acknowledged by many that the main reason that an overseas posting fails – ie you return to your home country earlier than expected – is to do with family problems. So make the effort to prevent all the angst before it takes hold.

Please also see ‘Overcome relocation reluctance‘ for more tips on what to do when you moving abroad troubles you.

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  1. Why the women need to give all for the husband’s success? It is the question I’ve never solved. I’m in this case and I want to run to my native country. I really hate this place and the people, omg I really miss my friends and work. I don’t have kids and it is tricky because you have a lot of time alone in a boring place. The only thing is … if a woman change her point of view all the things are well. I don’t know but I’m really sad. Thanks for your time 🙂

    1. I’m sorry you are feeling this way.
      Nobody should feel as bad as you do. Please talk about this with your husband and perhaps find outside help to assist you. It sounds like you could do with some professional counselling.

      It’s not always the women who have to give it all up for their husbands –
      there are plenty of men following their partners too.

      It is harder to make new friends if you don’t have small children as you have to be very, very proactive in this mission.

      I hope you find your way very soon.

  2. I am now back in my home country, after 8 years abroad. The place is like a holiday place and I am lucky to have a job here but.

    The reality is that I cannot stand how tacky everything is, how rude people are, how I miss my life, apartment and friends in japan.

    It’s my first week here and is going downhill. I am afraid of a negative impact in my career and a divorce. I want to feel better, but I am just heart broken. It would have been better for me to stay. But. Now that chance is gone and there is no easy way back for me either…

    Please help me.

  3. Thanks for your posts. I just ended up talking about this topic for about 1 hour. The conversation started with the question how far can affirmation take you and what happens when you find that you are still unhappy after you’ve tried these techniques.

    Understanding a country’s psyche and how you feel about it can be traumatic. It takes honesty and a support group to work through these issues. It is often difficult to find people who have the same problem, and most of us default to our cover story.


    1. This is very insightful, Sharon. I agree the affirmations can only work so far.
      As well as a support group (mine are all online, no real life ones here), a fulfilling project can help a lot. Hence this website!

      1. Thank you so much! I’ve joined your Facebook page and look forward to sharing information with you.

  4. Thank you so much for this post!! I’m currently in the situation where, after moving around the world for 20 years, I’ve finally found the place I love and want to settle. Unfortunately, my husband’s previous company has asked him to return to the country we were in until recently, which I hated. I hated the climate, the culture, the distance, the lack of things I enjoyed doing, the health and safety issues, everything and I was extremely relieved to leave. Now the idea of going back makes me feel physically ill.

    But the reality is, it would be a fantastic job for my husband, one that he finds very fulfilling and pays well. My children would get to go back to the international school where they thrived. Everyone would benefit but me. And I don’t wear the martyr hat well.

    I know I need an attitude adjustment. Moving back would benefit 3 out of the 4 members of my family. But I can’t help grieving the life I thought I would have here in the place I love. I thought I was FINALLY done moving. Who was I fooling? Myself I guess. The true reality check, as you pointed out, is what choice do I have? I’m not going to break up my family just because I don’t want to go. In a way I guess I do have a choice, although it doesn’t really feel like it.

    Sorry for the pity party! I’m still trying to come to terms with this whole thing. I do like your insight into returning to a previous country. I would have to treat it differently. I’d have to accept that the things I most enjoy don’t exist there (hiking in cool forests!) but there are other, different things there that I could also enjoy.

    1. Oh dear, I am sorry you are in this position. I can’t imagine how hard this is for you.

      I think you may have to get imaginative in order to change your attitude; and plan trips away as much as possible!

      Platitudes, I know, but hopefully other, more experienced people will come along to offer advice. Good luck.

    2. Pity party is allowed and is healthy! Truly empathise with having to start all over again when you thought you were done. I had to move back to a country i was physically and mentally done with ,after settling very quickly in the one I wanted to be in. I was miserable for a time, but decided to be resilient (sometimes martyrish – hubby accepted that I could maintain a pinch of pity me….) and make the best of things – I did the everyday acceptance and thanks action – 3-5 things grateful for, I would look to where if I couldn’t change the situation, I’d change my attitude to it, or change me and MOSTLY I had to laugh at situations, things and myself and that helped too 🙂 Good luck it is hard to have to be the one not wanting to go, but I’m sure you’ll no doubt make a fantastic family time/life for all .

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