How to overcome expat loneliness

May 2023

Moving abroad to live as an expat is exciting, particularly at the start, as you settle into your new role and life in a new country. 

But after a time, when the initial excitement of expat life wears off, your new colleagues go back to their usual routines and you are away from family and friends, the reality of your situation settles in:

Many people find themselves feeling lonely. It may manifest itself as a yearning for your home country, your familiar circle of friends or a bout of 
culture shock. Either way, you are left with a feeling of an outsider looking in. 

Thankfully this feeling is completely normal and will pass.

During the week you are likely to have a rigid work routine to organise yourself around. Weekends and days off are different and the lack of structure in a foreign country can be tough to deal with. Avoid the temptation to hide out in your home.

Research things to do in your new location, choose those that appeal most and do at least one activity each weekend. We bet you will end up seeing and doing things many locals haven’t. If you are new to an area, think about a guided tour. Many cities offer walking tours with a theme like art, gourmet food or shopping so you can indulge a hobby as well as getting to know the city better.

Of course, the cure to loneliness is connecting with people, but how? There are several expat forums, and meet-up groups online, Some suggestions are to join:

  • Facebook groups in your new city
  • and arrange a meet-up at a museum or art gallery

These options will put you in contact with people in a similar situation or those who are eager to meet new people.

There is no doubt your new role in a new country with different working norms is going to be tiring. But it is vital to your expat experience that you avoid the temptation to go home every evening and binge watch your favourite TV show.

Try to get involved in something locally. It could revolve around an interest you already have like joining a book club, sports team or drama group. Conversely, learning something new is a great way to meet people as you automatically have something in common. Languages is an obvious choice but you could do something that takes you out of your comfort zone such as taking golf lessons, public speaking or coding.

Another great way to combat loneliness is by helping others in need. It provides perspective and ensures you get the human connection we all need. Is there a youth group, homeless shelter or senior home near you that need a helping hand?
Spending time learning the local language in your new location can help you immensely when navigating day-to-day activities. Getting even a small grasp on the local language will help you connect with locals, make new friends and settle in, helping you to fight off any feelings of expat loneliness. 
A prolonged period of expat loneliness can lead to a bout of expat depression. It is important you can recognise the signs of something more than the blues. If you are suffering, don’t be afraid to get in touch with your international health insurer to see what support they can offer.

If your symptoms aren’t too bad, mind your mental health by making time for meditation or mindfulness, turning off your mobile phone or spending time outdoors. Take some time to talk to someone else, sometimes speaking to a friend or family member at home helps.
Being aware of why you might be feeling a bit off in your new location can often be the first step in getting over the common struggles expats can face. Everything takes time, especially when it comes to settling into new surroundings. Embracing this time in your life can help you to create space for something else - whether that is a new routine, an evening class or exploring one new neighbourhood each week. 
Build regular activity into your life. Thankfully you don’t have to train for a marathon to benefit from exercise. A fast-paced walk three times a week or following an online High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) routine for 20 minutes a day should leave you feeling physically and mentally fitter. If you do want a challenge, look out for races, triathlons or adventure races in your new location to sign up for.

Finding your place in an expat community can be difficult but, in time and with some effort, the initial feelings of loneliness will fade.
Support during challenging times when you are working abroad is a must. Ensure your international health insurance plan includes an Expat Assistance Programme. If it doesn’t or you are renewing your cover for another year get a quote today.