Expat Life Lessons: 
Managing the Serial Expat Life 

14 April 2021

Nina Hobson is a freelance writer, blogger, communications consultant and mentor. Originally from the UK, she’s lived and worked in ten countries, and writes about her life abroad on her lifestyle blog for women, The Expater. In part two of this series, she talks to Allianz Care about her experience as a ‘serial expat’, taking us through the highs and lows of life on the move.

I’m originally from the UK and I’ve lived in Angola, Syria, Belgium, Switzerland, France, Germany and Chile. I also volunteered for a short while in India and Lebanon. I have moved for my work, for my husband’s work and just for the adventure. One marriage and three children later, I don’t seem to be settling down. As soon as we’re allowed, I plan to join my husband in Uruguay.

Like many serial expats, my lifestyle was not a conscious decision. I studied languages at university and as part of my degree programme I lived in France and Germany. Through these experiences, I realised I thrived in new settings. I am naturally adventurous and curious, and a strong believer in seizing opportunities too, so when a good opportunity beckons, I ask myself ‘why not?’ Some of us need more routine and stability, and some of us need more variety, and the type of variety we need differs from person to person too. For me, I recognise that I thrive in cycles. While exhausting, the serial expat lifestyle nurtures my basic need of routine variety. 

I have learnt that expat life is a privilege. At the same time, expat life is not all cocktails on the beach and glamorous dinner parties. Even with all my good fortune, I know it is normal to feel upset, disappointed, and angry at times. I’ve also learnt the importance of open communication and transparency. For our assignment to be a success I need to be honest with my husband, my children and myself. Otherwise, it is too easy to fall into the resentment trap.
I wish I had understood that success isn’t handed to you on a plate, and this is especially true when living abroad. Even with practical assistance and a strong support network, you need to get out there and create success on your own terms. I underestimated how much I would need to do on my own. At the start I would feel rejected when I lost out on job offers. I would feel disgruntled when I couldn’t even find a job posting. Then I finally realised that I needed to create the opportunities for myself. None of my jobs have been in response to an advert – I found out about or created these opportunities for myself. I also think it would have been useful for me to be more realistic with my expectations. While it is all too easy to think in hindsight, perhaps I should have given more thought to my long-term plan. While I’m a big believer in seizing opportunities and going with my gut instincts, I think it is good to step back now and again and evaluate big life decisions in order to plan for the future. 
Of course, I miss my family and friends. The fear of missing out is real! I see photos on social media and long to be part of the group, yet when I’m back, I crave the adventure again. My biggest challenge has been in terms of my career. Any mother will know what it feels like to take time out to have a baby. Maternity is not a break, it is a job. And life abroad can feel very similar. While it is a wonderful opportunity, moving to a new country can also disrupt a career path. This is especially true for accompanying spouses. I worked hard to reinvent my career into something flexible so that I can dial up or down according to the demands of my expat lifestyle, while ensuring my work is still fulfilling and provides for me financially. 
All the time! I have had so many ‘what on earth am I doing?’ moments. However, too often I have been struggling with something unrelated to expat life. Comparing myself to others back in the UK, I have made the incorrect assumption that everything would be so much easier if I were not living abroad. Life abroad can be tough, but so can life in your home country. As a mother I am acutely aware of the strain on my children. I want to give my children the opportunity to learn from life, not shelter them away from it. On the other hand, if I feel that my country moves are damaging rather than developing them, I will have a rethink. I am listening and learning, all the time.
  • Check in on your bigger life plan now and again. It is normal to be caught up in the excitement, stress, and general business of daily life in a new country. I’m not suggesting detailed PowerPoint presentations, but it’s good to have an idea of where you’d like to see yourself in five and ten years’ time. When you have done this, make an outline plan of how you are going to get there. For example, my immediate plan is to move to Uruguay, but I hope to settle in Europe afterwards. I want to buy a home there, and my husband and I are budgeting to achieve this.
  • With our international health insurance plans, you’ll gain peace of mind while on your journey abroad. We offer a range of plans tailored to your needs, whether you are a serial expat, an expat family, or a professional expat working abroad. Discover more.