The Impact of Stress on Expats 

31 March 2021

Packing up your belongings and moving yourself and your family to a new country can be a cause of stress. Leaving your extended family and friends who are your support network can also be difficult. 


Adapting to life in a new country, learning a new language, making new friends and trying to organise items like childcare, school registrations, accommodation and even registering with your local doctor can feel like you have an exhaustive to-do list making you feel stressed. 

Many expat partners may experience symptoms of isolation, loneliness, resentment, loss of identity and direction and even depression when trying to adjust to their new life. Difficulty finding a job while their partner is progressing in their career can be a main contributor to these symptoms. This combination of difficulties has become known as trailing spouse syndrome
Along with the stress felt at home in expat life, working on assignment can mean a high-pressure environment with added workload and responsibility. Settling into your new role may prove difficult when dealing with the combined stress of the above situations along with your work tasks and deadlines. 

Expat stress can present itself in a number of ways. Some symptoms include: 

  • Depressed or anxious feelings
  • Feelings of uneasiness / inability to relax
  • Lack of motivation or energy
  • Change in appetite 
  • Mood swings
  • Isolation

Increased alcohol consumption / substance abuse

Feelings of stress can lead to a number of health issues if not treated or controlled. Stress produces a hormone in the body called cortisol that triggers your flight or fight response and increased levels of adrenaline that can lead to: 

  • Anxiety and/or depression
  • Sleep and digestion problems
  • Fatigue
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Weight gain
  • Impaired memory and concentration

Any of these conditions can have an effect on you and your family’s health and wellbeing. Ultimately they can have a negative effect on your personal and professional life and could lead to expat failure or returning home from assignment early. 

Create boundaries between your work life and your home life from the beginning. Make the most of your time outside work by exploring and experiencing the culture in your new location.  

Avoid taking on too much at work and allow yourself time to settle into the role and get to grips with your new responsibilities and schedules. If you have any concerns or are feeling heightened levels of stress speak to your manager or international HR representative to reduce stress levels before they become a more serious problem.

Before you relocate, complete the necessary research to reduce the risk of added stresses during the move. Speak to colleagues who are living in your chosen destination and seek advice on the best area to live, recommended schools and anything else of importance. 

Research the local customs and try to learn at least the basics of the language spoken there so you can complete day-to-day tasks a lot easier, chat to locals and make friends. Teaching your children the new language can help them settle into school too. 

Sometimes feeling a little stressed can have a positive impact on your work. For example, many people feel stressed but also feel a lot more focused on a task when a deadline is fast approaching. Can your stress be channelled into something productive by stepping outside your comfort zone at work?
There is no shame in asking for help when you are feeling stressed. Asking for help from a colleague, HR representative, friend, family member or a medical professional is a proactive step towards reducing stress and recovering from its effects. The sooner you commit to reducing levels of stress in your life, the sooner you can focus on your family and your career and enjoy life on assignment. 

International Health Insurance can provide cover for stress-related illnesses. It can also help to reduce stress in certain situations by providing tailor made solutions in your time of need.

A comprehensive Expat Assistance Program (EAP) forms part of our International Health Insurance policies at Allianz Care. The EAP contains access to counselling services, wellbeing content and support to help guide you through stressful times on assignment.