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Work Life Balance as an Expat

23 December 2021

Expats are often in high pressure roles with challenging goals. You may find yourself in a different country implementing a large project or managing at a high level with demand from the business for return on investment. It’s not hard to see how work life balance can suffer. 

Research undertaken over a decade ago in 2007 showed expatriates typically had worse work life balance on assignment than in their home countries. The average expat worked over ten hours more per week than they did at home. Although since then things have improved for the majority.  In the 2021 Internations Expat Insider survey, 66% of expats said they are happy with their work life balance


This still leaves a large minority who are not happy with the amount of time they spend working. 

Work life balance can be condensed to finding contentment in life. For most of us that is derived from a mix of career, family life and leisure activities. The right mix is going to be unique to every individual. Contrary to what many of us believe, work life balance is not something that is found, it is something we must create. 

In today's fast paced world most of us will have more constraints on our time inside and outside work than it is possible to meeCreating work life balance is critical to our wellbeing and our wellbeing is critical to how we perform at work

Our brains are not designed to be stressed all the time. With balance we provide ourselves with space to think. For expats this head space is essential to reaching those stretch goals an international assignment often presents. There are several other benefits to creating work life balance as an expat including:

  • Improved relationships
  • Improved engagement at work
  • Feelings of happiness
  • Higher levels of success      

There are a few steps to take in order to find the work life balance likely to make you feel most content with expat life.

What is truly important in your life: understanding this is key to creating your work life balance. For some people it might be getting a promotion, for others its spending quality time with family or it could be reaching a goal in a particular leisure activity. This takes some work but you need to distil competing elements to one or two core values.

Take control of your career path: understanding where you want to get to in your career is critical to creating work life balance. Knowing your path will allow you to prioritise work that helps you stay focused on achieving that goal over other activities. 

Simplify your life: creating work life balance involves prioritising what is important to you. This is not always easy. There will be tough choices to make. There will be times when you have to say no to things you may have agreed to before. Remember, once you see the improvement in your life overall the changes will be worth it.


Discover more about expat happiness in our dedicated happiness hub

Self-reflection is going to play the most important role in establishing what work life balance looks like for you. Once you know what you want, how do you implement the change needed to reach your goals? 
Like any project, make sure your goals are realistic. It may not be possible to prioritise social life at year end or at a critical part of a high value project. Goals need to allow for this. 
Change doesn’t have to be significant to be impactful. If you want to reduce the time you spend in the office. Start small, by reducing it by 30 minutes a day. That’s 2.5 hours of extra time over a working week. 

As mentioned earlier, creating work life balance isn’t always easy but it is ultimately worth it. Learning to say no is part of the process that may not sit well with you but it is necessary.

Work out where your boundaries lie at a particular time and act accordingly. For example, you may decline social invites on a busy week at work or leave at 5pm during a time that is not as demanding. It’s important to be kind when saying no but don’t feel pressure to over explain why you are declining an invitation. 

It is easy to take on more than we can handle at work or at home. Take some time to review your to-do list and delegate tasks to others. They may not do things in the exact same way as you would, but they will get done and that is most important.  
Take some time to communicate your work life balance goals with others inside and outside of work. Discussing them may provide you with additional clarity and lets others know that you are trying to find a better balance in life.

If you are finding it difficult to work out where your priorities lie or you feel things are getting out of control, consider speaking to a professional. If you have international health insurance it may include an expat assistance programme with access to professional counselling. 


Ultimately creating work life balance is going to be different for everyone. Following these suggestions might help you get a step closer to finding yours.