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Living Abroad: The Bad Days (How 7 Expat Families Cope)

When we were planning our move abroad we didn’t give much thought to bad days. We were focused on how amazing everything would be in Ecuador. And there has been a lot of amazing!

Living Abroad: The Bad Days

But we have had our share of bad days as well. Days when we have felt lonely for family and friends back in Canada, stressful days trying to get used to new ways of doing things, and sick days, which are especially hard because of feeling even more isolated.

When you are living abroad and bad days come your way it can make you feel like giving up! But, getting past them makes you feel wonderful, like a calm after a little storm.

I think it’s safe to say that the majority of expats face bad days living abroad. It would be hard not to, because so much is different: the culture, food, climate, and probably the language.

Expats are also on new ground trying to make friends which form their support group. When you don’t feel good and your “old” support group is far away, you have to learn to deal with things in different ways. Often becoming more self-reliant.

So don’t feel guilty when you have bad days, you are not alone! Moving abroad is a big deal and sometimes adjusting to it is really difficult.

Getting past the bad days and not giving up has a lot to do with attitude and mindset. Focusing on when things will feel more normal, and when you’ll have a better grasp of the language and culture. It also has to do with remembering the reasons you moved abroad, keeping your motivation clearly in mind.

Talking with other successful expats can help a lot as well.

Dealing With Bad Days Abroad: How 7 Expat Families Cope

The life of an expat can be amazing! Days can be full of new experiences and adventures.

And then other days can be really difficult.

I recently interviewed some expat families and asked them how they deal with the bad days abroad.

7 Expat Families Explain: Dealing With Bad Days Abroad

The Hamori Family are Canadians living in Southern France. They have faced difficulties with learning the language and missing their family. Health problems, including a hysterectomy, also added to their expat life challenges. Here is what they said:

“We all have different coping mechanisms in place; exercise, Skype time with mom, talking,”… “I kept my eye on the prize and knew this too shall pass. You never know how close you are to success unless you keep at it. Failure was simply not an option.”

The Surlien Family are from Norway and have lived in Beijing and the USA. Their answer gives some real insight into how hard expat life challenges can be, the importance of allowing yourself downtime, keeping a journal and having expat friends that understand.

“First, it must be ok to feel sad and blue and not be hard on yourself when you just feel like staying in bed… It can be hard to explain it to people what the matter is, especially if they think you are so lucky to live the life you do, so that ‘s where your local expat friends come in. Chances are they have felt something similar.”

“I have found it useful to write all my dark thoughts down… Often the process of getting it out of your head is the start of the healing process.”

“For me it has been crucial to have a reason to leave the house every day, for a work out, a language class, a coffee date with someone that makes you laugh or just shopping for something beautiful.”… ” It’s all about finding the right balance between loving care, encouragement to see the positive in the situation, finding distractions and not letting it spiral too deep. A lot can be healed with a daily purpose, clean food and a healthy body.”

Campbell family

The Campbell family

The Campbell Family moved from Central Scotland to the Southern island in New Zealand. One of their biggest expat life challenges was getting residency. It took three years! During that time they were threatened with deportation and were unable to work which meant that they were living off of their life savings. Keeping a balanced outlook and visiting with family has helped them through the challenges.

“I was always keen not ever to blame moving to New Zealand for anything negative in our lives. I was clear it was up to us to make it work, and we would never know if it could or not if we didn’t just do it!”

“We have all had trips back to the UK and been reassured that we have made the right choice. Our girls are happy to be kiwi kids and being able to compare countries later, meet family and go back to their roots has been important for them.”

“Our families have also been out here visiting and as we are all on holiday at the time, it’s different to when you live near each other all the time and are busy living your life.”

Aimee Chan

Aimee Chan

The Chan Family is from Australia and has lived in Singapore. Dealing with culture shock was a big challenge for this family. This is what made the biggest difference for them…

“What made the biggest difference was when I found myself a job… it was the best experience and changed my life. It was in this workplace that I found independence again, began to interact with Singaporeans on a daily basis and began to understand the contemporary Singaporean culture. Plus it launched my career in the media that has allowed me to create my own website, work with some incredible people, and that allows me the flexibility to work from anywhere and still have time for the kids no matter where we move to.”

Ana Gaby is from Mexico and has lived in Germany, Thailand, Indonesia, Canada, France and Belgium. One of the biggest expat life challenges for this family has been feeling overwhelmed. They have found that being focused and staying positive is very important.

“It is natural to question your move once in a while, particularly soon after you move there and things are not quite right and you don’t have a routine yet. It sounds funny, but when you are overwhelmed, you focus on the small things and over time you can become very negative. The best thing to do is to focus on the positive and think about the things that you can only do in your new home. For us, being able to go scuba diving on the weekend not far from home, being able to travel often and having awesome help at home…  made the bad more bearable.”

The Barnthouse Family are from the USA and have lived in Guam and Italy. Feelings of isolation were a big challenge for this family. Notice what they recommend as a way to deal with it…

“I would highly recommend connecting with as many American and / or English speaking friends as you possibly can. It’s so important to have a support structure and be able to ask for help if you need it… Building a solid group of friends is the key. Looking back, I wish I hadn’t been so stubborn and had asked for help long before I actually did.”

tracey tullis

The Tullis family

The Tullis Family are from Canada and are traveling the world. This family has not really experienced bad days thus far. But they realize that bad days will happen…

“We haven’t had any what I would consider bad days yet… Some things have definitely been different than we expected, not bad just different… The bad days will come as they do in life at home or abroad. When they do, we will focus on the lesson in whatever is bringing us down and support one another as best we can.”

Learning From Expat Life Challenges & Supporting One Another

That’s what it’s really all about!

Despite the challenges, these families stick with it. If you haven’t lived abroad you might wonder why they just don’t give up.

It’s because the benefits outweigh the difficulties.

If you’ve found this post helpful, please share it with your friends.

What about you? Please share how you deal with your expat life challenges by commenting on this post.


Are you an expat? Share what helps you deal with your bad days by commenting on this post.  Who knows, you just might help someone having one right now 🙂


Saturday 16th of March 2019

What a great post! I spent 4 years living in rural Kenya, part of which was with a Kenyan husband and newborn daughter. What helped me cope most with the “bad days” was to shrug my shoulders and say “Well, TIK (This Is Kenya).” It worked as a reminder to myself that I was NOT in America and things just happened differently in Kenya. Although I do have to admit that on Christmas Day when our celebratory meal was roasted goat head I went out to the cow pasture and sat down to weep as I envisioned my extended family sitting down to their Minnesota-style Christmas dinner. Lol! I definitely laugh now, but holidays were tough!

Lorne and Midge Novak

Saturday 17th of January 2015

Loved your stories. we have been talking and searching for a place to retire and have decided to come to Ecuador for a visit. We travelled a lot to different places but never to South America. We are hoping for a new way of life and slower to what we are use to here in Canada. Did I mention the weather? Thank you again. Lorne

Our Top 10 Ecuador Travel & Expat Posts of 2011 – Inside Ecuador

Tuesday 22nd of July 2014

[…] 6. Living Abroad: The Bad Days […]

Our Top 10 Ecuador Travel & Expat Posts of 2012 – Inside Ecuador

Tuesday 22nd of July 2014

[…] readers) posts of the year. Some of the posts that I’m especially proud of from 2011 are: Living Abroad: The Bad Days, Two Years In Ecuador: Why We Moved, Why We Stay and Culture Shock in Canada – Our Trip […]


Friday 10th of January 2014

I have lived in other countries and it is difficult in the beginning learning to deal with the slower pace. But after a short time I realized that there is nothing wrong with slowing down and taking things as they come. It is much healthier. In Italy the saying you hear a lot is Po Vediamo. "What ever happens, happens". Sorry I did not make it ,but I ran into my cousin, or I just didn't get around to it. I am retiring this year and moving to Cuenca. I am looking forward to the change from my do it now life in the states.