When it comes to deciding whether repatriation is right for you, one of the biggest roadblocks for most expats are their many fears around repatriation.
In this post, I’ve listed 7 of the most common repatriation fears together with potential ways to reframe those fears and overcome them.
1. Having to deal with the negative stuff you left behind
While not all expats (or migrants) leave their home country in order to find better opportunities or more adventure elsewhere, many realize through adjusting to life abroad how their new life comes with perks they didn’t get to enjoy before (the opposite can also be true, of course).
So when the thought of moving back home crosses your mind, all the negative stuff that you left behind, whether intentionally or not, inevitably come up as reasons for why it’s probably not a good idea to move back home.
Even so, trying to talk yourself out of considering repatriation because of the negative stuff is probably not working for you, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this blog post.
The curious thing is that not all “negative things” in your home country are created equal.
Quite often I see clients making a mountain out of a molehill in their heads about certain things that they could easily overcome through proactivity, the right tools and a change in perspective.
But that’s easier said than done because it takes genuine willingness and desire to want to change how you approach things – whether we’re talking about making peace with certain aspects about your home country, asserting boundaries with your family, finding new friends that better reflect the new you etc.
What’s interesting is that people are much more willing to go through and plan for these kind of changes when the rewards outweigh the negatives.
We’re often willing to reframe things when the positive things we’re going to get in return matter that much more to us.
To sum up, it is important to take a critical look at whether the negatives that you left behind are actually as debilitating as you have made them into being.
Are you sure that you don’t have the tools, experience and insight to resolve that negative thing you left behind in a new way? If not, where could you find relevant help?
2. LACKING Career opportunities
Depending on your field of work and how niche it is, it can be difficult to imagine how you could apply your specific work experience to your home country.
If you’re a career-oriented person, not being able to do the kind of work you enjoy, and get all the perks it comes with right now, can be a bitter pill to swallow. So, naturally, the thought of repatriating can bring up a lot of fear in terms of career opportunities.
However, if people are able to successfully switch industries and fields of work within the same country, then you sure as hell can do the same as a repat.
The question is rather – are you willing to go through the effort of identifying all of your transferrable skills, getting clear on what you really like to do and doing your home work in terms of the job market in your home country to identify that perfect job opportunity for you?
Because one thing is clear no matter what field you work in – when you’re committed to finding a solution, you will find it.
3. Financial concerns
For some expats, life abroad means greater disposable income and a lifestyle that is more difficult to obtain in their home country. The thought of giving all of that up? Painful, at best.
But when you’re haunted by all of the family gatherings, cultural heritage and a sense of belonging that you’re missing in your comfy life abroad, you really start to wonder – is choosing money over a sense of home worth it?
Where you choose to draw the line with this question is very individual, so you won’t hear me telling you what is right or wrong.
But if longing for your home country has become unbearable for you, it’s worth getting down to details.
That is, make a very detailed list of the things you TRULY need to feel like your quality of life is not affected.
(PS: Don’t let your pride get in the way or be easily influenced by any social pressure to live a certain lifestyle, have a certain car etc. if it actually doesn’t matter to YOU).
Next, research what those things cost in your home country and explore job opportunities to get a clear picture on how you could afford your ideal kind of lifestyle, this time as a repat.
This is exactly what I did moving from Denmark to Estonia. It’s true that through this move I had to knowingly give up certain luxuries such as being able to travel and grow my savings at the same time.
But at the end of the day, I don’t miss it too much because my quality of life has improved 10x in other areas of my life. All in all, I live a comfortable life where my core needs are met and I don’t feel held back financially.
4. Losing your international identity
When my clients tell me how they’re worried that they’ll lose their international identity by moving back home or they’d have to deal with more narrow-minded folk, I have to remind them that:
a) Who they choose to surround themselves with is within their control. You can’t choose nor change your family (or your old friends), but you can balance out your old crowd by intentionally looking for new people who are expats in your country or even repats just like you.
b) No longer being an expat or living an international life doesn’t mean you’re now 100% a local. You’re not, because expat life has forever changed you.
Of course, the international part of your identity will have to take a back seat because local people genuinely don’t care (and they shouldn’t have to) about your life abroad, but your international identity will always be a part of you.
You can keep it alive by surrounding yourself with new people who get it and who have walked that same path as you (even if they’ve had a different expat experience).
5. Getting bored
It is typically expats who are not quite done with expat life that are most concerned about their life becoming predictable and boring as a repat.
However, when your need for adventure clashes with your desire to live closer to family and not miss out on all the family events, it’s worth considering whether you could move back to your home country but to a different city/town/village?
That way you can still get that rush of adrenaline from starting your life in a new place while enjoying greater proximity to your friends and family.
More importantly, you can always move back home temporarily, to get that itch scratched, charge your batteries and then move on to a new country when you’re ready.
There are very few decisions in life that are permanent. Fortunately, moving back home (or abroad) is not one of them.
6. Dealing with family
I suppose there are more families with issues than there are perfectly happy and healthy families. For many of you, living far away from family can be a welcome relief.
So if the thought of repatriating fills you with dread because you already know the level of drama you’d be walking into, please trust me when I say – I get it.
When it comes to family, I’ve had to make a few difficult decisions of my own in this life in order to protect my sanity and peace of mind.
That said, if you’re worried about how to deal with your family, I urge you to read up on everything to do with setting boundaries.
The short and sweet of it is that you need to learn how to deal with the discomfort and guilt that comes with setting boundaries as well as honor the fact that just because someone is a blood relative doesn’t give them the right to cause any damage to you on any level.
You’re a grown up now and you set the tone of how you want your relationships to look and feel like. If you find all of the above hard to imagine and cope with, it’s time to find a therapist who can support you on this path (it’s worked great for me!).
7. making an irreversible mistake
The fear of making a terrible mistake by moving somewhere is perhaps one of the most common repatriation fears. Why?
Because you already know what you’re walking into.
When it comes to moving to a new foreign country, it’s a lot easier to proudly wear your rose-colored glasses and expect everything to turn out positively. Even serial expats can fall for that trap because the grass always seems greener on the other side.
But when it comes to moving back to your home country, it’s a bit like getting back together with an ex. You already know what s/he is like, you already know what your fights are going to be about, you’ve already been there and done that.
It’s a lot harder to be optimistic about a place you know so well.
But you’re wrong when you think nothing has changed since you last lived in your home country. Because you have.
And because you have changed, it’s pointless to try and see your home country through old lenses.
What if you moved back (or even went on a trip) fully convinced that you’ve never lived there before?
What does this new version of you think of this strange country?
Does this new version of you feel excited to try and build a new life in this place?
After 15 years as a serial expat, this is the approach I took. I intentionally chose to treat Estonia as if it’s a foreign country where I had never lived before and that I knew nothing about.
It’s this mindset of allowing myself to be surprised that has helped me see the good in things even when the inevitable bad days have come around.
To this day, I have not once questioned my choice to repatriate, which is a lot more than I can say for the last several years I spent living a comfy life in Denmark.
I don’t claim to be a fortune teller that you will have the same experience as me if you follow this approach.
But I am encouraging you to challenge your preconceived ideas about your home country and to explore how this new version of you is actually a lot more capable of starting a new and fulfilling life in your home country than you think.
Let me know in the comments – which of these repatriation fears resonate with you?
If you’re struggling to find clarity on whether moving back home is the right move for you or how to prepare for a successful transition then check out my coaching services here.
Katherine is a retired world traveller and former serial expat of 15 years. Based on her professional and personal experience as well as PhD research, she now helps expats, travellers and location independents decide whether to stay or go, whether to move back home or where to settle down.