When is it time to go home? 6 signs expats should look out for

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When is it time to go home? How does one know that it’s the right time and the right decision to make?

The “Should I stay or go?” series has been exploring these questions for a few months now, drawing from the experience of current expats, soon-to-be-repats and repats alike. As many of the stories so far have shown, an easy answer is not always guaranteed and the right answer can depend on multiple factors.

Still, I have noticed patterns in the thoughts and experiences of expats who have ultimately decided to take the plunge and go home.

So, if you’re an expat wondering whether it is the right time for you to go home, here are 6 signs you can look out for.

If you would like more personal guidance on how to decide whether you should stay or go, check out my services here.

1. YOU’VE TRIED EVERYTHING TO ADJUST TO LIFE ABROAD

There’s a fine line between moving back home too soon because adapting to life in a foreign country is hard and deciding to repatriate after you’ve given it a fair shot.

When you’ve run out of strategies for how you could better adapt to life abroad, then chances are that you wouldn’t be giving up too soon.

However, the first 2 years are typically the hardest and require the biggest amount of change from you. Whether or not you want to go through this process is of course up to you.

But if you find yourself struggling and you’re 1-2 years into living in a new country (by the way, this doesn’t need to be your first expat destination as each move can be very different), it may be that your new environment requires a bigger change from you than you anticipated.

Of course, sometimes the will to live abroad is still there, but life circumstances (economic, relational, legal or mental health challenges) may make it nearly impossible to stay.

At some point, trying to make things work can amount to hitting your head against a wall. It would just be too hard, take too long or require more effort than you’re willing to give to make things work.

If any of the above resonates with you, it’s perfectly okay to accept your limits and move back home. This doesn’t need to be a permanent solution either.

2. THE ONLY THING KEEPING YOU ABROAD IS YOUR PRIDE

Whether you like to admit it not, those of us who move abroad can be secretly quite proud of the fact that we have in fact uprooted our lives to live in a foreign country.

It’s a major personal challenge/accomplishment and not an easy thing to do (nor to make it work in the long run) so it’s perfectly justified why those of us who have moved abroad are secretly a proud lot.

That said, when pride over such an accomplishment is the only reason for you to continue living abroad, while the rest of your life abroad is making you miserable, then it may be time to ask yourself:

Would choosing to move back home actually make your accomplishment less meaningful/valuable/real?

There will always be people back home who will view your choice to repatriate as you having given up or failed. Perhaps there’s even a voice inside you judging you like that. But does that judgmental person/voice really matter when you will ultimately be happier living back home?

Still, for many expats, pride and the desire to prove to themselves that they can make things work, although things are hard, is precisely the secret sauce that helps them to keep going.

But if you feel that pride is all you’ve got left, and there’s no burning desire to make it work otherwise, it may be time to go home.

3. YOU WERE CURIOUS ABOUT REPATRIATING EVEN BEFORE THE PANDEMIC

The pandemic has definitely given both a welcome and an unwelcome push for many expats to go back home.

Since the pandemic has taken away all of the frills of life abroad, many expats have been faced with the question:

“What’s the point of living under lockdown in a foreign country with far more challenges than benefits?”

There’s no right or wrong answer to this question.

But chances are that if you were already on the fence about continuing to live abroad even before the pandemic hit moving back home may be a good idea for you.

What’s more, repatriating does not need to be a permanent solution. It can be exactly the thing to do until the pandemic eases up.

4. STAYING DOESN’T ALIGN WITH YOUR LONG-TERM GOALS

The vacuum that life during the pandemic has created for expats has also pushed many to reconsider whether continuing the expat life serves their long-term goals and dreams.

Dreams of one day wanting to live closer to family and friends, bringing stability to one’s kids lives or giving them the opportunity to grow up close to loved ones, career aspirations or even dreams of starting a family – all of these needs may have suddenly become quite acute for expats. Needs which may be very difficult or close to impossible to meet in a foreign country.

So if realizing any of your dreams and goals is not supported by continuing to live in a foreign country, especially under current uncertain circumstances, it may be time to move back home.

5. YOU’RE CLEAR ON WHY YOU’RE MOVING BACK HOME

While you may be clear about all the reasons why you may not want to continue living abroad, for your move back home to bring you greater life satisfaction, it needs to be driven by a goal/dream/purpose with a deeper meaning than just the thrill of changing things up.

These days the mammoth task of moving across countries is further complicated by travel restrictions and potential quarantine requirements. All of which gets added to the long list of things to take care of and the emotional resilience which are necessary to make the move happen and little by little settle down again thereafter.

All of the predictable and unpredictable hurdles of moving back home are that much easier to deal with when you know WHY you’re putting yourself through this experience, meaning, you keep your long-term goal(s) in mind.

From personal experience I can vouch for the fact that knowing your “why” will also help you:

  • deal with reverse culture shock
  • support you in moving through any grief for the expat life that you left behind (or the things you didn’t get to do),
  • everything that you may not find particularly savoury about your home country now that you’re back living in it 24/7.

6. YOU (MAINLY) FEEL RELIEVED WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT REPATRIATING

Perhaps the most telling sign that this is the right time to go home is that sense of relief you feel when you think about moving back to your home country.

Now don’t get me wrong – that sense of relief will quickly be followed by anxious thoughts about:

  • everything that would need to be sorted out in advance
  • finding a place to live
  • securing a solid income
  • making new friends if you’ve lived abroad for a long time
  • letting go of all of the perks of expat life
  • fear of the unknown
  • worry about whether life in your home country would become boring
  • having to deal with unpleasant family dynamics
  • fear of missing out
  • actually disrupting the life that you have come to know, even if it’s not perfect

All of these follow-up reactions are completely normal and part of the process of adjusting to the idea of potentially going through a major life change.

It is in human nature to seek stability and security, so the thought of moving anywhere new goes directly against that very normal human need and brings up all sorts of conscious and unconscious reasons for why you should keep your life as it is.

However, if the core feeling in you is that of relief, then it may indeed be time to go home. All your worries and anxieties can be dealt with proactively.

If you need more personal guidance on how to decide whether you should stay or go, check out my services here.

Let me know in the comments – which of these 6 signs resonate with you?

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