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.
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. You can think of moving back as a way of recuperating after a tough few years.
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.
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.
Let me know in the comments – which of these six signs resonate with you?
If you’re struggling to find clarity on whether moving back home is the right move for you 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.
Great point on feeling relieved about moving back home. I hadn’t thought about that before but it is an important hint. I felt it during my first stint abroad even though I wanted to stay in the country at the same time.. there are so many feelings in that decision that it becomes pretty confusing
Hello Katherine! This seems to be a hot topic these days. With 25+ years of my personal ex-pat experience, I know what this is all about. The “scars” are all over me (outside and inside). I just found your site and can tell you: this is great work!! Thank you for doing it and sharing. I love how you organize the content. To me, it shows a deep understanding of the matter to the point of personal experience. Question: Is it OK if I share your web address with members of one FB group? This group is organized by people… Read more »
Hello, the first one resonated with me big time “YOU’VE TRIED EVERYTHING TO ADJUST TO LIFE ABROAD”. I have given it 7 years in this location and with almost no job prospects and ways to integrate with the local community, that seems to be enough. I never would have stayed this long except for having 3 children in school who were content. Recently, I started looking at job avenues back in the UK to feed into my longer term goals and it felt ‘exciting’ – the zing of more possibilities. ….
I’m wondering what if going home is not an option for political or economic reasons? What if it means dealing with such problems on a day to day basis that would make life even more miserable than living abroad? What if the current government propaganda represents such values that completely against your personal (and human) values and makes you angry or hopeless even when you’re far away? These are questions that I could not find the answers yet.
Hi Katherine, thanks for sharing this. This question has been in my mind for a while and the biggest trigger has been long term plans. I am currently living in Australia and I can’t see my life with my wife working hard for our kids and us so in the long term they go and we stay in a country without family (just two of us), when I really want to retire back home . Traveling back home is a long way, and expensive if you want to do it every 2-3 years (15hrs time one difference). We have everything… Read more »
Thanks for writing this article and helping me realize that moving back home is actually a topic of discussion. I wasn’t sure what I would have found when I searched for it. I like where I am and the opportunities that are available for growth. I’ve been in the same location for 7 1/2 years and all how I tried things haven’t worked out for me. The financial fallout is increasing and the emotional, relational and psychological impact is threatening to create serious mental health issues I never even thought I would have had to grapple with. Moving back home… Read more »
Great article. Thanks. Huge question that is… should I stay or should I go. Your words will help me sort it out in the coming months… not easy to take all parameters into account.