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Five Secrets to a Happy Expat Life

Why is living abroad a struggle for some people, while it’s a fun-filled adventure for others? The good news is that, no matter where you’re living, you can adopt the habits shared by happy and successful expats. Start doing these five things to take your expat experience to the next level.

Maybe you know someone who makes living abroad seem effortless: she quickly finds new friends, has joined the local running club, and is on a first-name basis with the cashier at the local supermarket — within weeks of arrival.

Or you might have a friend who was initially excited about moving abroad, but now that the dust has settled, she doesn’t feel at home and is often frustrated when navigating the local culture.

Are these opposite experiences due to luck and circumstances, or is there something else going on? In other words: what do all happy expats have in common?

Expats who have positive experiences living and working abroad seem to share certain habits and attitudes. So, the good news is, there are some simple-yet-essential things you can do to improve your happiness and get the most out of expat life.

Be Curious

To fully enjoy a new experience, you’ll need a certain level of basic curiosity about people, cultures, and life in general. Think of a young child playing at the beach for the first time, exploring the sand and the water with a sense of openness and wonder. If you remember to maintain this approach to life — even when daily stresses get in the way — you’ll be one step closer to expat bliss.

Be Learning-Oriented

Living and working internationally is a big deal. Unforeseen challenges, mistakes, and frustrations are inevitable. You can choose to see them as something negative, or as an opportunity to learn something new. This small shift in attitude can make a huge difference.

Be Socially Connected

Building a social life is one of the most important factors for a successful and enriching expat experience. But you don’t need to worry about cultivating life-long friendships from day one. Start small: strike up a conversation with someone you meet or invite a few of your neighbors over. Look for opportunities to make connections in different contexts (professional and personal). Great relationships will eventually follow — and you’ll develop that sense of belonging that is so important for happiness — wherever you are.

Be Grateful

Every day take a moment to look at what IS going well, even if it is something small. Perhaps you figured out how to make a doctor’s appointment on your own in a foreign language, or maybe you explored a new part of the city and found an amazing new café. Just make it a habit to appreciate happy moments and celebrate the positive aspects of your life abroad.

Be Patient

In our current culture of instant gratification, we often want things to work quickly and to be Instagram-perfect right away. But, especially when you’ve just undertaken an international move, it’s helpful to consider how realistic this thinking is. If you’re in a situation where you are challenged in new ways and forced out of your comfort zone, you probably shouldn’t expect miracles overnight. Simply acknowledging that progress takes time and having reasonable expectations goes a long way.

This is not an exhaustive list, of course, but it’s a place to start. Whether you’re living in Berlin or Beijing, London or Dubai, making a few small tweaks to your mindset and routines could make a difference between simply “living” abroad and truly thriving.


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