8 Challenges of Expat Life

8 Challenges I faced while living and working in Spain (and how to deal with them)

Many people dream of living in foreign country.

Whether it be for work, education, a new beginning, a love of travel, or to gain life experience, there are many reasons why moving internationally can be encouraged.

While the list of benefits of living abroad can be great and many, it may be beneficial to understand some of the challenges of expat life when changing countries for the first time.

As a young Australian university graduate, I decided to pack a suitcase and move to Barcelona. The first few months felt like a holiday, but culture shock hit hard when I started trying to adjust to life in my new city.

I was unprepared for such a big move. From acquiring a residency permit to dealing with local real estate agencies, there were plenty of early challenges. Then, once I had finally secured employment and started to settle in, the homesickness began. But I was on the other side of the world, so there was no simple cure.

As an expat, you face countless difficulties that you may not experience in your country of origin. Some of these challenges can be prepared for, while others will be unexpected, but many are beneficial to your growth as an individual.

Below are the greatest challenges I faced while adjusting to life in foreign lands and my best advice for overcoming them.

Language barriers

For obvious reasons, language barriers can limit communication. One of my greatest difficulties of adjusting to life in a foreign country was having no grasp of the native language. This made it impossible to effectively communicate with most people I met, or understand the text on important documents that I had to complete.

While, in most countries, you can get by with just a basic understanding of the native language, the simple solution is to just practice speaking. Use learning applications, watch videos or TV shows in the language you want to learn, take lessons – just practice speaking the language you want to learn. It gets a lot easier over time and most locals give you brownie points just for trying.

For those that are currently learning another language or just need a fast translator, the Google Translator app is effective and can translate photos, but the free DeepL Translate app is superior in accuracy.

Changes in economic environments

One of the contributing factors to my culture shock was the realisation of how little employees were paid in my new country of residence, compared to what I had come to expect from living in Australia. Instead of being able to live comfortably off a single salary, I had to create additional streams of income to enjoy a similar quality of life.

While many of us are fortunate enough to be able to work remotely, if you do plan on moving overseas to find employment, there are some countries that are better than others when it comes to earning a living. Ensure you will be able to find work suited to your profile, while living your desired lifestyle with your earnings.

It helps greatly to develop a unique skill that allows you to sell your services no matter where in the world you are.

Being far from home, friends and family

It took a little over 25 hours of flying from my home town in Australia to arrive in Barcelona. Not only is such a long journey in economy seating an uncomfortable, physically exhausting, potentially stressful and often unpleasant experience, it’s also bloody expensive.

Being away from friends and family members for long periods of time can pose emotional challenges for all of us, but thankfully it is now easier than ever to stay connected with the ones we love.

Mainly due to the travel time, I have only once travelled back to Australia in the three years since leaving, but having the occasional friend or family member coming to visit helps ward off the homesickness.

Making friends

It can be tough being the new kid on the block, especially when a language barrier comes into play. I initially struggled when adjusting to life in a new country, without the comfort of being able to visit any of my friends at a moments notice.

Prevent any feelings of isolation by building a network of friends and professional connections. Making friends within your workplace is an excellent start, as well as looking for anyone with similar interests, such as through joining a sporting team.

The classic way of meeting people and striking up a conversation (in places like bars, health clubs, libraries, etc.) is tried and proven to be successful. But in the age of technology, it helps to be connected. Apps like Meetup, WhatsApp, and facebook are fantastic for finding groups of people with similar interests, while Tinder can be useful for making intimate friends.

Changes in financial situations

Life is unexpected. You never know when you are going to have to dig into your savings account to cover an unforeseen expense.

Be sure to make a plan before moving overseas. Look at how much money you have saved and determine how far it will get you. If you have financial commitments that will follow you no matter where you go, put away security funds, have a constant and reliable stream of income, or secure employment before you make the move.

Managing expectations of people

While growing up and working in Australia, I was held to strict standards of communication and customer service in all of my professional environments. Many of us are trained from a young age to go above and beyond when completing tasks or providing services, which certainly contributed to my culture shock when I first arrived in Spain.

From being ignored by waiters in restaurants and cashiers in grocery stores, to being abused by bus drivers, I was shocked at how some people could treat others while providing a service in public. It did make a little more sense after I realised how low the average wages were, but kindness is still free no matter where you are.

Basically, I’ve learned that you enjoy life a lot more when you lower your expectations of others.

Differences in bureaucracy

If you find difficulty dealing with bureaucratic affairs within your own country, you may need assistance when immigrating to a new one.

An article by This Is Spain states that bureaucracy in Spain is one of the greatest challenges for expats, which was certainly true for me, as well as most expats I have encountered while living abroad.

Bureaucracy should not be a make or break factor in deciding which country you would like to live. The best way to prepare for any challenging foreign bureaucratic applications is to find someone who has successfully completed the same application and ask for guidance. You may also seek professional help, which usually comes with hefty pricing.


If you are planning on living between two countries and receiving profits from activities within both, it’s important to understand the regulations surrounding taxation.
Speak to an accountant with knowledge of both countries’ taxation requirements to help avoid making any costly mistakes with Uncle Sam.

Moving abroad gives you the freedom to live by your own rules, often leading you down a path of independence and self-discovery.

The difficulties faced when moving overseas depend on countless factors and will differ greatly between individuals. Some challenges you can prepare for, others may come as a surprise, but none should discourage you from chasing your dreams.

Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from.

Published by Harry Hansford

Australian in Spain with a passion for all things sport, health, fitnes & nature. Go deeper to find out more.

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