Last Updated on January 14, 2022
It has been 2 years since I packed up my life in the UK and moved to America. The blogger in me was hoping that by this time I’d be writing posts like ‘how to cope with homesickness’, ‘5 ways to make new friends when living overseas’ etc etc. But the truth is, I suck at being an expat. In real life, I’m struggling and far from being able to offer anyone advice on how to live overseas because I don’t know how to fix it myself. I guess the most I can offer, is that if you are experiencing expat homesickness, you’re not alone.
First published and written in: August 2018
Like a ‘professional’ I try to keep some of the behind the scenes feelings away from my blog. After all my aim is to inspire people to travel. And don’t get me wrong, when I’m on the road I’m completely happy and distracted from my reality. Most people that meet me think I’m the happiest person in the world. But I’m good at hiding things because I don’t want to be a burden on other people. They shouldn’t have to worry about me. I made the decision to emigrate and therefore that choice lays on my shoulders. The problem is the day to day life when the loneliness of being an expat really hits home.
When I moved overseas my anxiety got worse and I now suffer from mild depression. Not really what the ‘American Dream’ should look like. Expat life and living abroad certainly isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to some of my thought trails and I close in on myself.
When you’re in an international relationship, unless you both relocate to somewhere completely new, you’ll find yourself just slotting into their life. Essentially you are moving abroad alone. Everything has changed for you, yet a minimal amount has changed for them. They still have their family and friends, you don’t.
You feel a lot like a 3rd wheel, people around you will have conversations about people and places that they’ve known for years and you don’t have a clue. You can’t really join in and you feel like a lemon as you don’t have those things in common.
Even the fact that no one sounds like me is enough to make me feel singled out. You could be surrounded by people, yet you still feel lonely. For this reason I often don’t want to go out and put myself in social situations. I have to really force myself to say yes. Weird hey.
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Social situations usually brings stupid questions, such as “do you miss your family?”, “do you like it here?”. If you ask me if I like it here I’m probably not going to give you the real answer. My go to answer is usually “well I don’t like the winters“. No one seems to understand just how hard it is and I’m hardly going to offend people by saying no I’d rather be living in England.
For 4 weeks this summer, I’ve been spoilt. I got to spend 2 weeks in Australia travelling around with my sister. Then my mum and dad flew to the USA for 2 weeks for a mini road trip and sightseeing around where I live. I had the best time but a few days before the end of both visits/trips I experienced a horrible sick feeling at the thought of them going. They were still with me, I was ridiculously happy, yet at the same time, dreading it coming to an end. It happens every time I visit home too. It’s the strangest thing feeling homesick when you’re actually home.
Expat life is also cruel. You just get used to feeling normal again, hanging out, being able to have endless conversations about anything and everything and then you have to say goodbye. It’s emotionally draining. On ‘D-Days’ I end up feeling absolutely exhausted. I used to try and stay strong but now I’ve given up, I just can’t handle it. I cry for hours. I’ve cried in cars, on planes and trains, in airport terminals, in hotels. I cry cleaning up after a visit or when I go to places where I was last at with them. It’s almost a ghosty feeling. It’s pathetic really.
It turns you into a crazy person. I got so freaked out in Sydney when I realised I wouldn’t be able to get through security early. Mine and my sister’s flights were 4 hours apart. I hunted all over the airport for a way that I could somehow check myself in and get through security. Just so I could spend another couple of hours with my sister. I couldn’t bare to think of her being just the other side of a wall and be so close but not together. Not when I had no idea when I’d see her again. I spent a fortune but I ended up getting through with her.
When you’ve been used to that little slice of normality again, it makes you feel even more lonely when it goes away again. It also makes me feel like an awful person too. To see my family so upset and it’s all my fault, I’m doing that to them. I know it’s my life and they are supportive in whatever I choose to do. But when I’m a mess and they’re a mess. It does make me wonder if I’m actually cut out for expat life. Whenever I’m not with them it feels like there’s a huge hole that can’t be filled. In a location where family is ‘number 1’ it just makes it more obvious that I don’t have mine with me.
Rather than giving the advice, I find myself seeking for advice. Although some of the suggestions may work, they are quite frankly, ridiculous. I saw one that said that the cure for homesickness was to simply not go home. Err how about no. Even if I didn’t go home and tease myself with all the things I love, I’m still struggling to adapt to life in the USA.
I often find that my thoughts and opinions completely clash with what seems like the majority of people around me. Gun control, I’m looking at you. Again, cue loneliness. I can’t see my opinions changing by simply being here longer. I have learnt to try and not ‘fight back’, but that ends up just annoying me…freedom of speech?! Not for me! My opinion is apparently, 90% of the time, always wrong. (You can read more in detail about my opinions in my book that’s available worldwide on Amazon. Between England and Iowa: A Year In The Life of an Emigrating Wife)
So why don’t I just go home if I’m really not coping well? It’s really not that simple. Going home would mean going back alone. To be honest, I don’t know if I could expect someone to move knowing how hard I’ve found it. I may be happy but then they wouldn’t so then it’s back to square one.
But this is a reality of an international long distance relationship. I actually found the being long distance part easier than the emigrating part, because I still had everything that was familiar. The traveller can’t cope without England as a home base. Never saw that one coming. The ‘permanency’ of emigrating scares the hell out of me. When I started the USA visa process, returning to England was always part of the plan but ‘plans’ changed.
The Visa Process
The visa brings with it a whole other heap of unwelcomed stress. The 2 year mark also celebrates the fact that my Green Card has expired. Yep, expired. When you first enter after being married only a short time, you are only granted a 2 year visa. Then you have to pay more money and fill in more forms.
It’s meant to only take 6 months. It’s currently taking anywhere from between 18 months to 2 YEARS to get the temporary conditions removed. You know all those fancy e-gates that airports are so proud of? I can no longer use them because I have to fly with a LETTER saying I’m allowed back in.
Travelling With An ‘Expired’ Visa
On my last trip I almost missed my connection. I was first off the plane, yet I got sent to the ‘reject’ line and ended up being the very last person in the immigration hall over AN HOUR later. All the e-gaters had cleared off pretty much before I was even dealt with.
If they pull me up for more visa evidence, I’m half tempted to tell them to stick their Green Card where the sun doesn’t shine. I don’t have anymore evidence I could give. Why wouldn’t I send off absolutely EVERYTHING I could the first time round?!?! *Edit: Guess what, it was rejected*
From reading expat groups, it seems a common theme that a lot of people struggle at the 2 year mark. The novelty of being in a new country has worn off and the reality of being away from home settles in. It’s potentially been a while since you’ve seen family members and the sad fact that no one is getting any younger. I always like to know when my next trip home is so I have something to look forward to. But then I’m sacrificing my travel addiction of seeing new places. So I can’t win!!
2022 Expat Update
2020 gave us the global pandemic. It was the final push for me. I booked a one way ticket back to the UK. You can read about it here: Expat Life: Why I’m Moving Back To The UK From USA. For me it was 100% the correct decision. I did a second update here: Repatriating Back To The UK: 1 Month Update!. It’s now 2022 and I’m definitely happier and my depression is next to non existent.
If you’re in a similar situation and have ever felt this way, I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any tips/advice or ways that have helped you to cope with expat homesickness?
44 thoughts on “The Truth Is…I Suck At Being An Expat | Expat Homesickness”
The transitions from semi-adult to full-adult, family-of-origin to married-family, and home-country to new-country are all hard separately. Doing them all at once must be brutal. But you can do it! Sending you an email…
Yes, it is SO much to cope with! I thought things would get easier once things like setting up banks, insurance, driving tests, jobs etc were all out of the way! Thanks, I’ll go check it out 🙂
Oh big hugs! I have only lived internationally as a child, so my parents and brothers came too, but as an adult I have lived across the country from parents and rarely able to see them. The additional challenges of it being a foreign culture must make it very hard!
Thanks Lindsay! I definitely think it’s a mix of the 2 aspects that make it so much harder. I often find myself getting frustrated at such small things! Like my phone provider is finishing in a month so now I have the problem of finding another one and I still have my uk iPhone which won’t work on all the USA networks! It’s just like ahhhh give me a break!!!! Haha. Flights are getting cheaper but still not cheap enough, I managed to find flights for $700 at Christmas and that’s really ‘cheap’ for peak season!
I have been in Michigan for 18 years and still experience all of the emotions and hurdles that you are experiencing. It is even worse now that my parents are elderly and both are battling cancer. The feelings of guilt that I experience daily are overwhelming. I hope that things get better for you.
Oh dear I’m sorry to hear that 🙁 same goes for you too I hope things get better! That’s what worries me, i don’t know if I can handle feeling this way for 18 years. I’ve met several long term expats that have all said the same 🙁
I loved reading your blog, eloquently put, I would of never of thought you would have this much heartache tearing at your soul, I hope you find solace; I can offer no answers, only ways to side track thoughts, concentrate on what you have and live in the present, all the best Rob.
Thank Rob, your Facebook comments always put a smile on my face 🙂
This may sound strange, but being a work-at-home/stay-at-home dad has been a very lonely road for me. It’s not the norm where I live, so no other dad friends there and all my regular friends are either single or have older kids. I’m a bit of a misfit myself, even though I haven’t moved. I know the feelings I have and can imagine it’s even more difficult for you since you have the other connections far off. Best of luck wherever your path takes you 🙂
Oh I completely understand why you’d feel that way! I work with a lot of women who have kids and they said they were going crazy being alone and not around other adults! I’m sure your kids appreciate you being there 🙂 Maybe that’s why I find it so hard leaving my family, my mum was a stay at home parent, I couldn’t imagine being passed off to a baby sitter!
I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to leave everything familiar and come to Iowa of all places! I was born and raised here and my politics, etc make me stick out like a sore thumb. Life is such an interesting journey, thanks for sharing yours so honestly!
Thanks! I come from a town where I could get on a train and be in London in 45 minutes…and now I’m a 3 hour drive from the nearest big city so it feels like I’m in the middle of nowhere! The 3hr car drive makes flight days even longer!! Like I said in my post, everyone goes on about freedom of speech but your only seem to have that freedom if you think the same as the majority…
Sorry to hear your predicament, I too came over on a fiance visa and have been here in Wisconsin since 2015. I try to get back to the U.K. twice a year as well as have the occasional friend or family come over, but still miss the Essex countryside and banter but when i am there i miss aspects of my life here. take care Kylie I love reading about your exploits and if you are ever in Racine give me a shout.
Thanks Russell! Yeah I’m trying to get back over more. Originally I was hoping to get back once every other year but now I’m trying to get back more! I miss English food!
It’s so hard. Lucky for me I probably manage to get back to Jersey at least twice a year which definitely helps. The tough thing for me is I know no one will visit me here, so 4 years down the line if I don’t go there I’d never see them. It’s disappointing and that’s one of things I really struggle with, that no one will witness my expat life. I really feel for you in your homesickness moments, the stress of visas it’s just another element that compounds your making the USA a proper home. I hope that you can get through this period.
Thank you 🙂 Yeah that’s a shame, I’ve had my Uncle come to visit and my parents and my friend (who is cabin crew) is hoping to make it to Chicago soon so I have had a few visitors. I’m trying to get back more often but it doesn’t always line up with work!
I’m so sorry to hear you’re having such a tough time, Kylie! I know how hard it can be. I’ll have been here 4 years by the end of this year and it does get easier, I promise. (Although there are definitely still a lot of ups and downs along the way – the saying goodbye bit never does get easier, I’m afraid.) As for the visa stuff… I’m still waiting to see if that’s ever going to end haha, as you know! x
I’m just dreading winter again 😩 it always makes me feel even lower because it’s so cold and the snow is a pain so it’s literally like being locked in a house for months on end!!
I’m an expat too, and even though I’ve lived in the US most of my life and I don’t have any close family left in the UK, I still get homesick. Terribly, horribly, awfully homesick. I tear up every time I see pictures from home, and I rather obsessively watch British shows just to hear the accents and “feel” at home. I have joined several expat groups on Facebook, and there is a local ladies expat group that has weekly brunches and special occasion get togethers (the royal wedding was a blast!) But I feel for you, I really do, because it’s a difficult situation and there are no easy answers.
Thanks Michaela for the comment 🙂 I’d love to be able to join expat get to togethers but I’m in the middle fo nowhere which makes it even harder to find local Brits! There is one 10 minutes away and we said we’re going to try and meet up at least once a month which will be nice!
Hey Kylie, sorry to hear you’re going through this. I’ve lived out of the UK for nearly 20 years – most of the time in Australia then the past 6 years in the US. Homesickness advice: go home for visits – and indulge in all the things you want to do – visit familiar places, eat things you want and so on. The homesickness does get better, but honestly it took me until we moved to the US to get over mine (i.e 13 years). The other thing that helped me immensely was to make friends with other Brits and Aussies in the US. I did this through my husband’s work “spouses group” but I bet you could find meet ups or other places where Brits hang out. I realize you are in the middle of nowhere but I’m fairly sure this will be the single thing that will get you through this period of life. Good luck
I know of one Brit and we do meet up, there are a handful of others about 25 minutes away but then they are quite a bit older than me and have never really expressed wanting to meet up. What do you think made the difference going from Australia to America?
Ah that’s a shame about the other Brits but I’m glad you have one to hang out with! I think coming to the US from Australia my brain was confused about where to be homesick for. I certainly wasn’t homesick for Australia: although I enjoyed it there, it wasn’t really home. I guess also moving to a third country will do that. Also, the US is a lot closer – when we were in Boston it was only a 6 hour flight, which seemed like nothing after 24 hours. Funnily enough, we have a lot more visitors here in LA than we ever did in Boston!
Haha I guess LA is on more people’s bucket lists! I have a friend coming to Chicago (from England) next weekend so that should be fun!
I think what you’re feeling is totally normal, and you shouldn’t beat yourself up about it, or feel that you’re somehow bad at it, when I’m pretty sure most of us feel this way. I don’t think being an expat is ever easy! You’ll never feel entirely at home anywhere again, and there’s always a piece of you that wants to be somewhere else. I’ve been living in the UK for nearly a decade and have become a British citizen, but I still get homesick all the time (in fact, I’m going back home for a visit in a few days and I can’t wait)! But if I were to move back to the US, I’m quite sure I would feel the itch to leave pretty quickly. I think the benefits of being an expat are that it broadens your mind and gives you experiences that most people won’t ever have, and I quite like the sensation of being fluent in two (similar, but still different) cultures, not to mention having two passports! Sometimes it helps just to remind myself how lucky I am to have been able to do something like this, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still hard to be away from my friends and family.
True! I found living in England though I got to travel way more than what I can living in the US so it often feels like I’m trapped here. I’m thankful for the experiences I’ve had moving here and the people I’ve met because of it but I’m struggling to see it as permanent 🙁
Kylie! I’m an Iowan recently married to a Ukrainian. I lived in Japan for three years. I work for a cruise ship company and I’m away for long stretches of time, but I don’t get homesick because I know it is always there. If I didn’t have the flexibility to be home (not just Iowa) but in the States – I don’t know how I’d feel about that because I do have that flexibility. I’m facing a year of not being here and I feel fine because I’m going to be traveling and working with my guy and stopping in his home country for three months and it is all very exciting. I think what would scare me the most would be to have to get a full-time job in the States that I didn’t like just to stay here. But travel me anywhere – with the guarantee that I can be home for at least a two-week/month period in Iowa? I’d take that. And I LOVE Iowa. Could you guys move to the UK??? Why alone?? And sorry that it has been so tough. No American citizen wants it to be that crazy for our friends from abroad…. I waited for 2 hours for my guy in O’Hare (we missed our flight to Des Moines) because of the line for foreigners… I was crying thinking they were going to send him home! Anyway – your heart knows the answer. Sail with it….. 🙂 Thank you for the Green Card Visa info. We are totally going through that right NOW.
He doesn’t want to move to the UK so it kinda wipes it out. If I had the flex I would be better, I could go on flights for $300 rather than have to travel in expensive times when they are $400 more etc. As well as missing home I miss the lack of travelling too so it’s hard!
I really hoped that living the expat life gets better. As I am in final years of college I am eager to move abroad and work as an English Teacher. Watching Youtube videos and getting myself hyped up makes me want the time to go by quicker. I guess I won’t really know until I’m there and I actually have to make a social life and be responsible. I guess my main concern is having a social life like I do here. Would you say that you had some expectations of being your inner-Kylie around people in the US or anything else?
I literally have zero social life here but that may be because I am living in the middle of no where in a place where everyone is always busy/farming/has tight social groups so I’ve found it hard to fit in. Drinking here is also HUGE but to get to the bars you need to drive, can’t then drink so I don’t see the point in going then! I would love to live in a place with a bigger expat community, like the big cities will have meet ups or at least people that are in the same boat so may understand! I also struggle with this as a ‘permanent’ thing. I feel a little trapped so can’t be like oh I’m not coping in this placement so time to move on, I’d be able to cope better if I knew I wasn’t stuck as such! There are lots of expats that cope fine though so I wish you all the best!
Hey, I’ve been here in rural Canada for 10 years and I still struggle every day with serious bouts of home sickness. I miss the humoir in Britain, the pub life, the banter, the rain (yes I said it). I’m going through a particularly harsh bout of “trailing spouse” depression right now in the lead up to Christmas. My husband is a farmer too so works long hours. Being the trailing spouse is hard and there’s no shame in admitting it sucks sometimes. Those rosy blogs with smiling families don’t tell most expats what they want to hear – that it’s shit sometimes and you’re not alone in feeling that way.
YES! Great to hear from you, thanks for the comment 🙂 I agree, there are a lot of blogs that definitely focus on the good side and it makes you wonder how much they are hiding or if they are actually THAT happy! I’m part of Facebook groups with other Brits in America and there is very much a common theme that most find it really hard! I’m in Florida right now and holiday and I’m dreading having to go back to the ridiculous artic temperatures of Iowa!
I think you would be better if you moved from Dubuque, even a city in Iowa such as Des Moines feels different than Dubuque. Most people that share your views of the world in the US tend to live in the cities or college towns like Ames and Iowa City, I feel like you thrive better around like minded US population. As a guide look at the county map for counties that voted for Trump in 2016. Don’t live in the places colored red, red areas are more conservative vs the liberal blue.your county is a place colored red and as an African American from Atlanta Georgia I felt out of place In Dubuque. I live in Des Moines and I love it here. Try a change of scenery, it wouldn’t fix home sickness 100% but it’s a start to create a new home.
Check out the link https://brilliantmaps.com/2016-county-election-map/
I did say the same and a lot of other expats said they felt better when they moved to a more diverse place or an area with a larger expat community. I actually have a post coming up soon about the British pubs and restaurants that I visited in Des Moines! It’s nice to be able to get that little bit of comfort of home!
Ok, I will be looking forward to reading your post. There is a pub downtown dsm that I’ve wanted to try, maybe you have been there and I can get a review, thanks for your reply
The Royal Mile? I went there and the Mucky Duck in Ames!
I just want to say a massive thanks for your honest post. It is a huge consolation and encouragement to know that others feel the same. I’ve gone the other way – I’m from New Mexico, but now live in North Yorkshire because of my husband. I’m really struggling to cope with the so-called “summer” here (if I have to hear one more person complain about the “heat” at 20°c I think I will have a breakdown!) I’ve struggled with periods of almost unbearable homesickness for over 10 years now, and moving to the US isn’t an option. I try every day to focus on the positives of where we live, which helps sometimes. I’ve also found that accepting my feelings, rather than trying to bury them, helps. Having a trip home planned, even hypothetically is a must for me! Thanks again for your candid words, and I hope you can find your way over there!
Hi Robin! Sorry that you’ve been going through the same thing too! It’s a horrible horrible feeling! I’m currently back in England for 9 weeks and I’m loving the heatwave haha! Part of my application to remove the 2 year conditions got rejected while I was here and I have to submit more evidence…it might be a blessing in disguise if it gets rejected. I already feel sick at the thought of leaving again!
Hi there – I am at the 2 year mark this month and I totally relate – I miss the English countryside so much, much much more than I ever thought I would, and I hate my job – I think I thought I could reinvent myself here – wrong!! Anyway, you are not alone! xxx
Thanks for the comment Victoria! I’m now getting on for 4 years and I find it worse the longer I’m here! I went back home for 9 weeks in the summer and I loved being home so much! X
I’m so sorry to hear this but as a British expat myself. I absolutely understand!
I’ve lived in 4 countries, but Germany was where I really settled down, got married, had a child, etc. but before all that, I went travelling to Asia for a year, loved it of course, then moved to Berlin and after just 3 months, I felt home-sick not only because I had officially emigrated, but also because I was learning German at the time, and not getting it. Plus, I was tired of “hearing” German everywhere I went. I just wanted to hear English voices!
Not Americans one (we have plenty!), not Irish or Australian, just ordinary British English! And an English newspaper!
I was so home-sick that I went to London for just 24 hours. Met up with my brothers who came down from Cheshire for the day, and all we did was wander around, and had a picnic lying in the park at Leicester Square! It really helped!
I’ve been living in Berlin for almost 20 years and our son is going to be 18 next year. I have a banner of the Queen in the front of our home, and Union Jack bunting in the garden. I met Prince William a few years ago as one of the selected British expats in Germany, and even though I have fought Brexit by virtue of helping Brits to get a German passport too, I will always be British no matter where I am.
I find myself binge watching uk day time tv shows just so I can hear ‘normal’ voices haha. It’s so hard, it doesn’t help that I struggle a lot with the country and it taking nearly a whole day of travel to get home! It just feels like I’m on Mars or something!
It’s not you, it’s US, haha. Between the atrocious cost of living, health care costs, regressionist politics, no child care assistance, and terrible work life balance…frankly a lot of Americans are looking to get out. It’s not the dream any more it’s a capitalist trap.
It definitely didn’t help! I did actually move back to the UK in 2020!