10 Warning Signs You Are Not Ready For Expat Life

Are you dreaming of trading your American life for the neon lights and ancient temples of Japan? Japan’s unique blend of cutting-edge technology, rich cultural traditions, and legendary cuisine has captured the hearts of many Americans.

However, before you start packing your bags and brushing up on your Japanese, it’s crucial to take a step back and assess if expat life in Japan is truly right for you.

Moving to a country with such a different language, culture, and way of life is not for the faint of heart. To help you determine if you have what it takes to thrive as an American in Japan, I’ve put together this list of 10 signs that you may not be cut out for expat life in this unique country.


1. You’re very close with family and friends back home

If you have deep roots and connections with loved ones in your hometown, being thousands of miles away can be extremely difficult. Many expats underestimate just how much they will miss regular get-togethers, holidays, and milestones with family and close friends.

    Even with video chats and occasional visits, the distance takes a toll over time. If you’re the type of person who thrives on frequent face-to-face interaction with your inner circle, expat life may leave you feeling isolated and homesick. Consider whether you’re truly willing to sacrifice that closeness and support.

    2. You struggle being seen as a foreigner

    When you live abroad, you are unmistakably foreign no matter how long you stay. If you’re uncomfortable frequently standing out and being treated as an outsider, expat life will grate on you.

      You have to be okay with often feeling out of place, experiencing cultural misunderstandings, and not fully fitting in. For some, always being “the American” or “the foreigner” undermines their sense of belonging. If blending in is important to you, think twice about moving abroad.

      3. You’re very attached to your home country’s culture

      If you have a deep affinity for American culture, whether it’s holidays like July 4th, sports like football, or foods like barbecue and Tex-Mex, you may find it hard to be happy abroad. Many of the cultural touchstones you’re used to won’t exist in your new country.

        You’ll be surrounded by unfamiliar traditions, cuisines, social norms and more. If partaking in your home culture is key to your identity and happiness, you may feel unmoored and dissatisfied living overseas. Consider how well you truly embrace new ways of life.

        4. You expect life abroad to be a non-stop adventure

        Many people romanticize expat life as a thrilling escape from the mundane. But the initial novelty and excitement often gives way to the reality that much of life is routine no matter where you live.

          If your main motivation for moving abroad is adventure and exoticism, you may find yourself disillusioned when daily life sets in. Errands, chores and work will still make up much of your time. Make sure you’re prepared for expat life to become your new normal.

          5. You aren’t willing to leave your comfort zone

          Living in a foreign country means confronting different languages, bureaucracies, customs and more on a daily basis. If you’re used to the familiarity and ease of life in America, it’s a huge adjustment.

            You have to be willing to bumble through conversations in a new language, get lost and face constant low-level disorientation. If you prefer to stay in your comfort zone, the challenges of expat life may be too stressful. Honestly assess your appetite for feeling uncomfortable.

            6. You think becoming an expat will solve your problems

            Some people view moving abroad as an escape or fresh start. But in reality, you bring your baggage and issues with you wherever you go. Expat life often compounds existing struggles.

              If you’re unhappy or aimless at home, don’t expect a move overseas to fix everything. In fact, without your usual support system and coping mechanisms, your problems may feel worse. Make sure you’re moving for the right reasons, not running away.

              7. You aren’t prepared to build a new community from scratch

              One of the hardest parts of expat life is developing a strong social circle in your new country. All your usual friend groups and support systems are back home, and making new deep connections takes a lot of time and effort.

                If you’re more of an introvert or homebody, you may find it very challenging to build a robust community from nothing. Even extroverts often struggle with how long it takes to feel truly anchored in a new place. Make sure you’re ready to put yourself out there.

                8. You expect everything to be like it is in America

                From small things like store hours to bigger differences like schooling and healthcare, so much of daily life works differently abroad. If you’re used to American conveniences and systems, it’s a big adjustment.

                  You have to be flexible and adapt to your new country’s way of doing things, even when it’s frustrating. Fighting it will only lead to burnout. If you prefer the American way across the board, you may find yourself annoyed and homesick. Release your expectations that things “should” work a certain way.

                  9. You can’t stand feeling like a clueless newcomer

                  There’s no way around it – as a new arrival in a foreign country, you will feel clueless and lost at times. No matter how much research you do, some things have to be learned through experience.

                    You have to be willing to feel like a bumbling, ignorant beginner as you adjust to new systems, cultural nuances, language barriers and more. If you hate feeling incompetent and making mistakes, the learning curve of expat life may be too much. Know that floundering is part of the process.

                    10. You think expat life will be cheaper and easier than America

                    Depending on your destination, the cost of living may be lower than in the U.S. However, expenses like international schools for kids, visa fees and flights back home add up quickly.

                      Dealing with foreign bureaucracies and logistics is often more complicated and time-consuming than in the States. If you assume expat life will be cheap and simple, you may end up frustrated. Do thorough research on expat-specific costs and challenges in your new country. Have realistic expectations.

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