If you had asked me two years ago about the advantages of living abroad, I would have said something about traveling more and trying new foods. But after a few years of expat life, I’ve discovered that there are more meaningful reasons to live abroad than eating and sightseeing. Though I do my fair share of those activities as well…
They say that growth cannot happen without struggle. And when you settle into a foreign country, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to grow. Half of the benefits of living abroad are born from challenges, like opening a bank account without government ID or booking a 1AM flight because you forgot how military time works.
International life is full of pleasant surprises and unforeseen rewards. From increasing empathy to developing more patience, here are the top advantages of living abroad.
Becoming more self-reliant
When you’re living miles away from your safety nets and familiar systems, self-reliance is key to survival. Without trusted family and friends around to help you when the unexpected happens, you need to develop your own plan B.
I vividly remember the day I realized we didn’t have an emergency caretaker for our dog should something happen to us. These surprise concerns bubbled up throughout our first few months abroad. It made me realize how much we took for granted being a short flight or day’s drive away from family.
The sensation of being “on your own” is one of the difficulties of living in a foreign country, but it also affirms that you can survive and thrive in unfamiliar territory.
Living in a culture that fits your values
There were a number of reasons we moved to the UK from the US. But the biggest driver was to live somewhere that aligned to our personal values.
We were tired of the American obsession with work, where co-workers would brag about how few vacation days they took or how many hours they worked over the weekend. While we both enjoyed our careers, we wanted to live in a country where work-life balance was valued and time off was viewed as essential instead of an indulgence. And as introverts, we were keen to be among the English, who are famous for their reserved and somewhat awkward personalities.
Moving abroad is the perfect opportunity to find “your people” if you don’t fit into your home culture. It’s one of those advantages of living abroad that people don’t often think about, but it makes a huge difference in quality of life.
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Increasing opportunities for travel
Exploring a new country and its neighboring lands has always been a popular reason to go abroad. I’d be lying if I said we weren’t drawn to London for its cheap flights and train connections to Europe!
And you don’t even need to travel internationally to feed your wanderlust. In a new country, every city is a shiny new place waiting to be discovered. Just wandering around your own neighborhood feels like taking a mini vacation.
Exposing yourself to different ways of thinking
If I had to pick the most important reason to live abroad, it would be this. From a young age, we build our sense of normality–what’s right and wrong and good and bad–from the community where we’re raised. Even as adults, we don’t realize how vast and diverse the world is until we’ve spent a fair bit of time outside our home bubble.
Living in a foreign country exposes you to a whole new set of beliefs, values, and traditions. And it’s likely that some of them will conflict with your own. While some beliefs are objectively bad (ex. homophobia), many of them simply stem from a different way of viewing the world.
Engaging with locals and learning how they think and live will build your empathy, compassion, and critical thinking skills. Especially when they contradict your own logic and beliefs.
One of my favorite living abroad quotes sums this up perfectly:
Live abroad, if you can. Understand cultures other than your own. As your understanding of other cultures increases, your understanding of yourself and your own culture will increase exponentially.– Tom Freston
Improving your communication skills
You might think the only language benefit of living abroad is to learn a foreign tongue. But even if you speak only your native language or rely on English to get by, you’ll have plenty of chances to improve your communication skills.
For one, trying to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak your language forces you to rely on social cues. You’ll need to read faces, expressions, tones, and gestures to grasp meaning.
Additionally, we tend to simplify our language when communicating with non-native speakers. This teaches you to be concise and thoughtful in your word choice.
Finally, there are cultural considerations and dialects that impact your ability to communicate with same-language speakers from different countries. Even though the US and UK are both English-speaking countries, many words have different meanings, slang uses, and connotations that we need to be aware of. I still haven’t gotten over the embarrassment of asking our local dry cleaner if she can mend and press my husband’s pants (pants = underwear in the UK)…
Learning to appreciate the little things
We take so many things for granted in our home countries. From the ease of opening a new bank account to the availability of shoes that fit your feet, things are comfortable and smooth in your corner of the world.
But when you go abroad, your world gets turned upside down. Suddenly, it takes three weeks to set up internet service instead of three days. Your bank requires two separate and very particular proofs of address to open a new account. And they don’t have your favorite brand of ice cream at the supermarket.
After dozens of these kinds of setbacks, you learn to be grateful for the little things in life. Even if it’s as simple as functional WiFi or good guacamole.
Save me for later!
Developing a clearer sense of self
There’s nothing like moving hundreds (or thousands) of miles away from everything you know to help you discover who you really are.
Starting a new life abroad is more than a chance to immerse yourself in a new culture. It’s also an opportunity to try new things, explore new interests, and reflect on what you want to include (and remove) from your life.
If you’ve struggled to separate who you are from where you’re from or what your family/friends/co-workers want you to be, moving abroad offers you a totally new environment to reinvent yourself.
Expanding your social network
In today’s globally connected world, it helps to have friends in unique places. I know people who’ve built start-ups with coffee shop acquaintances, created annual house-swapping traditions with former neighbors, and met future spouses during overseas internships.
Making friends abroad is more than a way to stave off loneliness. A global social network can grow your self-confidence, help you find a job, and even inspire you to stay abroad longer than you’d planned.
Strengthening your resume
As someone who’s played the role of hiring manager multiple times, let me tell you a secret: unique experiences make candidates memorable.
Seeing international work experience on a cover letter or résumé would stop my monotonous page-flipping and draw me into the story. And once you’ve grabbed the hiring manager’s attention, you can bet they’ll actually read your qualifications.
Knowing how to market your international experience can give you an edge over the competition and make you stand out in a long line of candidates. Many of the advantages of living abroad, including increased self-reliance and communication skills, are highly desirable traits in the workplace.
Decreasing your cost of living
Depending on where you move to and from, you might not experience this advantage of living abroad.
Our monthly expenses in London are definitely higher than the cost of living in Texas! But if you have the flexibility to pick your destination or work online from anywhere, you could dramatically decrease your expenses and live comfortably on a smaller income.
Sites like Nomadlist aggregate costs of living across the globe and help you choose a location that fits your budget. I also recommend browsing local communities on Reddit (ex. /r/ukpersonalfinance or /r/london) for posts about monthly expenses and budgeting.
Having an uncommon life experience
Digital nomadism and studying abroad may be rising in popularity, but living abroad is still fairly uncommon in most cultures. Fewer than 3% of Americans live abroad. Even in the EU, where freedom of movement means you can live and work abroad visa-free, expat percentages average around 5% per country.
While living abroad doesn’t instantly make you an interesting person, it certainly helps! You’ll have a unique perspective to draw on and plenty of stories to tell your friends and family back home.
Plus, you might find yourself an object of (hopefully positive) interest as a foreigner in your new community. Even the reserved Brits have struck up conversations with me in the supermarket or local bakery after hearing my American accent.
If you’re still on the fence about relocating, I hope this list of advantages of living abroad has motivated you to take the leap!