By: Nanette Fairley
June 16, 2021


Where do we go from our lives as long-term or short-term expatriates?

What happens if you leave your adopted country – be it for retirement, advancement (although that is an insult to retirees because who is to say we won’t advance in our Third Age) or just simple fatigue.

Assuming we have all achieved a modicum of success in terms of attaining a work/life balance all those years, now we need to find a new balance.  Those challenges can be enormous. When our lives have to change and adjust it can be daunting.  Throw in the thought that as an expat, generally speaking we move countries as well. I clearly remember speaking to a dear friend who worked at Heathrow all his life, and lived 20 minutes down the road.  He was challenged by his retirement in that he felt he wasn’t defined by his title anymore, however he acknowledged that on Friday he went to work, came home, and on Monday he just didn’t go to work. Other than his work routine (and I am not minimising it at all) nothing else changed for him.  As expats, we leave work on Thursday, go through the process of extracting ourselves from our lives, and a system which can be aggravating and agonising, pack up home, move countries and start again.

So how do we assimilate into a new country as an expat in our Third Age?  My tips, as someone who has done it recently, include:

  1. Move countries and move into your new abode.
  2. Make friends.
  3. Invent new hobbies and interests or fine tune the old ones.
  4. Sort out finances.
  5. Make more friends.
  6. Suck it up!!!!

We are bombarded with schmaltzy positive emoticons, memes and quotes. There are some astoundingly good ones out there, that you can take to heart and think, yes, I can think this way.  However, as with all other modes of media, they can overload your mind. I read somewhere that there is a certain amount of toxicity coming from all the positivity and wellbeing that is being thrust at us.

Somedays it’s ok to not be ok.  That is a phrase I used all the time whilst counselling people in my pre-retirement role.  It’s not ok to wallow in your own self-pity for days and weeks on end.  However, it can take a lot of energy to wake up every morning and think “this is going to be a fabulous day!”  I think we should all be allowed to have self reflecting moments.  I truly believe this builds our characters – the good and the bad side of them.

Getting back to the list:

For some, just choosing a country in which to retire is a challenge, there may be many reasons – personal, political or economic where it is not viable to return from where you came.

Where do you start? Certainly not by comparing yourself to your neighbour, who moved to the opposite side of the world to where you intend to go.  No one’s ideal is another’s.

Those decisions we made when younger, the idyllic retirement dream, whether to float around on a boat for a few years before getting that perfect home, that materialises, maintains itself, is always perfect.  Or do we invest in a wine farm, or simply to be close to family?  They were dreams of such good intent, and yet throw in a dash of real life, a smidgeon of husband/wife resistance and a huge dollop of a pandemic, then have another look.

Even if you do go back to your country of birth – all those years of being away from what was then familiar will not be so now.  The people you reconnect with may not really be interested in your development and whilst we find our life stories and adventures fascinating, most others don’t!!!

Having been an expat for so long, assimilating into what is seemingly the real world, isn’t as easy as one thinks.

When we were younger it was easier to make friends, particularly if you had school going children.  You had many opportunities to chat at the school room door.  All those afternoon activities were conversation inducing moments, even if it was to gripe about yet another weekend ruined by having to get up at 6am.

Now we are wiser/grumpier/skeptical or more protective about our privacy.  These things can make it harder to connect.  However, once you start exploring those 6 degrees of separation, especially if you can gravitate towards other expats in the same boat, connection is possible.  It’s true that ‘no man is an island’, no matter how much you cherish your own company, we all need to connect with other humans.

It’s also really important to keep contact with old friends and family wherever they are in the world.  They know the real you, warts and all, you can celebrate the good times, share the sad times.  Even the most avid technophobe can communicate with remote connections on a basic level.

To find new interests and hobbies, or fine tune the old ones, go to a workshop, learn on YouTube, go back to university.  When I took my son for a university induction, the man giving the lecture was telling the audience about an 80 year old plus lady who had just earned her degree.  You are never too old to stop learning!

Finances-wow-big topic!  For repatriating expats, it can also be very complex. Deal with it, seek professional advice from those who specialise in those moving countries and don’t avoid it.  It’s such a personal thing and no one likes discussing finances with others. However, it is a burning issue that needs to be addressed so that you can breathe easy, or hesitantly, knowing where you stand.

Suck it up!!  Somedays you just have to do that – be a grown up!  We all would like to curl up in a ball and hope it goes away, it doesn’t.  It does get easier, but like all things, we have to face our challenges, acknowledge them and work through them one breath at a time.  There’s an old African proverb that gives some advice here – ‘How do you eat an elephant?………One bite at a time.’ Just keep chewing folks!

#retirement  #expatretirement  #expatlife  #thirdage  #whatnextology