25 challenges of living abroad
Updated: Jul 16, 2022
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In this post, I will go over the 25 challenges of living abroad and some tips on how to overcome them.
We always try to show the positives of living abroad, because it's true that when you add up the good and the bad, the sum of them is always positive.
BUT, it would be a lie to say that everything is rose-colored, full of rainbows and unicorns when you move abroad.
There are several things that are difficult and I'm going to show you these 25 challenges of moving to a new country and let you know how to overcome those obstacles (there are some we still struggle with).
Here I'm going to leave a story that made me cry too much when I first arrived in Canada, but you can skip it by following the table of contents below.
Table of contents
Initial formalities and paperwork
People & relationships
Missing your country
Getting used to your new country
Due to the pandemic and flight cancellations, Aldo (my partner), Corita (my cat), and I had to travel separately.
I arrived first on February 4, 2021, while Aldo and Corita were able to fly on March 29, 2021.
So I had to be alone for a little over two months.
I stayed in an Airbnb in Toronto for the first month and after the 15-day quarantine (at that time) I had to find a permanent apartment to stay in for the rest of the year.
I had studied ahead of time and before I came I found a realtor. I emailed her and she was very nice. At that time there was snow and she took me to Mississauga to visit different apartments.
At the end of that day, I chose the apartment and she told me what documents I had to send her.
I arrived at my Airbnb, super happy, and sent her all the documents she asked for.
5 minutes later, my phone rings and it was her calling (it was Saturday afternoon) she was telling me "They have doubts about accepting you or not because you don't have a Canadian credit score, so they are asking you to pay 6 months in advance". She also asked me to give an answer right away.
I asked her to give me a moment to think about it. Just so you understand, those 6 months in advance would take more than 70% of the savings I had taken to Canada, it was a lot of money to give up all at once.
I called Aldo, I started to feel desperate and I remember crying a lot. I felt very pressured, I didn't know whether to trust.
She hadn't told me anything before, like that could happen, plus she told me that I had no other option and that everyone would ask for the same.
I accepted, I signed a contract, but that document is activated once you pay the deposit and that was not going to happen until Monday.
To sum up, on Sunday I was feeling mentally bad and I had an English class with my Canadian teacher through Italki (I had classes since I was in Chile with her) so she always gave me the best tips to survive in Canada and I barely connect with her. She told me "No, that's not legal. Don't pay anything."
I started to feel very stupid and scammed. My next step was to email my manager for her opinion as well, I literally had no network or someone who could guide me, so I went to her who was the other person who had helped me come.
She wrote me back almost immediately, saying that to her that sounded a bit like a scam, so I decided to call the realtor and tell her I wanted to cancel the agreement.
When I called her, she got angry and told me that the landlord would sue me for not honoring the agreement and that I was giving her too much work. It was very scary for someone who had just arrived in Canada.
Finally, my manager connected me with a co-worker from Venezuela, who was in my situation at one point. My co-worker gave me the contact of her realtor, who helped me find the place where we live now.
He was super nice and also mentioned to me that being in the middle of the pandemic there were too many offers compared to people looking for a place, and I didn't need to pay extra. So I just paid what was the legal amount, 2 months.
That was my happy ending.
I would love to say that you will not face any of these challenges, but I'm pretty sure you will at least face a couple of them.
Let's review them...
Initial formalities and paperwork
There is nothing more difficult than showing up at a bank to open a checking account, without any Canadian background on who you are.
This was the first thing I did after my quarantine. I went to a traditional bank, brought my work permit, and my passport and they opened my checking account.
However, I was not accepted for a credit card because of my non-existent credit score.
After that, I had to wait 2 weeks for an evaluation and that's how I discovered secured credit cards where you add an amount, which the bank retains and then they give you a credit card with a similar amount, in case you don't pay, they take the retained fund.
Anyway, I had no other option so I took it.
My advice on this matter is don't overthink it, they are assessing your financial history in Canada (which you don't have) not assessing you as a person.
Just take the secured card and make sure you have a couple of dollars saved up for this. Make sure every week you log into your account and pay frequently so you don't use more than 30% of your credit limit.
After a year, seeing that I didn't have many benefits in that bank and asking for months to increase my credit limit, I decided to look for another alternative.
I found a new bank where everything is done virtually, the application process was done from my cell phone, the credit card arrived at home in a few days, I get much better cashback and I can withdraw it whenever I want. They are Neo Financial, they also have secured cards, so I recommend you to explore this, rather than a traditional bank.
2. Canadian credit score
This is not so easy to understand. In my country, if you have a credit card, you buy, you pay on time, you are ready and also they increase your limit as soon as you are paying on time.
Here the Canadian credit score depends on different things, one is the time you have your credit card (zero when you are a newcomer), then you have to use no more than 30% of your credit limit, and you also have to pay on time and more. So, for that reason, you have to "build" your credit score over time.
I would recommend monitoring your credit score weekly. It will take time to build a decent credit score, so don't let this get you down. I use the Borrowell site to see how my score is moving and their inquiries do not impact your score.
3. Too much paperwork that takes your time
As you are starting out, you have to process everything from scratch, from the health card, driving license, local ID, and more, and you have to take your time to study what you have to do and go for it.
You just have to prepare, follow the step by step and flow with it. You'll see that over time, step by step you'll be able to close the pending.
That was one of the reasons that made me open this blog, to make your life easier with step-by-step processes.
4. Permits that are not processed as planned
This is something we are still struggling with, the plan was to extend my work permit to Aldo after he finished his English course.
We are waiting for over 4 months, and recently the page was updated saying it may take 8 months.
That means he can't work and we have to cover everything with one salary.
So, keep in mind that the unexpected can happen, and finally focus on what is in your control, because this is not (How do I tell myself to follow my own advice? 😄).
5. Finding a house
Well... you can read my story here. This can be a challenge. I would recommend finding a realtor (if possible, on the recommendation of someone you know).
I learned that when you are a tenant you don't have to pay the realtor's commission, it's paid by the landlord. Therefore, it is worth looking for one.
This will save you time because they can show you several properties in one day with the characteristics you want and represent you to the landlord with all the paperwork.
People and relationships
6. Making friends
In my previous life, it was already difficult to make friends. I had some, but I didn't go out into the world looking to meet new people.
Well... I realized that when you arrive in a new country, people are already part of a community, usually from their home countries, and it's a bit difficult to enter those communities.
As for my job, for several days I cried on the bus ride home because no one would talk to me at my job, I had lunch alone, etc.
I imagine I was expecting the warm welcome we give in my country when someone new joins the group, guiding them, accompanying them, offering help, etc.
So, after several weeks, one day I told myself that I had to do something different, (maybe it sounds stupid to you) but I decided to buy some vegan candies and take a couple to my work, just to offer them to my colleagues.
I started to feel them open up a bit and start to have a little chat with me, so it kind of worked.
Nowadays, I always have lunch with one of my co-workers and, by the way, sometimes, I still bring some candy.
7. Afraid of people talking to you and don't know how to respond
Uff... I consider myself an introvert, this is a big challenge for me.
Having a stranger come up to me and ask me something in the street, in the supermarket, or wherever, makes me very uncomfortable, because sometimes I don't understand or I can't find the words to answer.
I just don't run away because it would be too weird of me.
Be kind to yourself and get used to also asking to repeat the question, but it's better to ask for repetitions than to say yes to something you don't want.
8. Your name is not pronounced well.
From my point of view, this was not important, what happened was that sometimes if someone asked me something and I did not feel that was my name, it was a little awkward, but nothing more.
One day a co-worker told me that I had to teach others how to pronounce my name, because our name is part of our culture and who we are in the world, that was great and today most of my co-workers do it.
So, when you have the opportunity, make sure they pronounce your name correctly.
9. Different accents
You will meet people who have different accents when speaking English and at first it will be difficult to understand them.
With time you will get used to them, just as they will get used to yours.
It is part of living in a multicultural country.
10. Inappropriate comments
The only thing I have faced related to this was a comment from someone saying that we newcomers were coming to take advantage of the system, but in general I would say that Canada is a very tolerant and welcoming country to immigrants.
For me, it has been an opportunity to learn about diversity and inclusion. I have learned about other communities, religions, traditions, other concepts such as microaggressions, etc.
Missing your country
11. Missing loved ones
If you have a strong attachment to your family, you are going to miss them a lot.
I have a little niece in Chile, and she is growing up very fast. I miss her, but I know this is the path I chose.
In any case, there is technology available today to connect with loved ones, if that's the way you want to be.
12. Missing local holidays
You will miss celebrations, birthdays and important ceremonies in your country.
You will find it strange that days that are commonly holidays in your country are not holidays in your new place.
You can't imagine what it's like to work on September 18th.
On the other hand, you will embrace the new holidays. In the past, I have never had a holiday in February, and in Canada, they celebrate Family Day.
Remember why you decided to travel abroad and in time you will get used to it.
13. Missing food from your country
We live in Mississauga, and after a year we have only found 2 vegan food places.
In Santiago, I have to admit that we had a lot more vegan food options.
This can also happen to you, but I am sure you will find at least one place with food from your country.
14. Mental struggles (Bad & dark days)
Some days this is going to hit you very hard, you won't want to get out of bed sometimes, you will feel like crying and you will have dark days, days where you will question your decisions, days where you will feel like this is not for you, and more.
I think the best advice I can give you is to seek help and get therapy. It is completely normal and I am sure this process will help you cope with all the changes you feel when you move abroad.
15. Health issues and insurance coverage
Make sure that when you move to another country, you take out travel insurance. You never know
In September 2021, Aldo was playing soccer and fell, a couple of weeks later he woke up with a lot of pain in his wrist and we had to go to the hospital.
Fortunately, we had insurance that allowed us not to pay at the time, BUT after 8 months we are still struggling because they have not paid the hospital and now Aldo is getting a letter that he is over 1700 CAD in debt.
Make sure the insurance you choose, has good reviews from people who have had to use it.
16. Feeling that you don't belong
I feel that when I arrived here I stopped being Chilean. If someone classifies me here, I am part of the Latin community and that is rare because we know that every country in Latin America has its particularities and cultural richness.
Even in surveys, they ask you which group you identify with, and Latino is the closest.
Somehow, I am no longer what I was in Chile, but this is not my permanent place either, I feel we are in limbo.
Getting used to your new country
17. Getting used to traffic rules
An example of this is that there are corners with 4 stop signs. We don't have that in Chile and it was completely new for us.
Aldo has 17 years of driving experience and had to take classes to understand how to drive here and what the differences are.
So, my recommendation is if you don't feel confident, take a couple of classes to be able to get your driver's license.
18. Getting used to new weather
When you think of Canada, you think of snow. This can be a struggle, but since we had never lived with snow, we have learned to love it.
I recommend that you get out during the winter and enjoy the season. For example, we still walked every day, even at minus 20 degrees, and now that we are past it, we feel that for us the winter was not so hard.
19. Get used to short days in winter
I think this was more of a struggle than the snow. Late December has the shortest day of the year.
I remember when it would get dark around 4:30 pm. I would leave home in the dark and after work, I would come home in the dark.
I wanted to go to sleep at 6 pm and I did some days because my body was telling me it was time to go to bed. The good news is that after those days, everything will get better because the days get a little bit longer and a little bit longer.
20. Public transportation
If you used to have a car or a motorcycle in your country, it is very likely that at least at the beginning you will have to go back to using public transport.
You will have to learn to take between 30 minutes and 1 hour to go to a place that is 15 minutes away by car.
I try to be productive during this time and use it to my advantage by listening to music I like, podcasts or audiobooks.
This helps to make the trip more entertaining.
21. Canadian experience
There seems to be an unwritten rule that you have to have Canadian experience to get a job. At first, it is difficult to get a job at the same level as what you had in your home country.
It doesn't matter how many years of experience you have. I would say don't worry, the important thing is to start, with time you will improve your English or the language you speak and you will be able to look for a better position
22. Preparing for meetings
I have been working in the same company for more than 4 years but in Spanish!
When I started working in English last year I had to prepare and rehearse what I was going to say.
I consider myself an introvert and oh my God, it's hard. Add to that taking notes, catching what others are saying, and articulating what you want to say.
Have I overcome it? Not 100%, but it's getting better day by day.
I love this video and for a while I had it written on a note near my computer "Fake it till you become it". It talks about power poses, I use it to have the courage to speak in a language that is not my own.
Please check out this video if you resonate with what I am writing here.
When in your country you had stability and years of experience, it is difficult to face unemployment.
You lose your economic freedom and sometimes you can't enjoy things that you took for granted in your home country.
It is distressing to know that your savings are getting smaller and smaller and even though you have the desire, you can't find a job.
The first few months are the worst. Everything you want to buy when you go to the supermarket, or whatever, you immediately calculate it to your local currency.
Don't do that, because you will find that everything will be more expensive than in your home country.
Once you start earning a salary in Canadian dollars or the money of the country you are moving to. You won't worry so much about translating into your home currency.
25. Savings are never enough
You will find that your savings run out quickly, especially in the beginning.
As I recommend in the 40 things to do before moving to Canada post: Save more than you think.
Consider saving for things like paying the 2 months' rent, furnishing the place where you will live, winter clothes (if applicable), airplane tickets, health insurance, etc.
I hope these challenges give you an idea of what life is like for a newcomer. I don't want you to be discouraged by these challenges, because you will learn how to overcome them.
Will it be easy? No. Will you suffer for a while? Yes. Will it be worth it? Absolutely.
Let me know in the comments if there are challenges mentioned here that resonate with your personal story or send me a DM on Instagram