The five stages of expat life that people go through

closest airport to playa del carmen

The five stages of expat life

Have you thought of becoming an expat? Living in another country and living out your dreams? The expat life comes in stages and you might be interested in knowing what these are.

While most people becoming an expatriate of their country go through these stages, the timing is not the same for everyone. Sometimes the honeymoon stage lasts a while or it is shortened by difficulties. At any rate, one of the best pieces of advice is to be positive and embrace new things of your expat life.

Stage 1. Starting your expat life

This is the exciting honeymoon period where everything is great. You plan and then finally get ready for take off in a new country. You hit the ground running with the excitement of a young child.

Each person you meet you enthusiastically exchange conversation with. You are texting and emailing friends back home all the new places you are going.

Each person almost looks to validate their decision to make the move by seeing everything in a positive light. During this first stage it is still like a vacation.

Stage 2. Settling in and getting to work

Ok, enough touring around and eating out. It is time to get down to business. This means getting your house in order and making it feel like a home.

If you have moved but are still working, it is time to get down to work to pay the bills.  In this stage you start to meet people and start deciphering who your new friends are.

Stage 3. Everything is hard and you miss your friends

By the time you get to this stage you are getting down to some of the obligatory things you have to do in life. This can include things like getting a drivers license, having to figure out where to get things repaired, and things like dealing with governmental agencies.

For years you were used to how things worked. Now you are in a completely different place where things don’t always have reasonable answers to why things are done the way they are (see our article about culture shock in Mexico). Things that seemed to be so easily fixed take time and small cultural differences are magnified.

Missing the little things

You can start to miss the little things in this stage. It might be some of the creature comforts that you were used it. It can also be your friends and family. To be away from friends and family for a short time is ok, but after a while you might start missing them. This can be especially true because everything around you is foreign now.

Depressing news

The longer you are in a location, the more you learn about what things are wrong. This can be depressing that the “great place” you moved to has some of the same issues just like other places. Problems with trash, poverty or environmental damages are especially discouraging.

Local food overload

At first it might be fun to try all the local food but then you start missing some of the home cooked things you are used to. Having tacos everyday can get old or your stomach tells you that it cannot handle it. Sometimes you cannot even find the ingredients to cook the food you want. All of this presents a challenge.

expat life

Stage 4. Acceptance and getting in the groove of the expat life

There are always small accomplishments that come with expat life. It might be the first time you have a conversation in another language or feeling fully accepted in your neighborhood. You have concurred the little difficulties of learning life in a different place.

You have learned where to shop and find all the things you like. Your diet has adjusted and you know just how much local food you can take.

Life has gotten easy for you. You have your daily routine and are happy with the goals you have set in your new country.

Stage 5. Your more expat then resident of your old country

After time you begin to embrace many of the local customs and spend less time going back to your former country. You might get used to things like living with less things, change your perception of time, and be less in touch with the rat race.

At this point you would find it hard reintroducing yourself to where you moved from. You have truly gone through all stages of expat life. You have more in common with your neighbors and friends in your new country then your old one. The expat life has changed you and you have embraced it.


Being an expat in our connected world and more globalized society has become much more easy. With terms like digital nomad, it is easy to traverse the globe and be an expatriate of your former country. People of all ages can become more nomadic and can be expats.  The expat life brings challenges and great rewards. We hope get to experience it if being an expat is what you yearn for.

Are you an expat? Did you go through these stages in your expat life? We would love to hear your comments below.

For more reading you might like to see our moving to Playa De Carmen guide or how to have a happy expat life once you arrive.

expat life

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  1. Great article! Been in Mexico 2 yrs 7 months. Started in Mexico City, then just over 2 years in Oaxaca. Just moved to Queretaro. I can say we still flow between all the stages.

  2. I moved to Mozambique, and lived there for around 3 years give or take. Going there was fine. I felt like it was home the very morment my toes hit the tarmac. I had no weird desire to return home, in fact I still wish I was there a lot of times. But coming home was hell for me. Culture Shock, and reintegration just did not go easily. I felt like I was walking in a fog.

  3. I am a former American living in Chongqing, China. I was a stage 4 but recently fell back to a stage 3. These stages are mostly true but I will say they do oscillate. You don’t solidly hit one and your there. I’m a stage 3 today and trying to find stage 4 :'(

  4. Perhaps I should add stages 1 and 2 you do seem to pass pretty well without going back. Stage 4 you definitely hit but fall back pretty easily. I know an American guy here in China he runs several businesses and is an online local celebrity. He may be the only stage 5er I know. Even he is not immune to human emotions though and can slip back down to 3.

  5. This sounds about right. I have lived in three different countries as an expat. Now I consider myself a nomad just moving around. I feel comfortable in new places and with some consistencies I feel able to adapt.

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