Becoming an expat is filled with an intricate web of emotions that come into those first days and weeks. As an expat psychologist with a focus on individuals navigating the expat life, I know that you can go from the initial excitement to overwhelmed by challenges, cultural shifts (or culture shock) in those first few weeks.

I started my own expat journey over 14 years ago when I moved to Vienna and then later to Spain.

I remember those first days of becoming an expat being filled with excitement. My first week was a little bit different as the reality little by little kicked in.

Beyond the honeymoon phase, the first week for me unfolded into a bureaucratic maze as a love-pat. As a non-European migrant, obtaining a visa extension became a crucial yet hard task. Navigating through a series of offices and complex procedures illuminated the challenges and frustrations inherent in securing the right to stay in a new country. That’s what I remember most from my first few weeks as an expat.

Everyone has their own unique experience but there are common emotions that we all feel as expats that are important to explore, name and accept.

Becoming an Expat: Navigating the Emotional Landscape of Expat Life - unravelling the challenges

Unraveling the Challenges of the First Weeks

It’s very interesting how you feel in those first few weeks. It’s like you’re scooped out of your reality and then placed into this new one and everything is kind of similar, but all is very different. Amongst that excitement you start to unravel the challenges that becoming an expat present you.

The cultural shifts – Those shifts for me between Chile, Austria, and then Spain presented fascinating dynamics. Moving from the relaxed atmosphere of Latin America to the structured environment of Austria posed a culture shock. However, the return to a more Latin setting in Spain introduced a sense of familiarity, but was a little bit like culture shock again in the sense of, OK, I’m back to Chile in a way.

The Dynamics in Expat Partnerships – The move to Spain, alongside my ex-partner, added a layer of complexity to the expat experience. Transitioning between the leading role to a collaborative effort posed both opportunities and challenges in our partnership. The dynamics of being an expert expat versus a local added an extra layer to our relationship.

Loss of identity – Moving anywhere can leave some loss of identity, moving to a completely different country, with a different language and culture means you have to forge your own identity as an expat. Moving to Austria I know I needed to rebuild identity for myself in a new country, the new environment. So I kind of absorbed parts of the culture, how they did things, how life was over years. It’s the start of coming back to you in a way through the external environment.

These are just three of the challenges that not only I, but other expats I help, unravel as they grow into their expat life.

The Emotional Wheel of Expat Life

From my experiences and from the many expats that I’ve worked with over the years I’ve learnt that whilst our experiences are unique there are common emotions that come with being an expat who faces these challenges.

Through the emotional spectrum of expat life, three prevalent emotions emerge:

  • Guilt – because I left my parents behind, because I’m not living up to the expectations of myself or to others. Guilt because I’m not seizing the opportunity that I’m being presented by being here, especially in in those first world countries like Austria.
  • Envy – triggered by comparisons. That someone else speaks the language, that they have friends and me I don’t have friends or I’m not successful.
  • Loneliness – you can be lonely in in your gold cage, or you can be lonely in a very precarious situation.

These emotional intricacies are often hidden beneath the surface. They’re also perceived as negative emotions. But they are all normal, they are there to teach you something.

Becoming an Expat Navigating the Emotional Landscape of Expat Life - Pinterest

How to cope with the challenges of your expat journey

Expat life is challenging. But, in times of emotional turbulence, reconnecting with the reasons you became an expat will become a lifeline.

Why did you move?
Why did you make the decision?
Your why?

Placing visual reminders on post it notes in your bedroom, living room, where ever you choose, can act as an anchor. They’re there to remind you of the bigger picture and help maintain perspective amidst the many emotions you might be experiencing especially when you start to question why am I doing this? why am I putting myself in this situation?

Sticking to that why in the hardest moments can help you maintain that North Star. Emotions will come and they’ll be challenging and not like anything we have really experienced at this level before.

Becoming an Expat: Navigating the Emotional Landscape of Expat Life - How to cope

As you navigate the complexities though, remember the ‘why’ that propels you forward, seek help when needed, and build a supportive community to thrive in the ever-changing landscape of expat living.

Becoming an expat and expat life itself is not just a physical relocation, it’s a profound emotional and psychological journey that reshapes your identity and perspective.

Whatever you’re feeling, don’t hide. Don’t repress. Don’t shame yourself for feeling the way you feel. Ask for help if you need it. I know living as an expat can be a challenging and overwhelming experience, but you don’t have to struggle alone.

Book a consultation with me today and we can work together to develop strategies and coping mechanisms to help you navigate your becoming and expat and your expat experience.

Find out more about my methods and approach here.

Do you want to know more about on how to overcome Limiting Beliefs of life abroad? Check my Workshop here

Searching for useful and effective strategies? Download my 9 Tools to overcome Expat Anxiety Freebie

Want your 30-Minute Free Consultation? Book Here! and let’s start the road to the expat life YOU want to live!

Check the testimonials of clients living the life abroad they want!

By your side,


If you are an expat woman who wants to live a joyful, successful and fulfilled international​ life, Gabriela is the Licensed Psychologist and Mentor you need.

She helps you reclaim your self-confidence back and design your expat life in your own terms. Gabriela has more than 20 years of professional experience, speaks 3 languages (sometimes in one sentence, like you!) and has supported more than 400 expats overcome anxiety and burnout, build meaningful relationships and enjoy their international lives, wherever they are, wherever they are heading.

Gabriela supports expats in Spanish, English and German and also offers workshops and talks for companies.