The 7 habits of highly effective expats

Currently 1 in 2 expatriate assignments are terminated early because the employee or their family aren’t happy.  Likewise, many migrants take years to feel at home in their new country, while others seem to be very settled after only a few months. What makes the difference between success and failure and between happiness and unhappiness for expats?

I’ve met and worked with many expats over the years, of different ages and family situations and from all sorts of countries, and it seems to be that the ones who succeed and are happy soonest are the ones who practice the following habits;

  1. Do Your Research.  Before you leave, learn all you can about where you are going to. In particular learn how much things cost, so that you can plan and manage a budget. What kind of house will you be able to afford? If you won’t be able to afford a car, make sure you rent a house near good public transport.  Find out too where others from your country live, and about churches/ social groups/ business networking groups etc where people congregate, so that you can make the most of this support group from day 1.
  2. Ask for help! Make the most of being new and ask for help.  Nobody minds helping and many people before you will have learnt the hard way, so make the most of their experience! Additional expatriate coaching is available to you if you need it and may be provided for you if you ask.
  3. Think outside the square.  You are coming to a whole new life and things you took for granted before may not happen here. You might not be able to do the same job – or even to work at all, in which case, what can you do to challenge and fulfill yourself? Your social life may be very different and your friends will become your new family. See these differences as opportunities to try doing something a different way – you might be surprised how much you like it!
  4. Build a network. Networking is critical, it’s not just ‘who you know’ but ‘who knows you’. You may have taken your networks at home for granted, but your networks here will probably be the source of your house and furniture, your job, your car, all kinds of helpful information and of course your friends and support group. Seek out others who are in the same situation, so you don’t feel isolated and accept any invitation you receive – you never know where it will lead.
  5. Focus on the present and the future, not the past. It is inevitable that you will feel lonely and homesick at some point, and it’s very tempting to look backwards and compare there with here, but nobody here wants to hear about it. Keep your grumbles to yourself or your partner and outside the house be the sunny, friendly person that other people will want to meet and become friends with.
  6. Build culturally awareness. Learn all you can about the culture of your new country through books, the internet, or an expatriate or cross cultural training tool.  Even if you speak English well, don’t assume that language is a culture. You wouldn’t join in a competitive game of sport without first learning the rules, and equally you can’t expect to ‘win’ in a new culture without first understanding the rules of the game.
  7. Maintain a healthy work life balance. It’s tempting to do nothing but work in the first few months.  You’ll want to get some money together, get the house sorted, make a good impression on the new boss and so on, but that kind of pressure isn’t healthy and isn’t sustainable.  Have fun exploring your new city, spend time together as a family or a couple, even if it’s just for a walk by the beach or to watch a dvd together. If the family isn’t happy together and aren’t supporting each other emotionally, no amount of money is going to make your move a happy one.

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About the Author

Patti McCarthy

Patti McCarthy

Patti McCarthy is an expatriate & life coach who helps migrants and expatriates to not just survive the experience but actively enjoy it. For further information please visit

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