You’ve done it. You’ve made your big move abroad! You’ve taken care of all the documentation, healthcare, insurance, finances, and you’ve packed up your entire life and moved to another country. Wow. Kudos to you! You are now officially an expat.

So, why would it be that after one of the most exciting of moves of your life you begin to feel…off. “What is this?!” you cry. “What else could I possibly have to deal with?” you ask.

Expat woman walking sheepishly in the middle of a busy street.
Moving to a new country is exciting, but sometimes the journey can lead to uneasy feelings.

First off, calm down. You’ve been under quite a bit of stress lately. And second, know this: Feeling disconnected, isolated and unmotivated isn’t uncommon for expats, especially during the early stages of living abroad. After the honeymoon phase, you may find that the thrill and novelty of your new home country just isn’t there anymore – that everything you’d looked forward to doing and seeing suddenly seems less interesting. Now that you’re settled, and you’ve experienced the roller coaster of emotions that stem from homesickness and culture shock, you may find yourself dealing with something called relocation depression.

Let’s Start with the Basics: What Exactly is Relocation Depression?

Relocation depression is defined by the feelings of sadness, anxiety and loneliness that can come with living in a new place. It’s that simple. And yes, this can happen whether you’ve moved 10,000 miles or 100 feet.

A recent poll by North American Van Lines showed that 64% of respondents consider their most recent move to be one of the most stressful events they’ve ever had.

Now, you may expect a moving company’s findings to skew this way, so I also looked up the biggest of life’s stresses and let me say, moving is definitely up there, along with the death of a loved one, divorce and loss of a job. Furthermore, after their last relocation,

43% of Americans vow that they will never move again.

Now that you can appreciate the inordinate amount of stress involved in moving, let’s get into the nitty-gritty.

Why Can Moving Internationally Be Such a Downer?

Most of us humans are creatures of habit. We like predictability and consistency. And, since moving abroad can be a long, grueling and unpredictable process, dealing with your emotions during and after the move doesn’t always happen overnight. If you’re struggling to adjust, you may find yourself craving the familiarity and comfort of your life back home. Plus, the cultural differences you’ve experienced can diminish that sense of adventure and independence that initially enticed you to relocate.

Depressed man sitting at a table looking out of a storefront window.
Longing for home while abroad is completely normal.

What are the Symptoms of Relocation Depression?

If at some point during your time abroad, you start to feel unlike yourself, you could be experiencing moving depression. Here are a few telltale signs to look for:

1. You’re sleeping too little or too much

Do you find it difficult to fall asleep at night? Or do you find yourself sleeping whenever you don’t have to work?

2. You don’t want to leave the house

Do you find every excuse to stay inside or feel reluctant about leaving your home?

3. You feel more anxious

Do you find that things that wouldn’t normally overwhelm you cause you serious anxiety or (worse), lead to a panic attack?

4. You have no interest in socializing (even if you’re an extrovert)

Have you developed a fear or lack of interest in socializing with others? Or does social interaction no longer give you the same energy it used to? This can be very concerning, especially if you’re usually an extrovert.

5. You’ve lost interest in your favorite activities

Do hobbies you once enjoyed no longer interest you?

If you believe you are suffering from relocation depression or another similar mental health condition, be sure to contact your health care provider to get a proper diagnosis.

How Long Does It Last?

There is no specific duration for relocation depression. For some, it may last only a few weeks. For others, it may last months or years. If you feel like your depression has become too much to handle or if you feel you are at risk for suicide, please seek help immediately. The National Helpline is available 24/7/365 free of charge.

How to Deal with Relocation Depression?

Coping with relocation depression can be challenging, especially if this is your first time living abroad. However, there are plenty of ways to combat those negative feelings and make things easier for yourself. Here’s how:

Don’t Stress Out About Stressing Out

Sometimes we all need a little guidance. So, it may be beneficial to seek professional help. Now, I realize that this may be easier said than done. Depending on where in the world you’re located, access to mental health care may be scarce or unreliable. If that’s the case, mental health apps can give you easy online access to therapists in your home country.

Find a Support Group

Chances are you’re not the only expat experiencing relocation depression. Depending on where you live, you may be able to find an expatriate or relocation support group where you can meet people in person who are having similar experiences. You may even find expats from your own country who could bring some familiarity, but don’t shy away from seeking out expats from other countries; their perspective can help you overcome or deal with your feelings more effectively. It can feel a lot better to struggle with others than to struggle alone.

People spending time together listening to music.
Connect with other expats and locals to support each other and share experiences.

Support Groups Formulated Specifically for Expats:

Related article: Top Dating Apps for Expats

Recreate a Space from Your Old Place

Sometimes, we need to remember where we came from. Fix up a room (or just a corner) of your new place with the sights, sounds, smells and feeling of your home country. This can include streaming your favorite radio station from your old home, or using fragrant oils or candles . These can give you a comforting place to escape to when you’re feeling a bit low.

Stay in Touch with Loved ones

While building new relationships is important, so is staying in touch with friends and family back home. Part of your relocation depression may stem from feeling homesick. Whether you’re going through a tough time or just need to talk to someone, connecting with your core support group can help put you at ease. Set up a schedule…for example, decide to call your family twice a week and reach out to at least one friend per week. Make a plan to take a photo of every new or interesting place you see and then you can share it with your loved ones…it’s a great way to blend your old life with your new one.

Reinforce Why You Became an Expat in the First Place

Chances are good that you’ve got a stockpile of notes, diaries and other communications from before you moved. Remember the excitement you felt? That longing for adventure? Reviewing these may remind you of the reasons why you initially wanted to go on this adventure and will help to reinforce (or reinvigorate) your enthusiasm for your new home.

An expat smiling in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Revisiting your list of must-see sites is a great way to reconnect with your new home.

Create Familiar Routines

Remember when you were committed to walking 30 minutes a day every morning? Get back into that habit again…same time, different country. Or maybe your old routine involved a big cook on Sundays. (Gotta love those weekday leftovers.) There’s nothing wrong with going back to your old habits, but make sure it’s just the good ones.

And Speaking of Walking

Getting physically active is a great way to beat the relocation blues. Exercise can increase your endorphins, boost your energy and provide a healthy coping mechanism when you start to feel down. It can also be a great way to meet others. Whether it’s cardio, weights, swimming, biking, hiking or a group sport, any amount of exercise can help you feel good.

Give Yourself a Little Tender Loving Care

Above all else, be kind to yourself! Plan one nice thing for yourself per day, whether it’s a nice piece of chocolate, binge-watching a favorite show, or stopping at your favorite shop. Remember that there is no schedule for when you should feel completely comfortable in your new home…it’s whatever feels right for you.

It Gets Better

We hope the tips above will help you to overcome some of the challenges that arise from feeling relocation depression.

Moving and living overseas can be challenging, but it won’t feel that way forever. Relocation depression is common for many, and, fortunately, it often fades over time. Remember that one of the greatest rewards of moving is the fact that it represents new beginnings and it’s a wonderful chance to start over. You can be anyone that you want to be! You can go by a different name, or you can become the office optimist if you choose to be. If you keep this in mind, you can overcome a lot of negative feelings about the change in your life. Everyone adjusts at their own pace, so take as much time as you need to feel comfortable. You moved abroad for a reason! Once you overcome these obstacles, you will feel a greater sense of confidence, pride and resilience as you embark on your exciting next chapter.

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