The Nº1 ingredient to a successful life abroad

The Nº1 ingredient to a successful life abroad

Starting a new life abroad is exciting and a great opportunity to make the best of all that life has to offer

When preparing for the move, you have included all the dreams, wishes and needs that you can think of and, armed with a clear vision of how your new life abroad should look like, you’ve started the journey to make the move.

Soon you find out that there is so much to learn and that gathering the right and updated information can be overwhelming and challenging. With so many decisions to make, you might, at a certain point, not see the wood for the trees anymore.

Indeed, figuring out administrative and financial aspects is important, but there is one big thing you should definitely not forget if you want to succeed abroad: to set a focus on the social and emotional values that you need in order to make this stage in your life meaningful and fulfilling.

Whilst building up a social network when you were in your twenties was easy and effortless, you’re a different person now. You’ve learned from the lessons that life taught you and have been able to accept losses as well as see and count the blessings that came your way. Now you actually know what you don’t want.

But do you know what you do want for yourself? How should your new life look like? What are the necessities and non-negotiables for you to be happy? It’s very important to figure out what it is that you need emotionally for your adventure abroad to be successful.

Leading the Expat Centre Portugal and working as a life coach with internationals abroad for many decades, I have learned to know international foreigners very well, as well as the different emotional stages they go through once they have initiated the move abroad.

I know all about their needs, hopes and dreams, and also about the victories and the emotional challenges they face.

If you’re planning on moving countries or have already arrived, finding a community where you feel at home, with people who get you, is one of the greatest achievements and an absolute factor that contributes to your wellbeing.

During the (online) Coffee & Conversation events that we organise, I meet many courageous individuals and couples who decided to pack up their bags and start a whole new life abroad.

Most of these retirees are not used to being with their spouse the whole day, every day, or to be by themselves without having a job or a hobby that facilitates an everyday structure and feeling of purpose.

Some of the most impactful emotional aspects you need to learn to deal with are lack of purpose, loneliness and homesickness. You can miss the weirdest things from your home country, things you didn’t even really value or notice, but missing them now definitely feels like a painful gap.

It is the little things, like having a chat with your local baker, going to your favourite museum or chatting with your friends at the gym. Also, most likely, your family is not moving with you, and having them in another country can be hard when you feel challenged.

As they didn’t make the move, it might be hard to explain to them what it is that you are experiencing. Because sometimes it can be so subtle that you don’t even have the words for it, nor do they know how to ask for it.

These social aspects, such as loneliness, isolation or lack of purpose, can hit you at a later time and dealing with them, when you haven’t built up a safety net, is hard.

From my experience, I can guarantee you that there will be moments in which you wonder whether you’ve made the right decision and sometimes you don’t even know where to source the energy to keep going.

Here are a few self-care tips that help to get ahead of these emotional challenges – finding your tribe and making connections as an expat being the most important one.

  • I suggest you spend some energy in making your new country feel like home by reaching out. Moving abroad and starting all over again can be challenging, as you’re not 20 anymore and have to step out of your comfort zone big time to create this new life from scratch.


  • An important thing that you can do for yourself right now is to become part of a network, or a safety net if you like to call it that way. To make connections before and immediately after arrival – especially when coming from another continent – has great value as it improves the quality of your life immensely. We are all social beings who need each other for support and to share experiences.


  • Especially when starting all over in a country where you don’t speak the language, where the culture and habits are different, it’s helpful to be part of a group where you feel you belong. Likeminded people who are in the same boat, friends who can really see you and can witness you in your new life. Having your go-to person will solve feelings of loneliness, ease any anxiety you may have and your nervous system, that has been working overtime to organise the move and to settle, can finally relax.

Having this social foundation, you’re confident enough to let go of anything that holds you back to reinvent yourself and to step out into the world and make this time of your life the best time ever!

Know that this is definitely possible for you because you have the support of your new friends: likeminded internationals who have gone through the same learning curves of how to create and enjoy the good things in life.

“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one” – Jane Howard

Ria van Doorn
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The Expat Centre Portugal helps internationals prepare themselves for the move to their new home and to build a steady network once you’ve arrived. We make sure you feel welcome, safe and supported for this exciting new chapter in your life.

Ria van Doorn is a life coach for internationals living abroad and founder of the Expat Centre Portugal.