Expat Life

8 common fears when moving abroad – and how to overcome them

  • May 18, 2020

We’re coming up to a year of living in Spain, I can’t quite believe how quickly it’s gone! Selling up and moving to Spain was definitely one of the best decisions we’ve ever made, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have some worries about moving overseas initially. Some of the most common fears when moving abroad were definitely on our mind. Luckily the good has far outweighed the bad.

Now might not be the best time to talk about moving abroad, but if it’s your dream it doesn’t mean you can’t start planning a big move. Being prepared and doing your research on how to cope with moving to a new country will make things a lot easier on the whole family.

If you want to move overseas but have some niggling worries holding you back, have a read of this post listing 8 common fears when moving abroad and how to overcome them…

1. Missing family & friends

Obviously this is a really big worry for most people thinking about taking the plunge and leaving home for another country, I imagine it makes a lot of people too scared to move abroad which is understandable. If you’re close to your family and have friends you see all the time, you’re going to miss them a lot there’s no doubt about it. We’re very lucky that my parents moved to Spain around the same time we did, but we’ve still left a lot of loved ones back in the UK. As of right now we haven’t seen them for a year (thanks to Covid-19 ruining travel plans!) and it is hard on both sides.

You will get homesick at some point, but luckily there are so many great ways to stay in touch these days. Since we left the UK there have been lots of video calls, WhatsApp messages, and photos shared on social media. The video calls help kids a lot, especially when they’re missing friends.

If you’re not going somewhere really far flung you’ll probably also have people travelling over to see you in your new home for a holiday.

And don’t forget you’ll make new friends. They won’t replace those you’ve left behind but you won’t be lonely for long if you put an effort in to meeting new people.

2. The language barrier

One of my top worries about moving to Spain was the language. I got good marks for GCSE Spanish but that was over 20 years ago and apart from a bit of holiday Spanish here and there I hadn’t used it much since. I was using Babble and DuoLingo language apps for a while before we moved, and Little H had a tutor for around 9 months, but it’s not the same as having to speak Spanish to real Spanish people. Especially when the conversations you need to have are about school applications, opening bank accounts, and buying cars rather than text book phrases about how many siblings you have or what you like to do at the weekend!

You just have to be brave and throw yourself in at the deep end. Swot up as much as you can, study in your spare time, and prepare the phrases you need before you go to an appointment – write them down if necessary. If all else fails, Google Translate is a life saver. I’m by no means fluent in Spanish now but I can just about get by and so far haven’t made any embarrassing mistakes – that I know of!

3. Schooling

This was the one that kept me awake at night. Were we making a mistake and expecting too much from an 8 year old? Moving schools is always scary but moving countries and being plonked in a school where all the kids speak a different language is a biggie!

I joined expat groups, spoke to lots of other families who had done the same, and every single one of them told us to put her straight into a local school rather than into an English speaking International school. Good job as we couldn’t have afforded private school fees which are pretty much the same as in the UK.

I’m not going to say it’s been a walk in the park, she’s struggled to communicate with the other kids at times and for us the homework and talking to the teachers is difficult. But she loves school here, it’s so relaxed compared to England and it’s crazy rules, and she says she wouldn’t want to go to school in England or wear uniform again! They put on lots of events and generally have fun in the sun.school spain

Our school have been great, there’s a lot of non-Spanish kids for such a small school (British, French, Belgian, Dutch) and they put on additional Spanish lessons for the ‘extranjeros’. When there’s a meeting we’ll take a translator with us to make sure we understand everything being said.

Your situation will be different depending on where you’re moving to, the abilities of your kids, and how old they are, but it might not be as bad as you think. Little H could hardly speaking any Spanish when she started last September but has just completed Geography worksheets on rivers and map reading without any help from us – kids are amazing!

4. Money worries

One of the most common fears when moving abroad is money. Unless you’re moving abroad because you’ve won the lottery you’re bound to have some worries about finances and how you’ll cope living and working abroad. It could be you’re moving to a country where the cost of living is a lot cheaper, or on the other hand it could be a lot more expensive than what you’re used to. On the whole the cost of living in Spain is about the same as the UK, although some things are slightly cheaper.

Moving to Spain with no money (or anywhere else for that matter) isn’t a good idea. Cut back on things you don’t really need such as loans for new cars, gym subscriptions and TV packages until you find your feet and get used to the cost of living.

We sold our house in the UK before moving so luckily we’ve had some savings to fall back on when work got put on hold due to the unexpected global pandemic! If you have plenty of time to prepare for your big move, I’d definitely recommend having some money saved for at least 6 months rent/mortgage if you can – if anything happens you might not find it as easy to get a job as you would back home.

5. Finding work

If possible, sort out jobs before hand, even if it means a few trips back and forth to get everything sorted before you move. It will make moving to Spain as a family a lot less stressful. We speak to so many people who moved to Spain but now can’t find jobs to support themselves or are trying to support a family of 4 on a few shifts in a bar. Be mindful of the unemployment situation where you’re moving to, in Spain there aren’t enough jobs for the Spanish let alone expats who don’t speak the language so many people struggle.

I think the best idea is to work online. Set yourself up as a freelancer in whatever area your skills lie, then when you move you can take your clients with you. You can work from home and don’t need to worry about the language barrier quite as urgently. If you need some ideas, take a look at this post on jobs you can do from anywhere in the world.

6. Home comforts

You can take whatever you like with you when you move to another country but it’s very expensive to have things shipped over so you’ll probably need to have a massive de-clutter. The cheapest way to move to Spain would be not to take anything with you, but when you have a family that’s not realistic. We got rid of everything except summer clothes, photo albums, Little H’s toys and a few bits of furniture and it still cost us almost £2000 to get it all shipped fro, the UK to Spain.

Have a think about what you’ll realistically need in your new home. Are you renting a furnished home or is furniture cheaper to buy than to ship over? Will your style of furniture even go in your new place? Will you actually miss those knick-knacks that have been gathering dust or pushed to the back of a cupboard? Speak to other expats and find out what they brought over that they didn’t need, and what they wished they’d brought with them.

At the end of the day it’s all just ‘stuff’ and shouldn’t be the reason you have second thoughts about moving abroad. There’s not really anything we’ve missed that we got rid of, though I did wish I’d brought more jumpers when it was cold in January.  But you can always find a Primark where ever in the world you are!

7. Food

On a similar thread to home comforts, common fears when moving abroad might be that you’ll miss your favourite foods or brands, especially if your kids are picky eaters. If you’re moving to a remote village in somewhere like Thailand then you might find things hard to get hold of, but most countries with big cities will have a lot of the things you’re looking for. We find it hard to get hold of certain things in Spanish supermarkets – nowhere sells squash (as in the drink) and proper English sliced bread is hard to find. But there are quite a few (expensive) English supermarkets for when you really miss something and fancy a treat.

We’ve discovered lots of new food and ingredients, and have learnt what alternatives are the best, even if not quite the same. You can also get friends and family to pack things in their cases for you when they come over to visit – we’ve had Colmans cooking sauces and Oxo cubes brought over as well as good old Marmite!

We’ve definitely embraced Spanish tapas and paella since we’ve been here, and absolutely love it!

spanish food

8. Healthcare

This wasn’t something that really crossed my mind initially but a lot of people commented on leaving behind the amazing NHS when we spoke about moving. So far we haven’t had to visit a doctor in Spain but as long as you pay into the system healthcare in Spain is free. If you have a job, pay social security through your self-employed taxes, or have a pension then you’re entitled to register for free healthcare. The Spanish health care system is also ranked one of the best in the world and from what I’ve heard the waiting times for appointments and operations are really short so we’d probably be better off.

You can also buy things like asthma inhalers over the counter here without a prescription for a lot cheaper than in the UK, though a pack of Ibuprofen will set you back around €3 rather than 35p! (Another thing we ask people to bring over for us!)

It’s a good idea to do your research on healthcare and prescription costs before you move, especially if you have any existing illnesses or regular prescriptions.


If you’re dreaming of moving abroad but put off by your worries, then I hope some of these common fears about moving abroad and how to overcome them have put your mind at rest a little bit? You will always have some moving away nerves, but most of these can be overcome and your new life could make you realise they’re not as bad as you expected.

Will you be planning on moving to another country in the future?


1 Comment

  • Alan

    Great insightful post. I made the decision to move to Greece 2 years ago – stressful to start with but it definetely pays off. Happy here now 🙂


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