Expat guilt - what no one tells you about moving abroad and how to deal with it

Moving abroad is an exciting journey and it is life changing and can be one of the best decisions you ever make. However, there is a lot of romanticizing about the expat and digital nomad lifestyle because it's freeing, it's liberating, and exciting. The real feelings of guilt come during certain situations. People pass away suddenly, family members get sick, and due to global pandemics, you might not be able to get home. Here are some tips to manage it when it happens to you..

The realities of expat guilt and digital nomad guilt

Photo: Saulo Mohana

Moving abroad is an exciting journey and it is life changing and can be one of the best decisions you ever make. It offers great opportunities for both personal growth and professional development. It also brings with it cultural knowledge, language acquisition and a chance to build essential international relationships. There is alot of romanticizing about the expat and digital nomad life because it's freeing, it's liberating, it's great for traveling the world, having incredible experiences and not looking back on your life worrying you didn't make the most of it.

“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”Miriam Adeney

And on the other hand. There are some very dark sides of these lifestyles that don't get talked about enough. Despite all of these advantages though, this new way of life can come with niggling doubts about whether you are doing ‘the right thing’ and whether your decision was the best one for everyone involved.

Overcoming expat guilt can help expats focus on why they initially decided to take the plunge, while understanding some common ground between activities at home and abroad-like indulging in a favorite hobby or meeting new people.

Expat guilt can be a real challenge when moving abroad or when traveling as a digital nomad. This feeling of having committed a wrong or failed in an obligation to friends and family is magnified by the magnitude of the move, and the far-reaching effects it has on those left behind.

As a result, expats and digital nomads often feel bad about leaving their home, friends and family to embark on a new adventure in a different country; sometimes even temporarily abandoning parents or other close relatives who may be ill or vulnerable at home.

The real feelings of guilt come during certain situations. People pass away suddenly, family members get sick, and due to global pandemics, you might not be able to get home.

To manage expat guilt, start by talking it through with other people who understand this lifestyle. It might not be a friend from back home or a family member. They can help you identify and explore the reasons behind your feelings of guilt and help to resolve them.... Every one is very different and not everyone experiences this guilt in their own way...

Where does guilt come from when you live abroad?

Photo: Melanie Wasser

The sensation of expat guilt is an interestingly complex phenomenon depending on where you are in your journey of living abroad. If you're just starting out, it can come with feelings of disapproval from family members or friends who just don't understand what you're doing. It can manifest itself when you move because you're leaving home family and friends behind.

This is often conflated with a sense of guilt at the potential associated privileges accompanying life as an expat such as greater access to new activities or financial opportunities not available in their home country. It's not uncommon to feel bad about the opportunities you feel abroad and other people might even try to guilt-trip you as well. I hate to say it, but it's not uncommon at the beginning for people to say things like: must be nice, wish I could have that, etc.

In my own experience and with pretty much everyone I knew who lived abroad, the last few years of lockdowns and COVID restrictions brought new situations no one could ever have anticipated. And for many of us, we couldn't get home to our families.

There is nothing quite so shitty as the guilt that comes with knowing your parent is sick and you can't get home because you chose to go live abroad. Sure, this is the life we chose. But pretty much every expat or digital nomad has a secret fear deep down that something will happen back home while they're thousands of miles away. And they'll be too late.

Also, it should be noted that other times, people die outside your family and it's not possible to visit. Everyone is there together mourning your friend at the funeral and you're a million miles away. I'm not going to sugar coat it. And it feels terrible. Helpless. Hopeless. There is no good way to explain it.

In essence, the phenomenon of expat guilt is essentially a clash between two competing psychologies; on one hand, the desire to enjoy newfound freedoms while still feeling guilt over 'abandoning' friends and family back 'home'.

Those experiencing expat guilt often feel conflicted between these two opposing forces creating low self-esteem, sadness, helplessness and lingering resentment towards their new lives that they must invariably make peace with in order to fully embrace the path ahead.

How to deal with expat & digital nomad guilt

Coping with expat guilt can be really hard and extremely isolating, especially if you just moved abroad and you don't yet have a good support system. The most effective way to go about this is communication. Also, even though it's uncomfortable, talking things out with friends and family can bethe best way to ease any sense of guilt or responsibility that you may feel when entering an life abroad or leaving loved ones behind temporarily.

The reality is that no matter how much we wish otherwise, people might comment on our decision and this may trigger feelings of guilt in us. It is up to us then, to communicate our emotional needs without sacrificing our own wants and desires in order for our relationship with others not to be altered negatively. Asking for understanding from those who might not totally comprehend the situation can help alleviate any feelings of guilt as well as create stronger bonds between both parties moving forward.

Tips for Expat Guilt

Photo: Helena Lopes

1. Make sure to take time for yourself to process your emotions:

Moving abroad can be a stressful experience and it’s important to make sure you give yourself some much needed ‘you’ time even though many times we might throw ourselves into working to try to get ahead or stay busy. Whether it’s reading a book, going for a walk, or doing something creative, carving out some special moments for yourself can help relieve any guilt or stress..

2. Connect with others who live abroad

It can be helpful to connect with other people who have made a similar move and are struggling with the same feelings. This could be done through online forums, social media groups or even organizing meet-ups in person if possible.

3. Stay in touch with loved ones back home:

One of the best ways to combat expat guilt is by staying connected to your family and friends back home. Social media, video chat, and email are all great ways to stay in touch with those you’ve left behind.

4. Make an effort to get involved:

Getting involved in your new community can be a great way to feel less isolated and more connected. Join a club or group, volunteer with a local organization, or even just explore the city on weekends; whatever helps you feel like you’re part of your new home. There are many hobbies and activities that are a great way to meet new people.

5. Acknowledge and accept the guilt:

Lastly, it is important to acknowledge and accept any feelings of guilt that may arise. These feelings are normal and expected and should be seen as a natural part of the transition process. Understanding this can help you work through these emotions in a healthier way. Use a journal to write down your emotions and process your feelings.

6. Using EFT Tapping for Expat Guilt:

EFT tapping is a powerful tool to help you manage feelings of guilt in a healthy and effective way. It involves gently tapping on acupressure points on your body while repeating positive affirmations and can help to reduce stress, anxiety, and negative emotions.

Overall, it is important to remember that feeling guilty when you is natural, but also something that can be overcome with time and patience. Taking the time to set boundaries, communicate, and connect with others can help you reduce any sense of guilt. Moreover, having a plan in place for how to manage guilt when it arises can be an important step in helping you adjust to your new life abroad so you don't take on any feelings that aren't yours if you feel pressured by your family or friends.


It is also important to remember that guilt can be a natural part of any major life change, especially those involving international moves. It can be helpful to focus on the positive aspects of your situation and the opportunities that you now have in front of you. Reminding yourself about why you chose this path in the first place can help reframe any negative thoughts or feelings. Additionally, it may be beneficial to get coaching and EFT to help you manage your emotions.

Set up a free discovery call today! 


ANDREA HUNT - Online Transformational Life Coach & EFT Tapping Practitioner based in Munich, Germany

I'm an accredited transformational life coach from Animas Centre for Coaching UK  and a member of the International Coaching Federation. I'm also a Level 2 practitioner in EFT Tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique) and a member of AEFTP (Association of Emotional Freedom Technique Professionals).

If you're not sure where to start transforming your life, you can download my free ebook on How to Start Your Personal Growth Journey.

Are you ready to change your life, let go of old beliefs, empower yourself for a mindset shift to move forward? Mark Batterson says: You're always one decision away from a totally different life.

If you're interested in booking a free 15 minute discovery call for transformational life coaching, EFT Tapping or checking out my services page click here.

header image: Jacqueline Day

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