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You’re not a failure if you try the expat life and it doesn’t work out

By Larry Welch

I was an expat for five years — first in Spain and then in Cuenca — but I am no longer an expat. I have to add, however, that I have absolutely no regrets about my years living overseas and my life is infinitely richer for the experience.

My purpose for writing is to make the point to expat “wannabes” that if you try the expat life and, for whatever reason, decide to return to your home country, you are not a failure.

Looking at recent online articles, I see plenty of information about what you should consider before becoming an expat. I see “top 10” and “top 5 lists” about the essentials of expatriation. Very little of what I read, however, deals with people who try out expat life but then return to their country of origin. Doing a Google search on the subject turned up very few articles, although there was a good one on this website (to read it, click here). This seems odd to me since the vast majority of expats will eventually go home.

The author and his wife in France.
The author and his wife in France.

And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with going home.

I won’t go into detail, but my wife and I returned to the U.S. three years ago for family reasons. It was necessary and we have no regrets about the decision just as we have no regrets about being expats in the first place.

Even though we spend most of our time in the U.S. these days, our experience as expats fundamentally changed our lives. Before moving overseas in 2007, we had little experience with other countries and cultures. We had traveled very little. In fact, the grand total of our out-of-country trips was two, one to Mexico and another to Great Britain and France.

In the three years since we officially moved back to the U.S., we have spent at least three months a year on the road. We have visited every continent except Antarctica. We have rented houses and apartments for weeks at a time in France, Sweden, New Zealand, Argentina, Poland, and Ireland. We have hung out on exotic beaches and hiked mountain trails in mountain ranges we had never heard of before we made travel plans.

As I write this, I am sitting on a balcony looking over the Cuenca historic district. Yes, we still love Cuenca and this is our second extended visit here — this time for a month — since we officially decamped. We are spending time with friends, checking out all the new restaurants, and doing some of out-of-town sight-seeing that we never got around to when we lived here.

All these adventures would not have been possible had we not been expats. That experience taught us about traveling comfortably in other cultures and dealing with other languages. It gave us a worldly confidence that we would not otherwise have.

In conclusion, my advice to those seriously considering living overseas is not to agonize about the decision. If the spirit moves you, follow it.

Do your homework, learn as much as you can before the move, but don’t get bogged down in all the do’s and don’ts of expatriation that you read. Some of the advice is good, some of it is worthless, and there’s a lot in between, but paying too much attention to it is a waste of time.

Most of all, don’t worry about the what will happen down the road — about whether you’ll “make it” as an expat. You won’t regret the experience.