How Do You Overcome Culture Shock When Going On Expatriation?

January 30, 2023 in Ex-pat

culture shock on expatriation

How do you overcome culture shock when going on expatriation?

Culture shock is a phenomenon commonly associated with expatriation. It describes the difficulties and stresses that individuals may encounter when moving to a new country or culture. These difficulties may be related to differences in behavior, values, norms, beliefs, customs, languages, religions, and more.

When one moves abroad, one is subject to a great number of changes: change of culture, language, climate, food, lifestyle, etc. These changes can be a source of stress, doubt, anxiety, loneliness, sadness, and isolation.

These difficulties do not only concern the expatriates themselves but also their spouses and children, and it is normal to feel a culture shock when moving abroad. It is part of the expatriation experience.

Being prepared and having strategies to deal with it will make the transition easier.

What is culture shock?


Culture shock is a term used to describe the difficulties and tensions that can arise when a person moves from a familiar cultural environment to a foreign cultural environment. It can occur when people encounter significant cultural differences in communication, social norms, values, beliefs, customs and behaviors.

Culture shock can cause feelings of confusion, anxiety, isolation, and misunderstanding. It can affect the most basic aspects of daily life, such as food, relationships, religion, leisure, professional relationships, and health and education systems.

Our whole life as well as our daily habits are turned upside down and nothing is simple or commonplace anymore.

Culture shock is not a mental illness, but a normal process of adaptation when moving abroad. It can vary in intensity and duration, and some people may be more sensitive to it than others.

culture shock on expatriation

How do you know if you are experiencing culture shock when you arrive in your new country?

It can be difficult to know if you are experiencing culture shock when you arrive in a new country on expatriation, as the symptoms can be varied and similar to other stressful conditions. However, here are some common signs that may indicate you are experiencing culture shock:

  • Feelings of disorientation and confusion: you may feel lost and disoriented by the cultural differences, customs and rules of your new country.
  • Anxiety and insecurity: You may feel anxious or worried about new situations and social interactions in your new environment.
  • Nostalgia and homesickness: you may feel nostalgic for your home country and loved ones, and miss your familiar habits and landmarks.
  • Social isolation: you may feel lonely and isolated, not feeling comfortable with people in your new community.
  • Difficulty adapting to new norms and rules: you may have difficulty understanding and following the social norms and rules of your new country.
  • Fatigue, insomnia, eating disorders: You may have problems with sleep, fatigue, eating disorders related to the adjustment to the change.

These symptoms are usually temporary. However, if you feel overwhelmed, do not hesitate to ask for help to learn how to manage these symptoms. We've been there too, we can help you through the adaptation process.

How do you deal with culture shock when you move abroad?

There are several things you can do to manage culture shock when moving abroad:

  1. Research the culture and customs of your new country before you leave to help you better understand what to expect.
  2. Try to connect with people in the local community, this will help you feel more comfortable and make friends.
  3. Be open-minded and willing to learn new things.
  4. Don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Help is out there and available to you.
  5. Try to keep some elements of your home culture such as food, clothing, traditions, etc.
  6. Pay attention to your emotional and physical well-being and take care of yourself.
  7. If possible, plan regular visits home or vacations to allow you to connect with friends and family.
culture shock on expatriation

Is it normal to experience culture shock when moving abroad?

Yes, it is perfectly normal to experience culture shock when moving abroad. Culture shock is part of the normal process of adjustment when moving abroad. As we previously noted, it can vary in intensity and duration depending on the person. It can be a real challenge to adapt to new norms and customs, to understand the differences in communication, and to feel comfortable in a new country. Despite these challenges, it can be rewarding and exciting in the long run.

Keep in mind that culture shock is a normal process and many expatriates have gone through it successfully!

What are the tips and strategies you can apply to overcome culture shock when arriving on expatriation?

There are several strategies and tips that can help overcome culture shock when arriving in expatriation. Here are some of them:

  1. Be well informed: It is important to learn about the country you are headed to before you leave; take particular note of the customs, social norms and rules.
  2. Be open-minded: Keep in mind that cultural differences can be a source of enrichment and learning, so stay open-minded and be willing to learn, adapt and change your perspective.
  3. Stay connected with loved ones: Staying connected with friends and family back home can help maintain a link to your home culture. WhatsApp and Facetime are your friends!
  4. Do activities you enjoy: Find activities that inspire you, such as sports classes, language classes or volunteering to meet people who share your interests and values.
  5. Make local friends: Try to make local friends to help you understand and adapt to the culture of your new country. This will also help you tremendously in learning the local language.
  6. Take care of your mental health: Take care of your mental health by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, managing stress through techniques such as meditation, and seeking help when necessary.
  7. Integrate the ikigai philosphy in your expat life: The ikigai philosophy will allow you to get through difficult times with more ease and calm (click here to learn more about how ikigai and this approach can help you be happy in your expat life)
  8. Be patient: Adjusting to a new cultural environment can take time, so be patient with yourself and have compassion for yourself if you are experiencing difficulties. 
  9. Remember that it is normal: It is important to remember that experiencing culture shock is absolutely normal and all expatriates face it to some degree.
culture shock on expatriation

How do you know if you are past the culture shock stage and have adapted to your new expatriate life?

It can be difficult to know exactly when you are past culture shock and have fully adapted to your new expatriate life. However, here are a few signs that may indicate that you have overcome culture shock:

  • You feel comfortable in your new environment, you know where to go to find what you need, and you feel comfortable with the people around you.
  • You understand the local cultural codes and know how to behave in different situations.
  • You have local friends and feel comfortable spending time with them.
  • You feel at home in your new country and feel like you belong.
  • You can express yourself in the local language, you understand conversations and you can make yourself understood.
  • You are able to look forward to the future and are able to plan long-term activities and projects (personal or professional).

Adapting to a new cultural environment is an ongoing process that can take time and can vary in intensity depending on the person and the country. It is possible to feel moments of relapse or to feel you have a lower sense of well-being. This, however, does not mean that you are not adapted. It is simply part of the process. 

We have both been through this phase of culture shock and know very well the symptoms and the difficulties that come with it. Going through these periods of difficulty has taught us a lot. We now have the keys and tools to face these challenges with more ease and comfort.

This period of adaptation to expatriate life is a roller coaster of emotions! 

If you feel like you're in the dark and are being tossed around at the beginning of your expatriation, we have just the thing for you:

- The Expat Express -

90min coaching + The Expat Mindset workbook

If you would like to discuss with us to learn more about our services and how an expat coach can help you through the challenges of your expatriation, contact us or book your discovery call today (with Karly for English and with Chloé for French)!

Karly Christ

Karly is a certified NLP and Ikigai coach with over 15 years of expat experience on four continents. Vibrant Ikigai offers workshops and 1:1 coaching services to help expat women move through the ups and downs of this exciting global lifestyle.

Book your free call and let's chat about how I can help you live your best expat life!