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The Migrant Experience: The challenges of moving abroad

Moving abroad is no mean feat. While it can present amazing opportunities and experiences, it can also bring on difficult challenges and new struggles. But this is all normal and to be expected. After all, you’re living in a new country.

You’re also likely working in a new job. With new people. And navigating a new commute. Throw in cultural changes, new foods, language barriers and the fact that your family and friends are now far away, and boy—it can be overwhelming.

But moving abroad is also one of the best things you can do in life. And we should know. We’re a company built by migrants for migrants. And over 50% of our workforce is currently living and working abroad. 

As part of our Migrant Experience series, we spoke to some of our Transfernauts about the common challenges surrounding moving abroad and how they overcame them. 

Missing home

Missing home is one of the inevitable struggles of moving abroad. In fact, it’s such a common issue that we recently wrote a whole post dedicated to the difficulties of missing home when living abroad. 

To quickly recap, our Transfernauts suggested overcoming the struggle of being away from friends and family by throwing yourself into your new life abroad. “Embrace meeting new people and attending new events,” advised Iurii, our Marketing Manager.

Meanwhile, keeping in touch with family via regular visits and video calls has proved a lifeline for Svetlana, our Growth Manager for Russia. We know budgets, time and the ongoing pandemic doesn’t always make travelling easy, but planning a trip home for a few months down the line can really help with homesickness.

We’ve also found that creating a routine and scheduling in some ‘you’ time can be beneficial when you’re pining for home. But as Vinod, our Principal Product Designer, said, “I miss home, but I’m so glad I left. Home is here and now for me.” So maybe, missing home won’t be as bad as you think.

Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork

Ah, paperwork. The bureaucracy of moving abroad is something that often catches people out. And it certainly caught a couple of our Transfernauts off guard.

Our Marketing Manager, Iurii is a Ukrainian living in Warsaw, Poland. He says, “I wish I’d been better prepared in terms of documents and legalisation. Thankfully, my job helped with the paperwork but otherwise, it would have been very difficult. In Poland, it’s quite bureaucratic in terms of legislation and documents and it can be difficult to understand without help.”

Our Principal Product Designer, Vinod, moved from Dubai to India to Germany to Lithuania in the space of 1 year and 5 months. He notes that the bureaucracy caught him out too—particularly in Germany. “I wish I’d known about the bureaucracy in Germany before moving. They make it hard for migrants.”

If you find yourself in a similar situation, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether it’s your employer, a friend of a friend or the guy with the same accent as you at the coffee shop—ask around. Most people are glad to help and offer advice. And if you’ve not yet moved abroad, this can be one of the things you prepare for in advance. Research the bureaucratic requirements of moving to your new country and give yourself a kind ‘heads up’ of what to expect.

Looking after yourself

If your move abroad is the first time you’re living away from home, then bravo! You are one brave spirit. Even if you’re struggling, you’re doing so well. But let’s look at ways to make things as easy as possible for you, pronto.

Svetlana, our Growth Manager for Russia moved from Siberia to Germany six years ago for her studies. Today, she’s living in Berlin and plans to stay indefinitely. She says, “Before moving to Germany, I didn’t know what it would be like to be fully responsible for myself and my family. However, my studies, internships and jobs helped me to integrate quickly. In the end, the process was smooth.”

If this is your first time living abroad, it’s a good idea to arm yourself with some helpful tools. This could be as simple as downloading a few apps designed for migrants or making a conscious decision to live in a house share for social and moral support.

And of course, having a job can be a huge aid in helping you adapt to a new life abroad. Not only will it help you financially, but it can introduce you to so many new people and opportunities.

Don’t forget the endless benefits of throwing yourself into a hobby, too. You’ll keep busy, meet new people and learn new skills. And with that comes the confidence and reassurance that you’ve got this. And you have.

Language barriers

Facing a new language? If you’ve moved to a new country with a different mother tongue, make an effort to learn some key phrases. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.

Enrolling on a language course is a great idea, but if you don’t have time to do this, the Duolingo app will become your new best friend. Comprising games, targets and rewards, it makes learning a new language incredibly fun and addictive. 

If you can, it’s a good idea to brush up on the language before you make the move. This is what Svetlana found. She says, “I thought I’d be able to refresh my German while living there, but it would have been better to do it before moving. It’s a myth that you can live in Berlin without speaking German. You can, but you won’t get the same quality of life.”

Cultural differences

Throwing yourself into a new life abroad can be a shock to the system. After all, you’re dealing with cultures, traditions and routines that you’ve never experienced before. Everything from the weather to the wine can be very different to what you’re used to at home. 

If you’re struggling to adjust to the local cuisine, start small and work your way up. Street food stalls are a great chance to try small portions of the local foods without making too much of a financial commitment. As is dining out with friends. Next time you find yourself in a local restaurant and a friend orders something unfamiliar, kindly ask if you can have a taste. And if time and budget allow, try your hand at a local cooking class. It can be a great way to develop a newfound appreciation for some popular dishes in your area.

But sometimes, cultural differences can be ugly. Vinod says, “For me, the hardest part of living away from home is the casual racism I face from time to time.” This is awful and abusive, and should not happen. But if you do find yourself in a similar position, try to react calmly—even when it feels impossible. Take your time to deal with the emotions in a way you feel comfortable with, and talk to somebody about it. If you experience it in the workplace, it’s very important to report it to someone in authority—whether it’s the odd comment or micro-aggression, or something much more serious like violence or severe exclusion. 


Some of these struggles are tough, and we hope that you won’t have to deal with them. But, if you do, it’s helpful to know you’re not alone. And things get easier, as they always do.

Good luck on your move abroad!


One of the best things about moving abroad is being able to send money home. Sign up now for easy online money transfers with TransferGo.


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