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An Expat Dilemma: Should I Stay Or Return Home?

Watching a plane fly away
"Should I stay or should I go now"

Perhaps you're asking yourself, is the overwhelm, loneliness and family impact worth the expat struggles?

Deciding what to do is a major decision that can impact your quality of life, even well after the decision has been made. It's a decision that requires deep reflection and support. This blog aims to support your contemplation by providing insights, questions and tools as you navigate this critical crossroads of your expat journey.


Studies emphasize the key to successful international assignments, is the expats ability to adapt to a new culture, and the ability to support the changing family dynamic:

The demands of work intensify while the cultural norms shift.
Infographic on Expatriation risk

What worked in your home country might not be applicable anymore. The fear of failure is genuine. The familiar support network you once had is absent, leaving you without a safety net for venting and seeking guidance. Did you know that 65% of expats report amplified work strain in their host country, and 51% feel overworked?

Family dynamics change and expectations from your partner become more pronounced.
Infographic on Expat reason for early return home

The partner often experiences isolation and a sense of detachment, having left their career behind. This shift can lead to reduced motivation and support. Both partners can harbor resentment. Leaving friends and family behind adds another layer of challenge, significantly affecting your well-being. In fact, two-thirds of expats cite family concerns as the primary reason for early returns.

When expats leave prematurely, it impacts not only the individual but also the community.
Infographic on Expatriation Risk. 1 in 5 expats leave early
  • For organizations, the investment in top leaders and professionals can go to waste due to underperformance or early repatriation. The teams need restructuring, roles need replacement. It's an unnecessary drain of energy.

  • In schools, high turnover disrupts classrooms and affects the overall environment. Cultural adaptability and future resilience take a hit when children experience frequent shifts.

These challenges are real and impactful. To help you take the next step on your expat journey, I offer three activities. But before diving into these, ponder the following questions:

  • Recall your initial aspirations and dreams when you embarked on this expat journey. Reflecting on your excitement during that time can offer clarity and perspective. Will you regret leaving prematurely, or have you truly given your all to make this move a success?

A telescope viewing landscape and sunset
Revisit your expat goals, aspirations and dreams
  • Consider what you'll be leaving behind - the progress in your work and family life, the networks you've built. Are these contacts worth maintaining?

  • Have you explored local culture and travel opportunities? Novel experiences enrich our lives. What will losing these experiences mean for you and your family?

  • Think about the impact on your family's well-being. Is their health and happiness at risk?

A family holding hands on the shoreline
Consider family impacts and novel experiences
  • Delve into the challenges of repatriation - the longer you stay away, the harder the transition back. Many repatriates talk about how life changed locally too and how conversations with friends and family are different to the more global conversations that they had become use to. What changes do you anticipate, and how can you prepare?

  • Is there a compromise? Are there other alternatives that allow you to stay or trial a hybrid approach? Some clients have chosen to spend 2-3 months back home, or visited more regularly to maintain balance. Others have first trialled a move back whilst maintaining contact, work arrangements, and even sub-leased with permission from their landlord. There are many creative examples of finding compromises or testing the waters before making a final decision.

Three Activities to Guide Your Expat Dilemma:

1. Decisional Balance: A Tool for Expats Contemplating the Stay-or-Go Dilemma

This is a valuable tool that I use with my clients and it can help you gain clarity by weighing the pros and cons of staying abroad or returning home. It provides a structured approach to evaluate potential benefits and drawbacks, helping you make a thoughtful decision.

A Venn Diagram for Expat and Repat Decisional Balance
Venn Diagram: Expat and Repat Decisional Balance
  • Draw a Venn diagram with circles representing "Staying Abroad" and "Returning Home."

  • In each circle, list unique pros and cons. Use symbols for each aspect and different colours for clarity (I have provided examples above as thought starters).

  • In the overlapping area, note factors common to both options.

  • Add emotion icons to each aspect and rate their significance with stars.

  • Reflect on the visual representation and consider your feelings and priorities. Your decision doesn't solely depend on the number of pros and cons, but also their significance and how they align with your values, intuition and aspirations.

2. Reflect on Your Initial Expat Goals

Revisit your reasons for choosing an expat life. Is it time to redefine your purpose and aspirations? I talk about the importance of clarifying your purpose and aspirations in my Top 10 Tips here (Note: you will need to register to receive this free email series), and how to Unlock Purpose by uncovering Hidden Personal Obstacles here.

Holding a compass with wilderness in the background
Reflect on your expat goals and aspirations

If you are with a spouse or partner, I suggest completing the above two exercises on your own initially. You can always ask your partner to complete them separately, then compare notes and complete together. I use other tools in my coaching, but these are the most versatile for this type of situation.

3. Seek support

Consider seeking coaching or counselling. Based on my own experience and that of Global Mobility experts and School Administrators, the majority of expats wait until a crisis point before seeking support; Having an impartial guide can help you make a balanced decision.

Ready to Take the Next Step? Reach Out for a Free Discovery Session

You may have overestimated the impact that a move abroad can have. In such a situation, it helps to have someone ensure that you avoid making the same mistake and help you carefully consider the next move, as either option will have a significant impact.

Remember, I've been through similar challenges and decisions, but your situation is unique to you. I hope these insights and resources offer value, and I wish you the courage to explore your situation deeply and make the best choice for you and your family's well-being.

Good luck with your decision!

P.S. If you are part of an international school, I offer talks, workshops and resources to empower expat parents, via the school community, to thrive in new environments and strengthen the family experience abroad. Check out my international school support for expat parents here.

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