6 tips for self-care living overseas

self-care living overseas

I’m just going to come out and say it. Life can be hard living in a foreign country, especially when there’s a language barrier. You then add in different norms for social behavior, different traditions and overall different customs, and it can be exhausting. I’m finishing up my 8th month in Spain and while this year overall has been amazing, there have been frustrating moments. I’ve realized more than anything that you have to take care of yourself first. My days and weekends are so much better when I’ve just taken the time for me. Here is what I’ve found works for me. I hope this can help any of you who are living the expat life.

My 6-tips for self-care living overseas

1. Take time for yourself

Now I want to start this by saying that I am about as extroverted as they come. And yet living overseas, I’ve never needed more alone time in my entire life. Each day there’s a lot going on. You’re communicating and thinking in your second language. Confusing situations arise. Situations that anger you arise. You just tend to feel … overwhelmed sometimes. It’s in these times that I just lay on my bed alone with my thoughts. Maybe I do nothing or maybe I watch videos on youtube. Other days I may go for a walk alone in one of my favorite parks or I’ll have a coffee alone. Overall, you need to give your brain time to think and process. A lot is going on and you’re changing as well. Do not forget to give yourself space to breathe and just be.

2. Physical activity

Sometimes the expat life can just downright anger me. Like there are situations where someone is rude or seems to do something in a careless way. Or things are different than back home and not in a way I like (example: people think it’s okay to go to carnaval in black face here … easily the thing that angers me the most). If I’m not careful, that anger and frustration could be taken out on the wrong person. And no one likes that to happen.

These feelings are likely inevitable and you need a place to just get it out. Go for runs, join a soccer team or join a gym. Maybe get a punching bag. Channel all that anger and frustration to a good place.

3. Don’t travel every weekend

I know I know … it can be hard with all the places that you want to see! And that could have been me if I had had more money to travel all the time last fall. But I’m glad that I didn’t. As much as I love weekends where I get on an airplane and fly off to London, Lisbon or Prague, I really love weekends where I stay in Granada. I sleep in, meet my friends for tapas and go out dancing. The weekends where I stay are the weekends where I feel more connected to where I live. Connecting to your city helps you to feel a sense of belonging, which simply makes you feel like less of a foreigner. I’m staying in Granada this weekend and already I’m looking forward to every minute of it.

Also the other big reason against traveling every weekend is for your health. You will simply get exhausted and/or sick if you’re gone all the time. And no one wants that. At the end of the day, the expat experience is just as much about traveling as it is about becoming a part of your new community.

self-care living overseas

In Granada … and happy!

4. Make fellow expat friends

Popular to contrary belief, I think full-immersion can be bad. Now don’t get me wrong … I’m the girl who only looked at flats with Spanish roommates and is always actively hanging out with Spaniards. I’m in Spain to learn from the people and practice the language, after all.

However I’ve also made a handful of fellow expat friends and it’s just nice. In the fall, I had connected with several girls who were also teaching English in my city. I had also connected with some expat friends living in the region. They were coming to Granada one weekend and so I made a Whatsapp group for all of us so we could stay better connected. After the trip ended, we continued chatting amongst ourselves within the group. We chat about funny things that happen in our days, we chat about things we find odd and in general, we are there to support each other.

self-care living overseas

Fellow expat friends are the best. Your friends back home will not fully understand your experience here because they are not living it. Your friends from the culture you’re in also won’t understand because to them, this is all normal. That’s why fellow expat friends are perfect. I recommend finding 3-6 solid expat friends either where you’re living or who live closeby.

Olive oil tour in Granada, Spain

self-care living overseas

5. Strike the right balance with friends from home

This one can be tricky. First, there likely is a time difference to consider when trying to keep in touch. At the end of the day, you’ll likely stay in touch with some friends better than others. Try to carve out a weekly time where you catch up with them. I also find that I regularly text some of my closest friends. And if one of us sends a message when the other is sleeping, then we just respond when we are awake next.

At the same time, if you spend too much time talking to friends and family from back home, you will not assimilate to the culture. So striking that balance is key.

6. Make friends in your community

This one is also very important. As much as I’ve loved making my expat friends, I’ve almost loved making Spanish friends more. I really enjoy weekends where I stay in Granada because I can catch up with them. We go get tapas or go out for drinks. It also helps you become a part of your community.

self-care living overseas

If these seems daunting, there are several ways I suggest to do this:

  • Language exchange! If you’re still learning and becoming comfortable with the language, this is a great option. In Granada lots of people my age want to practice their English. So I’ve actually met a lot of people through this language exchange Facebook group. There are also weekly intercambios that happen at bars all over town. You can find people to meet up with and practice. This is how I befriended two girls near my age.
  • Sports! I’m not super athletic, but this is great for those of you who are! My old Spanish tutor Daniel with CoffeeShop Spanish is how I came to live in Spain. When he was living here, he joined a soccer team with other guys near his age and made all of his Spanish friends that way.
  • Get involved and get out! How do we make friends back home? Honestly, it’s not too different overseas. Get involved in your community and find things that interest you. You will for sure meet people.

self-care living overseas


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  1. Nice suggestions! I’m a Canadian expat in Italy. No matter how many local friends you have, it can still get a little lonely sometimes. Sometimes, having an expat friend can help loads.

    1. Yeah for sure! I remember trying to explain culture shock to my Spanish roommate and her not quite getting it. Having expat friends really helps with that.

    1. You’re welcome! These are really best if you decide to move away to a different country. You likely won’t need them for just traveling a bit.

  2. Thats cool, I would really love to live in another city for a little while, but I’m scared of not even knowing how to order fries!

    1. You really do learn everything you need! If you want to do it, you should give it a go!

  3. I agree that it’s important to connect with people who come from a similar culture as yours. It’s not that you don’t want to associate with other cultures, but it can become exhausting to think in a foreign language and practice social norms that are unfamiliar to you. You’re always “on”. Sometimes you just need to relax and give your brain, behavior, and emotions a break. Enjoy the rest of your time in Spain!

    1. Oh yeah for sure. And people from your culture will understand your frustrations whereas your local friends will not … and maybe even be offended.

  4. I absolutely agree….i’ve been on a study abroad for 11 months and i wish i had seen these tips before leaving. This is the absolute truth right here

  5. I agree with all the points. we were in theUS for 5 years. So I know how much it helps to connect with the community around.

    1. Aww well I hope that you are more in favor of it. I will say that at the end of the day, I’m always so glad I did. The good outweighs the bad for sure.

  6. Such great tips! I’ve always wanted to live abroad, hopefully I still have an opportunity to! I’ll save these tips for that 😊

    A lot of these are just good life tips in general so thanks for sharing.

    Amanda | http://ldnrose.com

  7. So true! I am an American ex-pat living in Romania and you nailed it! Things I never would have considered challenges (aside from language barrier) are the ones that slow me the most. But being with friends (and wonderful wife) makes the whole experience amazing!

    1. Wow, Romania sounds like it would be an experience. It can be tough at times but very worth it!

  8. #3 was so real for me when I was studying abroad in Barcelona. On one hand, you want to see everything, and on another, you want to get to know your city really well. So true. Great post overall 🙂

    1. Hahaha yeah for sure. You like have this idea beforehand that you’ll go everywhere. It’s just hard because there’s just not as much time as you think.

  9. Love your tips Nina, well said!I love taking time for myself to have a long walk with my headphones to my favourite coffee shop (instead of taking the bus)when I then enjoy a cup of coffee by myself. It helps you hear your own thoughts which truly is rather important indeed! Taking care of your relationships on the other hand- friends, family or the significant other- is another important lesson I’ve learnt. Oh, and as much as I love traveling I still think London is the best place in the world to be in so waking up early on Saturday morning and having breakfast in my favourite coffee shop simply makes me happy- Like you said, it is important to stay connected to your city! Xx

    1. I’m sure you’ve experienced a lot of this in London. And yes, London is a great city! You are lucky that you get to live there!

    1. Well I’m glad you’ve read it. Even if you never go abroad, this will help you understand the foreigners in your own community a tad better.

  10. What a wonderful thing you’re doing, as well as tips for making the days better when you’re feeling low. Especially the idea of getting out of the house. Sometimes I realize I’ve been hunkered down at home for far too many days. If I make myself get out and go to an exercise class or the coffee shop, I feel a million times better!

  11. This is a useful post with some great tips. Having a good varied friend circle is a good thing and mixing and learning new things from them is an added perk.

  12. These are really great tips, I have been in a different place where i know no one, it was really a good experience and made many friends

    1. That’s awesome that you made a good group of friends. It definitely makes these experiences way better!

  13. What a coincidence I just finish to talk with my friend who is visiting back home in Africa and this article related to our conversation, let me share with him!

    1. Wow that’s awesome! I’m glad it could help! And of course feel free to share it with him!

  14. I can totally relate to this post. I am from the Caribbean and living in the US. I agree, making friends/forming a community in your immediate community is the best way to start easing the stress. We also want to keep in mind saving money is far more important than spending and trying to keep up with everything else. This post actually have me a little awakening.

    1. Wow I never really thought about how spending money would be a culture shock in the United States. That’s an excellent point. At the end of the day, of course you just need to spend money when you want a need to.

  15. These are great tips for self care as an expat. It’s especially important to make friends as it can be easy to isolate otherwise!

  16. I live overseas but I am trying to make friends with local. Coz it is the best way to find the best places to go to and leave your comfort zone. Traveling is also amazing but as you said, not every single weekend coz you need some me-time too! xx corinne

    1. Yeah definitely try to do whatever you can to befriend the locals because it’s the best!

  17. Ola! 🙂 I couldn´t resist the pun. OK seriously, I totally enjoyed this post because I live in Germany and am from Africa.Love ALL your points and agree the “total immersion” is not a good idea.
    Have you heard of InterNations? It’s a global expats site. Meanwhile, enjoy your time in Granada.

    1. I hope you’re enjoying your time in Germany! It’s definitely a balance with the immersion thing too. I know people who move to foreign countries and do not mix with the locals. This is my opinion is also silly as you could have just stayed home to do that.

  18. A language exchange group is a fantastic idea! I have never traveled overseas, but if I ever did decide to leave the country, I would definitely use these tips.

    1. Well I hope you do get the chance to travel overseas one day. It’s a great experience!

  19. I lived abroad for some months and I can fully understand what you said. Your tips are really helpful. Thank you. Enjoy the rest of your time in Spain.

  20. I have never tried living overseas but I definitely agree with all of your tips. It’s good to be able to connect with the people around you, especially if you’re going to be there for a long time.

  21. Great post. I don’t live abroad but your tip about not having a busy weekend every weekend applies to home as well.

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