Living abroad can be a magical experience. You get to immerse yourself in a new culture, practice fluency in a new language, meet new people with diverse backgrounds, and try delicious new cuisines. Perhaps you’ve been teaching English abroad, or maybe your remote work allows you to live anywhere in the world. You may be proud of your status as an expatriate (or expat for short).
Whatever your reasons for living abroad, now you’re thinking about returning to the motherland. The COVID-19 crisis has created significant challenges for expats, including travel restrictions and the fear that you may not be able to come back to the US if you need to. Or maybe it’s simply time to come home. We understand that, too.
You probably invested significant amounts of time into preparing for your move abroad. There was a lot to do, such as obtaining your work visa, making sure all your records were in order, and securing a place to live before you ever visited your new city.
As a repatriate, or repat, now you have to do most of that in reverse. Although it’s less complex regarding the documentation you need to move back, there are still preparations to be made.
Below, we cover 3 things that may affect you as a repat moving back to the US.
1. Prepare for reverse culture shock back in the US
You may have experienced culture shock when you were first settling into your new city. Culture shock is a well-understood phenomenon, and you may have even prepared for the culture shock you knew you’d experience, like adjusting to communicating in a second language or not finding your favorite snack at the grocery store.
Believe it or not, as a repat you may have to undergo this experience again through a process known as reverse culture shock. In fact, reverse culture shock can be just as intense as the culture shock you experienced when you first moved abroad.
You’ll no longer have the excitement of experiencing totally new things to distract yourself from missing home. Instead, you have to re-familiarize yourself with what has become unfamiliar. Some aspects of culture shock to prepare for might include:
- Letting go of the foreign country’s customs you’d grown to love
- Reorienting yourself to American values in the workplace
- Experiencing disinterest from others in hearing about your stories from abroad
- Your own disinterest in hearing about the goings-on at home
- Missing your status as an expat
- Missing a tight-knit community you formed in the foreign country
Of course, this list doesn’t cover everything you might experience in reverse culture shock. But reverse culture shock can be especially disorienting if you’re not expecting it. Oftentimes repats look forward to returning home, even idealizing their return or having high expectations for what life will be like. But usually, our expectations don’t match up to reality.
If you experience reverse culture shock, this is normal. Remind yourself of the time it took to orient to the new culture when you first moved abroad. Connect with other repats to share your experiences and coping mechanisms. Above all, be patient with yourself and remember that this too will pass.
2. Find a job and a place to live back home...virtually
This is a positive one! Two of the most difficult things about making an international move are securing employment and finding a place to live. Traditionally, both of these things are done in person. It’s hard to imagine yourself living in a space you haven’t toured, and job interviews are a great way to see if you and the interviewer are a good fit.
For expats, one silver lining of the COVID-19 crisis is the increase in moving face-to-face meetings to virtual spaces. It won’t be out of the norm to conduct property showings and interviews over Zoom, Google Meet, or whatever video conferencing software you prefer. Everyone stateside will be doing it, too.
Now you can start job-searching or property hunting the second you decide to make the move back to the states. Virtual meetings can even save you the irritation of having to move back in with your parents for a few months, or taking an easy-to-land job that’s just temporary.
3. Take care of expat logistics
Perhaps the most difficult part of moving back home is all the logistical stuff you have to take care of. Some of the most important logistical items that should be at the top of your list include:
- Purchasing US insurance
- Health insurance
- Home or renter’s insurance
- Auto insurance
- Paying any remaining expat taxes to the IRS or your foreign government
- Establishing or reestablishing your credit history
For a detailed list of what you need to do to make your transition back to the US seamless, see our checklist for global citizens here.
For now, we’re going to focus on this last one, because this is one we can help with! Unfortunately, your credit history doesn’t share your love for travel, and credit histories don’t cross international borders with you. Establishing or reestablishing your credit in the US after you’ve been living abroad can be frustrating, but is a necessary part of repat life.
Without good credit history, you’ll have a harder time getting approval to rent a property, take out any type of loan, or enjoy benefits you’ve long been used to, like getting security deposits waived on utilities accounts or ‘good credit’ discounts on your auto insurance.
This is because US lenders and companies don’t have access to any of the credit history you established while living abroad (unless you kept a US credit card account open, for which you’d need a US address). It’s almost like you have to start again as a pre-adolescent, building your credit history painstakingly from scratch.
Luckily, you have options to help speed up the process. You should establish a US address as soon as possible, even if it’s a relative’s address for now. You can update your US address with your bank and credit card companies to start the ball rolling sooner rather than later.
You might also try a solution like Loqbox, which is a free tool that allows you to build your credit history while boosting your savings. All you need is a debit card to get started. You can find out more about Loqbox and how it can help you here.
Ultimately, we know that the choice to move back to the US has probably been a hard one. We hope you find our tips helpful and we wish you the best of luck in your move!