If you were to take most travel blogs at face value you would be forgiven if you thought that working abroad was a constant barrage of fun times and memorable experiences. While there may be some of those moments, the reality is that you will likely face even more difficult situations than an equivalent job in your home country.

No matter what way you choose to earn your income abroad, these are some of the difficulties you must overcome in order to be successful.

1) Language Barriers

Even if you are an excellent speaker, if you are working in a country where you are not a native speaker there will be a large language barrier. Even if you are a native speaker, you will have to get used to the slang and idioms used in your new home country. This can potentially make even the most routine events hard and stressful for you. Overcoming this will be the first major challenge you face when working abroad.

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2) Cultural Differences

Many people understand and even admire the culture of the country they are moving to. That’s one reason working abroad can be so rewarding. But very few people are prepared for the way that culture is represented in the workplace. For example, in Spain you must be prepared to have a long gap in the middle of the day for lunch, and then stay late in order to make up those hours. Or in Japan it is frowned upon to leave work before your boss does. Little things like this can destroy the image you had in your mind of working abroad, and can lead to feelings of home sickness and apathy.

3) Lack of Support

When working in your own country you have a wide range of support to help you through troubled times. Social services, friends, and family are all close by and can be reached quick and easy. When abroad it is likely you will not have any of these options. Sure, you can call on Skype, but it is simply not the same as being there in person. Having to battle through issues on your own is often the number one cause of failure for expats.

4) Settling in to a Routine

Having a routine is a great for comfort and being productive. Once you start working abroad though you will have to quickly adapt to your new surroundings, a process which can take up to six months. Most countries don’t have 24 hour stores, and in many more stores aren’t allowed to be open on certain days. This will make your life even harder, on top of the troubles you will be dealing with at work.
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5) Overcoming a Learning Curve

Just as taking a new job at home requires a learning curve, so does taking a job abroad. The difference is that while abroad the curve is much steeper, and you will not have any of the support or normal comforts you had back home.

Make no mistake, working abroad can be a very rewarding experience. But don’t let other people trick you into thinking that it is all sunshine and rainbows. The pictures you see of them will only be the highlights, and won’t show the times they were lonely, depressed, or scared. Since it is such a big decision you have to make sure that you are capable of overcoming all of the issues you are likely to face, or else you could find yourself in a very bad situation.

Have any of you experienced any of these problems while working abroad? What did you do to overcome them?

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  1. I worked abroad in Hongkong for a year’s contract. We had an apartment and I got to go home every 2 weeks for another job in the Philippines. All the things you say were very real and contributed to a build-up of stress. I did not renew after a year, as a consequence.

  2. I have worked abroad many times and being an English speaker didnt really have many difficulties with the language as most of my colleagues spoke English.
    I really enjoyed embracing the local cultures whereever i happened to be and made many good friends in doing so who helped me adjust and fit into the new social circles.
    I found that if you go with an open mind and are willing to learn and think outside the box you are able to survive.

  3. I worked in Belgium for two years. I loved the country but sadly, my work team was a disaster. I was a lot better off when I learned some French and found local friends. Finally I had someone to hang out with after work and someone in the area, who could help me when I was sick or needed any other help.

  4. We have never worked abroad before but can imagine that at times it will be tough! We are hoping to find work at some point when we set off on our travels so this is good advice.

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