6 Tips for Folks with Loved Ones Living Abroad

by Rebecca A. Watson on December 15, 2015

in change, community, expat, Family, friends, Germany, holidays, love, moving

Before I left for Germany, a few people were concerned that we would no longer be close. Or that we’d lose touch completely. I assured them that wouldn’t happen.

How could I be so sure? Because I was once on the other side of this exchange. Actually a few times. My sister lived overseas for a decade. And two of my very close friends moved back to Europe after living in the U.S.

When I first moved to Germany, I concentrated mostly on getting through the day-to-day. It was harder than I thought to keep in touch with the folks I loved back home. I wrote mostly about how immigrants and expats could survive the transition.

Hint: Immerse yourself in local culture.

Hint: Immerse yourself in local culture.

Now I’m fairly settled in my life. We’ve found our place. We’ve also created a great support system here. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a larger one in our friends and family back home.

I thought I would share some tips for what these folks have done really well and what worked in my experience when people I loved moved abroad. Hopefully it will be helpful for you or someone you love:

1. Be Happy for Them

When my sister told me she was moving to South Korea, I was completely torn up. She was my best friend. I would be so lonely without her. But I also knew that she was super excited to go. Over the moon, really.

So as much as it saddened me to hear her talking about her new home, I held my chin up and helped her pack. I enjoyed the few more months we still had when she would be close by. I did my best to genuinely be happy for her, because what would sulking do?


Would she decide to stay because I was so sad? How tragic — her missing an opportunity like that. And then, would she always resent me for holding her back? Would that affect our relationship more than her moving across the planet? Probably.

That’s not to say I didn’t share with her a bit of my sadness. I certainly don’t think it’s right to deny your feelings, and most people would expect you to miss them a little, right? But usually, I would say something like:

I would be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t going to miss you, but I think it’s so awesome what you’re doing. I’m really happy for you.

Focusing on their happiness and feeding into it will make the moments you have left before they leave more enjoyable, more valuable. And when they’re gone, being happy for them keeps you closer.

It’s hard to spend time Skyping with someone who always asks when you’re coming home or keeps letting you know how lonely they are. But if you genuinely want to hear what they’re up to, and you make an effort to match their enthusiasm, it’s much more likely you’ll chat with them more often.

The world is smaller than you think. Let your loved one go play. You might even find you hear from them more than before they moved, especially if you’re able to keep their happiness in mind.

2. Embrace Technology

On that note, make sure to be open to different forms of technology, even if you’re not a “computer person.” That’s OK. Most of technology these days is pretty simple to use.


Not everyone is going to want to communicate through your preferred method of communication. Try to stay open to what your loved one uses — it will be easier to stay connected. Here are a few that I use:

  • Skype — free international phone calls
  • Whatsapp — free international texting
  • Facebook — I think we all know what that is 😉 But they also have a messenger service many people use like texting

Many people will be more likely to fire off a quick text that says “Have a great day!” than replying to a 10-paragraph email. These little exchanges can keep you involved in their day-to-day, and it might help them feel not so far away.

Because after all, you were probably texting more than you actually saw each other even before they moved. I know that was the case for a lot of my friends and myself.

The people in my life that I keep in touch with the most are the ones who use this technology. And remember, living in another country takes a lot of effort. Your loved one will have less time than they ever did when living in their home country.

So if you weren’t talking twice a week on the phone before you left, don’t expect it when they move. They’ll be spending all morning in the government office trying to figure out if it’s legal for them to drive and then wondering how simple errands ate up their entire afternoon.

3. See This as an Opportunity

Of course, this is an opportunity for the person you love. But that’s not what I mean here. I think I covered that a bit in the first point. What I mean is see this as an opportunity for you.

  • Maybe it’s the opportunity to travel abroad to visit them.
  • Perhaps it’s what pushes you to finally learn that language you’d always said you did.
  • Or it could just be you get a window into a culture you knew nothing about.
firenze doorway

Who knew architecture could be so captivating?

Whatever the case, it’s important to see that you also benefit from having a loved one overseas or living in another country. If nothing else, you have something interesting to talk about while everyone else is droning on (again) about what they’re buying for who this holiday season or how much weight they’re planning to lose after New Year’s Eve.

Don’t underestimate how someone moving abroad will change your life in good and amazing ways. When my sister moved, I was forced to make new friends because I no longer spent all my time with her.

While it wasn’t easy, I think her moving was the catalyst to me becoming the person I am today. Get inspired by your family members who have the audacity to take such a big risk. See how their big move can translate into some small but spectacular move in your own life.

4. Watch Your Words

I hear about this all the time. I see it happen on Facebook. There are a lot of people I know that live abroad, obviously, and they’re doing their best to build a life for themselves. And this isn’t easy. Heck, going to the grocery store isn’t even easy.

When a loved one posts pictures of themselves with friends on traditional holidays they’d normally spend with their family, make sure to congratulate them on finding their place to celebrate.


So lucky to have a full house on Thanksgiving!

If you miss them, let them know. But watch the way you say that, because it can be very easy to make someone feel guilty for not flying across an ocean to spend an arbitrary day of the year with their families.

Instead of saying/typing this:

Your family misses you.

You could choose instead to write/say this:

I’m so glad you’ve found people to celebrate with. Maybe next year we can find a way to be together!

Can you see the difference between the two remarks? The second one takes one of my other tips (be happy for them) and also opens up a discussion for possibly meeting up.

Too often the burden of visiting “home” over the holidays is placed on the person living overseas. And perhaps that seems fair, considering that person did choose to move so far away.

But if your loved one has made the trek for a few years and decides to skip the hometown visit, it’s probably not because they don’t want to see you. It’s probably more a culmination of these facts:

  • Air travel is exhausting. Particularly flying over several time zones.
  • Traveling is expensive, even if you’ve got a free place to stay.
  • Holiday travel is brutal.

But remember, this is an amazing opportunity for you to see how another culture celebrates the holidays. And it’s great that your loved one has people close to them they care enough about that they’d want to share the joy of the holiday season with.

So if you’re missing them, find a way to say it that doesn’t imply you’re angry, hurt or want them to feel bad about enjoying themselves.

And if you are angry, hurt or want them to feel bad about enjoying themselves, talk to someone about it. It’s OK to feel that way — it’s just not OK to act on it in a way that spreads the negativity to others. Take care of yourself and get some help to work through those feelings.

5. Take Care of Yourself

On that note, remember to practice good self-care. You will have times of grief. You are going through a loss.

Admit to yourself that you’re sad. Embrace your feelings. But don’t let them consume you.

Do little things to treat yourself every day. Cry in the bathtub. Lose yourself in a cheesy romance novel.

Flowers AND books. Yes!

Flowers AND books. Yes!

Go to the gym and sweat it out. Journal through pages of feelings. If you need to, see a counselor or therapist to work out your stuff.

If you do start taking care of you, these other tips will come easier. Heck, you might even enjoy having your loved one live so far away. And that’s OK too.

6. Stop Asking When They’ll Move Back

While the term “expat” often insinuates that a person moves to another country on a lark, to find themselves, many of the folks I know aren’t really embracing the expat idea. It’s slowly dawning on a lot of us that we’ve moved to another country to find a better life for ourselves.

Just by way of example, in my case:

  • I feel safer walking the streets, both day and night.
  • My husband has better benefits and pay in his job.
  • My health is better cared for — I never avoid the doctor because of cost.
  • Public transit and bike infrastructure is better — I am able to commute the way I’d like.
  • I don’t worry so much about mass shootings here — yes, even after the events in Paris.

We’re not expats. We’re immigrants. It just took a minute to see it. We found a better life for us. And our friends who are having kids? They found a place where they can raise children to have more opportunities than they did.


Like Bächlebooting 😉

While your loved one might not be sure how long they’ll stay where they are, having you ask them when they’re coming “home” can confuse and anger them. Home to them isn’t the same as home might be to you. And all of that might be hard for them to process, just as it’s difficult for you.

The best thing you can do for a person who is wrestling with this very difficult realization is to be there for them and listen to them as best you can. Try to empathize.

If you’re American, your family has likely gone through this before. Pull that experience deep from your DNA and try to understand what they’re going through.

If you’re constantly badgering them to come home, it’s more likely they’ll stop scheduling Skype dates than that they’ll pack up all their belongings and move back down the street from you. And ask yourself what I did with my sister: Would you want that?

The likelihood that they would resent you is high. Would your relationship suffer if they made a decision that huge based on guilt you piled on them, consciously or unconsciously? So leave this conversation alone, unless they bring it up.

Having a family member or loved one living far away can be difficult. But using these tips will keep you closer to them in spirit and help your life blossom into something more beautiful and magical than you ever dreamed.

Enjoy it!

Photo Credits: PublicDomainPictures, HD Zimmerman, condesign

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