The Honest Truth About Being an Expat

Santa Monica Bloomingdales

Did you know that in 2017 there was expected to be a total of 56.8 million expatriates (expats) worldwide? And in 2017, that made up only 0.77% of the world’s population! Expats are a rare bunch.

If you’re unclear what an expat is, it’s someone who lives outside of their native country. In my case, having moved from Canada to the United States. I’ve met loads of expats in the last few years, and I never truly understood some of the things they experienced. I would normally encounter waves of emotions, uncertainty, indecisiveness juxtaposed with moments of euphoria and explosions of beautiful passion. Expats can be inspiring people to encounter because of their perspective on life.

Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego

I was recently on the opposite end of this unique experience. Without going into too many details, I explained to someone, “I need time to process things. I moved from my home country just 6 months ago and a lot of what you’re expecting and asking from me, well it’s kind of a lot.” In response, she said, “If I were in your shoes, I think I’d be fine – I’d handle it well.”

Not only was I shocked at the lack of empathy but also her naiveté.

Bradbury Building, DTLA

Despite the outcome of that scenario, it got me thinking – what’s it really like to be an expat? To try and help others that are either considering becoming an expat, have friends or loved ones that are expats, or simply curious, I hope to shed some insight from what I’ve learned so far.

In doing my research for this article, I came across some of the top concerns that expats deal with, which I’m going to try and explain for others to widen their perspectives.

Language will be a barrier

Can you imagine how stressful it would be to move to another country, either for work or school, where you didn’t speak the native language? Imagine trying to express yourself and just not being able to connect with others?

Luckily I moved from Toronto to LA, where the native language is English… How to the ever… In LA, there is a heavy Spanish influence, where in Toronto, or in Canada in general, there’s a lot of Quebecois French influence. This may seem trivial, but there are certain streets in LA that I just have the hardest time pronouncing – Sepulveda and Figueroa street come to mind. Put French words in front of me, and I feel hella comfortable. Speaking of hella, it’s also getting used to the lingo and language of another city that can be either exciting or daunting.

Thankfully, my use of “dude” and “chill” and “sweet” have found a home here in LA, and I’ve easily integrated the use of “hella” in my every day language now, but don’t Angelenos look at me weird when I say stuff like, man dem, fam, yute, waste ting, or beakin’. The Scarborough influence will always be with me, but it’s been fun integrating different lingos together.

So if expats don’t understand the city’s lingo, don’t be hard on us. Ask us what the origins are of some of our words and we will try and do the same for you. Oh and by the way, a lot of those words above is because parts of Toronto have a heavy Jamaican influence.

We are hella far from our friends and family

Las Vegas family reunion, 2019

It must be nice being able to drive to your parents’ house, eh? Oh, it’ll take you an hour to drive to your best friends’? That’s a shame. /s.

For expats, our friends and family, the people we’ve grown up with, been able to turn to in times of need, provided shoulders to cry on when times were tough, are not as easily accessible now. Of course, we have options to make friends in our new city of choice, but trust takes time to build. Being vulnerable with new people I meet is just not my style. Other expats can find this to be super easy, but for me personally, the people I let into my life have to go through stuff with me – things aren’t just going to click over night.

Take into consideration time zones too. Not only are our loved ones very far away, they may not even be accessible. The time zone difference between LA and Toronto is 3 hours ahead. There are times where I want to talk to my friends and family at 8 PM PST, but it’s 11:00 PM EST in Toronto.

When it comes to our support system, please be kind and know that our loved ones aren’t as easy to connect with as you may think.

Adjusting to high cost of living

Redondo Beach

One of the reasons I left Toronto is because of the increasing cost of living, which was not necessarily in line with my career growth. Essentially, things were getting more expensive but I wasn’t making more money. But that city-knowledge is something I’ve lived and grown up with, so if anyone were to ask me for some insight into living in Toronto, I’d be able to provide them with great insight.

That’s not really the case when moving to a new country and it can be really stressful.

This knowledge, sure, it can be found online. But what about all the tips and tricks only locals know and can share through conversation and word of mouth. I always knew that Santa Monica was a vibe despite the average cost of rent being $5000 a month, but I didn’t know about places like Echo Park and Silver Lake until I moved here (I’ve been told they’re hipster spots… And then said people tell me I should move there. I don’t know what they’re implying). Sure, I live in Hermosa Beach, which is lovely albeit a bit too chill, and I didn’t know that perhaps Manhattan Beach would have been more of a vibe.

Adjusting to a new city with its different quirks and intricacies, when it comes to finances, can really get stressful. It costs me $40 USD to take an Uber into DTLA. That’s $51 CAD! Not to mention the cost of food, drinks and activities. A night out easily costs me around $100 USD.

Not only did we use money to move from a new country, buy new furniture, get stuff ready for our new jobs, but now we also have to consider adjusting to the new normal when it comes to cost of living in a new city. That can get out of hand if someone isn’t watching their spending.

Oh and another note, overseeing finances in two different countries can get really complicated. Some of my accounts in Canada don’t even let me update to a California address because their systems are only designed to service Canada, which does make sense. But if you’ve got monies tied up in a variety of accounts, it can get a bit overwhelming. Don’t forget you may even need to do taxes for two different countries!

Not being able to find friends

With Myd at Bang Bang San Diego

A lot of the friends I had growing up were either from high school or university. As I got older, some of those friends still remained, but I ended up making friends at work and ultimately meetup apps.

This one doesn’t really impact me too heavily as I’ve been able to meet people at concerts, Bumble BFF and through co-workers, and not only that, I’m hella personable so it’s rather easy for me to get to know someone, but just imagine someone who is an introvert or someone really shy – it must be really difficult for them to meet new people.

Luckily, there tends to be large Facebook and Meetup groups that help bring expats together. And the great thing about that is those expats probably have local friends, which can then be connected.

When it comes to meeting new people, it takes patience. So please be kind if making new friends, or the difficulty in doing so, has a significant impact as this is something that may be uber difficult for others.

The new culture could be a shock

Balboa Park, San Diego

When I saw the amount of Teslas roaming the streets, constant talk about tacos, and the incessancy of calling “washrooms” “restrooms,” I admit, I was a little shocked. I wrote about more things that shocked me here, but having visited LA and SF already before, I wasn’t too taken aback.

Though now that I think about it, and because of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, I’m noticing that Californians hate being indoors. The weather is beautiful 80% of the time, so Californians are spoiled when it comes to being outdoors. Tell them to stay inside, and that’s a really bad rub. There are actually protests going on right now arguing “freedom and liberty or death.” This is one of the more recent culture shocks because coming from Canada and reading about it on the news, people are completely fine with being indoors. That can also be because we Torontonians are used to staying inside during Fall and Winter because of the freezing temperatures (though Toronto is one of the warmer cities in Canada).

Adjusting to this new way of living, and accepting some of the culture norms of a city, can be overwhelming at times. To Angelenos, sitting an hour on the 405 (our main highway) is normal to them… They just accept it. One of the things I vowed to never do is waste my time sitting in traffic for a job – life is way too short to be wasting time, but to Angelenos, it’s normal… For work.

And speaking of normal, if you live in the east and you’re trying to make friends with someone from the west, forget about it. It’s completely normal for people in LA to pick and choose their friends based on proximity. Imagine how defeating that can feel when I come from a city where people found it totally normal to drive from Toronto to Brampton and back to Brampton all in the same day.

Spending time on people we care for is normal. It’s not really the same in LA.

Now imagine moving to an Asian or European country, where it seems like some of the cultural norms are like you’re visiting space! For instance, in London, you have to order your food and your beer at the bar, then take a number, and be seated. That’s crazy!

So please take it easy on us when we really don’t get some of the cultural norms. A lot of those norms that natives grew up with is something we’ll never truly understand… Maybe even ever. And that can get confusing at times.

You better not get sick…

Wash your hands!

This is the perfect one to end off on – I’m afraid of insufficient healthcare standards.

Everyone knows that the US’ healthcare is pretty terrible. Having moved from a country with universal healthcare, I’m always nervous about getting sick in LA – especially now with the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve seen countless stories of individuals that are either on vacation or expats living in abroad where their country of residence isn’t helping them or putting natives citizens first.

Normally, I think about if I were to get sick, would I be able to get the best healthcare here in LA or would it be better if I went to Toronto? And that’s the crumby thing, as far as I know, Ontario may not even let me back into the province… Or I’d have to quarantine for 14 days before being allowed out.

Essentially, with COVID-19 woes aside, I normally worry about what will happen to me if I were to get sick. Sure, I’ve got health insurance through work, but when I hear stories about someone getting a broken arm fixed or stitches done costing around $40,000 I stop and think… “Uhhhh, will my health insurance even cover this?”

The concern over what happens to an expat if he or she gets sick is a real one, especially when knowing the place they left would take 100% care of them. It can make us uneasy, to be honest.

Abbey Road, London, England

So there you have it, my honest perspective on being an expat. There are other top concerns that I didn’t address, but the fact that more concerns exists goes to show how interesting the expat can be due to the levels of thought they go through on a daily.

This is in no way a generalization, but from my own experiences, having met many expats and now being one myself, I hope I’ve shed some light on some of the things we need to deal with regularly.

We’re a beautiful bunch after all. We were courageous enough to leave our homes to see what the rest of the world has to offer. Our perspectives, as evidenced by the statistics, are unique, and you can learn a lot from us.

As for my honest truth? I don’t know if I’ll always live in California, but I’m hella excited to reach Ireland or Australia one day to see tings if I grow tired of all the beakin’ in LA.

What do you think? Are you an expat or are you thinking of becoming one? Share what you’ve learned below. And if you want to follow my journey, be sure to add me on Insta!

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