Dealing with Expat Uncertainty

10 weeks. In 10 weeks my life will be upside down, or completely the same, but for now uncertainty rules. How to deal with the Expat Uncertainty? I saw a nice graphic from a relocation company stating the actions you had to undertake 3 months before departure. But what if you have no idea if you will be staying or going?

It is of those parts of expat life that you know little about before you start. You’re in limbo, or in Limboland as I call it. You might move (but when?), or you might stay. It is unclear which of the two it is. In our case, there is a contract extension in the air but it is not yet secured. Friends are asking about our departure date, but we might not move anymore this year. And it affects me of course. Every time he applied for a job, my mind starting wandering to this potential location. But now it seems we are staying for a while, or will we? Here’s some tips.

Expat Energy Uncertainty

Tips to Manage Your Energy in Uncertainty

It is so easy to lose a lot of energy over an uncertain situation. You may feel lost, confused, irritated, angry, determined, trusting, peaceful, and lost again all in the space of 5 minutes. Or maybe that is just me. As I’ve been in this situation before and have also worked with coaching clients in this situation, here are some tips that may help you deal with the situation.

Tip 1: Create a Pressure Valve

Let’s face it, uncertainty build up pressure inside of you. Expats can’t always share about this pressure, as they do not know whether the new posting will become a reality or when it will happen. You may also be asked the same questions a gazillion times: So when are you leaving? (I don’t know). Do you have a date yet? (I don’t know). What will happen if it is not clear by November? (I don’t know/we may repatriate). So your husband will get a job back home? (I don’t know).

It is important to build a pressure valve for yourself, where you can let off steam. Otherwise you might feel like exploding at some point. It could be a daily ritual, but you can set your ideal frequency.

For example try:

  • running
  • yoga
  • boxing
  • ceramics pottery or other crafts
  • meditation
  • a phone call with a close friend
  • journaling
  • screaming your head off in the forest


Anything really, as long as you feel relaxed afterwards.


Tip 2: Forget the Why question

Why you are in this situation or who is to blame doesn’t really matter. We can spend hours ruminating over why HR doesn’t hurry up, why the government is taking so long to decide, why this has to happen to us?

But unless there is something you can do about it, there is no point lingering about the why. In China, in response to a question about e.g. why is the bus service suspended today, you could receive the answer: “mei you wei shenme” – There is no why. And as frustrating as that may be, save your energy and focus on the things you can change, not on the things beyond your control.


Tip 3: Have a Plan B

Another tip to deal with this situation, is to come up with a plan B for your family. If this posting doesn’t work out, or if you do not a new job and will need to leave, what are your options? Think it through and write it down. The sensible ones, the crazy fabulous ones. What do you need for these plans in terms of resources, contacts etc? You could move home, or maybe you could move to Bali and live on your savings for a year while you try to secure a new job.

Oftentimes, you will not need this plan B, but it can give you peace of mind in a world where you can’t control your employer.


Tip 4: Stay Checked In

When you know you may be moving on, it can be so tempting to stop investing in your relationships, home and career. You stop making new friends and forget your home improvement plans. You put professional plans on hold until you’re in the next location. You’ve checked out.

Unfortunately, it may still be a while before you leave. You may get an extension, the other job may fall through, or the new visa is delayed. So make sure to stay checked in and connected to your location until you are sure when you are moving. “I didn’t know you were still here” is not what you want to hear.


Tip 5: Tidy Anyway

Does this mean we should wait with everything until the moving date is confirmed? No, it doesn’t. You can always start with tidying and cleaning up your house. It will save you so much hassle when you do move. Do the Marie Kondo and ask yourself for all items in your house: does this spark joy? Anything that doesn’t, does not need to be moved overseas. Creating a photo album is another rewarding activity to do.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going back to purging my kitchen utensils 😉

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