Expat 101: How To Move Back Home

In August 2016, I moved back home to Toronto, Canada after four years living in Mexico City and traveling the world.

The transition was ... brutal. Financially, socially, and emotionally brutal. I made so many mistakes. So, I'm writing this post to help YOU, dear expat, not make all the mistakes I did. Or at least be a heck of a lot more prepared for the transition.

Here's my advice to prepare for a successful return home. There's a checklist at the end of this post but I wanted to touch on a couple of topics in depth.

At Niagara Falls with friends, shortly after we returned to Canada.

If You're Bringing a Partner With You...

I brought my Mexican husband back with me to Canada and oh brother, is that another kettle of fish. All I can say is, don't do in-country sponsorship if you can help it. Do the paperwork and get the spousal visa BEFORE you arrive home--it will save you a world of financial pain. And not just a temporary resident visa, get the permanent resident visa and the work visa before you get on that airplane.

Trust me. Whole other post on this is coming.

Housing

Set up in advance a cushy landing place for your return. To keep costs low, see if you can crash with family or friends until you have a steady source of income and your own place to live. It's inconvenient, but you need to save the dough. And you'll also give yourself breathing room to find the perfect apartment and job.

If crashing isn't an option, Airbnb is a great way to find a short-term rental where you can stay while getting back on your feet. Whether you want a private apartment or a cheap room, Airbnb delivers (if you haven't signed up yet, click here to get $25 towards your first trip!).


Employment

In an ideal world, you'd be able to score a job from abroad. But, most employers require an in-person interview. So, do the prep work. Update your CV and LinkedIn profile, plus your list of references. Update or create an online portfolio. Poke around at job listings to see what's out there. Contact friends or business associates at companies you want to work at and ask if any jobs will be opening up.

If you're freelancing, now's the time to shore up extra assignments to financially cushion the transition. If you're not freelancing or working remotely, if might be time to do it.

Here are some options:
(I'm going to write a longer post on this and I'll link to it here when it's up)

Miguel's first winter. In Thunder Bay, Ontario.
Friends

Depending on how long you've been gone, your friend circle might be smaller or less reliable. Contact your buds in advance and make definite plans to see them once you're back. You might even consider throwing yourself a "I'm back" bash at a bar or restaurant. 

You're probably in a tight financial situation, so suggest cheap hangout activities like meeting for coffee, working out together, going for a walk, visiting a free cultural event, or coming over to your place (if possible).

It's possible your friends could've ... vanished. It happens. People move away or their lives change. So, it's time to make some new buds. 

Check out your local YMCA for varsity sports teams. Sign up for a language or art class. Volunteer for a cause that speaks to you, whether that's rescue dogs, teen mental health, a community garden etc. 

Seek out people from your expat home on sites like Meetup.com (you'll probably want to practice your language skills anyway!).

It's awkward to make new friends but just remember, you did it abroad! And there always going to be newcomers at home--now it's your turn to make them feel welcome.

Physical Health

You may not have regularly gone to the doctor or dentist abroad. Depending on the situation in your home country, it might be worth it to get a physical and your teeth cleaned before you leave (I did all my dental work in Mexico and it was waaaayyyy cheaper). Stock up on any medications just in case you have trouble finding an equivalent or getting a prescription when you get home.

And definitely research your options at home. In my case, I had to wait three months to get my health coverage back in Canada. Depending on your health, planning for the transition can be really crucial.

You can still travel in your home country! We escaped to Montreal soon after we got back.
Emotional Health

Let me tell you, reverse culture shock is real! When I first came back from Mexico to Toronto, I felt like I was in a movie about someone else's life. The most random stuff felt bizarre, like how quiet it was, the absence of traffic, the different cultural practices and expectations.

I was shocked to remember, for example, how many people talk to themselves here. How severe mental health issues are so visible--people yelling and creating a ruckus. I'm not complaining, in fact it really sucks how many people don't get the mental health support they need in a first world country. It's just, you don't see that in Mexico.

So! Preparation is key. Make the first week back low-key. Don't push yourself to run around and see a million things and meet with a million people. Not only will you be overwhelmed, but the time change and jet lag aren't going to help.

Allow for lots of down time and give yourself the space you need to chill and recuperate. Try journalling, blogging, or talk to a therapist. Make time to shoot hoops or go for a run. Treat yourself to an amazing meal. Don't be stressed if you're sleeping more--your body is re-adjusting. Make a to do list and don't panic about it. It'll all get done eventually.

Check List

  1. If you have a foreign partner, get them permanent residency and a work visa for your home country first. Research process for bringing over kids and/or pets.
  2. Find a place to stay and negotiate exactly how long you can crash there.
  3. Estimate how long it'll take you to find a job at home and what your monthly expenses will be. Rent? Will you need to buy a car? Pay debts? Buy a winter coat? Save up. Take freelancing jobs, if possible. Research EI benefits or disability support if you think you'll need it.
  4. Book your flight.
  5. Post on social media announcing your return. Ask friends to look out for jobs/housing for you!
  6. Email your inner circle and make plans to hang out.
  7. Make a list of fun government-related stuff you'll need to do when you go back like renewing your driver's license/passport, notifying the tax office of your return, and researching health insurance options.
  8. Stock up on current medication.
  9. Research activities at home like informal language exchanges or classes. Mark in your calendar events to look forward to like concerts, street fairs, and getaways.
  10. Ship ahead anything you can't take on the plane, pack the rest.
  11. Take it easy the first week! Major life stuff happening.
  12. Change your addresses, get a local phone number and data plan, send out CVs, breeaatthhhheee.
**Please note, this list doesn't include tying up loose ends in your country overseas. Post coming soon!**

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