‘Real problem’ British expats face culture shock overseas and can end up returning home

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Research from AXA Global Healthcare found that the main reason British expats move home is due to culture shock. The study looked at the factors that can cause difficulties for expats.

Caroline Walmsley, global head of HR at AXA Global Healthcare, said: “It probably comes as no surprise that for those whose language skills aren’t as strong as they might like, getting to grips with the local language is a major cause of culture shock.

“Everyday conversions that might previously have been taken for granted, such as asking for restaurant recommendations, passing the time of day or ordering a coffee suddenly become incredibly daunting tasks.”

While British expats in countries such as the USA and Australia will have no language issues, Britons in Europe could struggle.

Areas such as Spain’s Costa Blanca and Costa del Sol have large expat communities where many people are likely to speak English.

However, expats with no Spanish might struggle to get by in smaller or more rural towns with few expat residents.

Caroline said: “Even if you aren’t trying to hold a conversation, simply hearing a language that you don’t understand being spoken all around you can be incredibly isolating.”

She recommends that expats spend some time learning the local language before moving abroad.

She said: “It might not be enough to become fluent but having at least a basic understanding of the local language is sure to help a new expat feel like less of an outsider.”

Trying new cuisines and flavours can be one of the most exciting aspects of relocating abroad.

However, food can also be a major cause of culture shock for homesick British expats.

Caroline said: “Being unable to get hold of the foods they’re used to at home can suddenly cause a real problem.

“Depending on where they’re based, how different the local cuisine might be and even the type of packaging used for foods, it can even be a challenge just knowing what’s actually available for you to eat.”

Vegetarians and vegans might struggle in certain countries where meat is a central part of the diet.

Caroline recommends that expats look out for international supermarkets and says employers could help new expats find familiar foods.

British expats can also buy British favourites on popular websites such as British Corner Shop.

Time differences can be a major challenge for new expats, particularly for those moving further afield.

Where should you go on your next holiday?

Now that the world has opened up again it’s time to pack those suitcases and head off on a well-deserved adventure. Where should you be jetting off to? Take our quiz and find out.


With endless culture, gorgeous beaches and weather to die for, Greece is a great choice both for romantic getaways and family trips. Wander the historical streets of Athens and Thessaloniki or head to an island to soak up the sun – the choice is yours.


It may be far away but it’s definitely worth the trip. Japan has sprawling metropolises, stunning scenery, and a rich history and culture to boot. Check out the cities of Kyoto and Tokyo and make sure to get your fill of their world-famous cuisine while you’re in town


Hop across the pond and experience an array of cultures, climates, cuisines and more. You can leave the phrasebook at home and get truly immersed in everything that this sprawling nation has to offer, from the Grand Canyon to the Statue of Liberty


With some of the best food around and boasting the world’s most romantic city, France is a great choice if you’re in a hurry. Be in its glorious capital in just hours, grab a pain au chocolat and practice your language skills while wandering along the banks of the Seine


La dolce vita is calling! With its stunning views, fascinating history and world-famous Neapolitan pizza, Italy is a great choice, whether you’re after an adventure or want to dive into a big bowl of spaghetti


A little off the beaten track, Morocco boasts stunning architecture, winding street markets to get lost in, and beautiful landscapes. Soak up the sun in Marrakech or head to Chefchaouen for one of the most unique experiences a holiday-maker can have

The Caribbean

Sun, sea and sand – what’s not to love? Head to the Caribbean if you really want to unwind. With plenty of picturesque locations to choose from, from the streets of Havana to the beaches of Grenada, you’re sure to find something that fits your holiday dreams.


When most people think ‘holiday’, sunshine and relaxation comes to mind – but a different kind of trip can be just as rewarding. Splash around in the Blue Lagoon and try your luck at catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights. This is definitely one for the bucket list.


India is well worth a visit if you have some time to spare. With an array of different cultures coexisting in this vast and vibrant nation, as well as gorgeous food to be enjoyed at every turn, you’ll find yourself immersed in the experience. Take a trip to the Taj Mahal for that jaw drop moment

Swiss Alps

If snow sports are your thing, then this mountainous region is perfect for you. Venture down the powdered slopes and warm your hands at the après-ski afterward. Perfect for a group of friends, a romantic trip, or even some time with the kids – if they can stand the cold!

What kind of holiday do you like best?

What’s your budget?

How long do you have for your trip?

Who’s going on the trip?

How are your languages skills?

What’s your ideal climate?

Which is top of your bucket list?

Caroline said: “Being able to call or message friends, family or colleagues back home can make all the difference for a struggling expat.

“There can sometimes be no greater challenge than when they’re based in a country so far away that they have to contend with a radically different time zone.”

She recommends that employers allow colleagues to experiment with flexible hours to reach family and friends.

British expats could also schedule a regular time every week to contact family and friends back home.

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