Choosing your own hours, zero commutes, a fresh new environment. Working from home abroad sounds like the dream, right? While it certainly has many perks, life as a remote worker isn’t always perfect. Here are 14 things no one tells you about working from your home while living in a different country.
When I moved to Perth I was lucky enough to continue working for my London company as a remote employee. Not only did this remove the stress of job hunting while moving, but it also helped ensure a smooth transition to a new country where the life admin was already piling up as it is.
Since I’ve been working from home abroad for several months I like to think I’ve got myself a good system going. However, along the way, there have been more than a couple of bumps and realisations I thought would be useful to share with anyone looking to try life as a remote worker.
Challenges of Working From Home Abroad
1. You have to be really disciplined.
Self-motivation will play a huge role in your new life. In fact, I would almost suggest you give it a test run at home before fully committing to working from abroad while in a foreign country.
- Can you get yourself up in the morning to start the day?
- Are you able to avoid distractions and procrastination throughout your working hours?
- Can you rely on your willpower to get tasks done on time?
I wouldn’t say I’ve been perfect on this journey. I still slip up and have an hour lunch instead of 30 minutes, or might go to the gym when it’s a slow morning. BUT I try to allow myself these small conveniences as a benefit of the things I miss out on from working in an office.
Furthermore, a massive influence in my motivation is guilt. I will feel incredibly guilty if work is quiet or I’m not being as useful or productive as I could be. I thrive off good energy where I get lots done and tick items off a to-do list, so when I’m taking time for myself or indulging in something outside of work tasks I will beat myself up over it.
Keeping myself in check means I know I can work from home remotely because I will be my own manager and berate any actions that I wouldn’t do in the office! Plus, I know I’m someone who is pretty productive when left alone. You’d be amazed at how your old 8 hour day can fit into 6 hours or less by focussing on concentrated time for tasks.
If you’re struggling with your motivation, try these productivity tips for working from home! Some aren’t for everyone (I sure as heck won’t be wearing high heels around the house) but they might inspire some techniques to get you going.
2. Making friends is way harder.
A major factor of moving abroad is making new friends. Leaving behind everyone you already know and love can be daunting. For most people who relocate to a new country, their colleagues will be the gateway to a new friendship group. So what do you do when you work alone, from the comforts of your home?
Making friends while travelling seems so easy. You just get chatting in the dorm rooms or buddy up with someone on a bus ride, or swap details with someone trying to organise a day trip. But when you’re not travelling and you’re settling into a city, it’s a different story.
I arrived in Perth loving the new surroundings and spaces to explore. And I loved spending all my spare time with my now live-in partner. Then about a month in it hit me like a ton of bricks that I desperately needed to socialise. I needed to talk to anyone besides my partner and a barista in a day. Literally anyone.
I had a complete mind blank about how the hell adults make friends.
Most of my existing friends were from school, uni, or work. I hadn’t made a new friend in years. Not since travelling long term, probably. So I got on the ol’ internet and started doing some research, along with some ideas from friends from home (who I would insistently tell I was TOTALLY fine and not at all missing their beautiful familiar faces).
These are a few suggestions, and not all are going to be suitable for everyone. If you’re hoping to make some pals in your new destination, try these out as a way to get started!
Ways To Make Friends When Relocating Abroad:
- Co-working spaces: If you’re after an office-y vibe to meet like-minded remote workers, this is for you! Co-working spaces might also be a good way to keep yourself motivated and stick to a routine – even better if that’s something you’re struggling with. The main aspect to bear in mind here would be the cost, a hot desk in a dedicated co-working space like Flux or Quay Perth is around $400 a month.
- As I have a desk in the flat, I decided against co-working spaces. But I wouldn’t be opposed to it in the future if I’m staying somewhere more permanently!
- Facebook groups: A quick way to scope out new buddies is through social media. A quick search on Facebook for “Brits in Australia” and “Perth Female Friendships” led me to several groups dedicated to meeting new people in your situation. The website and app Meetup is also a good tool. You can find events to attend or groups to meet with based on your location and interests.
- For me, I tentatively joined a couple of groups but went no further with it. The idea of meeting a room full of strangers with no (polite) way to leave scares me, so I know I’m not ready for that yet.
- Sports teams/hobbies: If you arrive in your new home with activities you’d like to get involved with, congrats! You are well on your way to making new friends who have similar passions. What a blessing. If you don’t, this could be the perfect time to start. Fancy learning to paint? Join an art class! Want to become more flexible? Start attending yoga sessions! The possibilities are endless.
- Volunteering: Similarly to the above, if there are organisations you’d be interested in supporting this could be a great opportunity to be altruistic while also meeting new people. As a fair warning, it might take a while to get up and running.
- I tried to sign up for helping at a dog shelter, and still, months later am awaiting my training… So that sorta failed. But I’m still keen and hope to meet fellow dog-lovers eventually!
- Bumble BFF: I know what you’re thinking. “But Suzy, Bumble is a dating app!”. Indeed, you’d be right. But did you know they have a friend-matching option too?! There’s also a professional networking platform, but for the sake of making friends let stick with Bumble BFF. This has been my most successful area. It’s instant, low commitment, and you have full control. It’s the exact same premise as dating apps; fill in a bio, answer some questions, then swipe yes or no on people’s profiles.
- From BFF, I’ve met several awesome ladies. And even better is that many are in a similar situation to me. They’re also new to Perth, from abroad, and looking to find their groove in a new city. How awesome is that to already have so much in common!
The thing with friendships is that they take time.
I read somewhere that it takes 40 hours of interaction to even move from stranger to any kind of acquaintance/friend. That’s a lotta time to hang out. I knew that I was craving the context and comfort of people I’d grown up with, friends who I didn’t have to watch what I said or explain myself to. If you’ve ever been on friend dates, you’ll know sometimes it can be really bloody hard work. Even people I click well with it can be tiring to think of new topics to discuss…
Luckily, I think I’m someone who enjoys a variety of characters. I pride myself on being adaptable to different personalities and giving anyone a chance. This has made it pretty easy to make gal pals, and I’m so glad to have found a strong couple of ladies who I’ll see regularly. The next step is to try and get them to meet and form a united group! Huzzah!
3. You might gain weight.
This was a tough one for me. As I mentioned in my annual birthday reflections, this was a year that I really, really tried to get fitter. I haven’t had an overwhelming amount of success, but I take that as a win because a big part of working from home is being significantly less active.
Waking up, stumbling to the bathroom, and dragging my heels to the desk is my morning routine. Not exactly the most mobile is it! With no commute and the option to stay in your jammies all day comes with a risk of complete sluggishness. Combined with the fact that there’s no one around to judge your 5th biscuit of the morning, there are more than enough ways to gain weight while working from home.
I was very very very conscious of this, plus I had heard that living with your partner is a likely way to lose control of your food consumption (cosy nights in scoffing pizza is romantic, right?). Therefore, I’ve been aware of what I’m eating as well as my activity. I tried to hit 10,000 steps a day, minimise my snacking to dried fruit, and would only allow myself a treat chai latte if I went for a walk in the city.
There are ways to avoid weight gain while working from home, and although it might not be something everyone is concerned about it doesn’t hurt to be mindful of your health when you’re changing your life and routine.
4. You have to be comfortable with your own company.
I like my own company, I do. But, there’s only so much Me Time I can handle. I need human interaction and stimulating conversation or else I will get very bored very quickly.
Working from home in a new country was a lesson in understanding how my brain works. Why do I feel distracted right now, do I need to give a friend a call just to use my voice today? Probably. It’s a good idea to know your limits with how much time you will actually benefit from and enjoy being alone.
As mentioned earlier, not only are you working from home by yourself you are also in a new place where popping over to a friend’s or giving your mum a call isn’t always an option (stupid time zones).
If you feel you’d thrive more with people around, how about walking down to a cafe or wandering around a shop? It sounds silly, but I find just being around other people is a huge distraction. It occupies my mind when I feel like I’ve spent too long staring at the same walls, stuck in my own head (and probably having a conversation with myself).
5. Flexibility can be a burden and a blessing.
Anyone who works from home will tell you about the benefits of flexible working. One such advantage is choosing your own hours. Need to take an hour’s break at 3pm to pick up the kids? No problem, you can make up the hours later. Got a doctor’s appointment at 11am? Easy, just work around it! It truly makes a huge difference to your work-life balance when work fits around your life, not the other way around.
However, I’ve noticed a couple of disadvantages with flexible hours, especially while being abroad.
Flexible hours means that you also need to be flexible.
It might sound obvious, but I think many forget to consider that you are the one being flexible. That means you might be up at 4am to check in on a project, or staying up until 12am to join a call that’s been scheduled to cater for multiple time zones.
I’ve always done my best to adapt to my colleagues needs and fit around their schedule because I’m the one able to reap the rewards of working from home. But there is such a thing as being over flexible. Bending over backward, working all through the day AND night. More than flexible, contortion, in fact.
It’s a good idea to set boundaries from the start and specify when you’ll be working and the limit of your flexibility. My problem is I don’t like letting people down. So although I did put rules in place, I often break them. Despite this, I am then kind to myself in other ways. If I’m working late every night, I’ll maybe take an hour or two off in the middle of the day in lieu. And I’m fine with it that way, for now!
Basically, it’s up to you to be smart and know your own balance of how much work you can and will do in a day. Monitor how you’re doing, and don’t be afraid to make changes if it means you’ll be more productive!
Flexibility can impact your workload.
Being flexible while working from home abroad also means your tasks might change. I knew I’d be giving up certain meetings and tasks that are harder to do remotely and taking on different types of tasks instead. I’m totally ok with that, but it is still a type of flexibility to adapt to change. Plus throughout daily work life while you’re asleep and the office life goes on, a lot can change! I’ve definitely woken up to a surprise bunch of tasks and I will often reprioritise work accordingly. Again, you have to be the flexible one.
The risk here is a lack of efficient communication. Being kept in the loop of changes, having your opinion heard, and giving input when it’s too late.
It can be frustrating at times to have a communication gap, but these teething issues will be sorted eventually. Aim for a routine and be completely transparent about your regular tasks so you don’t get bombarded with additional work. Keep communication going between your team and share any concerns you have well ahead of any problems.
Working from home can be a great chance to show proactivity and have a forward-thinking attitude. Try to preempt the tasks, and encourage your team to work collaboratively rather than pile you with tasks that won’t get the work done in the most efficient way.
6. You’ll worry about different things than before.
I HATE being late. Always have. I am a classic early bird and was often the first to arrive at the office. Now, I don’t have to worry about that anymore – yay! That doesn’t mean all my worries have melted away and I’m completely carefree.
No, my old work-related worries have now been replaced by working from home while also living abroad- related worries. Niggles like FOMO about the office party, worries that people will forget I’m still in the team, or doubts about if people will think I’m doing a good job. Maybe that one hasn’t changed…
Despite many assurances from my lovely teammates, there are still a few worries about working from home while living out here. I want to be a good colleague and employee, and while it’s still a new experience for all of us I still expect a few hurdles here and there.
7. You’ll have more time for yourself.
I love time for me. But this does mean that I can be prone to a few lazy habits now and then! When you spend a lot of time alone, it becomes the norm so not getting dressed and staying in all day sounds like the better option than bothering with makeup and laundry.
Treat the time you have for yourself sparingly, but also make sure it’s quality you-time. It’s easy to wish away hours doing, well, not much. Work on personal projects, read that book, take a nap! There are endless ways to actually ENJOY the extra time you have on your own that isn’t spent working.
I’ve had to be careful about this backfiring, though. I’m an annoying introverted extrovert where I crave social interactions while simultaneously dreaming of curling on the sofa at home. I have time to myself in abundance, and I was all too aware of missing a social life eventually. The 4 people I know in this new city are vital for human interactions, but I can’t depend on them to entertain me. My own company was slowly driving me crazy, and I had to find a way to be ok with an excess of my own company, and NOT wasting that time.
8. You’ll watch the clock until friends, family, and coworkers are awake.
Working on a different time zone has its own challenges, but one that I didn’t expect would be just how much I clock watch now. The hours tick by as I work, and then when 3pm hits and I know everyone is up and on their way to work I religiously check my emails, WhatsApp, and social media to catch up with all my friends and family.
There’s nothing nicer than waking up to texts from loved ones. And when you’re in a different time zone you get them more than usual! However, that’s where the conversation stops, as by the time you’re up they are long since in the land of nod. And thus becomes a daily ritual of waiting and waiting until you can chat with your favourite people again.
You’d think after 3 years in a long distance relationship I’d be used to time zone heartache by now, right?! Unfortunately, it doesn’t get any easier. Be completely honest with those you want to talk to and try to arrange a compromise. Organise a time where one is up earlier and the other stays up later so you can actually have a proper catch up. You’ll both feel SO much better for it!
9. People think it’s amazing and you don’t have the heart to tell them it can also be tough.
No one thinks working from home is bad. Especially not working from home abroad, that’s the dream! Yes, I am incredibly lucky to have this opportunity and to live in a beautiful new city, but that doesn’t mean it’s without challenges. Working alone is tough. Working alone with no one even awake to chat to is worse.
Whenever I even hint at the tougher moments, I feel guilty.
I shy away from telling people the realities of working from home because:
- It sounds negative and who wants to be a Debbie Downer.
- I want to make sure people know I’m aware of the advantages and privileges.
- I don’t want to appear ungrateful for this opportunity.
But yet, I do feel ungrateful for moaning. It’s not that I’m not aware of how great it can be to work from home abroad, it’s that there is so much more to it than that. It’s tiring before you even get started; organising visas and contracts and tax numbers and coordinating time zones… The admin goes on forever!
Things will settle down eventually. The challenges you face at first won’t necessarily last forever and it soon becomes the new normal. You will adapt quicker than you think, just be kind and patient with yourself!
10. Sometimes you have to work weird hours.
Working from home might mean you choose to work weird hours. Night owls and early birds will adjust their routines according to what makes them more productive. For those of us working from home while living abroad, we might not always get the choice.
As mentioned earlier, continuing to work for a UK-based company means that sometimes I’m sometimes on the night shift to align with London times. It’s not a massive issue and there are ways to make it work for everyone with a little compromise. However, it’s an incorrect assumption that working from home means complete personal choice in working hours, you still have to show up when expected regardless of what time it is!
When I do choose my hours, they are often dictated by the other elements of life; my partner’s work hours, my natural body clock, appointments, and more. I definitely don’t get a lie in everyday, if that’s what you’re thinking!
11. It might take longer than you think to adjust.
Everyone’s different. Moving abroad is a challenge at the best of times, so when you throw a whole new working style into the mix it’s a good idea to be self-aware of how you’re feeling and settling in.
Some might find their feet with no problem, working from home is completely natural for them! Others (me) know that it’s a great decision, but are struggling to overcome a few social and procrastination hurdles. Others might not find it for them after all and crave the structure and environment of an organised workspace.
Give yourself time, make a note of anything you’re finding difficult and prioritise them. Then, slowly address them starting with the easiest to fix. For me, this was going outside and enjoying my new space. Once I cracked this, many other difficulties fell into place! I was setting a routine to coordinate a nice lunchtime walk. I’d make sure to stop by a coffee shop to talk to a stranger or meet a new friend. And so on.
5 things I found challenging when working from home abroad:
- Setting a routine
- Avoiding distractions
- Going out of the house daily
- Talking to new people
- Overworking during UK hours
12. Working from home abroad is not all cute cafes and beaches.
Many will have a cliche image of what a “digital nomad” looks like. You know the one. The perfectly positioned laptop and notepad with a brightly coloured smoothie bowl backdropped by a Bali beach… THAT image.
Sadly, it’s not always this glamorous.
Working from home mostly looks like crumpled pyjamas and slouchy sofas. Bed hair and lunch at 11am. Chocolate for breakfast. I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but for me, it’s because this new city is an unfamiliar place and I want to hide away to concentrate on my work. But I’d much rather be out exploring and playing tourist!
This ties nicely into the previous few points; that there’s an assumption of what working from home in a foreign country looks like from an outsider. That view is often mistaken.
As you’ll see there are plenty of benefits to living in another country while working remotely. However, it’s always important to remember work is still work, it’s not a bed of roses no matter how many perks there are!
13. Being static for too long will impact your body.
No commuting or meetings or running up and down stairs, or even no walks to the coffee machine mean you’re sitting still for really long periods of time. This is bound to cause havoc with your neck, joints, back, and more. Remembering to get moving is hard to do!
I would challenge myself to how many steps I can do in a day, inside the flat. It’s surprisingly fun to compete against yourself. Maybe take a yoga break at midmorning? Or do 10 pushups waiting for the kettle to boil? There are loads of ways to squeeze in exercise when you’re home alone. Get creative about how you move your body!
Not only is exercise important to avoid the above mentioned weight gain, but any office worker knows the pains and struggles of staring at a screen for hours on end. With no one to suggest you take a break, you have to be the one reminding yourself to get up and move your body.
Just a few simple stretches can do wonders. Since living here I’ve tried to get into good habits by taking care of my body. That means check-ups, massage therapy for my bad posture, and regular exercise. A few small changes to your routine or schedule can do a world of good, and you’ll feel so much better as a result! Plus, booking a massage is a good reason to get dressed and head out for a couple of hours, so it’s a win win!
14. It isn’t for everyone, but it’s worth giving it a go.
Working from home can be hard. As mentioned, it requires a lot of discipline and commitment. Working from home abroad brings its own challenges of socialising and settling into a new environment.
Let me first say that I entirely respect anyone’s choices to stick to structured work environments as well as their choice to try their hand at a variety of working styles. However, I would TOTALLY recommend trying, for even a brief time, to work from home in a new country.
I have found living in Australia has brought so many brilliant lifestyle changes; better weather (obvs), more focus on time outdoors, healthy attitudes to work/life balance, and more. If I had decided to find office work in Perth, who knows if I’d still have been able to enjoy all of that.
If you think working from home abroad sounds it could work for you, give it a go! Why not discuss trying it out at home first? That way, you won’t be thrown into the deep end without a reference point of your self-control and flexibility before committing.
One’s things for sure, if you try working from home when living abroad, you’ll have a heck of a good story to tell and plenty of lessons learned from the experience no matter how it turns out.