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How To Survive A Lonely Christmas Abroad As An Expat

Spending Christmas without family is one of the hardest things about travelling and living abroad. The build-up in December, the big day itself and the strange and empty time in between Christmas and New Year is usually a time when you are surrounded by your closest family and friends. How do you cope with moving abroad and spending festive time in another country? Read below for the best ways to combat these feelings.

William Russell Blog - How to Survive Lonely Christmas Abroad as an Expat - Christmas in the woods
For some expats, it will be their first Christmas back in their home towns with their families for a while, thanks to the pandemic / GETTY IMAGES

How to survive a lonely Christmas abroad as an expat

Whether it’s your first Christmas away from home or you have been doing it for years, the holiday period can be an especially tough time for expats. Being away from friends and family, often in a completely different culture that celebrates the festive season in an entirely different way, or not at all, it’s easy to feel like you’re missing out.

As we approach Christmas time, many of us who celebrate will be experiencing a very different festive season than we usually enjoy. Whilst this can still be a time of joy and happiness, it can also magnify any underlying feelings of loneliness for those that are separated from loved ones. International travel may not be an option for some expats, making it impossible to see their extended families and friends.

Why is lonely Christmas abroad especially hard for expats?

Christmas, by tradition for many people, is a time for all family members to get together. It’s a ‘standard’ school holiday in most countries, meaning we have the opportunity to all travel home and spend some quality time with our families.

If you’re living abroad for Christmas, it can be really hard to know that you won’t be there on the day and everyone will be getting on without you. Not that they don’t miss you obviously, but something you realise when you leave is that people don’t stop their own lives just because you’ve gone! This annual trip home gives us a chance to assuage any guilt we may feel at choosing to live overseas.

As expats, the Christmas holiday season is often the main time of year that we do all get together. All-in-all, our data show that expatriates are more at risk of experiencing mental health disorders than people living in their home countries. And you might feel that you’re making up for lost time and missed opportunities; those times that you haven’t been able to be with your family and friends – to meet new babies, for important birthdays, for weddings, or sadly for funerals. And, in a way, this annual trip home gives us a chance to assuage any guilt we may feel at choosing to live overseas.

Expats mental health can be fragile at any time of the year
We look at top tips for good mental health as an expat

Top tips on managing a lonely Christmas abroad as an expat

How Christmas works out for you is all about spirit and attitude. Too many people put far too much pressure on themselves for Christmas. It could be that until now, you’ve been organising a Christmas that doesn’t fit in with your life, particularly based on your current reality of living overseas in a global pandemic. This could be your chance to rip up the rule book and do something completely different. Here are out top tips.

William Russell Blog - How to Survive Lonely Christmas Abroad as an Expat - Winter Hike At The Frozen Waterfall
Winter hike at the frozen waterfall in Slovenia / GETTY IMAGES

1/ To avoid feeling lonely, embrace the local culture as an expat

One great way to prevent homesickness is to get stuck into local cultural experiences and take advantage of the different ways people celebrate the holiday period while also sharing with new friends how you would celebrate back home. It will also help you with your culture shock.

Whether they simply celebrate in a different way or don’t celebrate Christmas at all, take it all as a learning opportunity and a chance to experience new traditions! Check out what events might be going on around you and get stuck in.

William Russell Blog -How to Survive Lonely Christmas Abroad as an Expat - Couple of lovers at Braies lake, Italy
Beautiful couple of young expats visiting an alpine lake at Braies, Italy / GETTY IMAGES

2/ Spend the day with other expats to feel better

If you’re an expat there will no doubt be many other expatriates around you who may also be feeling a little lonely at the prospect of spending Christmas day alone, so why not organise to spend it together! This is a great way to keep busy on the day and even make new friends if you ask your friends to invite other expats they know to come along to join the fun.

3/ Do things to remind you of home abroad as an expat

While it’s always a good idea to immerse yourself in local culture, there is nothing wrong with continuing your Christmas traditions in a new country. Whether it’s going on a Christmas day walk or cooking Christmas dinner, continue your celebrations to make you feel more at home. Be flexible though and don’t assume you will simply be able to pop out and get everything you want.

And don’t forget to call or video call with your friends and family on the big day, it will help you feel more connected with what’s going on at home.

4/ Buy yourself a gift this Christmas

Treat yourself to a nice gift, it is Christmas after all! Maybe get yourself something you can do on the day and give yourself the time to relax and enjoy the day. Why not even wrap it up and open with your family on facetime so you don’t feel as though you are missing out!

5/ Volunteer this Christmas abroad to feel more connected

Volunteering at a local homeless shelter, care home or even animal shelter can be a great way to keep busy while giving back to your new community. Check out what’s in your local area and if any groups need help.

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Expats and mental health this Christmas

All-in-all, our data show that expatriates are more at risk of experiencing mental health disorders than people living in their home countries. Another reason expats seek mental health support is as a consequence of other episodes as a result of other medical conditions. Fortunately, many international health insurance policies, including ours, feature mental health cover. While it may not be compulsory, we recommend checking your policy to see if it includes coverage for mental health services.

Getting familiar with a country’s healthcare system and health culture is one of the biggest challenges that expats face when relocating overseas. Whether you are moving abroad for the first time or you have experience being an expat in many different locations, it’s beneficial to understand the key healthcare factors when deciding to live and work abroad. Not only this, the pandemic has caused additional challenges that you need to be aware of when researching the healthcare system of your potential new home.

Find out which countries have
the best healthcare in the world

Naturally then, prioritising your health, including mental health needs to be top of your agenda as moving abroad, like any big change can present challenges:

  1. It’s a really good idea to make sure all your medical history and appointments are up-to-date before you go, and that you have sufficient medication should you require it.
  2. Next, ensure you have investigated the healthcare system in the new country. Medical processes and practices can vary massively from nation to nation for factors such as cost, number of available health professionals, waiting times and what cover is available to expats.
  3. Do your research and find out what the systems look like in the country you are moving to. In most locations, if you are paying taxes you should qualify for some healthcare cover, but this varies and you should still expect there to be additional health care costs no matter where you relocate to.

As a William Russell member, your plan includes many other opportunities to call on mental health support, especially at critical life moments. For instance, we provide additional counselling consultations for expats who have received cancer treatment (where pre-authorised). We provide a lifetime limit of US$500 for Bronze, SilverLite and Silver members, or US$750 for Gold members to cover up to 10 consultations plus drugs prescribed by a medical doctor for patients who have received cancer treatment covered by the same plan. In all the plans apart from SilverLite, we will help you to cover the cost of:

  • Consultations with mental health professionals, such as therapy, counselling or referrals
  • In-patient or out-patient treatment for mental health conditions.


How to survive a lonely Christmas abroad as an expat

Christmas is all about tradition and spending time with friends and family, so for expats living overseas the festive period can be a very difficult time. Often in a completely different culture, who may not celebrate the holiday at all, Christmas can be an unusual and sometimes lonely experience for expats. Most expats feel pangs of loneliness at times, but the Christmas holidays abroad can be the worst, especially if you’re in a country that doesn’t celebrate Christmas.

Yes, Christmas is all about family, and yes it can be hard being away from your home comforts but if you are living abroad for Christmas, make the most of it and enjoy the day anyway.

Peace of mind when you live overseas

No matter where you go, you can take one thing off your mind. William Russell offers international health insurance that covers you for everything from minor injuries to long hospital stays. We can even offer medical evacuation to patients who require treatment in other countries. At William Russell, we have been providing worldwide health cover for 30 years, helping expats like you and their families to settle into their new homes. Speak to us today to find out more about how global health insurance could support you.

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