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  • 24 March 2022
  • 2 years

Expatriates: How to Stay Connected with Loved Ones When Working Abroad

Hal Morgan

The usual advice for people new to an overseas assignment is to become engaged in the life of your new location—to see it as your home, make new friends, learn the language, and become part of your new community. That’s good advice, but a balance is needed. It’s also important to maintain connections with the people you care about from whom you are now separated. Swing too far in one direction and you risk weakening ties with people you love. Swing too far the other way and you risk limiting your expat experience by holding back from fully immersing yourself in your work and the new culture.

Every expat will find that balance in different ways. Here, we offer tips on keeping meaningful connections with the key people in your life when you’re living far away, while also staying present in and engaging fully with your new community.

Recognize that it takes effort to maintain connections

You’ll likely find and need to accept that your family and long-time friends aren’t all great at staying in touch. With a few lucky exceptions, they won’t call or write as often as you might like. As you become absorbed in your life abroad, you, too, can let communication slip. For relationships that matter to you, you’ll need to make an effort to keep communication going and connections strong. Fortunately, with today’s video calling and social media technologies, you have more options for staying close than people did in the past.

Pay attention to what makes you feel connected

Everyone has different needs for connection, depending on the number and nature of their relationships. Think back to before your move. Who did you spend time with regularly? Who did you keep in close touch with by phone or email? Who made you laugh? Who would you turn to for emotional support or advice about important decisions? Think, too, of the people to whom you’ve provided emotional support. These are the connections that matter the most, the people who make you feel connected when you spend time with them, and to whom your continued connection is important.

Now that you’re living in another country, you may also have new needs for connection. Speaking with someone in your native language might be comforting, for example, where that was never a consideration before. You may place special value now on conversations or exchanges with people who know you well, and with whom you can share your feelings. Some of these needs might be met, over time, by connecting with other expats and by making new friends in your host county. But they might also drive your desire to communicate with family and old friends.

As you try different approaches to maintaining connection with the special people in your life, pay attention to what makes you feel connected to your family and your closest circle of friends, and what leaves you feeling separated and alone.

Schedule times to talk

When you’re living in different time zones, calling when the whim strikes you can be a formula for frustration. You can’t just “try again later” when your work and sleep schedules are different. Instead, find times that work for everyone for regular video chats, texting, or phone calls. Having these in your calendars can be a comfort to everyone. It also sets expectations about how often you’ll talk, which can help reduce feelings of disappointment or aggravation when people have different ideas about how often they’d like to talk.

Two-way communication at a distance

Two-way communication is when you speak to be heard and listen to understand. That happens in a good conversation when two people are listening to each other. It can also happen in a thoughtful exchange of letters or emails or a good chat, though without the emotional cues of voices and facial expressions. One challenge for people living in another country is to keep conversations on an equal give and take. Everything is new and different for you, and you have lots of news to share. Your friends and family may not have as much to say when you ask how they’ve been.

To have a good conversation, resist the temptation to overwhelm your listener with all the details of your new life. You’ll end up dominating the conversation and leaving little space for the other person. It’s fine to share some highlights of your foreign experience. Your friends and family will expect it. (Social media posts are great for that.) But, when you’re on the phone or in a video chat, talk about what’s going on day-to-day—what makes you happy, worried, or excited right now—rather than giving a travel lecture on the last two months of your life. That makes sharing details of life “back home” less intimidating for your friends and family. Show that you are as interested in their lives as they are in yours by asking as many questions as you answer.

Ways to stay connected at a distance

There are so many ways now to keep in touch from a distance, and you’re probably familiar with them all. Here’s a quick list with some notes on the special value of each.

Phone home. It may seem old-fashioned, but a phone is a great way to have a conversation at a distance. It’s easy. No special technology is needed for either party, and you can talk while you’re cooking a meal, out for a walk, or lying in bed. Look into the most economic plan for international calling or use a VoIP application.

VoIP. It costs nothing to make calls through your internet broadband. Skype, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger all enable broadband voice calls through your smartphone or computer. You can use these apps for group calls, video calls, and messaging, too. Zoom is specifically designed for group video calls. FaceTime is another easy option for one-on-one video communication between two people with iPhones or Macs. Google Duo does the same for two people with Androids. Find the VoIP application that the people you want to connect with are comfortable using. (You may need to get comfortable yourself using different apps for different people. Grandparents and teenagers may have different preferences.)

Video calls, or video chats, can make you feel almost like you’re in the same room with someone. Of all the technology innovations, this is the one that bridges distance most effectively. Schedule video calls for catch-up or heart-to-heart conversations with your closest friends, to keep tabs on growing nieces and nephews, or to see how your parents are doing. All of the VoIP applications just mentioned enable video calls.

Email, chat, and letters. Great conversations can be had using the written word. Email delivers longer accounts instantly, while chat or instant messaging enables shorter back-and-forth exchanges. An old-fashioned written letter can be a special treat for the recipient and a pleasure to write.

Social media is great for sharing pictures and experiences. Use Instagram or Facebook to share the highlights of your foreign experience—pictures and stories that will be of interest to your friends and family. Some expats create a blog to give ongoing details of their new lives. Sharing to groups through social media this way lets others see and understand your new life while freeing you to use conversation time to connect at a personal level. (If you’re working in China, you won’t be able to access the social media platforms your friends and family back home are using.)

Do things together

Connection doesn’t have to be limited to conversations, pictures, and written messages. Try using your scheduled phone or video calls to do something together. You might:

  • Cook together. Plan ahead to have the ingredients on hand for a favorite dish or meal.
  • Play games. Many games you love playing in person can also be played at a distance. Charades, Twenty Questions, and Pictionary work well in group video. By aiming the camera at the game or dice, you can play Boggle, Trivial Pursuit, or Yahtzee. Of course, there’s a world of online games designed for playing at a distance.
  • Do crosswords. With screen sharing and a designated writer, you can do crosswords together.
  • Watch a movie together. The major movie streaming services have group-watching or party applications. That works if you and your friends or family subscribe to the same services. If you don’t, you might try an application like Scener, twoseven, or Kast. Try turning your friends on to a movie from your host country.


There’s nothing like in-person time together to strengthen a relationship and build a feeling of connection. Schedule visits to family and friends and invite them to visit you. If money is an obstacle for one of you but not the other, consider sharing the travel cost or making a gift of the plane ticket. That might make a visit possible that otherwise would never happen.

Having a visit to look forward to can make it easier for you to engage fully with your new community.

Workplace Options helps employees balance their work, family, and personal needs to become healthier, happier, and more productive, both personally and professionally. The company’s world-class employee support, effectiveness, and wellbeing services provide information, resources, referrals, and consultation on a variety of issues ranging from dependent care and stress management to clinical services and wellness programs. To learn more email us at

Disclaimer: This document is intended for general information only. It does not provide the reader with specific direction, advice, or recommendations. You may wish to contact an appropriate professional for questions concerning your particular situation.

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