Reverse culture shock is something that many expatriates experience when returning home after living in a different country for an extended period of time. Adjusting to being back in the U.S is much more difficult that people usually expect. The longer a person has been away, the more difficult it is to find again the place in the old “new” country.
Why Repatriation is Difficult
Repatriation is difficult for the same reasons that living abroad is difficult. A person is being forced to change what they have grown accustomed to and what they already considered as “normal”. After spending a couple of years in certain European countries, driving on the left side of the road becomes standard. Coming back to the U.S and driving in the right side will probably seem strange and foreign now.
The financial concerns are another issue that makes moving back to the U.S difficult. Reestablishing utility accounts, getting bills in order, setting up bank accounts, and dealing with taxes can get confusing. Depending on the country the expatriate lived in, the cost of living might be a huge shock when returning home. Living in India, a country with a fairly low cost of living, and coming back to the U.S where the cost of living is steadily increasing can be overwhelming.
Lastly, many companies that send employees to work abroad do not prepare them well. Some employees arrive home only to find that they no longer fit in with old friends or even their family after being immersed in a completely different culture for years. For expatriates who travel with their families, the transformation is especially difficult for children.
So how can the effects of reverse culture shock be decreased?
Keep in contact with friends while abroad
By keeping in touch with friends who are still in the U.S, coming back home isn’t as awkward and strange. While everything around you may be different, the people with you will be the same. Let friends know what you’re experiencing while you’re abroad so that they have some understanding of what you will consider “normal” when you get back. Friends can also keep you up to date with what is going on in the U.S even while you’re gone.
The internet is your friend
Thankfully the internet allows you to stay on top of all the cultural trends in the U.S no matter where you are. You can access different T.V shows, movies, music, and even see what’s going on in the world of American fashion while you’re away. Staying up to date on the culture will detract from the feeling of:
- Not understanding jokes
- Not knowing current events
- Not knowing popular trends
- Feeling out of place
Getting your affairs in order
Unfortunately, being out of the country for a long period of time does not automatically exempt you from paying federal and state taxes. In the U.S, you still have to pay taxes on income generated in other countries. There are certain exemptions you may be able to claim such as the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE). It is best to consult with a CPA to avoid any tax issues when you arrive home.
There are other practical details you will have to address such as setting up a new bank account, getting health insurance, etc. For bank accounts, your best option will probably be to work with a bank or credit union in the U.S and have your funds transferred. This simplifies the process for tax purposes, accessing your money, direct deposit, and general banking needs.
If you are fortunate enough to have gotten a written “right of return” (a guarantee that you will have a job available from your employer when you return the U.S), then any benefits such as insurance will already be handled.
Have a plan of action before you arrive home
Expatriates put a lot more thought and effort into moving abroad than they do with coming home. One of the best ways to make the move back home easier is to prepare for it the same way you did when you left. This includes going over:
- Your finances
- Where you will live
- Employment situation
- Getting the proper identification and licensing
- Enrolling children in school
One hassle you will probably deal with is importing your items. If you have furniture and other items that you would like to bring back the U.S, you will have to deal with Customs. Fortunately, NY Shipping is able to assist you with your freight needs to make the process easier and more convenient.
Assuming that you will be able to dive right back into living in the U.S after years of living in another country is a big mistake. This returner’s checklist will help remind you of some of the different factors to be aware of when you arrive back to the U.S. Do not underestimate reverse culture shock. With a little planning and effort, moving back home can be easier on you and your family.
Einat Mazafi is the owner of NY International Shipping, an International Shipping and moving company based in New York. She is also a specialist in providing the best relocation solutions to clients worldwide.