Whilst for the most part being an expat can seem thrilling and excited, the sad reality is most of the time – its just boring red tape and this irrational fear that perhaps you didn’t fill out all the forms correctly. We get a lot of people asking if we have settled in Ireland, and the truth is – we are not entirely sure. We still have to renew our Irish Residence Permit (previously called GNIB) annually, and our immigration status is still very much based on if we have a valid work permit – which also needs to be renewed and kept up to date. It is kinda hard to settle in a foreign country when the rules seem to change frequently, and when the paperwork never seems to let up. Its like adulting extra hard – aside from the regular bills to be paid, full time work to be done, retirement and savings to be set aside – we are also having to put regular reminders to keep the immigration and visas up to date. Because like all foreign national red tape, there is a very long line of other expats who are also waiting on immigration appointments, so there can be a delay in finding appointments – and if you have a gap in your stamps, well then that messes with your hopes of getting your irish citizenship (but that honestly is for a whole other blog post).
When I told Rob I was writing this blog post, we kinda started it as a bit of a joke – like some of these statements/fears are a bit irrational… but when you are living at the mercy of some government agent behind a kiosk window to review your paperwork and give you the right stamp at the right time… being an expat can kinda make you go a little neurotic. Or in my case, even more highly strung.
Top 10 Fears We have Legit Had Since Becoming Expats:
- Will they stop us at immigration and not let us back in the country?
I can LOL about this now, but there was a time when we were waiting for new work permit, and we had a holiday booked… We still had a valid stamp in our passports, along with a valid GNIB/IRP card and all the documentation under the sun, but I was honestly sweating that after our amazing trip, we werent going to get back into Ireland! Still like to triple check that we pack lods of documentation when we leave the country for any reason – mostly, I worry that some bloke at the passport control will be in a bad mood and just won’t let us back in. Its totally irrational as we have all the relevant i’s dotted and t’s crossed but I still panic.
- When will my work permit arrive?
Work permits, the constant stress of an expat… so we didnt really have this stress when we first arrived because Rob got his critical skills work permit before we even left South Africa, but then I had to go through the whole process to get a spousal dependant work permit (this was prior to March 2019 change in spouses of critical skills work permits being allowed to work on stamp 1G), the application process back then took 9 weeks – which felt like it was never going to come through… and I was so worried my employer would pull out the offer half way through (a real reality for some expats!). Thankfully it didn’t happen, but then we still go through the same fear each time we have to renew our work permits – because the processing application time goes by date submitted (and you are lumped with all work permit types, new or renewal) which can take up to 15 weeks from the date you submitted the application! So its really key to get the forms filled in by HR and submitted in advance so that you are not still waiting for the renewal when the current work permit expires.
- Will I lose my friends back home?
I often feel like I am this outsider, looking in at friends back home. I see their lives on social media, and catch up on whatsapp and voice notes, but those really only cover a small amount of day to day life back home – we have missed out on so much since we moved over. Best friends weddings, births of best friends children, family illness, you name it… You start fearing that because you are not there, perhaps you will lose your friends or be forgotten. Although for the true and dear friends and family, this ofcourse won’t happen no matter how far away you are… there are however loads of peripheral friends that drop off the minute we were on the plane heading out of the country, and that is hard to accept sometimes. That life and people move on without you being there.
- If we go back home, will things be different?
The reality is some expats choose to go home after some time… and time has a funny way of standing still for expats. We remember home and the people the way we left them, when in actual fact, they have grown and changed just as much as we have – so the fear of going home is very real. Things change, people change… Rob and I were talking about if we were to move back, what it would be like. And when we thought about we realised that so many of our social circle back home is no longer where we left them – they have moved to other countries, or other parts of the country. It would be an equally tough time to re-adjust back home than it would be to try keeping fitting in here in a new country.
- Will I lose my accent?
Yes, this is my genuine fear! I have heard some very strange accents of South Africans who are English like me, who have lived in Ireland for over 20 years… and they sound like this weird mix of South African/Irish and a bit of New Zealand for some random reason… it just sounds very odd, and I am so worried I won’t sound like me anymore. Its probably why I still give Jack a thick South African accent when I am talking on his behalf (I joke, but really I do this!). My mum is Canadian and she still sounds Canadian to me, even though she has lived in SA longer than she lived in Canada. Yet when she goes back to Canada, her own family say her accent is more South African now… So you see this fear is very legit, and runs deep in my family clearly!
- When will I start calling Ireland home instead of South Africa being my home?
I refuse! Sorry, I know we love living in Ireland, and we have this kiddo who most certainly will be more Irish than South African if we choose to stay here long term. But there is this slightly irrational fear that I will start thinking of Ireland as home – when in my heart of hearts, I always want to be South African. For this fear, I take learnings from my mum. over 35 odd years in South Africa and if you ask her where is home, she will say Canada without a second thought. Yes, she lives in South Africa, raised two full-on South African kids, married and loves the most South African man, but every year at Christmas we still get to hear her complain that a summer Christmas is not really a thing – nothing beats a winter Christmas. And when Canada is playing rugby (albeit, very badly), she will literally don every Canadian thing she owns (trust me, the woman has a lot of Canada flags lying around) and will cheer fiercely for the opposite side – even if her whole family is supporting South Africa. It’s always been Canada first, South Africa second… and god, I hope I can maintain that same ethos here in Ireland. Even if I end up ending all my sentences with ‘like’ and saying ‘grand’ and ‘delighted’ too much.
- Why doesn’t anyone understand me?
I get this a lot… and it’s not my accent, or the fact that I don’t speak Irish. I sometimes feel like my humor, or what I am trying to explain to an Irish person, gets a little lost in translation – even when we are both speaking English. It is not a continuous fear, more just a frustration that some days I just don’t feel heard. Be at work, or with friends – sometimes they just don’t get what I am trying to say, and that can be flippen annoying. I guess the fear here is that what gets lost in translation is the worry that people think of me in one way, and it is almost impossible to explain myself in a way that makes them understand that that is not what I meant to say.
- Will I get deported if I break the law?
I am not saying I break the law intentionally – but Rob thinks I am ridiculous in that I make sure we follow all the rules – this goes for TV license, pet license, illegal streaming of movies, jaywalking, all the way to recycling correctly… I am terrified someone knocks on our door and says ‘you put the wrong plastic in the recycling – that’s it, you are getting deported’. It is irrational, but is it? This is something I have always struggled with, if there are rules, then they are meant to be followed – but I have married a lawyer, who believes in personal interpretation of said laws, and debates everything. So of course, he doesn’t take half this stuff seriously, but I guess I take it far too seriously – so we balance each other out?
- What if we run out of savings?
The minute we left South Africa, suddenly this heavy fear caught us – what if we run out of savings. Being so far away from home, feels like we are kinda winging life without a support net… so the financial fear of not having all our money ducks in a row is very real. It feels more scary than when we were living back in South Africa with maxed our credit cards and huge debt. I think it comes from the fact that if we ever really needed a bailout, well lets just says ZAR’s to EURO’s don’t quite add up. So we really need to be extra smart with our money here. Thankfully the move over to Ireland really made us re-evaluate the way we spend money and we are debt free now and in a much better position with an actual budget in place.
- What if we fail and are forced to move home (not by our own choice)?
Failing anything is a genuine fear most people get. But failing to expat, and having to go back because of some red tape, or lack of correct paperwork filled in, that just can be so stressful and disheartening. I am all for choosing to go home, when the time is right, and because we want to move back – but when the decision falls out of your hands because you weren’t able to get a work permit renewed, or your immigration stamp was denied – when its out of your control, that is a genuine fear. When we first moved over, and when Rob was switching jobs – this was a genuine, very real fear we had… that we might have to leave sooner than we had anticipated and before we actually had a chance to make something of this move. Being an expat can be kinda love hate – you love being in a new country experiencing new things, but you also feel like sometimes this new country is seriously trying to f*ck you, and that can make you hate it a bit. The crazy thing about being an expat is I have said loads of times ‘screw you Ireland! Babe, lets just go home’ but then there are days when things fall into place, you have a good day at work, the lady at the coffee shop smiles at you, you catch that unicorn bus that takes you door to door – and then I am like ‘But I don’t want to leave, I love it too much’.
FELLOW EXPATS, WHAT FEARS HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED SINCE BEING AN EXPAT?
Live Simply & Travel Slow,
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