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Top 6 Qualities of a Successful Expat

Thinking about moving overseas but not quite sure if you can hack it?

The great news is that there are a few key characteristics that expats agree are the most important for making a successful move. And, even if you may not naturally thrive in these specific areas, they are definitely skills you can grow over time if you know what to focus your efforts on.

Strap into your growth mindset and let’s chat about the top 6 qualities of successful expats, and how you can grow your skills in these areas.

1. Open-mindedness

Top 6 Qualities of a Successful Expat

Across the board, open-mindedness was always one of the top skills mentioned by expats as being critical to their success.

There’s no question about it, things are going to be very different when you land in a new country vs your home country. Culture shock is going to hit you like a ton of bricks.

Being open-minded helps you take in new information and learn as you go. It helps you move from that stage of shock into a stage of acceptance. It helps you to immerse yourself into your new culture, cast aside your judgements, and embrace your life in your new country.

Work on your open-mindedness at home by exposing yourself to new experiences and people who think differently than you do. Take trips to your target destination and make a point of getting out amongst the locals rather than staying at your resort the whole time. These are some simple, intentional steps you can take to push yourself out of your comfort zone and build up your open-mindedness.

2. Flexibility/adaptability

Top 6 Qualities of a Successful Expat

Are you good at rolling with the punches? Flexibility is hugely important for anyone considering becoming an expat.

There are a lot of moving pieces when you move to a new country and things are going to go wrong. So, you need to be prepared for that when, not if, it happens. And that means being flexible and having the ability to adapt to new situations and circumstances, while still pursuing your goal. Flexibility in this context is the willingness to try new ways of doing things.

Think of it like having multiple routes to the same destination. Maybe construction pops up on Route A so you need to take Route B instead. Maybe you miss the turn for Route B and need to move to Route C.

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Having backup plans can help you to become more flexible, because you are setting yourself up for success. Do the work beforehand to identify potential obstacles in your path and prepare for them. It’s easier to be flexible in your approach when you aren’t caught completely off-guard when things don’t go as planned.

3. Sense of humor

Top 6 Qualities of a Successful Expat

Oh man, is this one ever important. Sometimes, you just have to laugh things off.

Approaching life with a good sense of humor is important for pretty much everyone, not just expats. It enables you to let things just roll off your back and not take things too seriously, or too personally. It’s about not sweating the small stuff and keeping a good perspective on what is important in life.

If something less than ideal happens, take stock of the situation and ask yourself if it is really that serious. If the answer is “no,” give yourself permission to smile, deal with it, and move on. Even if the answer is “yes,” a lighthearted perspective will help you to better deal with the situation.

There’s really no downside to having a good sense of humor about life. It could even save you some wrinkles and grey hair!

4. Resilience/persistence

Top 6 Qualities of a Successful Expat

Resilience is expressed perfectly in the 90s hit “Tubthumper” by Chumbawamba:

I get knocked down, but I get up again
You’re never gonna keep me down

I get knocked down, but I get up again
You’re never gonna keep me down

You’re welcome for getting this song stuck in your head! But it really is a great example of how to demonstrate resilience as an expat. You are going to make missteps along the way, but the important thing is to just keep going. Don’t give up at the first sign of difficulty. Use challenges as an opportunity to grow and become stronger.

5. Cultural sensitivity

Top 6 Qualities of a Successful Expat

Cultural sensitivity is all about making an effort to understand the culture of your new country, and working to understand and integrate into it. After all, you are leaving your home country because you are looking for a change, so it is your responsibility to do your best to work within the new culture when you get there.

Examples of cultural sensitivity in practice are learning the language, and having the curiosity to learn about and respect the norms and culture of your new country.

Do your best to start the process before you leave permanently. By taking shorter trips to scout things out in your destination of choice, researching online, and starting to learn the language before you make the move, you will have a better understanding of the culture when you get there. This will lessen some of the culture shock as well.

6. Patience

Top 6 Qualities of a Successful Expat

In Canada and the US, we are very much all about instant gratification. And we have the infrastructure to support that, whether that means ordering from Amazon Prime or Door Dash, calling an Uber, or getting our plumbing fixed.

Most other cultures around the world do not carry this same expectation, nor the infrastructure to support it. In Latin America, they are famous for doing things “mañana,” which could mean tomorrow or next week. And this can drive expats absolutely crazy.

But, that’s how it is. So, to avoid losing your mind, you will need to work on being patient. And, in my opinion, patience is the glue that holds everything else together for an expat.

Patience with yourself. Patience with others. Patience when things don’t go as planned. Everything else on this list hinges on your ability to take a chill pill and give yourself, others, and the whole entire process some grace.

What helps you relax? Are you good at forgiving yourself and others? Do you find you are stressed out a lot?

Try meditation and yoga for relaxation if that helps you. Make sure your expectations for where you are going are realistic. Set yourself up for success with proper planning.

Patience is a virtue that most of us do not possess in excess so you will need to do your best to put yourself in a position where you aren’t overusing it, while also working to build up your ability to be more patient over time.

Honorable mentions

These are a few of the skills that showed up the most when I was researching this topic. Here are some of the other skills deemed important by expats:

  • Optimism/positivity
  • Adventurousness
  • Enthusiasm
  • Spontaneity
  • Determination
  • Organization
  • Bravery
  • Self-confidence
  • Willingness to learn
  • Curiosity

Many of these are closely adjacent to the characteristics I already mentioned above. In an ideal world, we would possess all of these skills and be able to effortlessly transition into a new life overseas as an expat.

But, that’s not reality. So, it’s up to us to take stock of our strengths and weaknesses, improve in the areas we need to, and put ourselves in the best possible position to be successful expats.

Also, keep in mind that eventually you just need to take the leap and learn as you go. Don’t wait for everything to be perfect – you will probably never feel exactly ready for your move. Aim for “ready as you’ll ever be” and just go for it; some of these skills need to be learned on the ground anyway!

Wrapping up

Top 6 Qualities of a Successful Expat

Here are the main steps you should take to ensure you are mentally and emotionally prepared for your journey as an expat:

  1. Research your target destination to learn as much as you can about it
  2. Start learning the language
  3. Take short trips to your target destination and make sure to venture out into the community while you are there
  4. Speak to other expats at your target destination to help set your expectations and learn from their experience
  5. Focus on developing the key skills in this article in your daily life

And, of course, you know I recommend subscribing to Escape Artist Insiders magazine! Our experts are out there living what they write about, along with providing a depth and breadth of expertise you won’t find anywhere else.

I hope this article gives you a good starting point for how to arm yourself with the skills you need for a successful overseas move. See you next week!


LisaLisa is an aspiring expat from Canada who is working to put together her Plan B with a young family in tow. She is excited to pair her lifelong love of writing with her passion for offshore strategies and outside-the box investments in her weekly articles for Escape Artist readers. Follow this “rebel with a cause” as she walks the path less traveled and shares her experiences along the way.
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