What it’s Like to Live Abroad during a Global Crisis – Nomad’s Stories

We’ve all seen the news. We know the tragedies and complications caused by the current global crisis. And, fortunately, many of us have experienced a sense of global community that bands us together.

So, what’s it like to be alone in a foreign country at this time? Flights are stopping and borders closed, and travel is basically a no go.  But many people are still living abroad due to work, study or simply the case being they have no literal home in their home country and it doesn’t make financial sense to go back. It’s a surreal time to be far away from family and friends, watching your old local news station to see how the situation is evolving and getting intermittent first-hand updates from your mates.

It’s a little surreal. Experiences of nomads during this global crisis are differing dramatically. Here are their stories.

Please note – I personally recommend everyone stays home at the current time, including nomads. This post is about people who are living abroad, not travelling,  and are self-isolating abroad. None of us condones travel at this time, which is amongst the many reasons why people would rather stay put and not place others at risk travelling while back to home countries.

An American Expat in China

by Rachel Weiss from RachelMeetsChina

I’m an American expat currently living in Beijing, China. It’s been a wild experience to watch the virus spread: first from Wuhan to all around China, and eventually to many other countries. Starting in February there have been strict rules to follow in Beijing to prevent the spread and keep people safe. I’ve been working from home for 2 months now, and I need a special card to enter my neighbourhood because no outside visitors are allowed in apartment buildings and neighbourhoods.

I was worried in the beginning about staying in China – I was debating returning home like many of my other ex-pat friends, but ultimately decided to stay in Beijing because of all the safety precautions the city was taking. When you go to grocery stores and restaurants in Beijing you’re required to wear a mask, have your temperature taken, and need to write down your name, passport information, and phone number. There are strict rules about how closely people can sit next to each other inside, and some places have a 15 person limit for how many people total can be inside. There was a 2-week mandatory quarantine for a while for people returning to China from overseas, until recently when China just started a travel ban from non-Chinese nationals entering China. That rule will probably stay in effect for at least 6 weeks, which has made it difficult for many of my other friends who work in China to return.

Amidst all the rules though, there have been some positive signs lately that things are getting better in Beijing – the Great Wall just reopened to visitors, more businesses open every day, and more people are walking around outside and resuming business. Many schools in China are opening again as well, so we’re all remaining hopeful that life will be more normal again soon.

See daily updates about life in Beijing: www.instagram.com/rachelmeetschina 

Rachel in Beijing

A South Korean Student in Australia

by Sunny Heo – https://www.instagram.com/haileehazelnut/

The biggest change this virus has brought me this year is that uni has gone online until further notice. This has been very annoying as I could have easily accessed online lectures in Korea but I’m stuck here in Australia paying expensive rent. Right now, it’s impossible to get out of the county without paying 10 times the usual amount.

Honestly, I’m feeling so bored just staying at home all day but also scared that there is always a slight possibility that I might get the virus if I go outside. I would hate to pass on the virus to other people to whom the virus may be fatal.

One of the things that really surprised me in Australia during this crisis was panic-buying. I just couldn’t believe it when people started hoarding toilet paper. It was hard to understand why they would do that. It’s also unbelievable how fast meat is being sold out at supermarkets these days. I just want to buy one pack of chicken tenderloins! It’s impossible to get any pasta either except for some curly fettuccine pasta that I didn’t even know existed until now!

It is not the best time to stay in a Western country as an Asian international student. I know these are hard times with people losing jobs and having to isolate themselves but I’ve seen a LOT of hate on China not just in Australia but all around Europe and the president of the US himself. I’m not from China but most westerners are not good at telling Asians apart. All Asians seem to be getting some hate regardless of where they are from according to the media and even in real life. My friends from Korea who live in Melbourne got yelled at by a guy. He screamed “Corona!!! Go back to your f***ing country” and drove past them. It’s scary.

Looking at a positive side, I got to see what an amazing job my country is doing during this crisis. At first, I thought I was lucky to be in Australia when infections in South Korea exploded from a few dozen to several thousand in late February and early March. However, through widespread testing by contact tracing and swift action supported by our citizens, Korea succeeded in flattening the curve. Hopefully, things in Australia will get better too.

I just can’t wait for this pandemic to end!

Sunny is a student from South Korea, currently isolating in Australia

Housesitters return ‘home’

by Jenni Flett from https://hooplaadventures.com/

Three years on the road all came crashing down in a few days. As house and pet sitters we had given up our cushy flat in Bratislava to work online and do this full-time. We spent months organising a year worth of house sits and prepped ourselves for living entirely on the road, knowing that we would have no home to fall back on.

We didn’t expect a pandemic. Travel insurance and being connected to various house sit websites have not helped us through this turbulent time. The generosity of friends and family have helped us, and luckily our savings meant we could afford a last-minute flight from Oslo back to the UK.

Our story

Arriving into Oslo, our day of sightseeing was rendered impossible by the closure of museums and shops, but we continued to our sit. We arrived and our homeowner had bad news – her flight to Portugal would not be going ahead but we could stay while she took a trip in-country. Two days later she was on her way back and Norway announced it was to close its airports and borders. Suddenly there was a scramble for flights. We watched as the only available cheap flights to London went up – from £50 to £300 and £400. Luckily, we noticed that a further announcement had been made to say that airports would stay open for the next week, so we booked cheap flights for the next again day.

Norway was taking this seriously – everything shut down, empty streets and the buses were free as bus drivers were roped off two meters from travellers. The airport was a ghost town – quite possibly the quickest we’ve ever been through security! In the UK nothing had changed. London was as bustling as ever, and the only palpable difference was how quiet our bus was from the airport.

Concerns, positives and the foreseeable future

Our biggest concern right now is where we go. We have the family as a safety net, but this isn’t a long-term fix as we face cancellation after cancellation. Right now, we hold on to hope we can do our summer house sit, but even that is already looking unlikely. We have to consider whether it would be better to settle for a while and then it becomes how and where, as the UK sits dry up. What we can do is continue to work and use the resources we have to pave the way forward.

Fear of the virus itself isn’t as pertinent, having already caught and got over swine flu in the past this feels vaguely similar but there is a concern for the more vulnerable members of our families. Already with our families and friends we’ve discussed plans for self-isolation including baking bread for neighbours, cook-along nights, a film review club and joining in online pub quizzes. Wi-Fi, the invisible saviour.

It’s a time to come together, applaud our health workers and do what we can for those around us. As for us as house sitters, we might get lucky and land a sit somewhere, but it looks like we may need to admit defeat and find somewhere to settle and hunker down for the foreseeable future. Thank goodness for our support network and sheer perseverance.

Find updates on Jenni’s story here: https://www.instagram.com/hoopla_adventures/

Jen and Hen in Edinburgh

An American online English teacher in Vietnam

by Erika Leksan – https://www.instagram.com/erikal006

As an introvert who works from home anyways, my daily routine in Hoi An really hasn’t changed that much. I’ve been isolating at home the past few weeks, leaving only to buy groceries. But otherwise, my days really don’t look that different now compared to two weeks ago before everything in the world seemed to turn to chaos. But what has changed is this constant uncertainty and anxiety that seems to always be there in the back of my mind.

As a digital nomad, my way of life relies on open borders and ease of travel. In Southeast Asia most countries only allow tourists to remain in the country 30-90 days at a time. Normally this means taking a trip to a nearby country for a few days and then returning, and sometimes it means literally walking across the border and then back. This is just a normal part of life for so many expats and digital nomads here, but there is so much uncertainty as countries keep closing borders and restricting entry. I’ve seen many posts from other nomads who were on their normal visa run before all of these changes occurred, and now they are stuck in other countries because they’re not allowed back into the countries where they’re currently living.

I understand the decision to restrict travel and really believe that no one should be travelling now unless absolutely necessary, as it would just put more people at risk. It seems that countries are changing their policies on a daily basis, and there is no way to predict what the situation will be like in a month or two. I’m doing my best not to worry about the future, as there really is nothing I can do about it now. I’m trying to focus on the things I have to be grateful for – a beautiful apartment with lots of sunlight and a proper kitchen, a job that provides me with a steady income, and amazing friends and family all over the world who are checking in and making me feel loved and connected

Online English teacher Erika exploring before the crisis

A British solo female travel blogger in Indonesia

by Ellie Quinn from www.thewanderingquinn.com

I had just finished running my group tour in India when things suddenly got bad! I had 2 choices – return to the UK which is my home country but I don’t live there anymore, or go to Gili Trawangan a 3km long island in Indonesia where I spent 2 months last year. My best friend lives there and she said things were still ok when I was making my decision!

I decided to fly East from India to Indonesia! Since getting here things have changed a lot with most restaurants & shops closing, tourists and locals leaving the island and the island has become very quiet, but of course, that is good and it’s safe!

I have decided to stay here for the long run instead of going back to the UK. When the British Embassy of Indonesia said if we don’t leave now we’ll have to stay for up to a few months, after a bit of worrying and panic checking flights, I decided that’s fine, I’m a nomad anyway and I have the funds to stay here as long as I need to.

The funny thing is, I have always wanted to live on a small, quiet, tropical island in South East Asia, and on reflection (something I’ve had plenty of time for) I think it’s one of the big things I wanted to do before ‘settling’ with a home somewhere.

So the positive side of this for me is that I have my wish, I have a simple life and routine of working in my room catching up on my to-do list for my blog, going out on bike rides around the island, sunbathing and reading in solitude and I thankfully still have food options available at a very low cost!

When boredom creeps in I remind myself to enjoy the slow time.

I think for those of us who stay healthy during this time, we will look back on this time and feel grateful for the time we had to stop, stay still, stay home (wherever that may be), and be quiet. I know I will and I’m trying to enjoy it as much as possible.

Follow Ellie’s updates on life in Gili T on Instagram – @thewanderingquinn

Ellie on a bike ride in Bali

A Working Holiday Visa in New Zealand

by Hannah Jean from http://thatwanderlustboho.com/

When we first arrived in New Zealand at the end of February the news seemed distant and unreal. I was in New Zealand for one week and I managed to land a job. Everything was going so well.

Then, a few days before I was heading on a road trip with my partner, we found out there was a case on the South Island, NZ. It still didn’t seem real. However, one thing we really wanted and needed for on the road was hand sanitizer and we couldn’t find any anywhere on the South Island. We were in Franz Josef (of all places) and managed to find a litre bottle of hand sanitizer which put our minds at ease.

Once our road trip was done and dusted, back to work I went. The second week back was going great until I went into work one day and everything changed; the struggles quickly became my reality and I was faced with possibly losing my job. I spent the next days extremely anxious, not knowing if I would have to go home – or if I could even get home. 

We had a meeting and my mind was put at ease for a while; no one would be losing their jobs providing the government helped. The following days seemed to pass quite quickly I was still given shifts in work which was a relief. But then there was the news –LOCKDOWN. For FOUR weeks. It just didn’t seem real. My first week of isolation was awful. I was extremely anxious. So much uncertainty surrounding not just me but everyone was overwhelming and I really struggled.

Fast forward to now and I’m just grateful I’m safe and have a roof over my head. It’s not easy being cooped up but we could have it a lot worse. I’m so thankful I’m safe and healthy. I hope everyone else is safe and trying to remain as positive as possible. This will pass and we will get through this. One day soon this will all be a distant memory.

Love this photo? See more here: http://instagram.com/thatwanderlustboho

Hannah Jean exploring New Zealand before the lockdown

Advice for nomads living abroad right now:

I’ve been in Beijing since the beginning of the outbreak. While far from my family in the US, I’ve been trying to stay physically and mentally healthy during this time. I make sure to keep in touch with family and friends back home by Facetime and other social media apps, and also make sure to check in with travel advisories from the US government. For day to day life I’ve tried to set up a routine or small goals to check off every day: going for long walks to soak in the sunshine, chatting with friends in here in Beijing, finishing blog posts, and avoiding reading too much negative media reports etc. Little daily goals help me keep a positive mindset during these crazy times. – From Rachel

I’d say my biggest advice would be to try to eat healthier and improve your cooking skills! I know a lot of international students like me do not look after ourselves well enough especially when we are caught up in assignments and exams. I often end up eating instant noodles when I’m busy. Eating healthy is so important for your immune system and it never hit me this hard before! Being sick while you’re far away from home is both sad and expensive so better take care of your own health. And what better time is there than now to learn some new recipes – From Sunny

For a fully researched, in-depth guide to looking after your mental health during the current crisis, please read my Mental Health Guide to Self Isolating.

This includes advice on exercising from home, effectively using mindfulness and gratitudes, beginner’s meditation, diet, tips on ruminating and controlling anxiety, communication and healthy social media use.

Share your own nomad story in the comments below.

What it's really like to live abroad during a global crisis - real nomads tell their stories


  1. I have been living in Malaysia for the past 2 years, when the virus hit it was alarming. It is difficult to be aboard in uncertain times. I loved your post with all the different perspectives.

  2. This post is so helpful! I’m currently living VanLife in the U.S. and my family is in Europe. I talk to them every second day on facetime or whatsapp and that makes the biggest difference. Thanks for sharing all these stories and tips!

  3. This is such a great post! I am a Spaniard living in the UK. I have my life in the UK, but my family in Spain. So it’s been difficult to remain calm. I hope the situation improves and I can visit my family soon.

  4. It’s so crazy to read about everyone else’s experiences during this. It seems it’s affected everyone in one way or another. I’m currently in South Korea and what we’re doing here sounds very similar to Beijing, just a little less extreme.

  5. I love this idea to gather up different thoughts and situations and share with us. And I love the inspiration of everyone trying to do something to better themselves and focusing on the things they are grateful for. Beautifully written with optimism in a time we need to hear good things. Be safe to all of you who contributed. This, too, shall pass.

  6. WOW I can relate, I’m living in Spain and was about to have my visa papers. Now I’m here with no idea of when I can travel and see my family or have my papers. It is hard being a nomad this day. What a great post ❤

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