Too cold or too hot: When the climate is a huge disappointment for expats

  • young woman feeling too hot
Published on 2022-07-25 at 10:00 by Asaël Häzaq
While some parts of the world suffocate, Australia and Brazil experienced a record cold only a few weeks ago. Due to global warming, these climate variations directly impact expatriates. 

As a result of these extreme episodes, which scientists predict will become increasingly frequent, the weather sometimes comes as an unpleasant surprise during a move abroad. When the climate is not what you expected, when excessive heat or cold prevents you from living your expat life to the fullest, you will obviously be disappointed. So, how do you adapt to the climate of the host country?

Climate and be a downside to expat life

Lulie shared her encounter with the tropical climate on's forum. When she landed on Reunion Island with her family in November 2020, she discovered the warmth of the Reunionese people and the beauty of the island's culture. The picture would have been perfect if it were not for the climate issue. "We could not stand the heat (headaches, fatigue...), we have a baby for whom adapting is difficult as well. Our house is located in the lowlands to the west and is poorly insulated. When we arrived, it was always between 30 and 35 degrees outside most of the time (excluding cyclones)."

Lulie and her family were not the only ones to suffer from those high temperatures. The locals also complained about it and often went uphills for some cool air. According to them, the temperatures are increasing from year to year. Meanwhile, Lulie cannot really appreciate her new life abroad." We haven't had the chance to see much of the island, and we often spend our free time at home. We hadn't imagined that things would turn out to be this way".

Others are considering relocating. Mod, for example, is an expat in Morocco looking to escape the extreme heat of Marrakech during summer. People usually talk about the benefits of living in Morocco and tend to forget about the climate, which, for some, becomes unbearable. 

Expatriates in Quebec, for example, cannot stand the extreme cold, although they had been seeking information about life in Quebec. But their encounter with the long winter months changed their mindset. 

Can one really adapt to the climate of a foreign country?

Climate is rarely a priority for people seeking to move abroad, but it can definitely have a significant impact on their short-term or long-term plans. Global warming and the ecological emergency have definitely changed the situations of many expats around the world.

Do not confuse weather and climate 

Keep in mind that climate and weather are two different concepts. Scientists define weather as "the study of atmospheric patterns to predict the weather." In simple terms, the weather is defined by the conditions prevailing in a given place at a given time, and it can change very quickly. On the other hand, climate comprises a measure of atmospheric variables over a long time (30 years, by convention). Climate is defined as "systems in a wider region that create conditions that generate specific weather. For example, tropical, temperate, cold."

How climate affects expat plans

It is often recommended that tourists favor or avoid a specific region at a specific period to avoid disappointment and health complications. But this is less common for expatriates. Compared to tourists, expatriates are expected to stay longer in the country. They actually immigrate and will have to discover or face, depending on their opinion, the climate of their host country. People with serious pathologies (heart disease, respiratory problems, etc.) are naturally more vigilant when choosing their destination, but the rest tend to underestimate the impact of the climate on their new daily life. 

Japan, the "Land of the rising sun", honors its name. The sun sets very early, even in summer. It usually gets dark around 7 pm, and in winter, as early as 5 pm. The lack of luminosity can weigh on expats' daily life, especially when they come from countries where the day is long. The same can be said about the seasons. Spring, summer, fall and winter vary from one country to another. Some countries have four well-defined seasons; others have 2, 3, or more, interspersed with monsoon periods, drought, heavy rainfall, etc. Unfortunately, expats have to adapt to all this.

Climate: adapting to the constraints of expat life

The climate is not always temperate. The weather doesn't always indicate a scorching sun, a gentle and pleasant wind, or heavy rain that's convenient for the water table. All of this can have an impact on expats' everyday life, whether or not they are well prepared. Global warming, for instance, has a direct effect on health. Heat waves can kill. Temperatures exceeding 35° push are often too much for the human body, and in many countries, temperatures have exceeded the human tolerance threshold lately. In such conditions, people suffer from headaches, nausea, and dizziness - which also makes it difficult to work properly.

When expats' everyday life become unbearable

One could say that these extreme situations are punctual and limited to a few months in the year. However, these few months seem too long for expats and locals who have to deal with such conditions, especially when these involve periods of drought, floods, violent winds, sandstorms, etc. These conditions have direct consequences on human productivity and national GDPs. For instance, in 20 years, India saw its GDP decline by 5%, because of recurrent droughts. 

When climate leads to additional expenses for expats

Another nerve-wracking and health hazard is the thriving fauna and flora, resulting from climate change, which can disrupt expats' daily life. In Quebec, mosquitoes are a real pain for locals and expatriates alike every summer. In Japan, the hot and humid summer brings big cockroaches that can fly. Each year during the same period, people need to get a stock of sprays and other insect killers. In winter, the cold weather can strain heating expenses, which can be more significant if the accommodation is poorly insulated. Add to these material expenses possible health expenses (infections, allergies, stress, etc.).

Tips for coping with extreme temperatures

It's quite difficult to know in advance whether you will adapt to your host country's temperatures, whether it's too hot or too cold, but here are some tips to help you find your way.

  • How to choose your expat country

If you grew up in a warm country, you would undoubtedly take time to adapt to a cold country, just like you would have to adapt to the culture. The more different it is from your own, the longer the adaptation period will be. Likewise, the more the climate of the foreign country is different from ours, the longer it will take the body to adapt to the new climate. But nothing is automatic. This learning process can take more or less time, depending on the person. On the other hand, you can move to a country with a climate close to your own and not be able to stand it.

Ideally, it is better to travel there for a few weeks to a few months during the most difficult season (high heat, extreme cold...) to get an idea of what to expect. 

  • Clothing

When it comes to clothing, layer up if you are moving to a cold country. Observe the locals and find out about their shopping addresses. Be sure to protect specific body parts such as your head, hands, and feet. If you're going to a hot country and/or one with harsh summers, opt for loose-knit cotton or linen clothing. Avoid synthetics and stretch. Buy in a good sun cream (factor 50+) and a hat. Here again, do as the locals do.

  • Allow yourself some time

It is difficult to predict whether you will enjoy your new life abroad or not. Give yourself some time and put things into perspective. Do not minimize the health aspect. Talk to your doctor well before your departure to prepare yourself in the best possible way.