Woman sitting in living room alone at Christmas
Woman sitting in living room alone at Christmas

Living overseas: coping with 2020’s festive season away from family and friends

Due to the ongoing impact of COVID-19, many families and friends who live in different countries face the prospect of being separated from each other this festive season.

Here, we speak to people for whom this year’s festivities aren’t going to be what they hoped for, as well as how they’re managing the worry that comes with having loved ones living in high-risk countries in terms of COVID-19.

Living with uncertainty

“Family members from Canada were meant to come for a visit this year – the first time for my brother and his family in the almost 16 years that I have lived in Melbourne. I can accept that things change, and plans may need to be rescheduled but the most difficult part is the uncertainty. No one knows when travel will be possible again which, at this point, renders me mostly speechless when I consider the very real possibility that it could be years before I see my family again – either here or there.” – Jessica

A heart in two places

“I always knew it would be hard to be away from my family in Canada. I prepared for this by having a small ‘emergency’ fund ready for a flight home if I needed it. Having that as a safety net, as well as the thought that if I truly needed to, I could just fly home for a visit whenever, helped get me through my lowest of lows. On top of this, the opportunity to have my family visit me and see why I fell in love with Australia made me feel that I could have two halves of my heart whole in one place.

When it was announced that the borders were shut, for the first time in my time here I felt like I was trapped without a way out. As a temporary skilled worker on a 482 visa, if I left Australia, I would not be able to re-enter. Suddenly, the home that I built for myself here, the security of my job, and the network of friends would all be at risk if I were to return to Canada if I needed to visit a loved one in need or wanted the comfort of family during this difficult time.

Never before have I experienced such a feeling of helplessness. Yes, I have my heart in two places, a home here and one in Canada, but I have never been denied the opportunity to visit where I’ve come from at the expense of losing the new life and home I’ve built here.” – Zareen

Family on a video call at Christmas time

Handling mixed emotions

“Most of my family live in New Zealand, along with a lot our close friends. Every two years we spend Christmas with them, so we’re all so sad not to be able to get together this year. It makes us feel a lot further away than we usually do. I feel lucky that we’ve been to see our family who live overseas so often in the past – I feel like I’m complaining about missing something that we were so privileged to have in the first place. Such mixed emotions!” – Lana

Peace of mind

“My Dad is retired and lives in Thailand. He usually comes back to Australia twice a year but obviously this year is off the cards. It’s been over a year now since we last saw him in person. Thankfully, we have plenty of online chats. He also has friends in Thailand, plus the restrictions there are eased, so I have peace of mind that he'll be fine. We’ll miss him at Christmas, but we'll video call him to make sure he feels part of our celebrations.” – Tara

Feeling grateful

“All of my family still reside in the US, and last year we were fortunate enough to have been able to return there to spend Christmas with them for the first time in 12 years. It was the only time that my family here have ever spent a Christmas with my side of the family – and experience a northern hemisphere Christmas. It was a magical trip and one that I treasure even more now that we may not be returning to visit family in the US for a very long time.

Things are getting so bad in the US, we don't know when we might get back, or how well everyone we love there will fare through the pandemic. It's a sad and scary time to have family overseas. But that makes us even more grateful for the gift of having spent the holidays together last year.” – Crista

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