Tag Archives: research

Top 10 Concerns of Expats #4 – Defining Moves Version

8. Standard of Living

“Few people willingly move abroad to accept a lower standard of living – there are exceptions of course such as those who volunteer to help in nations affected by wars or dire economic circumstances.  The majority of us move abroad expecting to find or achieve a better or equal standard of living to what we previously enjoyed – but everything from the cost of living to the availability and quality of infrastructure can impact this.”  (Shelter Offshore)

Concerns of Relocating Expats - Standard Of Living

What most of the studies don’t show is that we have a mental idea of what our new life will be life that doesn’t just revolve around granite kitchen countertops and a pool. I for one had a mental image of expat life in Kenya as a cross between Out of Africa and Gone with the Wind, with martinis, perfectly pressed linen clothing and a serene demeanor featuring heavily. I would finally have the time to write a book, master yoga and cook gourmet meals. Hours spent on the phone trying to get my electricity / phone / internet reconnected (an oft repeated task that had no relationship to whether I had paid the bill in person, by mail or at a bank) and days spent sobbing with loneliness did not ever appear in my fantasy life. So when we talk about standard of living, the corporate assumption is that all we are expecting is physical comforts like modern housing, air-conditioning and household help, and while we need to be aware of the cost and availability of the ‘home comforts’ that we consider essential, they are not the route to expat happiness. What we also should know is that more time can be spent managing staff than the work itself would take, that the cost of air-conditioning is not just in electricity, but also in time spent locating a repairman and then waiting at home when he doesn’t appear for the fifth time, and your elegant clothing makes you stick out like a sore thumb in the local markets..

Try to articulate your anticipated life before you go, and then compare it to the average lifestyle of the local and expat population to see whether you are really being realistic. Most physical comforts can be achieved with a little planning and effort, but you may find that once you are there, they no longer have the same appeal. Thinking of your standard of living in a holistic way allows you to sort the needs from the wants, and will give you a far better chance of contentment long term.

9. Bureaucracy / Corruption

“No matter where in the world you live you will always face bureaucracy – and by its very nature bureaucracy is usually mind numbingly ridiculous – but as an expat it’s so much worse because it is foreign bureaucracy so it is even more unintelligible, nonsensical, impossible to understand and yet imperative.”  (Shelter Offshore)

I like to think of bureaucracy as a hoop that has to be jumped through. The difficulty is in defining where exactly the hoop is, and how high we have to jump to get through it. And while I think of corruption as someone with the power to move the hoop to make getting through easier or harder, I also happen to know that there are plenty of ‘jobsworth’ civil servants and who may not be corrupt, but are just as unhelpful.

Getting frustrated with it is universal and understandable, but doesn’t change the fact that it exits, and you still need to get though it. If you have a corporate relocation package, your company may have already hired a professional to guide you though and expedite the process. As an individual, your local and expat network will prove invaluable, because everyone will have already have jumped through those hoops and can give you advice. And as a final note – try not to get angry. I have yet to hear of a situation where it helped, but by contrast, I have many, many personal experiences where staying calm, smiling and asking very, very nicely for help has smoothed the way for everything from getting school places to US visa appointments.

10. Raising Children

I’m pretty sure that concerns about raising children are not exclusive to expats – quite the opposite, in fact.  For where we are wondering if exposing our children to multiple vaccines, repeated school moves and language barriers will warp them for life, our less transient counterparts are worrying about their child’s gluten allergy, lack of global awareness, and Spanish grades. It comes with the parenting territory, and unfortunately, we have no way of knowing how we are doing until they hit teenage years and are only too willing to list our shortcomings..  There are a number of strategies for relocating expat children and Third Culture Kids but my Four Basic Rules are:

1. Keep them informed, but not overwhelmed. Tell them early, include them in discussions about family life, and give them a say in matters that affect them.

2. Move at the end of a vacation, not at the start. It gives them time to say goodbye, and less time spent without friends to play with.

3. Fill the void. Assume that for the first month or so, you will need to keep them occupied with family activities, and keep them in contact with friends from their old location via text, email or Skype.

4. Expect issues. Everyone is under stress during a transition, so try to be patient, allow for a some acting out, and get help if you need to.


Character Traits of an Excellent Expat

I recently discovered the The Economist Intelligence Unit special report on expatriate life, Up and Out. Next Moves for the Modern Expatriate. While most of the study focused on corporate global mobility strategy, they also explored the viewpoints of expatriates themselves, and what contributed to the success or failure of expatriate assignment.

What they found was that companies overwhelmingly felt that ‘cultural sensitivity’ was the most important factor in a successful expatriate, but the didn’t let us in on the secret of what that actually was. They did mention that without adaptability, family support and realistic expectations, predicted success was ‘not so much’ (my words, not theirs). So I have put together my own anecdotal list of characteristics present in excellent expats and their families..


Excellent Expat Personality Traits

  1. Organized. The more you plan ahead, the less stressful and more successful your move is likely to be, and the better prepared you will be when you land.The more in control you are (without becoming a complete control freak), the better your chances of coping with the inevitable problems that will arise. Try not to get overwhelmed by the details – at the end of the day it is the new experiences that you are seeking, so if all your china doesn’t make it intact, it’s not the end of the world. Be prepared, do what you can, and then try and relax. The best approach is to remain calm and divide the plans into small manageable chunks. Check out our moving checklist, to give you a starting point. And here’s the Serenity prayer, which may well have been written just for you..
  2. Willing to embrace challenges and change. Relocating means facing change, and unless you have both a positive and a flexible attitude, you are going to find the adaptation process long, difficult and painful for all concerned, not least you. The most successful expats look forward to new experiences and lifestyles and are ready and willing to embrace them, and take the time to research, plan and mentally model the future. You will probably feel lost and disorientated initially, but instead of focusing on what you are missing, you will have an idea of what your new goals are going to be and what opportunities are opening up to you.
  3. Prepared to ask for help. Being shy about asking for help, advice, contacts and recommendations will get you nowhere when living abroad. The expat community is hugely supportive, mainly because we all have been there before, and will be there again. Everyone needs help and guidance and the sooner you start to approach others for insights into life in your host country, the quicker you will be able to learn about all the idiosyncrasies associated with it and how to avoid unnecessary obstacles. There are online expat networks, local international schools (you don’t have to have a child there to ask about expat events, organizations etc) and your Consulate, who will all have suggestions.
  4. Willing to take a risk. You never can truly predict what life has in store for you, either at home or abroad, but when you are living away from your family, friends and support network, the stakes are higher and the risk is greater. You enter into an unknown territory where anything could happen. The most effective expats are the ones who accept this risk as an integral part of testing your geographical boundaries and sampling what the rest of the world has to offer. It’s an adventure!
  5. The desire to participate. The most successful expatriates are those that explore and experience the culture and traditions of their host country, rather than limiting themselves to recreating their former lives, or only spending time with familiar expatriate groups. Being interested, involved and attempting to speak the language (however foolish it makes you feel) is a surefire way to win local affection, and help you integrate into the wider community. Being recognized, greeted and valued by the people around you is part of what makes a person feel secure, valued and at home. And after all, this is your home, for at least this part of your life, so being interested in the people around you should be part of your daily life.
  6. Realistic expectations. Any successful change or challenge takes work and effort and you would be naive to think that relocating is any different. Don’t expect instant perfection, and know that you will have bad days. Everyone does. That’s why the seasoned experts at this have Skype, Facebook, text messaging and a little black book of friends who know exactly what they are going through. Or us. That’s exactly why this site was started, so feel free to spill, share and scream to an audience of people who get it. We’re here to listen, learn and laugh together, wherever we all are.