The full guide on how to become an expat; The challenges and considerations before deciding to leave your home country and start a new adventure.
Do you really want to be an expat?
Expats often have amazing “facebook-perfect” pictures, but few people post about the problems and challenges that expats face. One of the main problems is homesickness. If this is your first time away from the country and you leave your family behind you, taking a 14h flight to see them creates a big barrier. Especially in places where finding a good social life is a problem, settling in a new country can be difficult. Challenges with food can make life seem daunting too (steamed chicken feet for lunch?). There might be language and cultural barriers to overcome too.
Ensure you know what you are getting into before becoming an expat. Every country has its challenges..
- Are you moving to something or away from something?
People who decide that they want to be an expat because life at home is horrible don’t last long usually. Overcoming the challenges of expat life are best faced when you are truly excited about the place and company where you are going. Do your research on its culture and way of life, for locals and for expats and make sure this is a place you can live comfortably at.
- How about the family?
If your family is coming, ensure your partner is equally excited and if you have kids there are good schools and communities to support their education and enjoyment. Long distance relationships are hard, but having to return to your home country with your entire family after 8 months because they don’t like the new place is very hard too. Ensure everyone is excited and know what kind of environment they go to and are excited for this new adventure.
Where would you go?
Every country is different and you’d be amazed how they differ when you live there for a few months. Countries in the Middle East vary widely, from Dubai, Saudi to Lebanon, with different religions and varying degrees of freedom between genders. Asian countries are incredibly varied in their customs, religions, food and weather. Europe is a mix of different social experiences, architectural differences and open borders into countries where they might speak 3 different languages in a country the size of Vermont.
- Culture & Lifestyle.
Culture shock is one of the most common expat experiences and can be good and bad. Bad culture shocks can be reduced by doing your research into the country and region or company you will go live at and work for. A country like Indonesia is home to some of the world’s popular Islands and some beautiful beaches (Bali) but has people living in slums of less than a dollar away on some of the islands nearby. Lebanon in the Middle East is known for great hospitality, it has some great ski slopes in winter and great parties at its capital. In 2012 over 34,000 stray dogs were killed in Pakistan, where as in Holland stray dogs don’t exist. In the winter in Norway you might have only 5 hours of daylight compared to Yuma in Arizona (USA) with 11 hours in winter. In Spain most shops close between 2 and 5pm for Siesta and employees often work until 8 or 9pm due to Siesta. Google and talk to people who live in this country, ask questions on Facebook groups and find other expats to get a good idea of the culture of each country you would like to move to before you go.
Every country has a (slightly) different cuisine than the next, food can vary between states and regions and is an important aspect of a good work / life balance. If you don’t like the local food, that will have consequences for the area you’d want to live in. Food choices don’t just limit themselves to whether or not you like the local food, but also the availability of the food options in general. In most Muslim countries distribution and consumption of alcohol has limitations, from Saudi Arabia where it is completely banned to Malaysia where you can find it at most major supermarkets in a seperate “non-halal” area of the supermarket, or in Dubai where you have to have an “alcohol license”. Pork meat is similar to Alcohol and not available in all countries. India and other countries with Hinduism are often a heaven for vegetarians. This is a highly personalised area and the best answers if you’d be comfortable with the food options you will get from other expats or by visiting before you move.
Only around 5% of the world’s population speaks English. English is spoken in around 50 of the world’s 195 countries, so the fact that you might move to a country where people don’t speak English or your own language is a real possibility. Expat’s often deal with language barriers and it’s a common problem of expats and makes socializing more difficult. Especially for a joining partner who doesn’t speak the language. Nowadays there are many language learning apps for iphone and androids. Some great ones are free to use. Traditional classes before departure are also useful and recommended. Lastly take up classes when you arrive in your new country, work might be able to help arrange this. The local community often really appreciates this and you’d be amazed how it helps avoiding getting ripped off or over charged.
- Living arrangements
Your living arrangements make the world of difference. After a 10+ hour day coming back to you clinically cleaned general hotel apartment can be depressing. Housing varies widely on your personal preference for apartments, landed properties, villa’s low rise, etc. Amenity choices and prices vary widely per country, from a simple 250sqf studio to a 3bedroom-2bathroom apartment on the 25th floor with a pool, sauna and a gym, depending on the country both of these might be only 500USD per month to rent. Ensure you work with the local company or realtors to find a place you can call home. They often know the best expat area’s, good restaurants, and best locations. In some countries it’s better you search for yourself as realtors might take advantage. If your company doesn’t help you with accommodation, go to Facebook or the local real-estate websites. Get help or second opinions from other expats and locals on good prices in certain regions.
Traffic can make a 2 mile (4km) journey take more than an hour in some countries. you want to see the local traffic conditions and roads for yourself or get accurate advice from other expats and locals. It helps to not live next to a busy road or having go down crumbling mountain roads which look like bicycle lanes to get to work. In some countries you might not want to drive (crazy traffic, risk of accidents, etc), and it might be common for companies to provide you a driver.
- Other considerations (pet’s, religion, etc)
Consider your own situation with children, pets, living conditions and work experience you might want to bring or move. If you have a 2000USD Piano you, or your company might not want to pay for this to be shipped across the world. Pets are another one of those considerations, will they be easy to transport, how will their living conditions be (I’ve seen Alaskan Huskies in Dubai and Malaysia). Keep in mind that some countries are not used to pets and that some pets (dogs, pigs) are considered haram for Muslims and they might not appreciate your cute fluffy dog.
- How does recruitment work
- Go to a country and find work whilst you are there
- Recruited from your home country
- Financial picture
- Salary and package
- Cost of living comparison
- Other benefits (additional expenses or lower expenses)
- The expat secret (higher % of income vs often LCOL).