Challenges faced by expats living abroad

by Mark Benson on April 11, 2012

Expats should consider the impact moving abroad has on all aspects of life

As more and more people look at a new life overseas it is becoming evident that not every aspect of a new life overseas has been considered in sufficient detail. There are a number of challenges facing expats living overseas and are a number of reasons why you need to do your homework in great detail before taking the plunge.

We recently ran a poll commissioned by Barclays International Banking on the expat forum website asking the question regarding challenges faced by expats living abroad.

Among the main findings of this research, it is worthy of note that Cost of living got 28.16% of the vote. Even it is true that there are many issues to take into account when looking to move overseas including employment, cost of property and finances to name but a few but there is no doubt that the general cost of living is a factor which is causing problems for more and more people. The very fact that 28% of those who voted in our online poll cited the cost of living as their major challenge indicates the problems that many people face.

When looking at a possible new homeland you need to consider every aspect of your new life and compare this with the life you have today. If there are more positives than negatives with regards to your potential new life overseas then this should be your basis for looking at other issues and digging deeper. Even though there are other problems to take into account there is no doubt that having sufficient money to live and socialise is at the top of the list for the majority of people.

Unfortunately it seems that many people make the very simple mistake of assuming a like for like “cost of living” in their former homeland compared to their new homeland when in reality this will never be the case. Certain aspects of your life overseas will be cheaper than your previous homeland and certain aspects of life overseas will be more expensive than your former homeland. It is the ability to compare the relative cost of living in your new found homeland as opposed to your previous homeland which is vital to show whether your finances can take the strain.

In reality, no matter how much homework you do with regards to the cost of living in your new homeland there will need to be some kind of buffer between the expected cost of living and your financial well-being. If you look back at life in your previous homeland we can all pin point a number of “one-off” expenses which did at the time plunge our finances into short-term difficulties. This will still be the case in a foreign homeland although the pressure may seem more intense because of your new surroundings and the additional problems this will create.

There are now literally hundreds if not thousands of websites which will allow you to compare the cost of living in any two or more countries. True, the cost of living is not an exact science because it will depend upon each individual person’s style of living but it will give you an idea as to what you should expect. If you move to a new homeland on a shoestring the chances are this will place more pressure on other areas of your life and in many cases has even caused relationship issues. In order to get you started with the research on how cheaper or more expensive your new country’s cost of living might be, it would be a good idea to take a look at the range of international bank guides compiled by Barclays Wealth and Investments.

Loneliness (26.62%)

The problem of loneliness is one which can be compounded by new surroundings, new experiences and even new employment opportunities. While many people will associate loneliness with individuals who move overseas on their own the truth is that families can feel lonely in a foreign land and a foreign climate.

If you place yourself in the situation of a family with two children moving overseas it is likely that one of the adults will work while one of them takes care of the children. So while on the surface it may seem that a move overseas for the family will lead to a better social life, better style of life, new experiences and perhaps even a cheaper cost of living, this can often be at the expense of one family member. It is difficult enough looking after young children in your natural homeland let alone looking after young children in a foreign homeland where you will have few friends in the beginning.

Anyone looking to move overseas by themselves is highly likely to at some point come up against the problem of loneliness which can lead to other issues and other problems. If you work for yourself and you are moving overseas then it is unlikely that you will be mixing and socialising with many people on a day-to-day basis. This is the kind of loneliness which can lead to depression and lead to work issues that can ultimately lead to financial problems. There is also the issue regarding socialising, i.e. what is too much and what is too little in the way of socialising?

There are many people who have moved overseas and instantly felt comfortable in their new homeland and the new culture. However, each and every person who does move overseas will likely experience some kind of “honeymoon period” when the excitement about the move and the new environment and new experiences begin to kick in. For many people this may last weeks or months but once the initial enthusiasm is gone and it is “back to basics” it is not always easy to adjust. Loneliness, as we mentioned above, is obviously a major issue for many people looking to move overseas and unfortunately it is a problem which can lead to other issues – perhaps even more serious.

Cultural differences (13.99%)

We have written a number of articles with regards to the experiences of expats in a new homeland and the problem of cultural differences is one which continues to grab the headlines. One prime example is Dubai where cultural issues have become more and more apparent over the last few years after a relatively calm period during which the authorities effectively overlooked the activities of a number of foreign workers in the region. This quite wrongly gave many overseas workers the impression that they could “do what they wanted” when in reality the authorities would inevitably at some point clampdown on cultural issues – some of which may seem fairly innocuous to many people but could cause great offence and even land the individuals in jail.

There are few religions in the world and few cultures in the world which are not in some way accommodating to some degree with regards to overseas visitors. However, if you’re looking to move to an overseas homeland then you really do need to do your homework with regards to cultural differences and the potential problems they may cause. In reality you will only ever realise the significance of cultural differences once you have landed but the truth is that you do need to be aware at least to some degree of the “adventures” which await you.

While loneliness and the cost of living are by far and away the most “important” issues and challenges for expats living overseas it is often cultural differences which are overlooked. The old saying “when in Rome do as the Romans” is one which is often ignored by expats living overseas to their peril. Each and every individual living in each and every country around the world needs to be tolerant of their neighbour and there does need to be some form of give-and-take on both sides. Many people have returned from their overseas adventures due to cultural issues and cultural differences, many of which should have been flagged at a much earlier time.

Relationship problems (10.75%)

There are very few actions which will place as much pressure on any relationship as moving overseas. If there are any cracks in your relationship or there are indeed any doubts about the move overseas on either side these issues will be magnified 1 million times once the pressure begins to build in your new life. There are two main reasons why there are relationship problems with regards to a move overseas which include: –

Moving to be with someone

Holiday romances and meetings of chance (or even via the Internet) have in many cases led to long-term relationships which can prosper in a foreign land. However, if the individuals involved live in different countries there will need to be some form of “give-and-take” with one person having to move lock stock and barrel to a new country. They will leave behind friends, family and perhaps even employment opportunities and unless they are 110% committed there is every chance that these issues will be “thrown back in the face of their partner” at some point.

Moving overseas to be with a loved one is for many people a fairytale and while it would be wrong to suggest that all overseas romances end in failure, they can initially be hard work. For many people moving overseas to be with a new love can turn into a nightmare.

Moving your family overseas

If you and your family are moving overseas to begin a new life it is highly likely that at least one individual will have prominent employment opportunities which could financially benefit the whole family. However, this is not just about the “lead individual” and the family because all considerations need to be looked at including loneliness and relationship problems for adults and for children. It is true that children will adapt quicker to a move overseas and in many cases it is the adult “left to look after the house” who suffers most.

In order to put together a successful family move overseas you need to ensure that all parties are 110% certain this is right and there needs to be some form of flexibility and consideration on all sides. Relationship issues and loneliness can very often go hand in hand and unfortunately this has led to a significant number of break-ups where one individual, and even children, will return home leaving their spouse alone in their new homeland.

Healthcare (10.07%)

If you’re looking to move from the UK to a new homeland overseas you will obviously appreciate that the NHS is a unique service which has never been replicated in any other part of the world. As a consequence, healthcare and health issues are something which you should consider if moving from the UK because ultimately wherever you move there will be an increase in the cost of your health cover. It would be wrong to assume that healthcare cover is a more predominant requirement for elderly expats because there are more and more young children moving overseas who will at some point experience healthcare issues.

Even though private healthcare is readily available in countries such as the UK you will need to do your homework with regards to the cost of healthcare in your chosen homeland. You will also need to be fully aware of what you are covered for and more importantly what you are not covered for. There is no point moving to a new country and giving yourself the most basic of healthcare cover and in the first few weeks first few months there are more complicated issues regarding the health of one of your group or family. Do not automatically assume that the state will cover you wherever you are in the world because in the vast majority of cases those without private health cover will at best end up with very basic treatment and at worst encounter enormous healthcare bills.

Many people in the UK have fallen foul of the belief that the NHS service, or similar models, are available in other countries around the world when in reality they are not. Even though some areas of the UK NHS service have been privatised it is by far and away the most flexible and cheapest healthcare service in the world – for those eligible for treatment. This is not always the case overseas!

Other issues (10.41%)

While we have covered the major issues above it is also worth noting that a number of very important individual issues were suggested by those who took part in our online poll. These include: –

Paperwork

The amount of paperwork required to move overseas has increased dramatically over the last few years due to international crime and terrorism. While the specific paperwork required for each country around the world will differ, and in some cases differ enormously, you need to be fully aware of the potential for delays and excessive documentation.

Weather

The weather is very often seen by many as a positive aspect of a move overseas, especially when moving to sunnier climes, but in reality it is not always that way. While many of us may well spend holidays overseas each and every year it is very different spending 365 days a year in the baking sun than it is spending just two weeks.

Language

It is a surprise to see that language issues were not brought up as one of the more prominent potential problems for expats overseas. However, there is also no doubt that more and more expats are now more flexible in their communication methods and indeed many will take language lessons before moving overseas.

Education

It is also quite a surprise to learn that education is not an issue flagged by the majority of those who took part in our online poll. Whether or not this is because education would only likely affect family moves overseas is debatable but there are obvious issues with regards to education in a foreign land.

Missing your family

It could be argued that missing your family and loneliness are two issues which go hand-in-hand for those looking to move overseas to start a new life. In reality, in order to combat loneliness and missing your family, you need to build up a social life and a social circle. Not as easy as you might assume!

Children

While it is true that children very often adapt quicker than adults with regards to a move overseas and new cultures, this is not always the case. Very young children may adapt quicker but in many cases it is teenagers who will struggle, missing their friends and their social circles.

Conclusion

There are many challenges faced by expats moving abroad and we have highlighted a number of these which were commented upon in our online poll. The truth is that in order to avoid issues such as loneliness, financial pressure, relationship problems and healthcare issues you need to do your homework well in advance of your actual move.

It would be wrong and inappropriate to suggest that you can wave a magic wand to give you that perfect life in an instant. In reality, if you looking to move to a different area of your former homeland, as opposed to move overseas, you would still encounter many of the problems which expats experience when looking to move abroad. To be forewarned is to be forearmed and there is no doubt that you need to be 110% certain that any move is correct for you and your family.


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