Top 10 Common Mistakes to Avoid Expat Failure

by Mark Benson on July 11, 2011

Moving Mistakes

There is no doubt that many people who move overseas do make very simple mistakes which they will regret in due course. However, what do you think are the top 10 Common mistakes to avoid expat failure and which ones do you think you may be susceptible to?

Not doing your homework

If there is one area of weakness in the general expat market it has to be amongst those who do not do their homework or their research on their chosen destination. This really is very simple stuff which ultimately will ensure that you know your destination inside out and you know what to expect. Can you really imagine landing in a foreign country without actually knowing what to expect, knowing what could happen and knowing the local culture?

Cultural difficulties are by far and away one of the more common problems when moving overseas because too many people expect the local population in their chosen country to abide by their rules and their culture. The truth is that Western and non-Western cultures can be so different in many ways and unfortunately we have seen many difficulties in the past. However, cultural differences are just part of the overall picture when looking to move overseas because ultimately “to be forewarned is to be forearmed”.

The onslaught of the Internet has given many expats the opportunity to research their chosen land and their chosen area in extremely minute detail. We have everything from the cost of living to the weather, live web cams to historic news stories and hopes for the future. Anyone looking to move overseas will need to be aware of the positive and negative implications of their life changing journey.

Underestimating your budget

Why oh why do so many people move overseas and underestimate the financial requirements for even the most basic of lifestyles in the chosen land? The truth is that if you are looking to move to another area of your current country then you would look at the cost of living and your basic budgetary requirements. However, while you can do as much research as possible, you can crunch as many numbers as possible, the truth is that whatever you assume your budget to be you will require more.

Too many people will put together a budget for their move overseas, which may well be very accurate on the current information, but perhaps a change in interest rates, an increase in rent or perhaps an increase in the cost of food can totally blow their budget out of the water. You need to give yourself some headroom between the estimated budget you need to live a “comfortable life” and your actual income, whether this is from employment, savings, investments, etc. This headroom will give you a failsafe if the cost of living increases unexpectedly and your budget requirements move higher.

It is also sensible to err on the side of caution and use larger numbers when attempting to put together a budget for your new homeland even if you are overcautious this will in a worst-case scenario give you more breathing space.

Living beyond your means

When you consider that even young couples moving in together for the first time will often be giddy with excitement with regards to their new life there is always a danger of living beyond your means in your early days overseas. You will see new attractions, there will be new temptations and there will be more pressure upon you, by yourself, friend’s family, to enjoy your new found life. Many people who have moved overseas have ultimately lived beyond their means in their early days which has put major pressure upon their savings, income and available spending. If anything you should err on the side of caution in your first few months overseas as this will give you time to consider the situation, maybe even readjust your budget and ultimately ensure you have more than enough income and savings to see you through those early days.

It is also worth remembering that there will be a variety of potential one-off setup costs when moving overseas which may centre round legal advice, property, rent, etc. It is far better to err on the side of caution when you initially move overseas than to overspend in the early days and put yourself, your friends, your family and your financial situation under even more pressure.

Assuming like-for-like cost of living

One very simple mistake which people seem to make time and time again is automatically assuming a like-for-like living cost. There is no area in the world which is exactly comparable to your former homeland and indeed the very fact that the cost of living in different areas of any country will vary is a perfect example of what can be a very damaging mistake. Many people also automatically assume that services and products which were available in their former homeland will also be available in their new homeland at similar prices. However, in reality the truth is very different and if we take one area such as broadband, which is relatively cheap in the UK compared to the rest of the world, the variation in the monthly cost of broadband services between say the likes of the UK, Spain, France and other countries is enormous.

The problem with moving overseas is tied in somewhat with the research issue which we highlighted above but still many people fail to realise that and automatically assuming a like-for-like cost of living and even a like-for-like living standard which is very dangerous. There is nothing wrong in researching the cost of a like-for-like life in your new homeland, compared to your former homeland, but you need to be realistic, you need to be sensible and take nothing for granted. Always err on the side of caution because overconfidence and a lack of research are powder-kegs waiting to go off!

No backup plan

The best laid plans of mice and men don’t always go according to plan so is it right to assume that even the most detailed agenda and plans to move overseas will go like clockwork? If you are moving to a different area in your former homeland there is every chance that you would have a backup plan in case of problems which were insurmountable. The same should be the case for those looking to move overseas because ultimately you will never know the real cost of living, the real standard of living and any potential issues until you land.

As a consequence, anybody looking to move overseas should have some form of backup plan, whether this means access to further funds, a change in employment, a reduction in expenditure or even a return to their former homeland. Each and every expat move overseas will always experience some difficulties which were not catered for. The trick to overcoming these difficulties is to have backup plans in your mind in the event of unforeseen issues so that you yourself can remain calm, cool and calculated. Losing your mind and panicking overseas is again another recipe for disaster and can lead to knee-jerk reactions and damaging consequences.

Moving to escape a former life

One issue which seems to present itself on a regular basis is the fact that many expats move overseas simply to escape a former life which may have encountered issues and severe problems. While there is no doubt that the ability and the option to start a new life overseas can be life changing for many people, you need to be totally confident that the issues which you were moving away from will not follow you. If you have money concerns, legal issues or other similar situations which you are “running away from” they will eventually catch up with you unless you address them. The truth is that at some stage we all need to stop running away from our problems and issues and face them head-on and tackle them.

There is enormous pressure on anyone, any family and friends moving overseas without the potential for former life problems to catch-up on you. Indeed, once these issues are resolved you may well feel that there was no need to move overseas and begin a new life and indeed maybe you did overreact in the first place. If we are running away from something it can be difficult to think and act rationally because the heat of the moment can take over and push us towards a “flight or fight” situation.

Rushing your move

The Internet and modern day television have been highlighting the attractions of a move overseas for many years now and more people appear to be taking notice of websites, forums and television programs on this particular issue. However, when watching TV and looking at holiday home magazines we must remember that we are likely seeing the “rose tinted” view of the area, the country and the potential life and many elements of the local culture and local experience could be hidden away – at least until you land and they hit you head-on!

As a consequence you must ensure that the decision to move overseas is not a knee-jerk reaction to a one-off programme, one off magazine article or perhaps something you have seen on the Internet. Do your homework, take your time, think through your life, think what you want and then if after all of this thinking time you still believe that a life overseas is for you then move to the next step. For many people a move overseas can have been in the pipeline for many years while for others it may be a significantly shorter time period. A large percentage of those who rush their move overseas will at some point return with their tail between their legs due to various “misunderstandings” which were likely the result of the limited research they had done on their proposed move!

Ok, I’m new to the Expat Forum but I have been an expat for 8 years now. When I first left Canada and moved to Athens I had the opportunity at that time to join a club that was recommended thru the Canadian Embassy. I decided at that time not to associate with other fellow Canadians who are living in Greece.

Not totally convinced about your move overseas

In many cases you should compare a move overseas to a change of career because ultimately you would not jump from one career to another unless you were totally convinced about the positive and potentially negative aspects of such a decision. The same could be said of a move overseas because if you have any doubt whatsoever before moving away there is absolutely no escaping this because pressure in your early days, when you are finding your feet, will bring any doubts to the surface and potentially magnify them exponentially.

Even if you’re not totally convinced about your move overseas in the early days, even though potentially it does turn out to be right for you, why rush? The chances of making a successful move overseas are greatly enhanced by a positive mental attitude which can only come about if you yourself, family and friends are totally convinced that the move overseas is for you. At the end of the day you have potentially years of your new life overseas so what is the problem with waiting an extra few weeks or an extra few months to build up your confidence and put your mind at rest that you are “doing the right thing”.

Not visiting your destination enough

If your child was moving from one school to another in your area then there is no chance that you would put them into the new school without visiting it on a number of occasions, speaking to friends and family about their opinion and making yourself aware of the new environment awaiting your child. As a consequence, if you’re looking to move overseas and you have decided upon the area you think might best suit your expectations then you need to ensure you visit on a regular basis before making your move final.

If you visit an area for a two-week holiday and suddenly decide “this is for me” this is a potential recipe for disaster because you will likely have seen the “luxury end” of life in your potential new homeland and may not be aware of the “underbelly”. If, as many people recommend, you do visit your proposed destination on a number of occasions, before making a move permanent, you must ensure that you visit different areas, tackle different issues and make yourself as aware as possible of the environment. If you move lock stock and barrel to a new country and have some genuine experience of the area, the people, etc this will make a difficult situation slightly more bearable.

Blinded by the money

No matter what the worldwide economic situation there will be countries around the world which offer interesting investment and employment opportunities. Unfortunately for some people, the rise and fall of the Dubai economy is one of the more prominent recent events which perfectly illustrates the way in which many expat skilled workers were “blinded by the money” on offer in this new land of milk and honey. However, once the Dubai economy began to wobble it was the skilled overseas workers, many of whom had given up everything to move to their new homeland, who were on the receiving end of less than helpful activity by employers. Indeed, many expat workers were unceremoniously dumped when the going got tough and were literally forced to return to their former homeland.

When looking at a potential move overseas, and the potential financial benefits, you also need to take into account the larger picture, the long-term prospects and what exactly you want out of life. Focusing upon monetary issues and employment is obviously vital for your long-term happiness but again, as we mentioned above, you need to have contingency plans, make yourself aware of your rights in the country and “look after yourself”. Do not be blinded by the short-term potential to make significant money because you may well have given up a good life and a good job in your former homeland for a very short term situation. If you are unsure as to the stability of the government or economy in your new country, simply open an international bank account based offshore. Enjoy peace of mind and easy access to your funds, regardless of what is going on around you.

Having looked at the job ads, i see that the wages are very low for skilled people in relation to the uk wage structure, is it that the cost of living is that much cheaper or that the employers don’t have much competition to worry about.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Expat in El Salvador July 23, 2011 at 8:49 pm

good solid points for sure for expats considering a move. Our m ain advice? visit at least three times before moving, dont move for the money move for the place and dont eat like an America.


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