We attach stereotypes to groups of people and expats are no exception. What it means to be an expat is itself a changing concept, in terms of the many and different types of expats living and working under different scenarios, both long and short term, as residents in a country overseas. There are many myths and misconceptions surrounding the stereotyped expat and expat lifestyle, so let’s take a look at some of these, with a view of giving a more level and realistic picture.
Myth 1: it will never quite feel like home
Whether this statement turns out to be true will largely depend on your mindset. If you move overseas with the feeling that you won’t be able to find that ‘homely’ feeling overseas, so important to our sense of belonging, then chances are you won’t. If you emigrate with an open mind and heart and a willingness to embrace your new country of residence as “Home” it’s highly likely to have every chance of feeling at home in your new home overseas.
Myth 2: the top reason for moving overseas is favourable tax rates and salaries
While this may be an attractive incentive and indeed the key reason for a move overseas for some expats, it may surprise you to learn the majority of expats make the move to a new country to find a better way of life; this includes career prospects, lifestyle, and overall standards of living.
Myth 3: Expats tend to stay in their new country short term.
There all types of expats from all walks of life and some will end up staying in their new country and making it a true home with the intention of settling down for good. It’s untrue to say most expats only stay in their new country of choice for a short period of time, though there are those expats who work on short term contracts and do stay only for a short fixed term. You only have to look at the number of large, long-established expat communities across the globe to see that it’s clear many do decide to stay long term.
Myth 4: all expats are retirees
This is perhaps one of the most common expat myths. Expats are living across the globe doing a variety of different things, in addition to those expats who have chosen to move overseas to retire. There will be, naturally, some retiree expats who have in fact lived in their host country for most of their adult life, growing old there and now enjoying their retirement years in the place they have lived and worked. Some of the other reasons intrigues travellers decide to leave their home country and move overseas are volunteering opportunities, work and career prospects, Good salaries, a better place to bring up children, artists and creatives looking for their perfect inspirational setting to live and create, students wishing to learn and study overseas, small business start up’s, to name a few. Expat life isn’t only for those in the twilight years of life; it’s a diverse group of people across the globe, made up of all ages and occupations.
Myth 5: expats have abandoned the UK and don’t care about their home country
This view is rather a tainted one and in more cases than not the expat community is hugely fond of their Home country and will always hold it dear, whether living on its shores or not. Being patriotic doesn’t equate to never leaving your country or missing out on opportunities overseas and staying put. In fact, is often the case that an expat community is perhaps even more patriotic than its counterparts back home, because there is a fondness for a place that you grew up and are no longer a part of, which can grow over time not diminish. This said, a patriotic expat can still feel at home in a new country; the two can coexist perfectly.
Myth 6: expats only speak their mother tongue
It’s untrue to say that expats continue to speak only in their mother tongue once overseas in a new country of residence. It’s true, in some large expat communities, such as those in Spain, for example, English is spoken amongst the British community living there. This is also supplemented with varying levels of Spanish, depending on ability, when mixing in the community of local Spaniards. It’s common for the expats social circle to be a mix of expats and locals. The norm is actually the opposite of this myth; expats, by and large, make an effort to learn the language of their new home and many actually move to a country because they are already fluent in that language.
Myth 7: expats spend all day at the pub or on the beach
Such a sweeping statement is bound to be untrue. Retiree expats living in coastal resorts overseas may very well spend some of their time relaxing in the local cafes and bars and restaurants or at the beach; as may other expats who are working overseas or studying in a different country. Leisure time is a crucial part of living and vital to our sense of well being. It’s a huge myth that this is all expats spend their time doing, however, finding that perfect work/life balance and that ideal quality of life is what spurs many expats to move overseas. A huge proportion of expats are living overseas and working, studying, volunteering, or travelling and soaking up the culture as much as the sun rays at the beach; happily juggling the best of both worlds in many cases.
Myth 8: Travelling is the Same as experiencing life an expat
Travelling is another stereotype activity, where ‘travellers’ are grouped into a pigeon hole. They are sometimes also compared to expats in as much as the two are one and the same. Although life as an expat is varied and there is no one expat lifestyle or story, the life of a traveller, whatever type of travelling you are doing, cannot be compared experience wise to the life of an expat, wherever that expat is living overseas. You see this is the pivotal difference between a traveller and an expat, and there is a clue in the words; traveller indicating a person who is travelling from one place to another. This experience will be infinitely different to a person who is living overseas in one place and this place is the place they now call home.
Myth 9: expats are running away from real life and living in a dream-world
Perhaps some expats are. I’m sure we all know of a few people in our worlds at home who are also doing the same thing, just on home turf. What the majority of expats are actually doing is looking life right in the eye, asking themselves what it is they want out of life, and making a big, often brave, decision to move overseas to make their life happen on their terms; quite the opposite to running away. And all the better if this new life actually does feel like you’re living the dream (guaranteed not all days will, however wonderful life is). Isn’t living the dream, whatever that individual dream may be, what we all ultimately seek and deserve?
Myth 10: all expats are super wealthy
It’s a common myth that all expats are living the high life with huge expendable incomes and not a financial worry in the world. While this may be true for some entrepreneurs and career minded expats, it definitely isn’t the case for all expats. Expats are made up of students, volunteers and NGO workers, modest retirees; and artists to name a few; not all of these activities are going to make the average expat a millionaire. A huge reason many people decide to live overseas is to immerse in new culture and the riches they find aren’t always of the financial variety.
Don’t believe the hype, being an expat is what you make it
It’s fair to say that all myths you hear about expats and the expat lifestyle should be taken with a pinch of salt. The lifestyle experienced by expats across the globe will be as unique and individual as the expats themselves.