It seems pretty obvious when you think about it, but I’d imagine that not many people really think about it. There are millions of expats from the US, Canada, Australia, and Western Europe living in countries all over the world, including in those same countries, and I think there are a few main categories of expat types who tend to move to different areas.
As someone who is location-independent myself, I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately as I decide where to go next. Since a huge part of your happiness is based on your social circle, I think it’s important to go places where you have enough in common with the majority of people who tend to be there. It’s not enough to just randomly choose a place because it’s sunny and cheap and expect that you’ll easily find friends there.
Different types of expats
Yes, I know this is all about generalizing, and there is always a danger in that, but it’s also true that there are a few key motivators that drive many of us to change countries.
Cheap and sunny expats
If you go to places like Mexico, Central America, Spain, Turkey, and Thailand (among others) you’ll find big groups of expats whose top priorities were to move somewhere with more sunny days and a lower cost of living. Many, if not most of them are retired, often in their 50s.
One key thing about this group is that they often seem to be more moving AWAY from a place than TO a place, so many of them seem to enjoy spending their days complaining to each other about their adopted country. That’s fine as long as you like that sort of conversation.
Big and expensive city expats
People who move from a different country to, say, Paris or Tokyo generally do so out of love for that city and its culture. This sort of positive energy can be very appealing if you feel the same way, and it seems necessary if you are going to pay so much to live in a place.
Developing country expats
Not including retired people who move to some of these same countries, there are many expats whose main goal is to move somewhere in a “developing” country, often working for an NGO or teaching English. It seems that most of them don’t fancy a specific country, but rather the idea of helping people while living somewhere exotic and perhaps basic.
Many of this group moves because of an existing job, or one they just got, and this group includes people moving to Bangkok, Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Shanghai, among others. These people tend to be young and optimistic, partly because those who aren’t usually don’t last long.
Pleasant lifestyle expats
Some of this group can overlap with the cheap and sunny group. You’ll find many of these expats in Spain and Portugal, as well as New Zealand, Bali, and various other islands in Asia. Many of this group are younger and still trying to start or maintain a career, just in a place with a lifestyle they prefer.
The above groups are mostly about people who are able to choose a destination from many, but we can’t forget the people who become expats primarily because their company transfers them to a foreign office and their careers will be enhanced by the move. This category also includes the vast majority of expats in the world, who leave areas with few jobs to areas with more jobs, but probably not many of them follow this site.
Choosing a destination yourself
As mentioned up top, the whole point of this exercise is that one’s social life will be at least partly dependent on moving to a place where many people have similar goals. Personally, I can’t stand hearing people constantly complaining about the country they’ve chosen to move to, but I’m sure plenty of people find great satisfaction in discussing that with fellow expats.
Any groups I’ve missed?
Again, I’m aware that each situation is unique and many people have multiple motivations (a job AND a partner etc), but I still think most people will fit primarily into one of these categories.
Are there any large groups I’ve missed? Other thoughts?