Want to be an expat? The first question is: why?

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It seems that the vast majority of people in the Western world are happy living in their home country, but of course there are smaller groups of us who are motivated to live elsewhere. In my own experience of talking to those who’ve moved abroad, it seems that there is a vast array of reasons why people consider a move or actually do it, but some are better than others.

I’m reminded of this situation because I was recently asked advice by an old friend about finding good places to move to or at least spend long chunks of time in. The reason it sent up warning flags to me was that this guy has seemed uninterested in even travel, much less moving abroad, for his whole life. In fact, he’s never lived more than about 10 miles from where he grew up, so it sounded like going from a slow roll to warp speed in a flash.

Complicating matters, this friend has recently started a new relationship, so there is the added issue of whether the new partner has convinced them to travel or change countries, or whether the real motivation is getting away from their old lives? So for them or anyone else, the first question you have to ask yourself is, why do I want to live in another country?

Moving to something or away from something?

One of the things that most successful expats seem to agree upon is that it’s much better if you are motivated to go somewhere rather than getting away from your current situation. In other words, if you are thinking about moving to Thailand or Tokyo or Trinidad, it’s ideal if you have motivational reasons that are specific to that place.

Maybe you like the weather in Thailand or the relaxed lifestyle or the food or all of it combined. These are all valid and worth considering, but if you are thinking about moving to Thailand because you need a change in your life and you’ve heard it’s a cheap and easy place to live, chances are you’ll be very frustrated when you get there.

Are you truly interested in integrating into a new culture?

There are at least a handful of popular expat destinations where you can get away with staying in an expat bubble, like Dubai, Singapore, or Hong Kong. But in most other places it’s really important to have a desire to be part of the local community. Learning the language, at least to the degree that you can shop and perform normal daily tasks is a strong indicator whether an expat will stay and be happy or turn tail and head back home soon.

Moving to a new country is pretty much guaranteed to be more complicated and frustrating than you could imagine sitting at home, so if your heart isn’t in it, you won’t last.

Be honest with yourself about your motivation

There are far too many good and bad reasons to discuss them in length here, but I think most people can sort them out if they are honest with themselves. Moving for a higher paycheck is great, especially if you have a long term plan to move back once you’ve achieved some sort of goal. And of course, if you want to move because you really want to live in a particular country then you are probably on the right track as well.

The problems seem to be when people consider changing countries out of boredom or with the hopes of shaking up their social situation. If you don’t have a strong social circle at home, chances are you’ll struggle even more abroad. I’ve been guilty of daydreaming about moving to “start fresh” and I’m glad I never went through with it because there are better ways of pulling that off.

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One Response to “Want to be an expat? The first question is: why?”

  1. Colin Guest
    February 24, 2014 at 7:36 pm #

    Hi there,

    As a long time expat I have met numerous expats during my 20 years of working in 14 countries. Most of which have become an expat as a step up in their line of business. As for myself, I became an expat after loosing my job in the UK because of illness. I did so as I had previously worked in two countries abroad and knew I could earn more money abroad then back in the UK. This proved to be the best move I ever did.

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