What’s an Expat Anyway?iStockphoto
In our globalized world, spending time abroad becomes increasingly common.
There are numerous reasons for wanting to go abroad: a business decision; a thirst for adventure; finding love; starting a family, or simply suffering through a midlife crisis. Expatriates themselves are as diverse as their reasons for changing scenery.
Reasons for Venturing Abroad
Some expats will be moving into foreign lands only reluctantly to spend a few months or a couple of years abroad. For them, this move is part of a career-related assignment only, and they are eagerly awaiting the end of this assignment in order to quickly return home.
Others who decide to journey overseas just pack their bags, board a plane and never look back. For them, this move is nothing but an extravagant adventure, a dream come true in the sun-drenched lanes of a Tuscan village or amidst the skyline of an Asian boomtown. They often don’t come back to their native country for a long, long time.
Nowadays, more and more young people rather than senior managers or well-to-do retirees, between 20 and 39 years of age, consider living in a foreign country. The fluctuating, flexible globalized world economy changes the way they think about going abroad.
Moving from one country to another is not something for everyone. Without the right personal qualities and professional qualifications, leaving your old life behind and starting a new one can quickly turn into a complete disaster. Instead of savoring tarte tartin in a snug Parisian café, your dream of moving to France may end in a run-down, overpriced Parisian flat where you’ll be frantically trying to brush up your business French in order to land a job at last.
Defining the Expat
All kinds of people go abroad these days. Be it work, love, or simply self-fulfillment that coaxes them to take this step. Some people do so for all of these reasons at once. In today’s international climate, the world is our oyster. Nobody is bound any longer to the country of their childhood. Generally speaking, though, we can distinguish between different types of people moving to a foreign country and choosing to live and work abroad.
The term “expat” is not a word with a fixed meaning, though. As expat assignments and reasons for going abroad become more diverse, so does the use of the term “expat”. It’s no longer that easy to find a concrete definition for this term and to decide which groups of people fit the bill.
The term “expat” derives from the Latin prefix ex (out of) and the noun patria (home country, native country, and fatherland). It generally refers to people who temporarily live in a country different from that where they were born or whose nationality they have.
Common Expat Attributes
Most commonly, “expat” describes highly-qualified employees who take up a foreign assignment or work at a foreign branch office of their company. Thus it usually concerns middle or upper-middle-class people for whom this is a career boost, the fulfillment of a personal dream, or a lifestyle choice, not a dire economic necessity.
Although the individual situation of one expat can seldom be compared to that of another, there are some characteristics most expats have in common. They are usually highly educated and enjoy a higher than average income. In many cases they receive lucrative expat allowances which cover relocation costs and plane tickets, tuition fees for their children’s education at international schools and other perks. However, expats often face specific challenges too.
For instance, many expats do not speak the local language(s) very well and have to deal with the language barrier. They may also be dealing with culture shock and their own cultural, social, and racial prejudice, or struggle with the local standards of living, for example, when relocating from an industrial nation to a developing country.