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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

Brits Abroad: Monolingual and Looking for a Better Life

Many British expats settle in other European countries where they are retirees, teachers, or employees.
  • Spain is the top country of residence
  • Brits seek better weather abroad
  • About half plan to stay forever
  • A majority don’t speak the local language well
  • One-fifth are retirees

Expat Statistics 2016

Expat Statistics on the British Abroad — infographic

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Settling Down for Good in Europe?

British people do not necessarily stray far away from home. Indeed, the three top countries of residence are Spain (8%), Germany (6%), and France (5%). British respondents say they considered the climate one of the top potential benefits prior to their move: 63% were looking forward to leaving the British weather behind, as well as hoping for generally better living standards. Indeed, work is not the most important reason for British people to live abroad. Instead, 15% indicate a wish for a better quality of life, followed by 14% who moved to live in their partner’s home country.

The British are not prone to short stays, either: 35% have been living in their host country for more than ten years, while only 9% have been living there for less than six months. Similarly, when asked about the planned length of their experience abroad, nearly half of the respondents (49%) plan to stay in their host country possibly forever. This is 18 percentage points more than the global average.

Before moving to their current country of residence, the British expats did not necessarily live in many other foreign countries. Indeed, for the largest group of 28%, this is their first stay abroad, while more than one in six (18%) have lived in another country before. There is, however, also a not insignificant portion of British expats — 16% to be exact — who have lived in five or more countries already.

The Curse of Speaking a Lingua Franca

Most likely because their mother tongue is English, a language that is widely understood and spoken in many areas of the world, the British tend to speak fewer languages than the global average. As a matter of fact, 36% say they speak only the one language, followed by another 36% of British respondents who have mastered two. For comparison, these two options together make up just 38% of all survey respondents.

As a consequence, many British expats can only speak the local language(s) in their respective host country a little (39%) or not at all (13%). Just 17% consider their local language skills very good, compared to 28% worldwide. Despite this, the language barrier is not a problem at all according to 41% and only one-fourth generally consider it to be a problem.

Retirees Abound Abroad

Only slightly more than one-fourth of the British (26%) are working as employees or managers, against 41% worldwide. Over one in ten (11%) are employed as teachers, researchers, or academic staff, primarily at international (36%) or language schools (19%). Another 8% work as self-employed professionals, not quite double the global average of 5%. However, the second-largest group following employees and managers are retirees. In fact, one-fifth of British expats are retired abroad, perhaps somewhat explaining the aforementioned focus on a better quality of life and climate.

A Technical Education

The British expats’ academic achievements are slightly lower than the global average. One-third have attained a Bachelor’s degree and one-fourth have a postgraduate degree, with another 4% of PhDs. Many British expats have had commercial, technical, or vocational training instead, making up 17% of the British abroad, which is more than double the global average of 8%. One in ten expats does not have a degree at all, though, in contrast to the global average of 3%.

Diverse Incomes

When it comes to comparing the income of working expats with what they would have gotten back home in the United Kingdom, the figures are quite interesting. Close to one in five (19%) claims that their income is a lot lower than back home, 18% say it is about the same, while another 17% say it is a lot higher than in their home country. Among all working survey participants, there is rather a tendency toward improved incomes, with close to a quarter (24%) earning a lot more than they would at home. Luckily, the majority of British expats (51%) still say their disposable household income is more than they need to get by.

Further Reading