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Self-Made Expats

An expatriate is, by definition, a person going to temporarily live and work abroad, be it to boost their own career or to join their partner. Some may just want a change of scenery and new wind in their sails. But what exactly is a self-made expat? One thing is certain: self-made expatriates need a rather adventurous spirit, but they should still be realistic...
Self-made expats often move abroad without company support.

The expatriate lifestyle is becoming increasingly popular, but not every expatriate who lives abroad fits the classic definition of the term. Making the big move overseas has become more and more common during the last few years, at least until the economic crisis of 2007-2009 drastically reduced worldwide HR assignments fitting the expatriate profile.

The Rise of the Self-Made Expat

Every self-made expat is a bit of an adventurer. Unlike the typical expat sent abroad on an international assignment, a self-made expat cannot rely on the support of their company when going abroad.

Self-made expatriates come from very diverse backgrounds. Due to the lack of a clear-cut definition, a self-made expatriate can be a writer, teacher, translator, etc. Some self-made expats, especially ones with portable careers, enjoy traveling from country to country, living amidst the urban bustle in Hong Kong one month and relaxing in the Philippines a year later.

Other expats move abroad to open a business or to find a job on their own, with the intention of staying in that country for several years or for good. They too fall under the wider umbrella term of the self-made expatriate. What every self-made expatriate shares with others is an appetite for the unknown and the urge to take life into their own hands.

Begin at the Beginning

Being familiar with your country of choice before the big move is of vital importance. If you know what to expect, how to get around, and where to turn for help, your new life as a self-made expat is more likely to be successful.

Thomas (49) has worked as an expat coach and consultant in Manchester, UK, and Malaga, Spain, for almost two decades. He knows that, when it comes to job hunting, there are different types within the expat community.

Of course, there are always those who plan thoroughly and gather as much information as they can. Often, if they can afford it, they even visit the country of their dreams during a fact-finding trip of three to six weeks. They mostly find work with the help of global expat networks and local recruiters.

Thomas does not particularly recommend going abroad without analyzing the consequences beforehand. This is especially not a good idea if you are planning to go abroad with your family, or if you are already approaching your retirement years. He also admits, though, that some self-made expats, mainly those who are not tied down and have a financial cushion, may succeed at the shoot-first-ask-later option.

“It’s a matter of either financial stability or the willingness to take risks. If you have enough savings to be independently wealthy for a couple of years, fine. If not, well, a taste for roughing it certainly helps.”