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Ten Types of Modern-Day Pioneers: The Expat Encyclopedia

The word "expat" can sometimes be hard to define. What we think that all expats have in common is their pioneering spirit and their readiness to deal with the unknown. Our Expat Insider survey identifies ten expat types, who all rise to that challenge. And which one are you?

What’s an expat anyway? Traditionally, the word has often been used to refer to skilled professionals or managers sent abroad by the company head office. Wait — you are not a high-flying international executive, you just love living abroad?

Today, the whole wide world seems smaller than ever, and more and more people are deciding to move abroad, be it for a while or for life. The narrow definition of ‘expat’ cited above no longer cuts it to describe these diverse modern-day nomads and pioneers.

Based on our Expat Insider survey, we have identified ten expat types, who all embrace the unknown in their own way. Maybe you can see yourself in one of them!

Starting Anew, Over and Over

At first glance, both Foreign Assignees (the “classic” expats) and Foreign Recruitees might not seem particularly pioneer-like. After all, the initial motivation for their move came from their employer: one was sent to a foreign branch office, the other recruited from abroad.

Certainly, Foreign Assignees are veterans of the expat scene in some ways: one in five has lived in at least five foreign countries; among the Foreign Recruitees, it’s still one in seven. However, while both have gained considerable experience abroad, they start anew in each country — over and over again.

They also tend to move to less common destinations and unfamiliar places: for example, Foreign Recruitees are overrepresented in Kazakhstan, and assignees make up a noticeable proportion of expats in Myanmar. They often need to settle in without a support network, too: 81% of Foreign Assignees had no family or friends waiting for them in their new destination.

Making it on their own? Sounds like true pioneers!

Hard-Working Go-Getters

While Foreign Assignees and Recruitees may receive practical and financial support from their employers, such help is less common when you switch jobs yourself. Career Expats need to be proactive: not only have they secured a job abroad for themselves, but most may have to organize their relocation all by themselves.

Their efforts are worth it. Like many pioneers of yore, Career Expats are trying to make it in a new country: apart from those looking for a new job, one in seven moved to start their own business abroad. Over 10% are now entrepreneurs or business owners, especially in commerce and trade or hospitality.

It’s hardly surprising that the local economy and labor market of their new home were important considerations for them. Career Expats are working hard to get ahead, about 45 hours a week, and three in five have improved their income compared to back home. In short, they weren’t afraid to seize the opportunity with both hands.

Off to New Horizons

Driven by academic rather than economic motivations, (Ex-)Students want to expand their horizons literally and figuratively. They moved for an international education; for 18% improving their foreign language skills was an additional motivation. For over two in five, this is even their first stay abroad.

Their academic hopes and dreams have become reality: unsurprisingly, they are the most highly educated group of expatriates. While 43% are still enrolled in higher education, nearly half the (Ex-)Students have already obtained a master’s degree. One in nine even has a PhD, and over one-third speak the local language fluently.

However, (Ex-)Students shouldn’t be afraid of “roughing it”, pioneer-style. Every third among them makes do with an annual income of less than 12,000 USD. Considering that countries like Denmark or the Netherlands are popular destinations, it’s no wonder that one in three barely has enough for everyday expenses.

No Pioneers without Backup

While the (Ex-)Students are mostly young — less than 32 years on average — and single, other, older expatriates have rather followed their heart abroad. The Traveling Spouse is the one to come to mind first: those who moved for their partner’s career, from Luxembourg over Uganda to Singapore.

It could be tempting not to see Traveling Spouses as pioneers, as they follow in their partner’s wake. However, that impression is highly misleading. It’s the spouses who make sure the “pioneering” goes smoothly and the family can settle in abroad: more than one in four Traveling Spouses describe themselves as homemakers, and every other spouse is raising children abroad.

Interestingly, the Traveling Spouses also make up group with the most skewed gender ratio: nearly 90% are women. Male spouses apparently remain something of a novelty. Guys, if you want to be an expat pioneer, stand by your woman when she moves abroad for work!

Putting Down Roots for Romance or Family

Unlike Traveling Spouses, who move for their partner’s career, Romantics cross oceans and borders simply to be with the person they love. Family Expats, in turn, decided to go abroad for a familial instead of a romantic relationship. For instance, they wanted to live near siblings or aging parents or to offer their children a better quality of life.

What do these two expat types have in common? — They are frequently pioneers as in settlers: from Finland to the Philippines, from Chile to Canada, Romantics and Family Expats start putting down new roots.

They immerse themselves in another culture: among the Romantics, 40% are mostly friends with locals, and half consider staying abroad forever. One in four has already become a citizen of their country of residence. The same even applies to one-third among the Family Expats!

Dreamers and Adventurers Searching for Greener Pastures

Lastly, there are quite a few expatriates who moved neither for work nor for a relationship. Their drive to set out and explore makes them pioneers.

Dream Destination Expats fulfill their wish to live in a country they have always longed to see: they enjoy new leisure activities and travel opportunities, finding it easy to feel at home in the local culture. One in three had no problem adjusting — they felt just like home right away.

The Greener Pastures Expat could also be called Sunnier Climes Expat. Their search of a better quality of life frequently includes the perfect weather: the local climate in their new destination was almost as important to them as general living standards. Now that they’ve arrived, they do love the weather and the quality of environment in places like Portugal or Costa Rica. For these retirees and part-time workers, the courage to make their very first international move has paid off.

Among the Adventurers, too, a considerable percentage had never lived abroad before. Six in ten set out for the unknown regardless, even to such faraway destinations as Vietnam or Peru. The desire for a personal challenge was reason enough for them — a perfect example of pioneer spirit!



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Sean Henderson

"As an InterNations expat in Haiti, I made some incredible experiences there, and after the earthquake, the support from other InterNations members was encouraging to witness. "

Hannah Steele

"During my first week in Hamburg, I went to an InterNations event and immediately felt connected. Many members are now close friends of mine."

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