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What’s an Expat Anyway?

From career opportunities and wanderlust to dreams of a better life at your new destination: There are lots of reasons to become an expat. It takes a lot of determination and perseverance to leave your old life behind, though. Read on to find out if you are cut out for life as an expatriate!

There are numerous reasons for wanting to go abroad: a career decision, a thirst for adventure, to find love, to follow a spouse or partner, or simply for a change of pace. Expatriates themselves are as diverse as their reasons for wanting a change of scenery.

Reasons for Venturing Abroad

Some expats will be moving to foreign lands only reluctantly to spend a few months or a couple of years abroad. For them, the sole reason for this move is to boost their career by completing an international assignment, and they are eagerly awaiting for it to end 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 move back to their native country for a long, long time, if ever.

Nowadays, more and more young people between 20 and 39 years of age, rather than senior managers or well-to-do retirees, are considering living in a foreign country as a serious option. The fluctuating, flexible globalized world economy changes the way they think about going abroad.

Moving to a foreign country 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 finally land a job.

Defining the Expat

The term “expat” derives from the Latin prefix ex (out of) and the noun patria (home country, native country, or fatherland). In today’s globalized world, as the reasons for going abroad become more diverse, it’s no longer easy to find a concrete definition for this term. That said, the word “expat” is generally used to refer to people who temporarily or permanently live in a different country than the one they were born in or whose nationality they have. Expats usually choose to leave their native country for a career boost, or to fulfill a personal dream or goal, rather than as a result of dire economic necessity.

Although the term “expat” is often used to describe highly-qualified employees who take up a foreign assignment or work at a foreign branch office of their company for several months or years, this is not the full picture. There are also so-called serial expats, who move from one country to another on a series of international assignments. And not all expats are employees; some people move abroad to work as freelancers or open up a business in a foreign country.

Common Expat Attributes

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.