From Career Woes to Pension Concerns — Expat Voices about Brexit from in and outside the UK
According to the Expat Insider 2019 survey, 42% of expats in the UK are unhappy with the country’s political stability. Just three years ago, only 8% shared this opinion. This might hardly be surprising, considering that the Expat Insider 2016 survey was conducted before the Brexit referendum, which has the potential to change the life of many EU expats living in the UK.
In addition to the Expat Insider survey results, InterNations, the world’s largest expat community, has conducted a poll in August 2019 to find out how members experience these uncertain times and what concerns they have: Although the details of a possible deal or the ramifications of a potential no-deal Brexit are still unclear, many expats and global minds are very much concerned about the outcome. While some worry about their career or the state of the economy, others are unsure about their family’s future
2016 vs. 2019: Expat Life in the UK Has Changed
The UK did not only lose ground in terms of political stability within the past three years, but also in nearly every subcategory of the annual Expat Insider survey. In the Ease of Settling In Index, the most noticeable changes have occurred in the Feeling at Home subcategory, where the UK has dropped from ranking 26th in 2016 to 49th in 2019. While 64% of expats in the UK felt at home in the local culture in 2016, only 52% say the same this year.
The UK’s performance in the Working Abroad Index has also worsened, with the country coming in 48th place in 2019 compared to 14th in 2016. In terms of career prospects the UK even ranked among the best countries in the world in 2016 (7th in the Career Prospects & Satisfaction subcategory), with 73% of expats stating to be happy with this factor. In 2019, it only comes 36th for career prospects and satisfaction, with only 60% being content with their options. Lastly, the share of expats being unhappy with the state of the UK’s economy has nearly tripled in the same time period (8% unhappy in 2016 vs. 23% in 2019).
Reduced Income & Dwindling Career Opportunities
The effects on their careers or businesses are among the biggest worries for many expats. Not only will trading with EU countries most likely become more complicated for UK companies, but some also worry about the impact Brexit will have on their salary and their freedom to pursue an international career.
Tom, a British expat living in South Korea, moved abroad for his career, as he believes gaining experience from working in a foreign country is pivotal in this day and age. Brexit is one of the main reasons why he does not plan to move back home in the foreseeable future. “I believe that if the UK goes ahead with Brexit, then it will be effectively shutting itself off from the rest of the world, and it would become much more difficult to gain international opportunities.”
Working for the British government in Thailand, Alix can already see some negative effects of the political situation of the previous years. The weakening GBP has reduced his income slightly and, of course, he is concerned about how the situation will affect his job situation. “The UK government may look to hire more locally engaged staff worldwide rather than send people from the UK such as myself, which would have huge implications for my career,” he points out. Alix is bracing himself for the Brexit aftermath: “I expect my workload to increase, and pay and benefits package to decrease, as a result of Brexit and post-Brexit pressures.”
Michael, another expat in Thailand, works for a British multinational company and has also noticed that the spending power of his paycheck has diminished. As the October deadline draws closer, he anticipates some problems when it comes to returning home: “Neither I nor anyone at the company, nor apparently anyone in government, knows whether — nor how easily — I will be able to travel back to the UK for work-related meetings.” Fortunately, Michael has already planned to circumvent any chaos at the airport by leaving the UK before 31 October. “My wife and I have already decided not to return to the UK when my contract here expires,” he adds. “I like my job and the company for which I work, and I do not anticipate any problems obtaining a visa.”
Concerns about the Quality of Life in a Post-Brexit UK
Other expats and global minds are more concerned about the quality of life in a post-Brexit UK. Victoria and her Norwegian husband had always thought about moving to Norway after they retired, but Brexit made them organize their move abroad much sooner than anticipated. However, this decision has also had its drawbacks: “We found that it was impossible to sell our house in the UK as the property market has collapsed.”
Still, making this move seemed like a necessary step. “My husband began to feel unwelcome in the UK, especially as he was working for a Spanish bank,” Victoria says. He is not the only one who struggles to feel at home in the UK: The annual Expat Insider survey shows how it has become much harder for expats to settle in the UK over the years. While the country still ranked 22nd (out of 61) in the 2014 Ease of Settling In Index, it only came 35th (out of 67) in 2016 and lands in a low 45th place (out of 64) in 2019. In addition to that, 28% of respondents rate the attitude towards foreign residents negatively in 2019. This is not only well above the global average (19%) but also a higher share than in 2016 (15%).
However, feeling unwelcome wasn’t the only thing Victoria and her husband worried about: “We had also grown concerned about the lack of investment in education and healthcare in the UK among other things.”
Alix is also concerned about the future of his family ever since the referendum: “If the economic situation worsens, it will lead to more government cuts to services like schools and hospitals, which will affect my children's education and health.” A possible rise of the cost of living and government cuts to police forces and social services are other factors which make expats feel uneasy about returning to the UK. Some even anticipate higher crime rates, a rise in unemployment, and other social problems after Brexit.
Multi-National Families at a Disadvantage?
For Paul, who lives in the Netherlands, the situation could become quite dire after Brexit: he is British, but his wife and children are Dutch. While his family’s status in the Netherlands is secure, Paul will have to wait and see how his residency, which is that of a European citizen, will be affected by Brexit. “Nobody, not even the Dutch immigration service, knows what is going to happen next,” Paul says. Right now, there are more questions than answers for him: “My passport is only a year old. Do I have to apply for a new one after Brexit? And what rights will I then have as a Brit living in the European Union?”
For Philip, who currently lives in Malta, Brexit may also be the cause of some major changes in his family life should he be forced to return to his home country. His wife, who is Chinese, might not qualify for a UK visa. “So, there is a chance that we will be split up!” Philip says.
British Pensions: Devalued, Decreased, or Dropped?
Many British people living abroad are pensioners: according to the Expat Insider 2019 survey, 7% of British respondents relocated to retire abroad, more than double the global average of 3%. As they typically receive a British pension, there is a lot of uncertainty among them as to what will happen to their retirement funds and how Brexit will affect their quality of life abroad. “My pension is 80% Dutch and 20% British,” Paul points out. “After Brexit, I understand that my British pension will be reduced by 25% because of British taxes.”
Mervyn, who is spending his retirement in Lithuania, is also very worried about the financial aspects of Brexit, especially a no-deal Brexit. The effects are already palpable: “Prior to the Brexit referendum, the GBP to EUR exchange rate was 1.0 GBP =~ 1.4 EUR, now it is 1.0 GBP =~ 1.1 EUR. And it’s likely to decease further especially if there is a ‘no-deal’.” According to Mervyn, his pensions have already decreased by about 30% in recent years.
A French expat who lived in the UK and has now moved on to Czechia points out that, after Brexit, the UK might not apply European rules concerning the payment of pensions. “This means that I will have lost four years of contributing to the British system.”
Citizenship and Settled Status as a Solution
Although it is possible that a withdrawal from the EU will influence the residence status of British expats living in other EU countries, for many this has not been a big reason for concern.
“The worst thing that could happen is that I would have to leave Lithuania. But this is unlikely, because I have heard via the British Embassy in Vilnius that the Lithuanian Immigration Agency will not cause too many problems,” Mervyn says. “I only have to exchange my permanent residence permit from an ‘EU National’ to a ‘British’ one. Luckily, the British Embassy in Vilnius is being helpful.”
Jonathan had originally planned to move his expat family back to the UK after living in Sweden and the US for a while, but after the 2016 referendum, these plans rapidly changed. Instead of returning to their home country, Jonathan and his family applied for Swedish citizenship, sold their property in the UK, and moved their remaining savings out. “Currently, we have no plans to move back to the UK,” Jonathan says. “Not until either our children leave home in five to ten years or until the UK’s political situation and economy look like they’re stabilizing and improving.”
Applying for citizenship is also what other expats plan on doing: “Fortunately, I had an Irish grandfather, so I will change nationality if needed,” says Philip in Malta. And one expat from Denmark adds, “I'm a permanent resident and for a number of reasons have not applied for Danish citizenship, but I'm doing what I can to get official recognition of my status.”
About the InterNations Expat Insider 2019 Survey
For its annual Expat Insider survey, InterNations asked 20,259 expats representing 182 nationalities and living in 187 countries or territories to provide information on various aspects of expat life, as well as their gender, age, and nationality. Participants were asked to rate up to 48 different aspects of life abroad on a scale of one to seven. The rating process emphasized the respondents’ personal satisfaction with these aspects and considered both emotional topics as well as more factual aspects with equal weight. The respondents’ ratings of the individual factors were then bundled in various combinations for a total of 17 subcategories, and their mean values were used to draw up six topical indices: Quality of Life, Ease of Settling In, Working Abroad, Family Life, Personal Finance, and Cost of Living. Except for the latter, all indices were further averaged together with expats' general satisfaction with their life in order to rank 64 expat destinations around the world. In 2019, the top 10 are Taiwan, Vietnam, Portugal, Mexico, Spain, Singapore, Bahrain, Ecuador, Malaysia, and Czechia.
For a country to be featured in the indices and consequently in the overall ranking, a sample size of at least 75 survey participants per destination was necessary. The only exception to this is the Family Life Index, where a sample size of at least 40 respondents raising children abroad was required. In 2019, 64 and 36 countries respectively met these requirements. However, in most countries the sample size exceeded 100 participants.
With more than 3.9 million members in 420 cities around the world, InterNations (http://www.internations.org) is the largest global network and information site for people who live and work abroad. InterNations offers global and local networking both online and face-to-face at more than 6,000 monthly events and activities. Online services include country and city guides created by a team of professional writers, guest contributions about life abroad, and forums to help members with topics such as local housing and searching for jobs. InterNations is primarily a community for expats, but also global minds. As a community of trust, membership is by application only.