Home or Away – is the expat dream worth it?

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Moving abroad is a life changing experience. Is it for everyone and when is it time to return home?

M oving abroad can open your eyes to a world you didn’t realise was out there. Going on holiday to places like the Costa Del Sol or backpacking Australia does give you an idea about the country, however it’s a seriously limited view of life abroad. You have to take the plunge and expatriate to discover what the real experience is like.

The true number is largely unknown, however in 2010 3.97 million British Citizens were recorded as living abroad. The majority of these Brits emigrated to Australia, USA, Canada, Spain and New Zealand. Difficult economies, unemployment, climate, culture and quality of life are all factors which are driving people to pack up and try living in a new country. Brits who move from the UK to Spain can find that they get a lot more for their money when purchasing property and the lucky ones can even afford a private swimming pool. Others move to Australia or America to seek higher salaries from industries which are saturated in their home country. Another group of individuals are throwing caution to the wind and moving to places like Thailand to become digital nomads and have a significantly lower cost of living but a high quality of life.

While it’s true that moving abroad can give you more for your money, a higher salary or lower cost of living, there are also often overlooked benefits which arise from immersing yourself in another culture and learning from what it has to offer. Experiencing different cultures gives expats the opportunity to take positive influences to be included in their own lives and also it allows them to take note of the negatives to reassure them about their own culture. Here’s an example:

While I was living in Barcelona I noticed that ordering in a restaurant was done differently than in the UK. It was normal to hear the employee say nothing but “digame”, which literally translates as “tell me!”. People then reply with “Yo quiero…” which translates as “I want…”. There’s no messing around with courtesy like “what would you like to order” or “please could I have…”. This is just the way the language and culture works there, in fact I have been told a few times by Catalans and Spanish alike that they find our culture of politeness ‘fake’ and that it’s ‘not necessary’ to always be like this. The positive thing about ordering this way is that it makes ordering super efficient removes and meaningless small talk; allowing you to get on with your meal and get back to chatting with your dinner date. 

“Maybe you had to leave in order to really miss a place; maybe you had to travel to figure out how beloved your starting point was.” — Jodi Picoult

While Brits may want to keep hold of their politeness (well, most of us anyway), there’s still no denying that we have things to learn from foreign cultures. This is a big part of the attraction for many of us who are bored with our mundane lives as part of the system in the UK and want to experience something life changing. We are extremely lucky that we speak English as our native tongue, as it has become the global default for communication, business and media across the globe. As Australia, America, Canada and New Zealand are all English speaking countries, there’s no surprise that they are the top countries we Brits emigrate to. Speaking the lingo is just one of the many factors with which you will need to consider. The other important ones are:

  • Language
  • Distance to home country
  • Culture
  • Cost of living
  • Economy
  • Employment
  • Housing
  • Friends and family
  • Visas
  • Safety

Many Brits find that after the honeymoon period has worn off, there are times at which they feel home sick; The tea just isn’t the same abroad or they miss family and friends. For many being away from loved ones tips the balance in favour of moving back and that’s fair enough. Wanting to live in another country really changes everything in your life and all at once, making it especially challenging without that support network around you. Like everything in life, living in another country is a balance. If the benefits of living abroad don’t outweigh that with which you’re missing in your home country then it could be time to call it a day and move back. The majority of people say “I’m going to go for a year and see how I feel” and this can take the pressure off feeling forced to like your new life and instead gives you a chance to test the water.

“It is a bitter-sweet thing, knowing two cultures. Once you leave your birthplace nothing is ever the same.” –Sarah Turnbull

There’s a sizable proportion of expats who return home after realising that they missed their lives in the UK too much; only to discover that nothing has changed and they wish they had given the new country more of a try. Sometimes if you don’t fully commit to your new life then it can cause problems later down the line. One thing which is really important from the start is to make new friends, which can be difficult as an adult. Friends will offer you support, local knowledge and more importantly fun. Many expats say that “friends become your new family” and “you all support each other” when you move abroad; leading you to feel more at home.

Countries like Australia and New Zealand not only speak the same language and have a similar culture to the UK, but they also have a skill shortage list which will fast pass you to getting a highly prized permanent visa. Some of the entries in the list may shock you – if you’re a web designer then forget about it, but if you’re a cabinet maker then you’re in luck. These countries offer higher pay and a better quality of life than in the UK but on the flip side are the other side of the planet, a long way from your friends and family back home; not to mention Australia’s alcohol prices. Again it’s about getting that balance of what is important to you at that time in your life. Some expats make the move, say they’re never coming back and it’s the best thing they’ve done, others learn from the experience and return home.

Despite the difficulties faced by those who plan on or already have made the plunge, the old saying ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained‘ rings true. The modern world offers us Skype, cheap flights and most expats can afford to travel home at least once or twice a year to catch up with their loved ones. In the meantime thankfully social media keeps them in touch. Some vastly improve their quality of life and others find the dream and reality were two very different things. Either way, if it’s within your means and you feel that you have an opportunity to have a better life, then it’s worth the punt. Life is there to be lived and if something is missing then it might well be your chance to find out for yourself. Dive in with an open mind and see where the world takes you.

“Life might be difficult for a while, but I would tough it out because living in a foreign country is one of those things that everyone should try at least once. My understanding was that it completed a person, sanding down the rough provincial edges and transforming you into a citizen of the world.” –David Sadaris




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