Expat Series #2
I present to you my second article on informing you about being an Expat! I explained the meaning of the word and technical term “expatriate” and talked about what exactly the term expat meant in the business world in my previous article. You can click here to reach my article “What is an Expat?”. We’ll talk about the advantages and disadvantages of being an expat. We’ll also answer questions like What are the benefits of being an expat? And is being an expat hard?
There are a few things you need to understand before we start:
There are no exact benefits of being an expat. The benefits given to an expat depend on (1) The company they work for and (2) The country they are being sent to. In addition to these (3) marital status of the expat is also an important factor.
You can find lots of information about the expat life people share from personal experience. And reading these experiences can be very beneficial for forming an opinion. But these articles can also lead to forming unrealistic expectations. Most information you can find online about the expat life is about the Netherlands. You can also find lots of information online about Germany, Saudi Arabia, and USA. I can inform you of the expat life in Argentina but that is for another day. So, the subject of this article is not Argentina. It’s a general introduction to the expat life.
Advantages vs Disadvantages
Financial Gain vs. High Cost of Living
A high salary is the most known thing about the expat life and it’s also the thing that makes it so desirable. You hear the story about “the expat that saves money” a lot. But being an expat doesn’t mean you will definitely save a lot of money. Many people will be influenced by these stories and will want to become an expat for this reason. But the high cost of living may disappoint you.
It is very simple. An expat can save money if the cost of living is low and can either save very little or no money where the cost of living is high.
Today expats who are appointed to countries in Africa, Eastern Europe or Middle Asia can save money very easily. On the other hand, people who are appointed to Western Europe, America or Japan usually live paycheck to paycheck. With the high cost of rent, food, transportation, and bills the big paycheck they get may disappear right in front of them.
Another point, it is generally easier to save money for single expats since their expenses will be less.
Tax/Company Benefits vs. Responsibilities
Firstly, let’s talk about company benefits. As I’ve mentioned before, the benefits given to an expat changes depending on the company. Each company uses different combinations of benefits to support the expat. Now let’s talk about them:
Getting Residential Permit and Work Permit
This is the only thing all companies do (because they have to).
The company may pay for some or all of the expat’s rent. Some companies also have houses in countries they operate from. They can choose to house the expat in these houses instead of paying for rent.
The company may make a deal with a moving company or pay for the moving expenses.
The company may pay for the schooling expenses of the expat’s children.
The company can help the expat’s spouse to find a job or can give a small amount of financial aid.
Companies can pay for the language lessons of expats who don’t speak the language of the country they’re appointed to.
Some countries give a tax deduction to those who get a residential permit with a special work permit as an expat. Percentage of the tax deduction changes depending on the country. However, some countries don’t have this application.
I don’t know if there is a company that provides all of these benefits. Some provide for rent but don’t provide for school expenses, some pay for the language lessons but they don’t pay for the moving expenses. There are dozens of possible combinations. If you’re appointed as an expat it would be best to find out what benefits your company will provide. For example, if you have kids you should find out whether your company pays for the schooling expenses or not in advance.
On the other hand, being an expat is not just about these sweet benefits. Expats have big responsibilities. Really big responsibilities. Because their responsibility is not just doing the job they’re appointed to. They must respect the laws of the country they’re in, work in coordination with the local employees, adapt to the cultural differences, work in accordance with the time difference (if there is a time difference) and be able to maintain a healthy communication by reporting to the main headquarters if need be. An expat has to be an excellent problem solver in order to deal with the problems that are related to legal and cultural differences.
Companies invest a lot in expats and they expect work, results, production and efficiency, etc.. in return. So, an expat usually carries the weight of great responsibility and a stressful work environment on their shoulders.
Language Abilities vs. Language Barriers
When you don’t know the language of a country you go to there is a big and almost solid problem for you: not being able to communicate. This can be either an advantage or a disadvantage depending on how you manage your situation. (Title probably makes sense now.)
It is hard to be in a place where you don’t speak the language at first because it really slows down your adapting and learning process. Trying to learn the language as fast as possible will make everything easier for you. You can contribute during your stay in that country and better yourself in a new field by learning a new language in a new country. This will not only be good for your personal development but will also be a good addition to your CV. Remember, the best place to learn a language is its local environment.
On the other hand, your language abilities in a foreign language won’t be the same as your native language. This will inevitably cause communication problems, misunderstandings, and even misinterpreting cultural codes. So, it is possible to hit language barriers even if you know the language of the country that you’re in.
You can also deliberately choose to not learn the language. For example, if you’re an expat that’s appointed to China for a six-month-long project you might not want to try learning the language. It’s not like it’s possible to learn Chinese in 6 months anyway.
Or you can decide not to learn the language because you don’t feel like it. But neither I nor anyone else that’s interested in subjects like “expat life, life abroad, adapting to a foreign country” will advise you to do this. As I have mentioned before, language is a key part of the adaptation process.
Cultural Gain vs. Cultural Conflict
Learning about a new culture is one of the best things you can do for yourself. It is an indescribable amazing experience. Mentioning that you have been to china doesn’t automatically give the message “I learned about Chinese culture”. But it is a great personal investment in any case. It’s a little cliché but learning about new cultures really broadens your horizon.
On the other hand, working in a multicultural environment has a number of challenges. Cultural codes are the thoughts and behaviors accepted and adopted by members of culture though they are not talked about. And when two cultures come together people may have difficulty understanding each other’s codes, or they might misinterpret them. This kind of situation can give the expat a hard time in the day to day life. There is no absolute solution to this. You just have to give yourself time to get used to where you are and adapt to the culture.
New Social Environment vs. Being Away from Family
One of the biggest sacrifices an expat has to make is being away from their family. Just to be clear I am not talking about their spouse and kids. In long term expat appointments, all members of their nuclear family move away with the expat. But their mom, dad, siblings, and friends stay behind. It is one of the hardest parts of being an expat.
This can be hard to comprehend for some people at first. I know the idea of moving away from your family is not a big deal for some of you. This applies more to the expat candidates who already live alone, away from their family, or even have a family of their own rather than the younger expat candidates who just moved out from home. But either way, missing your family after you move away is inevitable. Missing people is extremely normal and it is not a bad thing. Afterall you miss the people you love. But it is a fact that you will have moments of yearning for those you love and it’s not an easy thing.
Best way to get over this easier is finding yourself a new social environment. Just like cultural gains, your new social environment totally depends on you. You can attend various events in order to make new friends and build a network. Your new friends will make your adaptation process a lot easier and they will be there for you when you’re going through hard times.
There two kinds of expats in this world: Single Expat vs Married Expat.
I have mentioned how the marital status of the expat affects their living conditions. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of married expats that have kids.
Working Status of the Spouse
The appointment of one of the spouses as an expat can create career problems for the other. Because the spouse benefit I have mentioned earlier is very rare. It will be especially hard to find a job if they don’t know the language of the country they’re in. Knowing the language can help but it is hard for them to find a job. Because they don’t prefer to hire an expat spouse as an employee. The biggest reason for this is rotations. Companies may choose not to invest in someone knowing they won’t stay long term.
If the couple has kids’ things get a little more complicated because usually the expat spouse will want to stay home to take care of the kids. This means only one paycheck comes to the house. Even though the expat has a high salary this can cause financial difficulty in countries where living cost is high.
Expat life can be challenging for families with kids. So why would a family choose this life? What can a family earn from the expat life? The answer is in the kids.
The expat life can be an excellent opportunity for a kid’s development. Expat kids usually go to the international school at the country they’re in. These are expensive schools but the quality of education matches the price. Expat kids have the opportunity to learn about many countries and cultures at a very young age. They learn new languages and make friends from all over the world. It is likely that these kids will grow up to be global citizen.
You may want to take a look at the new social environment headline again for this. Because I will be talking about the same stuff more or less.
We’ve talked about the advantages of being a single expat before. But this subject is where a married expat is luckier than a single expat. It can be challenging to be away from home and be in a new environment. Everyone has bad days. Coming home and finding a family member there is a great thing in these situations. Homesickness is less common in those who moved away with their family. Because a part of their family is with them.
Some claim that this is the reason for companies sending their expats’ families with them. A happy expat means more efficiency for the company. And a happy family is the best way to keep an expat happy.
Other Factors to Consider
Now I will talk about a little thing people usually don’t consider when being an expat: Labels and Prejudice
You will be representing your country to everyone you meet. Some of these people will be meeting someone from your country for the first time and you will be their first impression of your country. In a senseö this means you also be carriying the responsibility of representing your country. Unfortunately, you may come across people who may have a negative prejudice against you and your country. Sadly, this could make living and working harder for you. In my first article What is an Expat? we talked about the dual-sided definition of the word expat. You carry labels like Immigrant and Refugee.
These possibilities may not come to mind when you first think about it however these are all part of the expat life. How you’re going to deal with these labels and prejudices is up to you. Like I stated at the beginning, this article is a general guide to the expat life.
Being an expat means a lot of responsibilities and effort. You might want to know what you will come across before you decide to choose this life. Remember, your experience as an expat can be totally different from other people or the things you read online. I hope this post about the Advantages and Disadvantages of Being an Expat is a helpful guide for you. If you’re interested in the expat life, you can keep reading about it with How to Be an Expat Article. If you have any questions you can comment or contact me through the communication page.
Information about the article:
Date of Translation: 2 February 2020
Translated by: Dilan Sen
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