Special Report: What is it really like as a modern-day expatriate? Part 1

A life abroad is more accessible than it has ever been and increasing numbers of people choose to leave behind their home to experience life in a new country. Traditionally, life as an modern day expatriate was associated with vast wealth and priviledged living and even today, when people imagine what it is like to live as an modern day expatriate, they perceive a high standard of existence, with home help, a gardener and a driver. In today’s society, however, the reality can be quite different and in this four part series the Expat Info Desk will look at what life as an expatriate is really like through exploring some of the issues and motivations that are impacting expatriates today. Today we’re starting by taking a look at some of the transitional issues that expatriates face and how they attempt to overcome them.

Part One: How easy is it to fit in?

Without a doubt, moving home for the first time to an unfamiliar country and culture has always posed its challenges and that is no different for modern day expatriate today. Issues such as culture shock and transitional challenges are often raised and discussed in expatriate publications and what they are essentially referring to is the speed or relative ease with which an expatriate assimilates into their new environment and feels comfortable and at ease. This can be determined by several factors which include the background and personality of the individual, the support systems to which they have access, the amount of preparation they have completed in advance, whether they have a job or past time with which to occupy themselves and the effort that they are willing to invest in meeting and understanding the locals or grasping the local language.

According to a survey by HSBC International, some countries are easier than others for expatriates to transition to. In 2008 they decided to take a look at some of the challenges that expatriates commonly face when making friends in their host country and conducted a worldwide survey of 2155 expatriates with the intention of identifying common integration and transition issues. They published their results as the Expat Experience report. Martin Spurling, Chief Executive Officer for HSBC Bank International and Head of HSBC Global Offshore, said: “We commissioned this independent survey to take a look into the lives and experiences of our customers who live across the globe and the transitional challenges they encounter from country to country.

(It) “focuses on something that is incredibly important to all expats – their ability to fit in to their new home. This is often the aspect that is most daunting, with many concerned about whether or not they will be able to make friends or feel like they belong in their adopted country. Through this survey we have been provided with a fascinating insight into our customers’ lives which will help us also to best adapt to their offshore finance needs.”

During the survey expatriates from throughout the world were asked to rate the country they were living in against four main groups of criteria;

  1. Their ability to form social groups that included members of the local population
  2. Their participation in a local community group
  3. Whether they had learned the local language
  4. Whether they had purchased a property.

The results showed ranked popular modern day expatriate countries in the following manner.

Easiest places in which to fit in

  1. Germany
  2. Canada
  3. Spain

More challenging places in which to transition

  1. Australia
  2. United Arab Emirates
  3. China

Other major findings included:

  • Canada, Germany and Australia were the easiest places to make friends with the locals, with the United Arab Emirates and Singapore proving to be the most difficult.
  • Less than half of all people surveyed said that they had joined in local community events or groups. Expats living in Germany were most likely to become involved in community groups and Australia had the lowest amount of expats who joined such groups.
  • Expatriates who were based in Europe were most likely to learn the local language, especially those living in Germany, Spain and Belgium. Those in Asia were less likely to try and master the lingo with Singapore and Hong Kong scoring the lowest in this category.
  • Expats living in France were the most likely to purchase a property and those in India, China and Singapore were the least likely.

For further information about culture shock and methods of overcoming it, please see the free Settling In section of our Expatriate’s Manual. It contains detailed information about some of the issues you can expect to face and how you can prepare in advance. If you are looking for information about clubs, groups and social networking opportunities in an expatriate location then please see our City Guides. These guides contain comprehensive information and insider tips about how you can fit in and make new friends.

Author: ExpatInfoDesk