Yesterday we began examining the top 10 concerns affecting expatriates, as highlighted by the 4,100 respondents to the HSBC series of Expat Explorer surveys. We wanted to tackle the issues head on in a bid to help those living abroad, as well as anyone planning a new life overseas.
The issues covered yesterday were a mix of emotive and practical concerns – from missing family and friends and worrying about establishing a new social network, to getting stressed out about the actual relocation process. Today’s issues are equally broad, but they really do have an impact on all expats - no matter where in the world they end up living.
As we showed yesterday, there is generally plenty of preparation that a soon-to-be expat can do in advance of their move to ensure that it goes as smoothly as possible on all levels. Read on to discover what worries expats have and how you can overcome them with a little bit of thought, some research and the right attitude!
When you relocate to any new destination there are always going to be unknown elements that may concern you – from orientating yourself around a new neighbourhood, to knowing where you can go if you need to buy a critical item. When you move to a foreign country the unknown elements are multiplied and exacerbated by anything and everything from a language barrier to new rules and regulations…
The good news is that you’re not alone as an expat, and you can draw not only comfort but support from those who have gone before as we will now show.
6) Health Concerns
According to HSBC 29% of all those surveyed had real worries about healthcare – i.e., the quality of it and accessing it once they had moved abroad. For those of us who herald from the UK where the NHS is always available to us no matter how large or small the issue or emergency, worries about medical care comes from the fact that we’ve always had it relatively good (and free) and we worry about how it will work now we have to pay for it!
Those who retire abroad also worry about the long-term affordability of healthcare, and then there are those who move to countries with an unsophisticated medical system who worry that they may not get the care or support they need, should the requirement arise.
The good news is that there are ways you can prepare yourself in advance of your move so that you’re not as concerned about this issue.
Firstly you can do extensive research into the facilities and medical amenities available in-country. Once you know what’s not available you can have a think about how to plan to access anything you may need. For example, if dentistry is not good in-country, you can arrange private appointments in neighbouring nations you can easily access, or your own home country whenever you fly in for a visit.
Alternatively, if rudimentary care is available you can ensure you have a nest egg put away so that in the event you need better or more extensive or complex care you can pay to be flown or transferred to a facility where you can access that care.
You can look at health insurance ahead of your move too – with international providers offering insurance globally based on your requirements - and many nations having local insurers who offer excellent packages often for much less.
You can speak to other expats about their experiences of the healthcare facilities available locally, and to get advice about which insurances they have, how affordable that is year-on-year, and to gain valuable insight into this particular issue. Use forums and social networks in advance of your move to get the information you need – and even consider visiting your new nation and examining the infrastructure including the medical facilities so that you are forewarned, forearmed and well prepared for what you will have to deal with.
With regards to affordability – expats being relocated by an employer should see whether they can factor in private medical insurance as part of their remuneration package. If you’re making the move yourself then it’s worth knowing that local insurers are often cheaper than international insurers such as Bupa or AXA PPP – however a local insurer’s policies are often restricted to the borders of the nation you’re living in, whereas an international policy can be much more flexible. Look at the policies closely…and know that if you increase your excess or restrict cover to the basics you can often keep costs down.
7) Cultural Adaptation
A quarter of all expats surveyed were worried about adapting to their new nation because of potential cultural differences – with expats in the likes of the UAE and Asia particularly worried about this issue. Where religions differ greatly there can be huge cultural differences for example, and where traditions are so alien to your own it can be really hard to see how you can ever fit in.
The fact of the matter is, understanding local traditions, laws, acceptable moral behaviour, history and religion is entirely possible even if only on an academic level. I.e., you can get to grips with the culture in any nation even if you don’t want to adapt to it to fully integrate. And in making the effort to at least understand the citizens among whom you are now living, you will reach a level of comfort and integration that is acceptable to you.
Expats in certain key nations do tend to socialise with and integrate more with fellow expats because the local culture is so alien and literally foreign to them…whereas those who move to Europe, Australia and North America for example find it very easy to adapt to the new nation and the new culture.
In making the effort to understand more about your new country you will find it much easier to live there and settle in, even if you don’t change your religion, beliefs, personal and familial traditions and so on.
8) Standard of Living
Few people willingly move abroad to accept a lower standard of living – there are exceptions of course such as those who volunteer to help in nations affected by wars or dire economic circumstances. The majority of us move abroad expecting to find or achieve a better or equal standard of living to what we previously enjoyed – but everything from the cost of living to the availability and quality of infrastructure can impact this.
Once again an expat who researches their new nation closely in advance of their move will be well-prepared about what to expect. So, what is a good wage in your new nation, what is a typical monthly spend for a couple or family of four, how will your skills, qualifications and job prospects stack up in terms of earning you a decent wage to afford a good standard of living?
Travel to your new nation to see how people live, go to the supermarket and look at costs, research on the Internet to find out about the costs of property rental, taxes, utilities and so on. In doing all this preparation work in advance you will be well aware of what to expect in terms of the standard of living you’re likely to access.
You may be pleasantly surprised – your expected salary may afford you a better standard of living. However, you may find that the infrastructure and sophistication of your new nation are not up to your standards or expectations, and that no matter how much money you earn you will not be able to buy what you want and need, in order to ensure your living standards are high.
If this is the case it will be a case of mentally preparing and adjusting to the reality. To do so it may help to speak to other expats who have already made the move so that you can find out how they cope. Also, there may be ways you can help yourself – perhaps there are items you should import from home that will make your life better. In some nations for example, electrical goods - from washing machines to microwaves - are scarce and/or prohibitively expensive, and you’d be well advised to import your own when you move in…
Reach out and question others about their standard of living, what you can expect, how you can improve things and how you can make the very best of your new life in your new nation…
9) Bureaucracy / Corruption
No matter where in the world you live you will always face bureaucracy – and by its very nature bureaucracy is usually mind numbingly ridiculous – but as an expat it’s so much worse because it is foreign bureaucracy so it is even more unintelligible, nonsensical, impossible to understand and yet imperative to abide by!
Bureaucracy can be compounded by corruption – particularly in nations where you’re really not expecting to come across it. For example, I’ve lived in a so-called third world country where I expected to have to pay my way around things and I wasn’t disappointed! However, I’ve also lived in a very self-righteous European nation where I was unbelievably stunned to be told that I need to hand over a large sum of cash in an unmarked envelope in order to get certain paperwork signed off – paperwork which I was entitled to according to the laws of the land!
So, what can expats do? Well, they need to be prepared for it and accepting of it!
In preparation you can ask around and gen up on the paperwork you’ll need to fill in and the hoops you’ll need to jump through. You can also find out about how bad corruption really is in your new nation by asking fellow expats for their experiences. However, at the end of the day you just need to know that both corruption and bureaucracy are possible and likely in every nation, so steel yourself for it and try not to fight too hard against it – it will do you no good!
10) Raising Children
The final concern that expats highlighted in their top 10 for HSBC was related to raising children abroad. Worries expat parents have range from finding good schooling to helping their children make friends and settle in – and from safety and security concerns to worrying about getting the best medical care for kids overseas if the need should ever arise.
This is possibly the biggest issue of all – after all, parents always want what’s best for their children. So, what can be done to alleviate this concern?
We have a whole series of articles offering advice on the multiple elements that expat parents face – try these 5 to be going on with, with number 5 showing why, whilst parents’ concerns about moving abroad with children are very important to address, ultimately there are far more pros associated with bringing up children in a new nation and opening their minds to new languages, cultures and horizons than cons…
1) Living Abroad and Helping Children Adapt
2) Settling Your Child into School Abroad
3) Living Abroad with Children – Cultural Obstacles to Consider
4) Critical Advice for Parents Moving Abroad with Children
5) and 10 Ways Living Abroad Gives Children a Better Start in Life