When anyone moves abroad they are quite often fuelled by excitement, and this strong and positive feeling will carry them through early challenges and see them successfully navigate the odd hurdle that they may come across as they initially settle in to their new life overseas.
However, this excitement can open expats up to a vulnerability that they may possibly never have experienced before. The enthusiasm with which a newly arrived expat embraces the changes in their life and the new experiences they are open to means that they become a very obvious and soft target for the less-scrupulous element of society in their new nation.
This element of society exists in every single nation in the world – and if you’re an innocent, un-worldly-wise, excitable and enthusiastic expat puppy, then you’re exceptionally vulnerable to being ripped off, used and badly treated if you’re not aware of your vulnerability. This is a sad but fundamentally true fact of expat life…but there are ways you can overcome your vulnerability as a new expat living abroad as we will now show.
Why Are Expats Soft Targets?
Any immigrant is a potential ‘soft target’ because they are unschooled in the ways of their new nation. This means they will be treading cautiously and carefully, asking questions and perhaps even making mistakes! From attempting to cross the road in Austria before the green man lights up, to bringing your own food into a pub in Ireland, from attempting to mow the lawn in Germany at 1pm on a Saturday afternoon to a woman fluttering her eyelashes to get a Turkish workman to help her out in Northern Cyprus – I have see everything with my very own eyes as a seasoned expat in the aforementioned nations, and inwardly cringed.
Newly arrived expats make mistakes – and this singles them out as ‘foreign’ in their new environment. Most of us, if witnessing an expat struggling, making a mistake or risking their safety would step in and endeavour to assist – but there are some people out there who will just take advantage.
A very quick and informal survey of Shelter Offshore staff and contributors returned an absolutely overwhelming and positive assertion of this fact in that everyone has been an expat victim of others abroad. The tales relayed ranged from funny to embarrassing, and from scary to downright horrendous…and they all happened in nations across the seven continents.
Who Are Those Who Prey on Expats?
In life we come across many different sorts of people, but generally we tend to only associate, befriend and enjoy the company of like-minded people who share the same morals, beliefs and codes of conduct as us. However, when we move outside our home environment and establish ourselves overseas, we suddenly become stripped of our network of friends and colleagues, and we are alone in a sea of new faces.
We have to work out which of the new faces are friendly, and which are not! But it is never that easy – because anyone who set out to ‘fleece’ you in whatever way they choose is dishonest at heart, which means they will not present an honest picture of themselves to you. This will make it very hard for you, as a new expat, to decide how to react to this person and whether to believe them.
Again, from our informal survey of Shelter Offshore staff and contributors, we found that those who took advantage of their vulnerability always went out of their way to be friendly and very helpful initially. And this would seem to be a common factor among those who prey on vulnerable people – whether they are newly arrived immigrants, or even elder members of society who are living alone.
Those who prey will find a way in – with an expat it is their naivety about their new nation that gives someone a way to exploit them.
An Example of What Can Happen to a Vulnerable Expat
One Shelter Offshore contributor explained that in a new nation he and his wife moved to 6 years ago, they had a short-term tourist visa and therefore a limited amount of time to apply for residency. It wasn’t until they had residency that they could get clearance for their shipped personal effects to clear customs, and that the entire process wasn’t written down anywhere!
Everyone they spoke to seemed to have a different take on which office you went to first, and how much money you had to pay to whom to get which piece of paper stamped. And then they met a very kind chap in their local bar who openly offered to help them. And indeed he did, he took them round his various ‘cousins’ to get all their paperwork in order, he bought them lunch, and ensured they only paid local prices rather than tourist prices if they went shopping - and so it went on.
He even invited them to his family home, and the friendship seemed genuine enough – until one day he attempted to ‘have his way’ with our contributor’s wife, believing that it was his right and that she knew what she was getting into from day one. When she told our contributor and he confronted the man, things turned exceptionally ugly and our contributor was arrested and held overnight in a police cell.
The final resolution was extreme – they changed nation because they couldn’t get away from this man and the influence he had in many areas of his life.
This is an extreme illustration of how expats can be vulnerable and abused in their new nation – and fortunately it is unusual for anyone to be so badly treated, however, the fact of the matter is, every single one of our staff members and every single contributor has experienced poor treatment as a result of being vulnerable as a newly arrived immigrant in a new land.
How Can Expats Overcome Their Vulnerability?
Expats need to be aware of a) their vulnerability and b) the fact that there are those out there who will seek to exploit it. It is only in this way that anyone can prepare themselves and protect themselves. However, there is a fine line between being aware and being closed to all genuine offers of help and support!
Fortunately, thanks to the Internet there are now communities of expatriates out there with whom you can interact and seek advice in a purely virtual space, (i.e., online), and you can then take your time in testing out the contacts you make before you ever agree to meet up for example.
What’s more, thanks to the likes of InterNations.org for example, there are expat social events organised where you can go and listen, learn and slowly get involved when you feel comfortable.
These forums and events, social networks and safe places for expats give newly arrived immigrants the information they need to integrate into their new nation more smoothly – thus removing a lot of the vulnerability that comes with ignorance of ‘how things work’ in a new country.
As soon as any expat feels more confident about the lay of the land in their new nation, the sooner they’re free of their vulnerability. It is really only in the very early days that things can go so spectacularly wrong as described above – because once you’ve lived abroad in your new country and got to grips with it over a few months, you will no longer be likely to fall victim to those seeking out soft targets.
All expats are therefore encouraged to tread vary warily in their first few months abroad, and to ensure they have a wide social network. This can be achieved by going to different events in different communities, different pubs, different sports clubs and by doing more than just speaking to close neighbours or the first people you meet on a night out.
In being aware of the fact that all immigrants are vulnerable until they really know how things work in their new nation, expats can hopefully protect themselves. They can spot the warning signs when someone seems overly friendly or helpful and they can back away.
By making yourself less vulnerable, less innocent, less lost and less obvious as a foreigner in a new land you will protect yourself. Be careful who you befriend, and take things slowly. Also, try to read up about customs and acceptable and accepted behaviour in your new nation – and use forums and social networks to get ahead in learning about how things work abroad in your new chosen country.