There are many things to think about when choosing an expat country. After living as an expat in three different countries, there are many things that I wish I had considered before moving abroad. Although I tremendously enjoyed my experiences, I think very differently about moving abroad at this stage in my life. In fact, I have been diligently contemplating my next move overseas for quite some time now. Though I don’t plan to move right away, I have started planning key aspects of my next expat journey.
Here are some things that I consider important when choosing an expat country:
Cost of Living
This is always at the top of my list. I like to live a comfortable life no matter where I am. So I choose destinations that will afford me the comfort level that I desire. It is important for me to move somewhere with a reasonable cost of living. I like having enough disposable income so that I can enjoy my leisure time.
Of course, this is not the case for everybody. For some, the basics are more than enough as long as they are in their dream destination. And this is perfectly fine. But either way, the cost of living is a very important factor in choosing an expat location. The cost of living impacts your overall quality of life in any given location. So you need to consider your budget and your living situation before heading to your expat destination.
As I have shared before in other posts, I lived in the Middle East for most of my time abroad. The cost of living in this part of the world is similar to that of areas like New York, California, and Hawaii. However, all of my accommodation and transportation expenses were covered by my employer. Thus, the cost of living did not adversely impact my standard of living. Therefore, I had more disposable income to enjoy my preferred standard of living.
If you have health issues that require special treatment or services, you need to ensure that this is available in your desired expat country. If you are otherwise healthy and generally only need routine health screenings this concern is not as urgent. However, you should investigate the availability of preventative, acute, and emergency care services before you move abroad. Getting the right care when you need it can literally be a matter of life and death.
Health insurance is another factor, especially in high-income countries where healthcare provision is absorbent. Employers generally cover such expenses for expats. However, you may need to supplement your insurance policy so that you can access private care when needed.
Climate and Weather
Every time I think about this dynamic, I recall a story about an African student who studied abroad in America. He was from West Africa, where the climate is tropical and warm during most of the year. His study abroad trip was scheduled in December and his flight was set to arrive in Pennsylvania.
December is considered the dry season in his country of origin. The temperatures in that region are generally in the mid to high 70s in December. So he packed his luggage and dressed accordingly. After arriving in Pennsylvania in shorts and a light jacket, he encountered a very unpleasant surprise. He was cold, shivering, and did not have an appropriate change of clothes. Fortunately, a stranger came to his rescue and gave him a jacket. Needless to say, he learned a very important lesson that day.
Likewise, I tell this story so that perspective expats who have never traveled abroad can learn a valuable lesson. The climate and temperature are not the same all around the world. It is important to think about what type of weather you enjoy when choosing an expat country. You could be pleasantly surprised or deeply disappointed by the climate and weather in a given locale.
If you are religious, you need to consider how you will practice your faith while living abroad. Some countries are more conducive to and/or tolerant of certain religious practices and belief systems than others. In general expat-heavy countries usually tolerate religious freedom among their expat population. But even in the most tolerant nations, there may not be many places for expats of diverse religions to worship.
For instance, the UAE is a Muslim nation full of mosques and other artifacts related to this religion. As an expat, you are free to adhere to any belief system as long as you don’t proselytize in the country. Even though people are free to practice whatever faith they believe in there are few places of worship dedicated to other faith systems such as Christianity or Hinduism. Usually, practitioners of other belief systems congregate in malls, lounges, and other make-shift places of worship to conduct their religious services.
While you can practice your religion in some countries, you may not have easy access to a similar community of believers. Even more, it may be forbidden to practice your belief system in certain countries that don’t embrace religious tolerance. So you definitely need to do some research in this area if religion or spirituality is important to you.
After the initial excitement of your move has worn off, you are going to need a viable source of entertainment. Everyone is different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to this issue. You may be fine with taking nature walks or going to the beach every weekend. Or, you may enjoy regular trips to the theater and performing arts shows. There are so many entertainment options that are suitable for different types of individuals.
So you need to think about what entertainment choices are important to you. You also need to research the types of entertainment that are available in the expat country. Depending on your purpose for moving abroad, the availability of entertainment choices could make or break your expat experience.
This consideration is self-explanatory. Understanding safety elements in a given location is vital to your overall well-being. This is especially the case for solo female travelers. In general, international employers will ensure that their expat employees live and work in safe areas. However, they generally don’t control your comings and goings outside of work hours. Therefore, you need to be aware of the general dangers common in the locale.
Transportation is a major factor when moving abroad. In some countries, you won’t be able to buy, lease, rent, or drive a vehicle as a foreigner. In other areas, public transportation may not be easily accessible to you. Either way, you need to think about the cost and availability of transportation options when moving abroad.
During my various expat journeys, my family and I had a driver everywhere we lived. However, we also had our own vehicle, so I drove myself around on occasion. While I enjoyed having a driver, I also like the freedom and independence that comes with the ability to drive.
Chances are when you first move abroad, you are going to want to communicate with your loved ones back home. Unless you are using a free calling app, your phone bill can get quite expensive. So you definitely need to factor in the cost of communicating with loved ones abroad.
While calling apps are viable options in some regions, they are not in other areas. Some countries block calling apps. Other countries have such poor internet connectivity that it may be difficult to rely on calling apps.
Another important facet of international communication is time zone differences. Your family and friends maybe 8 hours or more behind the time that you are on. This means that you will have to plan your phone calls very carefully.
If you are moving with family members, then you definitely need to consider their needs and desires when selecting an expat country. They may have preferences on the type of terrain, climate, weather, entertainment choices, etc., that they like as well. Choosing a destination that you all agree on will make the journey more enjoyable.
If you are traveling with children, you need to plan for their education. You need to consider which options are available to them, especially in the early phases of the move. It is not uncommon for new expats families to have trouble getting their children enrolled in school at first. This is especially the case for those who arrive within a couple of weeks prior to the start of school. It can also be complicated for those who arrive in the middle of a school term.
Also, if you are traveling with family, you need to determine if your employer will pay for their relocation expenses. Some expat employers pay for round-trip plane tickets for you and your family members to arrive in the country. They also give you annual round-trip tickets (or cash in lieu) to travel back home every year. This is a great perk as it makes travel less expensive for your entire family.
On the other hand, there are some employers who only pay for employee travel. Even worse, some don’t reimburse for transportation to and from the country at all. This can make your journey a lot more expensive. So do your research to determine if moving to a specific country is a viable option for your family.
Proximity to Home
The last consideration that I want to share is the destination’s proximity to your home base. This may or may not present a problem for you. Some people desire to be closer to home so that they can have easier access to their sick or elderly loved ones. This way, if they have to make an emergency trip, it won’t take too long or be too costly. Other people want to be as far away from their home base as possible for a number of reasons.