COVID-19 Preparedness for Expat Workers

As I was preparing to write this post my mind went back to the many wonderful adventures that I had as an expat educator. These are experiences that I would not have exchanged for anything in the world during that period of my life. The opportunity to work in a foreign country has many advantages and it is something that I still strongly recommend to those who have insatiable wanderlust.

However, right now things are a bit uncertain for a number of individuals in the expat community. Many expatriates are in very precarious situations as they navigate their way through COVID-19 work and travel restrictions that have left many workers vulnerable. I have been in contact with a number of my expat friends and clients who are experiencing various hardships that are unique to the expat community during this time.

This situation has thrown many people for a loop. However, it is in this hour that we must press forward and persevere as we encounter novel challenges that may require us to make some uncomfortable and possibly anxiety-inducing decisions.

As a former expat who worked in Qatar during the 2017 Qatar blockade, I am very familiar with the fear and anxiety that expats can feel during such times. During that period, Qatar cut off ties with a number of its former neighboring allies resulting in political, social, and economic instability in a large portion of the Gulf region. Many of the region’s expats were very unsure of what to do during that time.

After much thought and consideration I ultimately made the decision to leave the country and the region as a whole. That was the best decision for my family and I based on our circumstances.

As such, I have a great deal of empathy for expats who are away from home right now and are trying to figure out what to do. So I decided to dedicate this post to giving expats tips on how to prepare for the uncertainty that lies ahead. Here are my suggestions:

Save, Save, Save

This should go without saying, but you should save as much money as you possibly can right now. Try to spend your money on essential items only and get limited quantities of the things that you need at this time. I know that this advise is contrary to the general recommendation that people stock up on essential supplies during this pandemic.

However, expats are in a very unique situation. They are not in their country of citizenship and chances are they are on a limited contract subject to cancellation and non-renewal. This can result in unprecedented economic and other hardships for this segment of the workforce.

Thus, it is likely that some expats may have to leave the country in which they are currently residing so it is not the best idea to stock up on food. It may be better to purchase enough food and supplies for two to three weeks at a time. This way you will have enough resources for your immediate needs but you won’t waste your precious money, if you end up leaving these resources behind.

Expat employers are scrambling to figure out how COVID-19 will impact their organizations. Many sectors have already experienced a significant decrease in the workforce causing them to lay-off or terminate non-essential employees. Oftentimes in the international workforce, non-essential employees equate to expat workers.

Additionally, many of the economic relief programs in various countries are designed for citizens and permanent residents. Expat workers usually cannot avail these options like in the case of Korea. Some countries simply can’t support the economic weight of providing social welfare for every resident of their nations. So they are left with doing the next best thing, which is providing for their own citizens. And this is completely understandable given the circumstances.

However, this does not create the ideal situation for expat workers who may be on the verge of unemployment while they are away from their country of citizenship. Depending on their situation, these same expat workers may not even be able to take advantage of economic relief programs in their countries of citizenship while they are abroad. Therefore, it is in their best interest to hoard as much money as they possibly can right now.

Avail Emergency Fund Options

While some countries are shutting expats out of their COVID-19 economic relief programs, other countries like the UK are instituting measures to assist certain expats and other non-citizen residents in their countries. These types of programs usually apply to exceptional circumstances and are not generally available to all expat workers. However, such funds may be useful to qualifying expats who are experiencing economic hardships.

Additionally, many countries such as the U.S. and Canada have implemented financial assistance programs for their citizens and permanent residents. In many cases, these funds are available to citizens who are currently working, living, or travelling abroad.

If you filed taxes in the U.S. last year or if you own a U.S. based small business, you may qualify for a variety of economic stimulus programs under the CARES act. The good thing about the relief available to U.S. citizens is that it will be directly deposited in citizens’ bank accounts if their banking information is on file with the IRS. Qualifying small business owners can also apply for loans and grants online. So expats and other citizens who are abroad during this time can still access these programs.

Other countries have similar programs that expatriate citizens may be eligible for. So do your homework and research options that may be available to you through your country of citizenship or your expat country. Don’t miss out on these helpful opportunities as they can be very beneficial during this time.

Avoid Non-Essential Travel

Expat travel adventures during the COVID-19 crisis has led to some pretty interesting travel tales. Many expat educators were enjoying scheduled spring break periods when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. At the same time a number of countries declared state of emergencies in their nations that resulted in the implementation of some pretty austere travel restriction measures.

It is very common for expat workers to travel to other countries during extended break periods such as spring break. As such, a number of expat educators were globe-trotting as their expat countries were banning all non-essential travel in and out of the country.

COVID-19 Travel Restrictions

Countries like the UAE banned the entry of all non-UAE citizens into the country for two weeks. This left many non-citizen residents stuck outside the country while their jobs, possessions, and, in some cases, family members remained in the UAE. However, the country has now started allowing essential expats back into the country.

However, a number of expats are still not able to enter the country. They have to pay extra money to stay at their vacation location (if a visa extension is possible) or they have to make plans to get back to their country of citizenship. Either way, this situation has resulted in expats spending more money and experiencing higher than normal stress levels in the midst of a pandemic that is economically and emotionally taxing for the entire planet.

This is one reason why it is extremely important to limit travel during this time. Expats have a lot more at stake in terms of job security and life continuity during this time so it is best to travel with caution and trepidation.

Repatriate to Your Country of Citizenship

Now I know my last bit of advise was about limiting travel, but if at all possible expats should try to repatriate to their country of citizenship. There are many air travel restrictions at present so this may not be a viable option for some expats. However, for those who can afford to leave their jobs and pay for transportation and lodging this may be the best option.

We are in a time of grave uncertainty with many predicting that this situation could continue for months. It is best to be around family and loved ones who can support you in your country of citizenship. Without viable employment, many expats’ visas will be cancelled or expire in the coming months, which can result in increased hardships for these displaced workers.

Even countries like Turkey have taken the initiative to bring their citizens back home from hard-hit nations like Kuwait and elsewhere. This shows that national leaders recognize the importance of their citizens being home during a time like this.

Now I know that this is much easier said than done for some expats as there is so much at stake. Some expats don’t have viable employment or means of securing economic relief in their countries of citizenship. Others don’t have a country of citizenship to repatriate to. Still others may not be able to afford the airfare to make it back to their country of citizenship. In such cases, it is best to follow some of the other guidelines listed above.

If you can’t make it back to your country of citizenship right now, be sure to save as much money as possible and research economic relief options that may be available to you. Above all, if you believe in a higher power pray and connect with that power as much as possible.

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