The other day I came across a video about the best places to live, work, or retire abroad. While this isn’t the first time that I have seen these types of lists or compilations, this video really caught my attention. I immediately started to think “is there a such thing?”.
I know that best locations exist for individual expats or retirees. However, is there truly such a thing as a best expat country for the average person? I started watching the video to determine what criteria was used to rank the countries that were on this list. Within the first few seconds the narrator indicated that the list was derived from data collected from an expat survey that’s conducted annually. I only watched enough of the video thereafter to see the top 3 ranked countries.
Afterwards I thought how misleading and misinformed these types of lists can be for the average person who is considering moving abroad. There are so many factors involved in choosing the right or “best” expat location for each individual. What appeals to one person may be the complete opposite for the next person.
Though I don’t feel that any harm was meant by the title or information presented in the video, I do think that prospective expats should focus more on what matters to them. Expats may be able to find their ideal country by exploring such lists. However, these oftentimes very short lists are in no way representative of the global population.
This is why I typically steer away from presenting the “best” type of anything posts. I even steer clear of these types of conversations during my coaching sessions. Instead, I help my clients focus on what’s important to them as an expat. I first have them complete a comprehensive expat profile survey so that I can gain a better understanding of their overall personality. Then, I have a 60 minute meeting with them so that we can discuss their survey results in more depth. Finally, I customize a list of expat countries that I feel are suitable to their needs and desires.
It is important to keep in mind that we are all individuals with different personalities that can and do shape what best meets our needs. Therefore, it is necessary to approach your expat journey with these objectives in mind. You should effectively “know thyself”. Take some inventory of your own likes and dislikes, and needs and desires. Then, focus on the countries that readily offer the things that are conductive to your wants and desires.
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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 is more than enough as long as they are in their dream destination. And this is perfectly fine. But either way, cost of living is a very important factor in choosing an expat location. 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 you 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 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 70’s 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 prospective expats who have never traveled abroad can learn a valuable lesson. The climate and temperature is 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 its 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 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 if 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 a safe area. 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 so 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 is difficult to rely on calling apps.
Another important facet of international communication is time zone differences. Your family and friends may be 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 travelling 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.
Need more help planning your expat journey? Contact us so that we can assist you.
African heritage tourism and repatriation have been hot topics among many individuals throughout the African diaspora over the last decade or so. In addition to these influences, there are so many reasons to travel to the vast continent. It literally offers every form of terrain that is present on the planet. Exotic wildlife, scenic views, and beautiful beaches are but a few reasons why living on the continent is so enticing.
I was fortunate enough to live and work in Africa about 6-years ago as I have shared in other posts. This was a once in a lifetime experience for me and my family that I will forever cherish. Every time I share my journey with others I am often bombarded with a host of questions about life on the continent. If fact, the other day one of my clients asked me a number of questions about expat life on the continent. This is a topic that comes up frequently in my coaching sessions.
So I have compiled a list of tips and suggestions for those who are interested in working and living in an African country. Keep in mind that these suggestions are for individuals who plan to seek employment opportunities before they go to the continent.
In general, I don’t recommend that anyone relocates to an African country before they secure employment, volunteer, business or similar opportunities unless they are financially independent. African nations, like many other developing parts of the world, don’t tend to have the same level of economic stability as more developed countries. Securing gainful employment is quite challenging in local markets for many African citizens and local pay tends to be significantly lower than that of westernized countries.
However, a number of multi-national companies, non-governmental organizations, and national agencies have had a presence in Africa for many years. A growing number of foreign colleges and universities are also establishing campuses in African countries. As such, there are a number of expatriate opportunities in many African nations for qualified individuals. Such opportunities tend to come with equitable salaries, and paid accommodations, utilities, transportation, and many other perks to expat workers.
So if you are thinking about joining the African expat workforce, here are a few things you should consider:
Visas and Passports
In order to legally stay in most African countries for an extended period of time you need a work, volunteer, business, or marriage visa. Tourist visas are generally only valid for 1-3 months at a time. Even extended one-year or longer tourist visas generally require visitors to leave and re-enter the country within 1-3 month intervals. This process can be very expensive and burdensome.
If you secure employment, volunteer, business or similar opportunities prior to arriving in your country of choice, you can generally start or finalize your visa before you arrive. Most organizations connected to employment and volunteer opportunities will handle this process for you. If you are starting a business, you may not be able to begin this process until you arrive in the country.
It is also very important to keep in mind that most visa issuing embassies require at least 3-6 months of validity on your passport from your date of arrival.
A good rule of thumb is to ensure that you have at least 1-year of validity as it may take a few months to process your visa. Also, you may not have time to get to your embassy of citizenship in the foreign nation to renew your visa right away – assuming that there is one in the country.
Transportation in and around most African nations is quite straightforward. Many African countries have bustling transportation systems that include commuter and motorcycle taxis, public and private buses and vans, rental vehicles, and the like. You can likewise purchase or lease a vehicle if you choose to drive while living in an African nation. It is a good idea to check driver license rules and regulations before you leave to ensure that this is a viable option.
Another consideration when driving in some African nations is which side of the road is used. The country that you choose may drive on the opposite side of the road than your country of origin. So it may take some time getting acclimated to the driving conditions and shipping your vehicle may not be a viable option.
Safety and Security
In general, most African countries share the same safety and security features as any other country in the world. Some regions have high-end, luxury, gated communities with 24-hour security on post. While other communities are riddled with crime, drugs, sex-workers, and the like. Still, there are other communities that have a mix of both of these dynamics. Typically expats are placed in more secure areas of the country, which means that they encounter few safety issues that adversity effect their stay.
Many people think about constant civil war, fighting, and unrest when they consider the safety and security of African nations. Yes, these things are going on in certain parts of Africa. However, few expats are impacted by them because they don’t tend to live in regions of countries where such activities regularly take place. There are many expats living full, safe, and protected lives in some of the countries where civil unrest, fighting, war, poverty, etc. is a constant facet of life. Even more, many multi-national corporations still have thriving businesses in some of these same areas.
Locally grown and manufactured products and goods are plentiful and easily accessible in most African nations. Such items are usually less expensive than imported products from foreign countries that are often available in most African countries. You will be able to find all your basic needs in the average African country.
Keep in mind that the quality and style of locally grown and produced goods may vary. Locally grow foods are usually fresh, organic, and of the highest quality. On the other hand, you probably won’t be able to find your favorite clothing brands or certain tech items in local markets.
But don’t fret – a number of African countries have malls and foreign-owned retail outlets packed with western apparel, electronics, and other goods. These items are usually more expensive due to import taxes and tariffs. So be prepared to spend more for them in Africa than you would in the country they originated from.
Healthcare is an area of major concern when living in an African country. In general, African countries don’t have the same level of technological capabilities to deliver the same quality of care often available in westernized countries. Also, there is a significant brain drain in most African nations as many of these countries lose top-tier talent to westernized nations that pay better salaries. This means that the physician to population ratio can be dangerously low in some regions.
On the other hand, most African nations are ripe with spiritual and herbal healers, sangomas, and the like. In my experience, I have found these practices to be more effective for the treatment of a number of disease states. However if you don’t subscribe to such medicinal practices, you need to seriously consider your healthcare needs before moving to an African country.
If you have a chronic disease that requires you to take prescription drugs, you should determine if the drugs are available in the African nation you are considering moving to. If you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant, you may want to prepare for delivery in your country of origin. If you have other major medical concerns, you need to do your research to determine which healthcare options are best for your situation.
Climate and Weather
While Africa is the hottest continent on earth, it has diverse climates and weather patterns. Many people believe that it is extraordinarily hot on the entire continent throughout the year. This is generally not the case for any particular region, though some regions stay warmer than others year-round.
West, central, and parts of east and southern Africa tend to have a tropical climate, which includes balmy summers contrasted by very wet rainy seasons. Northeast Africa has a dry, hot desert climate that experiences little rainfall. Many parts of the continent have cooler winters and it even snows in certain regions such as southern Africa. So also consider the climate and weather dynamics when planning to live and work in an African country.
There are many things to think about when preparing to live as an expat in an African nation. The culture, language, cuisine, and other elements may be quite different than what you have experienced in your country of origin. So plan and prepare for your journey wisely!
Need assistance planning your expat life in Africa? Contact us so that we can help you prepare for your journey.
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.
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.
Need more expat career guidance? Contact us and we can help you determine viable options that meet your needs.