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Different Types of Expats in Latin America and Why They Return Home

Types of ExpatsType of Expats in Latin America and do they stay or do they go?

If you’ve been following us over the last year, you know that we’ve been researching living abroad from just about every aspect. One of the things we’re very interested in is people, see Tim’s post Are People in Panama Friendly?

As part of this adventure we learned a ton about what to expect from folks, both local and expats. Since, Latin America is our destination, we can’t speak for other parts of the world, but we learned something very interesting for the countries we’re considering and that is that there are three types of expats.

Three Types of Expats in Latin America:

  1. Those that move due to necessity – this can be job, school, or loved one(s). These are folks that usually didn’t seek out moving abroad, rather it sort of fell in their laps. They might have gotten a job offer they couldn’t refuse or perhaps, their family abroad called upon them for help. In any case, they tend to be the types that adjust to their new country fairly easily but, in the back of their minds, they know they will likely be returning home.
  2. Those that move in pursuit of the empty promise of cheap living and kingly lifestyle – they read something in some magazine about the incredibly cheap riches that line the streets abroad – I wish I were kidding. They think that their new country will be dirt cheap and will give them everything they ever wanted. These are the expats that have unrealistic expectations – they are simply not ready for the culture shock, the real prices, or the new language. See our post Six Lies about Living Abroad.
  3. Those looking for an adventure and better quality of life – be it lower cost of living, learning a new culture, or a new language. These type of expats do their research and know what they are getting into. They are usually excited about the move but tend to be realistic in their expectations, fully understanding that there will not be sugar plums and servants waiting for them in their new destination.

Now, we realize that we’re generalizing here but overall, although reasons for their move can vary greatly, we find that most expats loosely fall into one of the above categories.

We also learned that many people return home within the first three years of living abroad. Given the above types of expats, it should be much easier for you to understand this because it is typically closely linked to the reasons they relocated in the first place. Consequently, we learned that there are three main causes for expats to return home.

Types of Expats
Photo by photostock from freedigitalphotos.net

Why They Return Home:

  1. Reason for living abroad ended – this is directly related to type #1 of expat. Often, the job contract ends or the loved one is no longer loved. Whatever the reason, it has ended and the expat is happily relocating to their home country. There is usually no hard feelings and folks that home for this reason are happy to go back and tell many awesome stories of their life abroad.
  2. Reality sets in – the expat in this category typically hate their new country after the luster of the new location wears off. They are often disgruntled and disappointed and decide that there is no place like home, after all. They simply can’t adjust to their new environment, can’t or won’t learn the new language and culture, and become very unhappy. These folks may also suffer financially because they went head first into buying a house abroad and now are having trouble selling it. It may take them a while to sort everything out and move back which only adds to their frustration.
  3. Forced to leave – this may be for many reasons but the most common we hear about is family obligations, such as an illness of someone back home or a new grand baby being born. Other reasons could be financial like running out of money or inability to sell property back home and yet other reasons are health, political climate, and so on.

And then, of course, there are many expats that want to and do stay permanently in their new home country. They manage to figure out a balance between their two countries and happily go about their lives; they integrate into their new community and make friends. They, also, often learn the new language and learn a new (often more relaxed) way of life. But we think that most importantly, they learn how to give up control and realize that life isn’t always the way we expect it to be – in short, these folks learn to go with the flow. We sure hope that after all this research, we’ll end up in this group. If not, oh well, life goes and we will adjust.

You may also like our posts on Why We Want to Escape Abroad and Is Retiring Abroad For You? Quiz.

Joanna-

 

About Joanna Rolston

is a Polish American living in Arizona with her husband Tim. She is a founding partner of JTR Tech and she is proud to be a professional geek. She had dreamt of living abroad for many years. So, she and Tim created AbroadDreams.com to document the process of making their dream of moving abroad come true. They spent 2 years in Puerto Rico and several months in Spain and Poland. Now they are exploring the American Southwest.

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2 comments

  1. Hi, Joanna,

    I think you’re largely right, but I would “adjust” your 3rd group some based on our pretty extensive experience. While a few in that group may, indeed, be “forced” to leave and would prefer to stay, I would suggest that most in that group experience one of the changes you mention and it makes them realize that they *want* to move back home.

    They are *not* the disgruntled, unprepared, ill-informed ex-pats of your “group 2” (and those certainly do exist!) and most did, indeed, do all the things you name for those who “stay permanently” — they integrated into their communities, worked on learning the language (admittedly with varying degrees of success), made friends, went with the flow, etc. BUT, what we’ve seen now repeatedly is that even WITH all that wonderful integration and going happily about their lives, the call of home becomes strong after a while.

    It’s not that they’re inherently *unhappy* living in Latin America; it’s that they realize they would *rather* live back in their native country after all. It was a grand adventure — the many, many friends we have in that third group are not at all sorry that they made the move in the first place — but, in the end, they come to see it as a “phase” of life, not what they want for the rest of their lives.

    And, as I’ve said before and I’m sure will say many times to come (since I have this discussion often) — that’s just fine. As a “people” (at least speaking of us in the states) we tend to move. Statistically, we move around 11 times in our lives, or every 5-7 years (depending on which study you read) but both suggest that we aren’t all that likely to stay in one place until we die. And, frankly, this is simply true for many expats as well.

    I think we make a mistake when think of it as something to “succeed at” or not. (Not saying that *you* are doing that, but it’s a common way of looking at it.) Given how many people — us included — who really loved their time as expats, I’d hardly say those folks “failed” at living abroad. In fact, I think people would “succeed” even more if they simply acknowledged from the beginning that it’s not so likely to be a “forever” move, and the goal should be to simply make it a GREAT move for however long it seems like the best choice. And be willing to gracefully move on if and when the time comes that it’s not the best choice anymore.

    Enjoying the blog, as always!

    –arden–