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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Why They Return Home:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.