Considerations of Becoming an Expat 

There are more than six million expatriate Americans – those who are living in a foreign country, either temporarily or permanently. They are of all ages, and have decided to reside in a foreign country for a variety of reasons. The most prevalent motivation seems to be financial, but there are other factors, such as health care, politics, weather and quality of life.

Many young people go to a foreign country for the adventure and the opportunity to learn about and immerse themselves in a different culture. Often they become so captivated with their new environment that they choose to stay. Many countries allow expats to work, but countries such as Thailand will only permit employment in a position that cannot be filled by a native citizen.

At the other end of the scale, retired people find that many countries can provide a medium to high standard of living, and that they can look forward to their golden years in comfort, if not in style. Even someone whose sole income is from Social Security may find that their income offers a standard of living in some countries that would be far beyond their reach in the United States.

However, every country has certain rules and regulations that must be adhered to in order to get a retirement or long-stay visa. However, unless the applicant has a criminal background, there is little difficulty in qualifying for these visas. There are also certain countries to which the U.S. Social Security Administration will not send funds, such as Cambodia.

What to Consider Before Moving 

Weather is a major consideration for many expats. If someone hates the cold, snow and rain, then a country such as Norway may not be a suitable choice. Conversely, an individual not fond of tropical weather with occasional typhoons should best avoid countries like the Philippines.

Food is always an adventure, even in one’s home country, but at least at home you know what to order. In foreign countries, a normal meal for locals may not be at all familiar to American palates. Most Asian countries, for example, prefer very spicy food; if you are not used to strongly flavored cuisine, you might have a problem adjusting to the new tastes.

Healthcare is often a concern. All foreign countries have hospitals, and many maintain the same high standards as the medical facilities in the United States. However, some countries rely on a local pharmacist to evaluate a patient, rather than a doctor, as quality hospitals may be many miles distant. This will usually be adequate for a minor wound or infection, but should a person need surgery, it could develop into a problematic situation.

Unless a person has a decent command of the host country’s language, there may also be a problem in some communities. A large percentage of foreign countries use English as a second language, and in a highly populated area there might be no problem regarding basic communication; but in more remote places, even a guidebook will be of little value. For example, Shanghai is a major city in China, yet in some surrounding provinces, a different dialect is spoken that even the locals have difficulty understanding.

Financially, there may be significant differences as well. U.S. citizens are used to the ease of an electronic retail system, in which credit and charge cards link instantly to a bank, statements are available online and everything is centralized. However, in some countries – especially those in more obscure, less-developed locations – financial transactions are handled in cash.

Visa and American Express may be commonplace in even the smallest American town, but some places abroad have still not even heard of an ATM. Consequently, an expat must know the difference in value between U.S. dollars and the local currency, and learn to calculate prices quickly. Also, when dealing in the marketplace – although it may not seem fair – an American will often be charged more than a local. This can be true even if you have lived in the same foreign country for years, simply because you weren’t born there. It is a good idea to become a firm, but polite bargain master. In most cases, a successful buyer will be respected for knowledgeable shopping and haggling.

It is always in your best interest to notify the American Embassy when you are going to be in a country for an indefinite period. Should an emergency arise, they will have a greater chance in locating you to assist.

These are just some of the basic issues that should be taken in account if one is thinking of becoming an expat. Every individual will run into certain challenges, depending on their personality and experience. The best assurance of a successful relocation is to visit the intended host country several times, in different seasons, and evaluate the pros and cons of your chosen new home.

Remember, a travel guide will only dwell on the positive attributes and ignore the negatives. In any case, living in a foreign country is different than visiting as a tourist. Put in the research, do the homework, and you will increase your chances of becoming a happy expat.

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