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10 popular myths about expat life

18 February 2022

Young expat woman, holding coffee looking out of window at a city view

Moving abroad is a big decision that requires some time to weigh up the pros and cons before you jump. There are, however, many misconceptions about life as an expat circulating online so we’ve compiled a list of the 10 most common myths for you to bear in mind.



1. Expats struggle to manage their finances


Young expat woman on phone managing finances

Contrary to popular belief, living abroad doesn’t hinder your ability to keep your investments and assets under control. The truth is that you can run into financial trouble wherever you are in the world. Nevertheless, with the right amount of research - and by seeking appropriate financial advice - you can avoid unnecessary stress about money. Moving to a foreign country where there are different policies and regulations, can affect your investments. Consider finding a financial adviser once you’ve moved as they’ll be best placed to helping you adapt your current investment strategy to match your goals and mitigate the risks.



2. Expats earn big bucks and have more to spend


Young expat man working on a laptop at desk with pen in hand

Generally, expats tend to earn more than they would back home, but a high salary and benefits don’t always translate into a lot of spare cash. Two factors that expats need to consider are foreign exchange rates and cost of living – both can affect your spending power. Currency rates fluctuate throughout the year, making it difficult to compare how much you are earning now to what you earned at home. Popular expat destinations can have a significantly different cost of living than what you’re used to and be very expensive to live in, like Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai, so many companies will offer high salaries, relocation packages and other perks to make the move more affordable.



3. Expats won’t stay for the long-haul


Young expat couple taking a selfie on a phone camera outside popular tourist spot

There are a few reasons why expats choose to return home after a long stint away: to be closer to family, on completing a work placement or because they were unable to settle in. For every expat who heads home, there are plenty of stories about expats who go on to become permanent residents. Initially you may have planned to get international experience under your belt before heading home again, but in a few years you might settle in and feel differently about your new country and decide the make the move a permanent one.



4. People only go abroad to retire


Retired expat couple walking and staring lovingly into each other’s eyes

Living abroad presents a different allure to each person: a new adventure, a career boost, a better quality of life are just a few examples why. In 2020, an expat survey conducted by Statista asked participants what was their primary reason for moving abroad: 13% stated for better job opportunities, followed closely by 11% wanting to live in a partner’s home country/finding love. Other motivations include seeking a new challenge, being sent by an employer and education – only 4% moved to retire.[1]



5. Moving to a different country will change my life


Young expat woman adventuring in streets

Many people assume that living abroad is similar to going on a long holiday or that the experience will broaden your horizons. A holiday offers only a fleeting glimpse of life in another country, without factoring in the costs and time spent relocating and adapting to the culture. When you move away, there’s usually a honeymoon period at the beginning which will wear off. A few years down the line, you could still be enjoying being away or you might find yourself raring to go elsewhere or return home. Truth be told, expat life isn’t for everyone. Instead of setting unrealistic expectations and pressuring yourself to lead an exciting life, aim to make it your new normal. Living in another country is a change but it won’t necessary change you.



6. You’ll only make friends with other expats


Group of friends huddled together

Settling into a new culture can be stressful for several reasons: overcoming a language barrier, different working hours, the prospect of socialising or even the pace of life. You’ll likely find yourself craving familiarity and as a result it’s only natural that you may gravitate towards other expats. Forming a new social circle is part of finding your way as an expat and everyone will approach this differently. Some want to dive in and immerse themselves in the new culture and others will take the slower path – testing the waters until they feel comfortable enough to branch out. If you’re looking to stay for the long haul, it’s important to step out of the expat bubble and integrate with the locals.



7. Moving back home is easier than moving away


Port Erin Beach, Isle of Man, Home of RL360.

Many assume the hardest part of being an expat is adjusting to life in their host country but the process of returning to your home country isn’t always smooth sailing. ‘Reverse Culture Shock’ is a phenomenon many have experienced - where you feel out of place in a surrounding that should be familiar - and it’s something many expats feel when they return to their home country. It might be unsettling to see how much has or hasn’t changed whilst you were away, whether that was for a few months or a few years. Like the astronaut returning to Earth, give yourself time to adjust to being back home again.



8. Expat life isn’t suitable for families


Expat Family on a beach with dogs smiling at camera

Relocating with or for your loved ones might seem like a difficult task, but with enough planning and preparation, you can make the process as easy as if you were going on your own. The most important aspect is having everyone view the move as an opportunity and being mindful that the transition affects all those involved. You might find that the country you’re moving to is a better place to raise your family, for example, Iceland, Portugal and New Zealand are some of the best countries in the world to raise children - based on quality of life, education and low crime rates. [2]



9. Expats pay less tax


Young confident expat man arms folded smiling at camera

It is essential to know what types of tax you will fall under; abroad and possibly back home. The best way of finding this out is to check with your new employer, financial adviser and local government website. The rules vary depending on the country, for example, US citizens must file a yearly tax return to the US government even if they are living outside the States and failing to do so could result in anything from a small fine to forfeiting your passport. In some cases, foreign income can be liable for tax back home if the amount is above the relevant threshold. Assuming that taxes won’t apply to you based on your location could be a costly mistake.



10. Eventually you’ll return home


Expat Family laughing and playing in cardboard box as they look to the future.

The traditional expat journey used to be live in one country and then, after a stint abroad, return to your roots. These days there’s an increasing trend of ‘habitual expats’ or ‘restless expat syndrome’ – where many expats find themselves bitten by the travel bug and wanting to try life in different countries. A poll conducted in 2020 by International Investment found that over 60% of UK expats have stated they’ll never permanently move back to the UK. [3] 

The country you’re in now might not be right for you but it doesn’t mean that your expat adventure has to end there.