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What Does it Mean to be an Expat?

Some people prefer living in the country (or even town) of their birth all life long. However, the increased pace of life pushes society towards new experiences and opportunities, and expat horizons beckon us to the unknown. A new job, culture, language, environment, landscape – can these be more than just a dream? Absolutely. However, the best dream is a well-prepared one, and that’s something our portal experts do very well: we help with some practical things to realize our clients’ dreams.

Being an expat is a complex experience. Many people find it hard to describe as the concept goes beyond a simplified dictionary definition of ‘a person living outside his native country’. It is a new nomadic way of life that combines freedom, novelty and change. On the mental side, expats build new attitudes to their motherland and the new destination, while those who are less prone to reflection just dive into the local atmosphere and have fun.

Expat

You may treat relocation as a serious and important project in your life, or like a game: why not try something the world can offer? Some clients want to become expats to solve particular problems in their lives, while others are just looking for a difference. No matter what your motivation is, let’s look at the expat world under a microscope – and you will surely find something for yourself.

Terms and Definitions

First of all, let’s focus on the definitions of such concepts as expat, immigrant, migrant, and refugee

We will have to move beyond the academic meaning of these words, though. They imply much more, and people who have relevant experience can confirm that. Another thing is that expat experience may be incredibly varied, and we reflected this variety in our definitions (or at least tried!).

Why do we need to go into these details? Well, we do not offer a cat in the bag to our customers, and neither do we want you to buy something you don’t need or will be disappointed with. We expect our ‘products’ to be used for a long time, like probably every seller. We want you to be happy with your expat experience – even though we do not sell happiness, but rather instruments that can potentially make you happy. So, let’s see what meanings are found in these four words.

Key definitions:

  • Refugee (asylum seeker). This is a person who was forced (!) to leave the country of his/her citizenship. The reasons for this may include race, religious beliefs, belonging to a particular social group, nationality, sexual orientation, and others, but they should all pose a direct and obvious threat to freedom, health, and life. Please note that in the case of refugees, we are not talking about career opportunities or language requirements, culture, or traditions of the host country. In the existing geopolitical realities, it is extremely difficult to obtain refugee status. In addition, the holder of this status will be considerably restricted in his/her rights as compared to citizens and persons with a residence permit/permanent residence.
  • Migrant. Formally, such status is granted to any person permanently residing outside his or her native country. However, the actual state of affairs is somewhat different: migrants are often defined as persons without sufficient qualifications or professional knowledge/experience/skills who are forced (!) to move to another country for economic reasons. A migrant’s status makes it possible to legally live in the country (if there are appropriate grounds for this, of course), but it is extremely disadvantageous if you expect to succeed (work, business, full integration into society). In short, a migrant is someone who survives rather than lives a full life.
  • Immigrant. This word is used to refer to a person seeking long-term/permanent residence in another country, provided that the ultimate goal is to obtain legal citizenship. The term bears no negative connotations, and this is the way you will be officially defined by authorities (unlike expat, which is a common word that does not mean much to lawyers). We will be glad to provide real assistance in obtaining an immigrant’s status to those of our readers who are interested in moving to another country. Our experts typically help clients with obtaining a long-term visa, opening a bank account, submitting documents for a residence permit, permanent residence or citizenship, and also with practical realization of options based on financial investments (residence permit by investment, citizenship by investment).
  • Expat. The status is used informally to refer to a person who temporarily moved to another country for an indefinite (but limited!) period of time. Important conditions: such a step should be voluntary (that is, conscious, but not forced), and the person should have sufficient work experience, high qualifications, or business skills. Sometimes we refer to long-term legal migrant workers as expats, but this is in no way an official term that gives any rights or imposes any obligations. Interestingly, expats most often have a sufficient level of financial security. Therefore, problems related to the arrangement of relocation and legal and growing into the local everyday life are usually solved independently.

There have been a lot of arguments regarding associations with the words “immigrant” and “expat”. 

  • Some people are offended to be referred to as expats and prefer the term “immigrant”, while others just don’t care. 
  • There are individuals who make a difference between expats and immigrants on the basis of their income: an immigrant is someone who is in search of a better life than the one he might find in his home country, while an expat is someone who will earn enough in any country and who migrates to have the varied life experience or live by the sea, for instance. 
  • There is yet another opinion that expats have a limited period of stay in their new country. However, there are currently a lot of expats who are perfectly happy with living far from home and do not think of ever returning. It seems that the difference gets a bit blurred here.
  • Another point: expats do not intend to integrate into the local culture, while immigrants tend to merge with the local population and send their children to local schools. Again, this is not a clear distinction criterion as it depends on the person’s mindset rather than status.

The list is in no way exhaustive, but we mentioned all this just to illustrate the fact that people do attach different ideas to the concepts of expat and immigrant, trying to describe their experience of living outside their home country. The word expat is widely used in everyday speech and media, therefore you can see it throughout the article and even in its heading. But there is no such a word in laws: you will be an immigrant for the public authorities of your new destination. 

We help people who want to relocate – no matter which word they choose to refer to their status. Contact our specialists for some practical things and specific services (obtaining a visa, opening a bank account, receiving a residence permit/permanent residence) – or to ask any questions that inevitably arise when you are on the verge of making an important step in your life!

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What does it Mean to be an Expat?

This is not about clear definition, but rather about something you experience, something that resonates with you when you move to another country and stay there for some time. And this is the reason why each expat will answer the question in the subheading in a different way. Each person goes through some inner process while leaving his or her motherland – and feels something personal while landing at the airport or getting off the train in a new destination. Despite the fact that we will all have different feelings, let’s try to find something general about this experience.

Signs that you are a true expat:

  • A clear understanding that you know too little about the country you have moved to. Call it whatever you want – a cultural shock, a cold shower, or an alarm gone off at the wrong time, but you will find yourself at this point of ignorance sooner or later. You can study the country for as long as you want using tourist guides, but only those who have lived in it for a long time have the right to say they truly know it. Some get desperate, while others feel curious to plunge further into the unknown.
  • You realize you don’t know the language well enough. No school curriculum, special language courses, additional classes with a tutor, or even a short stay in another country on vacation will replace deep (and conscious!) immersion in the language environment. Driving would be a good analogy here: you can work with the best driving simulator day and night, but one day you will have to go out for a real driving experience, and it will be absolutely different.
  • You are ready to let something new into your life. According to expats who have successfully passed the survival test, reality will begin to emerge only when you leave the comfort zone. However, this requires the skill of striking a balance between new experiences and a good rest to recharge your inner battery.
  • You are happy to meet a lot of interesting new people. The true expat’s circle of communication is not limited to the family doctor, lawyer, several colleagues, and the seller in the nearest store: actually, it’s much wider. You are moving fast on a true expat’s road if you learned to be open to new things and acquaintances without being overwhelmed.
  • You’ve come to terms with loneliness. How can this be combined with the openness we’ve mentioned just above? Why do we discuss loneliness if an expat is actively engaged in discovering a new life – and can always rely on the old ties? It is really hard to explain it in words. You have to accept the fact that your life back in your home country is over and you are turning a new page. Otherwise, you cannot talk about the status of an expat – sooner or later, your childhood memories will draw you back. So – you will have to accept that you are a loner on your way. You have a unique experience that you can hardly share with any person on Earth, and this is a priceless gift you choose.

How to Become an Expat?

This can be simple and complicated at the same time. On the one hand, there are things like adaptability, flexibility and so on, and this is something you have to develop yourself. The main thing is to leave the comfort zone and accept the inevitability and necessity of changes. If you manage to agree to both, half of the job is done. On the contrary, if you start doubting, feeling sorry for yourself, and inventing an excuse to postpone your endeavors, you will never succeed.

On the other hand, there are some things connected with practical arrangements, and this is where we can help you. Ask our experts for specific tips, recommendations, the optimal sequence of steps, and approximate budget requirements. We will give you the information relevant to your particular situation, and the only thing you need to do for this is to schedule a meeting with our experts and share all the details with them. Meanwhile, here are some general considerations that will hopefully help you make a strategic decision.

Things that have to be done:

  • Do your own research. If you don’t have a particular country in mind, this is fine: it just means that all you want for now is to change your life. However, if it is a specific country you are after, think twice and carefully weigh the pros and cons with a cold mind. Think of all possible scenarios before making the final decision. Take into account all available factors, such as the climate, complexity of learning the language, availability of business ties, the established norms of tradition and morality, the prevailing religion, and the attitude to foreigners. You will find tables below that will help you focus your research.
  • Look for like-minded people. It is in people’s nature to think that their situation is unique and exceptional. The truth is that there are plenty of other expats who definitely faced the same problems. These people are eager to share information and help newcomers, so grab the opportunity. However, when it comes to some specific legal and administrative issues (visa, bank account, relocation, tax optimization, etc.), keep away from incompetent advice. These things are too serious, so you’d better engage our experts and follow their recommendations.
  • Pay attention to free government programs. Even developed states are interested in experienced and skilled professionals, wealthy expats, and people who easily fit into the new environment. Therefore, be sure to ask if there are special programs for expats in a particular country. If they do exist, do not hesitate to submit an application as this kind of road to a new life is usually easier and significantly cheaper. At least, look for language courses and enroll in advance.
  • ‘Your dreams are realizable, and any restrictions and prohibitions are surmountable’ – this is the right mindset for an expat. In the mid-1970s, Steven Paul “Steve” Jobs, Stephen Gary Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Gerald Wayne were also told that no one needed personal computers and such a business would be unprofitable. Jobs and Wozniak believed in the success of the venture and bought out the stake (10%) of the third co-founder, Ronald Wayne, for $800. Take your free time to calculate how much the company costs now and what one-tenth of its shares is worth.
  • Get the support of family, friends and acquaintances. Sometimes it means more than recommendations from best experts and many hours of consultations with the most experienced lawyers. 
  • Start acting. Don’t wait for another Monday to change your life. Being an expat means always going forward, overcoming difficulties, and looking for a way to accomplish what is intended. Contact our experts and ask them how they can help you. Google the flight schedule to the selected country. Book a hotel. Think of your differences from many other expats and write down 20 points to illustrate that. The main thing is to act and look forward with optimism!

The Best Countries for Expats

The choice of jurisdiction for relocation is an extremely responsible step. It is unimaginably difficult as too many factors have to be analyzed in order to select the most suitable option. Unfortunately, we cannot help you much here as the final decision remains with you in any case. However, we will do our share and provide you with proven and reliable information that will make the choice a little easier.

Here is a list of 10 countries that are ranked best for expats in 2022. You can follow the link to find more information on each destination:

  1. Mexico
  2. Indonesia
  3. Taiwan
  4. Portugal
  5. Spain
  6. UAE
  7. Vietnam
  8. Thailand
  9. Australia
  10. Singapore

This list is based on an overall index that takes into account many different factors, and we will present them for you below. Look at the tables and think of your values and needs: some of you may be focused on career opportunities and leisure, while others put local culture and money matters first.

Table 1 – Quality of Life Index. 

Quality of Life IndexLeisure OptionsTravel & TransitHealth & Well-beingSafety & SecurityEnvironment & Climate
Mexico24229204127
Indonesia411241483542
Taiwan216711321
Portugal47152253
Spain1187177
UAE5359714
Vietnam482942403249
Thailand35534114744
Australia1493213146
Singapore10221151517

No country can be a leader in each subcategory. If you know your priorities, you can check the subcategory you are interested in. Some of them may be not so important to you, and you will be satisfied with average score. 

If you see a low score in the subcategory that is vital to you, but you are not ready to discount the country because of that – it may be wise to explore the details. For example, Taiwan’s nature is just wonderful, and yet it ranks 21st in the Environment & Climate due to poor air quality. Safety & Security category refers not only to your physical safety but also to freedom of speech and political stability. Thus, a low score is just the reason to explore the details.

Table 2 – Ease of Settling In

Ease of settling inCulture & WelcomeLocal FriendlinessFinding Friends
Mexico1111
Indonesia2222
Taiwan6676
Portugal74912
Spain107139
UAE13101419
Vietnam91367
Thailand111488
Australia17152023
Singapore31274022

This is an important category for your mental well-being. If you are of a competitive type, it may be fine for you to live side-by-side with locals that are not very friendly. However, sensitive people (or those prone to cooperation rather than competition) usually look for hospitality and warm welcome. If you look at Mexico’s scores, you will easily see why 86% of expats feel at home in this friendly country.

Table 3 – Working Abroad

Working abroadCareer ProspectsWork & LeisureSalary & Job SecurityWork Culture & Satisfaction
Mexico171843015
Indonesia2826123331
Taiwan221927639
Portugal3543133827
Spain3741213535
UAE5335175
Vietnam2932222437
Thailand4545244648
Australia255136
Singapore18833730

Some information on subcategories:

Career Prospects: local employment opportunities, and whether relocation improved the expat’s career advancement

Work & Leisure: working hours, work-and-life balance

Salary & Job Security: job security, state of the economy, fair pay

Work Culture & Satisfaction: purpose in work, creativity encouragement, flexibility support, independent work vs hierarchy

Satisfaction with expat life is all about priorities: moving away from the ‘I-want-it-all’ approach to more mature thinking, like ‘I can’t feel OK without purpose in work, independency and work-and-life balance. And I agree to turn a blind eye on the rest’.

Table 4 – Expat Essentials & Personal Income

Expat EssentialsDigital LifeAdmin TopicsHousingLanguagePersonal Income
Mexico1141324142
Indonesia64230263
Taiwan23151821418
Portugal192725222810
Spain142133161811
UAE214314234
Vietnam4651515471
Thailand4339391344
Australia16189411130
Singapore34534119

Subcategories refer to the following aspects of expat life:

Digital Life: government services online, ease of getting high-speed Internet connection at home, cashless payment options, no online access restrictions

Admin Topics: ease of obtaining a visa, local red tape, opening a local account with a bank

Housing: affordability and availability

Language: how easy the local language is and whether you can live without it

What will you take to your new life with you? “I will learn any language, but I need a country with no bureaucracy please”, one prospective expat said. What about you?

Table 5 – Comparisons & Trends

This is a comparison of Best and Worst Places for Expats ranking over 3 years. As you can easily see, all those in our Top 10 are enjoying an upward trend that is likely to persist:

202220212020
Mexico1243
Indonesia23157
Taiwan3111
Portugal4513
Spain51620
UAE61822
Vietnam71056
Thailand81455
Australia9718
Singapore101319

Any country among the top ten will be a good choice for an expat. However, the financial threshold may be quite high, so please consider all monetary issues carefully. If you choose a scheme that does not involve obtaining a residence permit or citizenship by investment, significant costs will be avoided, but this will lead to increased time delays. Therefore, be sure to discuss all available options with the experts of our portal before making a final decision.

We would like to recommend one more country to you where an expat boom is just in a budding stage, Serbia. It is not mentioned in any of the tables, but you can discover all the pros and cons here. This is a hospitable country steeped in history, whose European lifestyle costs less than in EU countries. Belgrade, the Serbian capital, is a place selected by the majority of expats, and here are the reasons for that. Our team can easily address all the relocation issues for you.

No matter where you decide to go, there is one universal tip for all prospective expats: delegate in every way possible. If you can find someone to do the job for you, never miss this opportunity. Our experts are just a click away – contact us to delegate a part of your responsibilities.

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