How to Be an Expat

BEING AN EXPAT: Whether you are a young person wanting to travel the world, a family transferring to another country for experience/work, or an international retiree, it appears you can never be too old to be an expat. While expat life still retains a somewhat glamorous, jet-setting image, you should know that it is not challenge-free.

Living in another country for a short time on vacation is one thing. Relocating yourself and a family, with pets, and household goods in tow, is a big notch up on the challenge level. Even more so if you are making a permanent change. Such a life-changing decision requires some serious thought and planning. It is not something you should decide overnight. 

Relocation overseas

© Expat Aussie In NJ

If you want to be an expat, there are some basic requirements that can to be easily checked to begin with: validity of passports, visas requirements, employment opportunities, and availability of health insurance. Recently, I was lucky enough to be featured in a blog post with Western Union about ‘How to Be an Expat’. Using the experiences of a group of well-travelled expats, the article listed a number of critical factors that anyone considering relocation overseas should review. Check out Western Union’s How to Be An Expat post for more information and to see my feature!

How to Be an Expat

Sandrine Z [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

To help understand how you might fulfil your expat urge, here are how some of those opportunities come about.

Different Types of Expats

It might be surprising to know that expats come in a large variety and can be found almost everywhere on the planet. People become expats for any number of reasons, and while you can’t truly categorize everyone, there are a few common reasons they seek an expat experience. Depending on the reason, would-be expats will need to give special consideration to different priorities. Some common reasons to be an expat include:

  1. Travel the World expats

The number of round-the-world travellers is increasing with far greater visibility in social media and the news, over the last ten years or so. Singles, couples, families, young and old – the world is full of happy wanderers it seems. This type of lifestyle looks very appealing to most of us who are secretly envious of what must often be a large step into the unknown. Some common qualities that are noticeable amongst this group, is that they are often adventurous, confident in themselves, and have significant amounts of flexibility and patience, to travel as widely and in so many challenging circumstances. Having a good passport (accepted in many countries without limitation) would also be beneficial.

Ruth Hartnup [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Additionally, an ability to self-fund your travels through short-term employment (working as a bar-hand, waitress etc) or through in-demand employment areas (English teacher, nursing, hairdressing etc) is a key part of maintaining this lifestyle for any length of time. Becoming a self-employed digital nomad or having remote-based work can be a fantastic way of making money independent of work location. While this is feasible for some the likely reality should be investigated thoroughly, and ideally trialled before making the big move overseas. 

Moving Abroad

Image © Expat Aussie In NJ

Becoming a travel writer is a wonderful dream for many people but in reality, it is quite competitive and only a handful get this sort of gig. Self-made travel writers/bloggers are more common, and this can be very successful for the right personalities. It is helpful if you have a good business sense, an ability to hustle for a job, have a penchant for self-promotion, and be a competent writer/photographer. One of the best (or worst?) parts of this lifestyle may be never knowing how long you are going to be in one place or where you are going next. By appearances, this doesn’t seem like much of a deterrent to most of these intrepid travellers.

  1. Moving temporarily for experience(s) living in another country

Sometimes you can hanker for the experience of living overseas, as a way of getting away from your own country. Perhaps you are unhappy living at home right now or dream of another life. Some people have a long-held desire of moving to a favourite destination such as Paris, Rome, the French countryside, the Greek Islands, Spain or New York. 

Dream destination

Ramesh Thadani [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

If you are planning to move somewhere for an extended period, then you will have some homework to do. This includes checking whether you can get a visa or work license to obtain employment while you live in this new place. Many places have limited visa options for working, and even if this is allowed, you may be limited to a very short time period. If you are lucky enough to have a dual passport, this will provide greater flexibility in some countries. 

Living on Greek Islands

Danbu14 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

Alternatively, if you can get a job before moving overseas, then your options are likely to be much greater for a longer time period. Some multi-national companies include working abroad temporarily as part of career development. This makes it easier to seek out a work transfer, which means moving with a job in-hand and a good quality visa. If your current employer does not have an overseas office, explore whether there are any remote work possibilities or business development scenarios you could present. Otherwise, you may need to plan ahead by moving to a company with international offices or applying directly overseas for a new job yourself. The green card lottery in the US, is still one way of gaining a work-license for the US, if that is one of your dream locations. But it really is a lottery and you should only consider this a long-term goal.

  1. Moving For work-transfer

Probably one of the most common expat scenarios is the international work transfer. Companies with worldwide businesses send their employees, usually with family, chattels, and good to a range of wonderful to woeful places around the world. Fortunately, most people do get a real say in whether to go or not, as it is a big decision. This is particularly true when you have a family, and more so when they are school-aged. If you are offered such a role, then there may be a relocation package that comes with the transfer. These range in level of benefits from funding travel, transfer of goods, and family members, to housing assistance, acclimatization help (known as settling-in), as well as assistance with schooling, transport, cultural transitions etc. These benefits are usually laid out in formal HR policies for large companies but there may be some flexibility through negotiation. Smaller companies are often more flexible but can have less well-developed support benefits and programs. 

jerry zafrir [CC BY 3.0 (] Wikimedia Commons

Many employees sign a contract for a minimum term period for a relocated job. It is always helpful to know what a minimum term might be for a relocation. It is even better in some ways if a set term is known, as it can be useful in guiding decisions on longer term issues like buying a house overseas, schooling arrangements, etc.

  1. Moving permanently (emigrating) for a better life

Some people of course, know that they want to move permanently to another country for economic, business, political or personal reasons. Among these might be a desire for a better life for their families or possibly retirees looking for a cheaper place to live that still offers a good lifestyle. Either way, this type of move must be well-planned ahead, as applications take time for review and approval. There may be a temporary visa scenario for the first move overseas, but thorough research is required to determine if permanent residency is even possible. 

Image © Expat Aussie In NJ

You also need to consider your financial requirements (e.g. if a certain level of funds in the bank is needed), immunizations, work possibilities, as well as the local healthcare provisions. If you are receiving a pension, superannuation or investment payments, you should investigate taxation requirements in both your new and old country. US citizens for instance have to continue paying tax to the IRS no matter where they live in the world, unless they renounce their citizenship, which also has a price attached.

Moving Overseas

© [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]

Whatever your reason for relocating abroad, it is no exaggeration to say that this will be an unforgettable if not a life-altering experience. You are likely to be changed forever in ways only you might appreciate. The experience of a lifetime awaits you!


Disclaimer: This blog post was sponsored by Western Union.

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