Expat (noun): a person who lives away from their native country.
Does this sound like the life for you? In all honesty, being an expat is both exciting and terrifying. It’s one of the best experience of my life, but it’s also been the most challenging. So what is an expat, really?
Expatriate is often shortened to expat, which is more commonly said. An expat is someone who is residing in a country that is not their home country. That may include living overseas, such as a British expat living in the United States. Whether it’s a far-away move or not, an expat is a person temporarily or permanently living in a foreign country.
Expat versus immigrant
Realistically, there isn’t much of a difference between an expat and an immigrant. Both have moved away from home for a period of time. Typically, the word expat is used for people who have moved overseas for a temporary amount of time. On the flip side, many people use the word immigrant for those who have chance their permanent residence and plan to continue living in their new country for a long time (potentially, for the rest of their life).
That’s why some people refer to themselves as immigrants (ex. Moving to Canada as a small child) versus those who use the term expat (ex. An American living for a year in Australia)
However, both words can be used interchangeably. As long as you are living in a new place rather than the country of origin, you’ll be an expat or immigrant.
How do I become an expat?
If you love to travel, try new things, learn a new language or explore the world, becoming an expat could be highly attractive to you. However, it’s a tricky process that require proper planning, money and a little bit of luck.
Many countries offer different types of working visas, but of course you need to be eligible before you can apply and be accepted.
The best place to start is to begin choosing places you’re interested in. Have your eye on countries like Scotland, Italy and Germany? Then you can begin researching what type of visa are available for those countries. If you intend on working, you’ll need a visa. If you’re just looking for a long holiday, then you might just need to apply for a tourist visa. These are much easier to receive as they’re for tourists coming on vacation, rather than skilled workers.
Places like the United Kingdom offer a Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme visa, which is available for 18-30 year olds of certain countries. This allows you to come to the UK to live and work for two years, as is far more accessible than difficult working visas. Of course, it depends on your country of citizenship and whether you would be eligible in the first place.
What are the best countries to move to?
Want to know the best country to live as an expat in? Good question!
It all comes down to your specific situation. What countries are you eligible to work in? What languages do you speak? Are you looking for a hot country, or want to live in the snow? Do you want to stay nearby to your home country, or move as far away as possible?
As an expat myself, I found it very helpful to write down all the things I was looking for in a country. Unfortunately, I can’t speak any other language than England (and I’m horrible at learning languages) so an English-speaking country was a must. I also didn’t want a place too cold or too hot and it needed to be someplace safe and where I was eligible to work.
Once you start working on your “must-haves” for your new home, it begins to narrow down the possibilities and makes it much more obvious which choice you should make.
If you can, it’s highly recommended to visit your potential new home before actually moving there. While you can do as much research as you want, you’ll never fully know what a place is like until you spend time there. Of course, having a holiday somewhere new isn’t the same as living and working there, but at least it will give you a better understanding.
Ultimate tip: Visit your potential new country in one of the worst months, such as the dead of winter or the rainy season. This will be the ultimate test of whether you can still enjoy that place even in the worst season.
Once you’re actually in your new country, it’s important to learn how to balance work and travel – it’s harder than you think.
Being an expat sounds perfect!
No. No. No. Being an expat is far from perfect. So often the idea of moving abroad is glamourised through TV, movies and social media. It’s all about swimming in beautiful blue oceans, attending incredible events, seeing wonderful landmarks and living the best life ever.
It’s not really like that.
Yes, being an expat has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life (so far). But it’s been extremely upsetting and emotionally draining. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows – it’s far from it.
When it comes down to it, living abroad isn’t hugely different from anywhere else. Eventually, you’ll find your own daily routine and get sucked into monotonous life chores and hassles. Life carries on as normal. It’s just whether the pros of living abroad outweighs the cons – it doesn’t for everyone.
As a Canadian living in England, there are lots of pros and cons to England, even though I love this country. Interested in moving there yourself? make sure to check out my article Living in England: Pros and Cons
Ready to return home?
If you’ve lived the expat-life for awhile, you might decide that it’s time to come back home. Just the simple act of moving back home can be overwhelming. If you haven’t visited in awhile, you might not even recognise your home anymore, your friends may have moved away and you might not feel such a close connection to the place anymore.
In short: going back home is hard. But if it’s what you want to do, there’s no way around it.
Before leaving your host country, you’ll need to do a few things first:
- Close your bank accounts and transfer any money you have to your home country accounts
- Sell any furniture or items you can’t bring with you (or donate them to a charity)
- Give appropriate notice at your job (some companies require you to give 30 days notice before quitting)
- Give enough notice to your landlord that you’re leaving the country and you’ll need to end your lease
So really – what is an expat?
An expat is someone who is looking for a new way of life. They want to experience new cultures, eat foreign food, learn exotic languages and push themselves out of their comfort zone.
However, it’s extremely important to remember that being an expat isn’t perfect. This is a really tough, draining and overwhelming process. But if the expat life is for you, there’s no turning back.