Tackling & Overcoming Top 10 Expat Concerns: Part 1

The HSBC Expat Explorer series of surveys have revealed the main worries that would-be expatriates face ahead of a relocation, and the ongoing concerns that expatriates deal with day-to-day once they’ve relocated overseas.

It’s clear from the findings that the issues are relatively evenly balanced between the emotive and the practical – and because they are seemingly shared by so many expats, we thought we’d tackle the top 10 expat concerns in a bid to help all those affected to overcome the worries so that they can settle into a happier life overseas.

From worrying about making friends and fitting in to finding jobs and schools for children, the common concerns expats face can be planned for, worked on, tackled and overcome in the majority of instances.  If you’re struggling to set up your new life for any reason, read on to see if Degtev can give you the support or guidance you need to overcome the inevitable hurdles that most expats do face when they relocate abroad.

Today we’re going to look at the top 5 most commonly cited concerns, according to the 4,100 expats that HSBC’s Expat Explorer survey spoke to between April and June 2010…and tomorrow we’ll look at the rest of the top 10 worries in a bid to overcome them.

1) Re-establishing a Social Life

41% of all those surveyed advised that this was a key concern for them prior to and initially following their relocation abroad…highlighting just how important it is for us all to have friends and social contact.

By moving abroad we leave many friends and our social support cushion behind – we also throw ourselves open to the challenges that inevitably come with moving to a new and perhaps unknown nation.  Challenges that would be so much easier to deal with if only we had friends in place to share them with!

This Catch 22 situation affects the vast majority of expats…but there is a very simple way to deal with this issue – and that’s to tackle it head on.  There are no short cuts to re-establishing a social life, you just have to get out there and get on with it.

Expats can do research in advance to determine whether there are the likes of expat clubs, sports, arts or social clubs locally in their new nation that they could become a member of.  Such research can be done online, via expat forums and social networking sites.

Those who fail to find anything in advance of their relocation can ask their new colleagues at work or even their new neighbours for information or advice about what’s going on – they can also literally look around on lampposts, on notice boards or in the local newspaper to find out what’s going on where.

Expats can also frequent the local hostelries and cafes and reach out to make friends.  Expats have to make an effort to find friends and no, it really isn’t easy.  Persistence pays however, and if you make the effort you will slowly but surely meet like-minded people and make friends.

If you’re really struggling, why not think about setting up your own event or meeting, group or club?  Use all of the above-mentioned methods to get the word out about what you’re doing and then hopefully potential friends will come to you.

2) Feeling Lonely / Missing Family & Friends

This of course ties in with the above point, and 34% of expats surveyed by HSBC highlighted this as a genuine worry.  Recent statistical evidence from the Centre of Future Studies also reveals that the expats who adjust most successfully and quickly are those who relocate with families…

So, in order to deal with this issue you have a number of options.  You could plan to relocate as an entire family unit if that is desirable and practicable – alternatively you could put firm and solid plans in place to hook back up with family on as regular a basis as possible.

For those moving a very long distance, is it possible to alternate between having family to stay and you returning to visit them – perhaps adding in a trip to a third country that is relatively equidistant from all family members where you can have a regular reunion?

Of course this incurs an expense, and it is something that has to be planned and budgeted for.  It can be restricted depending on all individuals’ work and schooling commitments too.

However, in order to stave off the loneliness, planning for holidays and to hook up can really help.  Regular Skype calls and video conferencing can help you keep in touch too…and this can alleviate the worst feelings of homesickness and missing friends and family.

3) Career Concerns

Job worries affect us all thanks to the state of the global economic climate and the fact that there is seemingly no loyalty in business anymore…however, for expats moving to a new country where they are unaware of potential career opportunities, the concerns are likely to be far higher.

Exacerbating the issue is the fact that expats are on their own abroad when it comes to earning an income and supporting their family – where they may perhaps have felt they had the safety net of a social system or family and friends to call on if they lost their job ‘back home.’

Some expats move abroad because of work, but they too can worry that if the job does not work out they may struggle to find alternative employment.

Expats can do a certain amount of research in advance of a relocation to determine the types of employers and the types of jobs available in their new location, they can also look at the economy of their new nation and use this as a basic indicator of how buoyant the jobs pool may be currently and in the near-term.

Expats can also hook up with other professionals in their new nation thanks to business specific social networks.  As a result they can ask specific questions about their industry, and determine whether they need to skill up in any particular area to enhance their career prospects for example.

Researching in advance and ensuring you have the best skill-set available is about the best an expat can do to alleviate some of the concern that relates to career prospects abroad.

4) Language Barriers

30% of those surveyed stated that they were worried about language being a barrier to their successful integration abroad – with many Brits relocating to Europe particularly concerned.

Unfortunately little emphasis is placed on the good teaching of new language skills in the British classroom – and most children only have a few years of foreign language tuition in the UK at best.

Therefore, as expats we Brits really are impeded and impacted by a lack of foreign language skills, and once again there is no easy way around this.  The only way to get through the barrier is to learn the new language.

The good news is that it is far easier to learn a new language when you are surrounded by it and immersed in it day-to-day.

Expats can take lessons in advance of their move, but they are really best advised to take intensive tuition once they move abroad.  By reading local papers, listening to the radio and watching TV, trying to tune into others’ conversations and using any vocabulary they pick up as often as they can, expats will slowly but surely get a firm handle on the new language.

Persistence pays!

5) The Relocation Process

Anyone facing a long-distance move will be daunted at the prospect of the entire process – but fortunately so many have already made such a move that we can all benefit from their insight and hindsight.

From using the services of a professional relocation company which will pack you up, ship you out and even find you a new home abroad, to just calling on the experiences of anyone you know who has moved overseas can really be beneficial.

The best relocations start with a lot of lists – because they are a way for any soon-to-be expat to clearly determine what has to be done ahead of the move.  With clarity of thought comes less stress – and less stress is what we all need to aim for when making a massive transition in life!

I believe in using any help offered and available – and having someone pack all your belongings and ship them, deliver them and even unpack them may be expensive, but trust me, if you can afford it, it is money exceptionally well spent for the time it saves you.

Taking a reconnaissance trip to your new nation to scout out a new home for at least the short-term following your move is also money and time well spent.  If you know where you’re going, what to expect and that you will have a roof over your head while you settle in gives you massive peace of mind.

Asking fellow expats on forums and social networking sites for any tips and advice can be beneficial to help you plan, and as long as you keep on top of all aspects of the move with your lists (!) you should find the process flows along and takes you with it relatively smoothly.

There will be a bump or a hurdle or two – it is inevitable – but be as prepared as you can be and keep your focus on the fact that you’ll soon be living the life of your dreams in a fascinating new nation which is ripe and ready for your to explore and enjoy.

Tomorrow we’ll be discussing and tacking the rest of the top 10 concerns that expats have when they relocate to live abroad.

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