Home » What Does It Take To Become An Expat? Some Things To Consider

What Does It Take To Become An Expat? Some Things To Consider

By the end of this article it may well seem that the purpose of it has been to put anyone off the idea of ever becoming an expat but it really isn’t! All it is aimed at doing is promoting some thought around what aspects of life need to be given consideration and making sure you have some things in place.

If you are a British expat does it mean accepting that ‘The Full English’ isn’t a global phenomenon and that tea will never taste the same again?

If you are an American expat does it mean that you have to accept that Thanksgiving and July 4th will not be the big celebrations that you have been used to?There is so much more to the expat life than giving up some familiar, comforting rituals or activities and to some extent it can very much depend on what ‘type’ of expat you are.

Wherever you relocated from and to as an expatriate it is important to bear in mind that you will likely be immersing yourself in a very different culture and that the familiarity of your home nation and everything you were accustomed to will no longer be the case. Even as a seasoned traveller this can be daunting and it can take time and effort to get some basic things in place.

The reasons that people become expats are multiple and as such the expat experience can be very different, even for those coming from the same origin nation to the same destination.

Take for example the situation of a single person taking on a long term contract in another country and a couple looking to retire to a foreign location. Two very different perspectives on expat life, but nonetheless both would fall into the category of being expats.

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It may be interesting to take a look at some of the ways in which their experiences of expat life may differ. The single person taking on a long term contract may not even view themselves as an expat, as their intention is to return to their home nation on completion of their contract, but regardless of their perception they are by definition an expatriate.

The expat worker may well not have to undertake all of the tasks involved in settling in their adopted nation as their employer may well take care of many of the requirements for their move. It is highly likely that someone on a fixed-term employment contract will not purchase a property and will simply rent accommodation which in itself can make things easier.

While the contractor will be unlikely to do anything other than rent, the couple looking to retire will almost certainly be purchasing a property and this will be a lot more involved for them. The contractor will not need to spend a lot of time considering where they want to be – they will be going where the work is – but for the couple it will be one of their biggest decisions (after the decision to actually relocate their life to another country, that is!). The couple would be wise to take a lot of factors into consideration including what area they want to be in, whether they want to be in an idyllic, rural spot but distant from amenities, whether they want to be in an area with a large expat community or whether they want to immerse themselves in a local community?

In both scenarios each will have to give some thought to what they are doing with their existing residence if it is owned. The relocation may even be dependent on the sale of a property if separate funds for the new property are not available.

In many ways it is so much easier for the contractor to become an expat as they will have less to do in terms of organisation and moving themselves and everything they own. That said they are not likely to have a lesser expat experience. It is estimated that as many as 30% of expats do not speak fluently the language of the country that they have moved to, but it is more likely that a contractor will do so as they will be working with native speakers which in turn may make them more likely to integrate with the local community and experience the culture.

While the perspectives of the two distinct expat examples may be very different there are still a number of common aspects that will need to be managed, taken into consideration and adapted to.


The law of the land will be very different and it will be crucial that any expat quickly gets an understanding of the differences and the implications of failing to adhere to the law. It doesn’t seem fair to pour cold water over somebody’s new life but falling foul of the law could bring an abrupt end to the fairy-tale life or the exciting new job. For example the drink drive limit in France is lower than that in the UK. It would be well worth any expat trying to find out as much as possible about any laws that will have an immediate effect on them in their new country before they go, be it their eligibility to drive or even more basic, what restrictions there may be crossing roads.


Mastering at least the basics of the native tongue of your new homeland will make life a lot easier, even if it is just to order your favourite tipple in your new local! In most countries the local residents will appreciate an effort to speak their language and this in turn is likely to lead to making new friends. The more you speak the language the more fluent you will become. It may even be worth looking into an immersive language course in advance of your relocation. If nothing else it will give you an idea of what level your language skills are at and may boost your confidence.

From a personal perspective learning French through school and university I wrongly assumed I could speak French. Moving to France to study for a year very quickly revealed how wrong I was but having a grounding and making the effort to converse in the native tongue can certainly help a new language to be picked up fairly quickly. Try not to worry about making embarrassing mistakes, these are almost inevitable and you will certainly not make the same mistake again!

Where to live

As mentioned earlier this may be less of a concern if you are an expat taking on a contract but even so, while the country and area of your contract may be a given there will still be some careful consideration required as to where exactly you want to live. On the basis that you might be relocating on your own it may be prudent to be somewhere that is in a central location allowing access to the facilities and the social side of your new home town.

As an expat retiree this decision is even more crucial. Using France as an example, the idyll may well be to locate yourself in a little cottage in a remote countryside location, but will this be so idyllic when it is the middle of winter or will it feel isolated? It will also be worth considering the proximity of airports or ferry ports should you be looking to make relatively frequent return trips or be hoping to have family come for a visit.

As a retiree looking to establish a new life overseas inspection trips can provide a valuable opportunity to look into what services, amenities and social activities are on offer in different areas and to establish how easy it is to find your way around in varying locations. It may also be a good time on such trips to get a feel for a specific location and observe what goes on at different times of the day.

Currency exchange

Again this may be given less consideration by a working expat when compared to retirees. Currency exchange will however definitely be a factor for consideration by both parties as it can have a potentially significant impact on finances.

Moving currency from one location to another, often referred to as an international money transfer (distinct from travel money), is not difficult but can seem daunting. Most people will use their banks to carry out such transactions but this may not be the best option in terms of service or indeed for achieving the best exchange rate possible.

Using an authorised foreign currency broker can help expats to realise a better foreign exchange rate and manage their transfers in a more effective manner.

A working expat may look to move some of their salary back to their home country each month or repatriate a lump sum at the end of their contract period, and savings can be made in either scenario. On monthly transactions not only can a currency broker achieve a better exchange rate but they can remove the transaction fee which would be payable if carried out through a bank.

On a large transaction, such as that of someone buying a new home overseas, the difference between the exchange rate offered by a bank and a reputable foreign currency broker can be sizeable. For example, on a transaction of £100,000 into euros a bank would realise a euro amount of €120,550 while carrying out the same transaction with a currency broker could achieve €124,518 (figures taken on 14/06/16). The net difference of €3968 could be more than enough to pay for the removal!

Volatility in the currency market is also something to consider with regard to the timing of making an exchange and again a currency broker can help to mitigate against this by offering products that the banks won’t.

Health insurance and health care

Nobody wants to think about falling ill or needing to call on the medical services but it would be prudent to make sure that you have appropriate cover in place ensuring you have taken into account any pre-existing conditions.

The EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) is available to those within the EEA and provides cover for temporary stays in member countries, which may prove useful for inspection or viewing trips but shouldn’t be used as a replacement for full insurance cover.

If you have ongoing health concerns or issues it is worth checking that any medications or treatments you require are available in your destination country and if not look into what alternatives are available.

Hobbies and pastimes

This may not seem like a particularly important consideration when it comes to moving, but if you are very keen on one activity or another it could have a massive bearing on your expat life.

For example, if you happen to be an enthusiastic climber or hill walker it is unlikely that Holland will provide you with the right challenges, with 25% of its land mass at or below sea level and its highest peak reaching around just 1050 feet. Cycling might make a far more appropriate pastime, however!

The above factors are by no means an exhaustive list of considerations. There are a number of other factors that could be viewed as being equally important, such as the following.

Tax implications. If you are an overseas contractor what taxes will you have to pay locally and what may you be liable for when repatriating your funds? If you are permanently moving overseas what local taxes will you be met with and what liabilities will you still have in your native country?

Pension transfers. It is very much worth speaking to a pension transfers specialist to make sure you are getting the most out of your pension and to gain a clear understanding of what things like QROPS (Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme) actually mean.

Basic considerations such as mobile phones; can you use your existing phone without haemorrhaging money on international charges? How easy is it to set one up in your new country, bearing in mind the default language that will be on the phone?

Relocating your life to another country for any period of time is no mean feat (it’s hard enough to remember to pack the suncream for a beach holiday!), but as with most things in life some planning and research can ease the process.

As stated at the beginning of this article it is not meant to put people off embarking on a great new life as an expat, but it should be viewed as some food for thought.

The final thing to make sure you do is enjoy your new life!

Will Hewitson is Senior Business Development Manager at FC Exchange

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