Tuesday 13 November 2012

What kind of expat are you?

There are many types of expats and rather than generalise I'll just tell you about the ones I have met, both in real life and on the internet. You may recognise yourself in parts of this post but the only negative comments I have are about people I either no longer see or have removed from my twitter, facebook or I've deleted my membership with forums.

So without further ado, now that I've made my excuses/apologies at the beginning I can now write freely about the expats.

The seasoned expats
We've been doing this for 30 years, 17th move, 15th different country, kids in UK boarding schools, take up golf, bridge and drink gin, you'll be fine.
These expats live in a fantasy world, often young and newly married, maybe a small child prior to becoming an expat, their identity was changing when they were young, either fresh out of Uni or in the early stages of a career, they would've given up work when the children came along and life would be full of changes.

The company expats
These are the ones that had everything done for them on arrival, car, cell pone and SIM card, house rented and furnished, no utility bills to pay, schools found, HR spending time with them to introduce them to others and locals and to ensure a few invites and plenty of things to occupy you until you get your bearings.
These expats tend to be employed on a two year contract and live within an expat community. They disappear as quickly as they come and aren't really that bothered about making friends.

The know it all expats
These are the ones who can do anything and everything, or so they say. They tell you if you're pulled over whilst driving to just offer a bribe. They tell you to pay someone to stand in a queue on your behalf, they say driving at night is perfectly safe as long as you just put your foot down at the robots.
They tell you they mastered all the local arts (Braii's) and the local (global) beer is crap.
These expats are full of shit, they know nothing and n one, they have all the talk, but if you ask them to help you with something they mutter and you soon discover they are either seasoned or company expats or even worse......

The expert expat
You know the ones that post online with 'advice of being an expat' or the ones that produce the 'how to guides?'
Have you ever read one properly? Have you ever found one to be actually useful? I have and I haven't. If I've had a relationship with the person online and we've chatted about it, then yes I've found it useful,especially the personal stuff about feeling depressed, losing your identity, the importance of talking to your partner, how it's difficult for family and friends back 'home' to understand what you're going through and how you can expect to feel lonely and it can take up to a year to make friends.
But the 'advice' on 'how to....... find a school/job/removal firm etc is a waste of time...they just 'advise' on how important it is to do your research/get several quotes/learn the language just don't help at all, because your 'home' country/language is different from theirs, their culture and understanding of the world is different from yours.

The trueful expat
Well that's me. My kids were already in private schools prior to moving abroad, I can drink Gin till the cows come home. I'll blog about how fab it is, the opportunitites, the lifestyle andboast about the weather and the pool, but I'll also tell you how it is. The depression I suffer from, that creeps up on me without warning. The days when I cry for no apparent reason, the times I feel worthless.
I'll also tell you how to actually pay your water bill, how to transfer a contract,documents you need to register with FICA so you can purchase a SIM card, how to get a provisional driving licence for your 17yo son and I'll lso tell you about the safari's, the volunteering and the over whelming emotion of visiting a township.

But in summary, the biggest problem is...you're not British moving to South Africa, your company has experience of doing this before, maybe your children are still little and not teenagers so mixing and meeting people is easier, maybe you're moving to a country where you are allowed to work or have a bank account in your own name or you're living on the opposite side of the country where safety and security is very different and also a 3 hour flight away.

So, what type of expat are you?


  1. You've got me wondering now - just what type of expat I am? Am I even a true expat by definition of the word.

    Obviously, as you know I am not in South Africa or any part of Africs. I am in LA County, Southern California.
    Was I born here in the US? No, so I guess that does make me an expat. I am a British Citizen as are my children, and I am patriotic enough to call myself English rather than a Brit.

    I guess in many respects I have got it pretty easy. I might be English, but my husband is very much American, having been born in Georgia and raised in North Carolina. He was living in England when we met and had been for about 15 years, but he is still a yank, and that means that I have not had to deal with a lot of the unknowns that other expats have to deal with. I have not had to cope with a language barrier, although I have just about had enough of Americans telling me that I say words the UK way and not the English way - are they stupid or what? I have learned to just smile sweetly and grin and bear it!

    We did not get everything or indeed anything handed to us on a plate when we moved, so all the usual setting up of home stuff, bank stuff and now mortgage stuff has been done by myself and my husband.

    However, although I may not be a true expat as it were, I am 6000 miles away from my family in the UK - with the time difference, a whole day of flying! and there are days when I feel like the world is going to crumble in on me. I have found it very difficult to make new friends since the move a year ago - and now I finally have some, hubby has changed his job and we are moving 1500 miles further east. He has already gone because of work stuff, and the boys and I are truly left alone in this foreign land - with the Santa Ana winds looming, which last year wiped out half of LA County and wind speeds gusted at 146mph! I am terrified of this happening and being really really bad again, while hubby is 1500 miles away in Arkansas, but as I keep saying, I am English and we are built of stern stuff.

    We will prevail - expat or not!

    Great post btw.
    Lou :-)

  2. I'm the solo expat that figured it out alone with a LOT of trial and error and horrible language barriers. I'm also the expat that got really lucky, found a place I loved and a way to stay here.

  3. Your types are spot on, I recognize some people I know in the descriptions. But I'm not sure which I am, I've been in France for three years with my French husband but I still find myself completely lost and confused at times so I'm definitely the Expert, Company, Seasoned or Know it All, so I guess that leaves me the Truthful Expat :)

  4. If I were an expat, I would fall into the truthful category since I am sure I would figure things out, but I would also have time for crying & depression.

  5. A call it like it is expat14 November 2012 at 01:11

    You missed "judgemental expat who looks down on everyone who chooses to live their life differently"