A groundbreaking new global expat survey by i-World Research confirmed that a new American expat generation has been on the move for the last five years and is primarily populated by the millennial generation.
Called the Expat Survey 2013, just under 8,000 expats from 128 countries were researched for their opinions and attitudes on a variety of topics. The overall survey included separate studies on Migration & Lifestyle, Retail & Finance and Travel & Health.
MYIA spoke with i-World Research Project Director Emma Wood to get all the details, mainly from the Migration & Lifestyle study.
“This is the largest independent global expat study of those living outside their country of origin,” Wood said. “It gave us more than 60,000 pages of data to pour through based on the 150 open-ended questions we asked. About 60 percent of the respondents were women and a broad range of the expat population from all over the world was represented.”
A key finding that jumped out from the research was the emergence over the last five years of a new American expat generation, confirming what we have reported in our articles “The New American Expat Generation” and “Which Americans Are Moving Abroad.”
“There also is a youth element to moving abroad, particularly from America,” Wood said. “Ten years ago Americans were not really up there. The American element was not strong, but it has opened up in the last five years with the younger generation of Americans adopting a much more adventurous attitude, a much more inquisitive attitude on foreign cultures. There was a younger element in there below the age of 30 that has adopted the attitude ‘If I don’t do it now, when am I going to do it?’”
We asked Wood what specifically she found out about Americans. “They set out on a mission to find out if the grass is greener on the other side,” she said. “About 70 percent said that it is, so they are lured to move on by greater lifestyle enhancements and increased pay, generally. Around 8 percent of them said they are actively looking for their next spot at the moment. That 8 percent makes up part of the 22 percent who are considering where they would like to go next. So they are adventurous and really quite brave. A lot of them, once they get the bug, enjoy it. And in a way, they find challenges, even language challenges, part of the excitement. That is their outlook on life.”
Wood told us that many young Americans are still moving to Europe. “It all depends whether they are in a position to be roaming and exploring or if they are moving for their careers,” she said. “There is a lot of activity into Europe, despite the language barrier.”
Many American millennials have an entrepreneurial bent and will be heartened at the survey’s findings on starting a new business abroad. “There was a large proportion of expats who do run their own businesses where they are,” Wood said. “Where there are language barriers and huge bureaucracies, there is a tendency for self-employed expats to network amongst themselves because that is where they find the solutions to the problems they are facing. And that is particularly prevalent in Southern Europe, countries like Portugal, Spain, Italy and Croatia.”
For all expats, moving to another country is more than just finding a new job or starting a business. “The overall consensus,” Wood said, “is that lifestyle, better work/life balance, the ability to pursue more leisure or a better climate are the key motivators for most people.”
Wood told us that some people said they were financially worse off and often live on a lot less, but they qualify their overall experience of living abroad as being better because of better diet, health and other quality of life factors. “Some of them knew that when they were going to their new country they just wanted to strip away all of the unnecessary stuff and just enjoy something that was calmer,” Wood explained.
But most find that they have more disposable income and are able to do more things, particularly travel to other places, including returning home. “That was an interesting insight,” Wood said. “In the last 12 months, 90 percent of those surveyed had visited their country of origin. What was equally interesting was that friends and family visited expats as much as expats visited them.
Another remarkable finding from the study was that 80 percent of those living abroad have been expats for nine years and have lived in three different places. If expats were not making a career move supported by an employer, their first move was most often to an English-speaking country, which explains why Australia and Canada were popular destinations. “Canada is emerging as quite an attraction,” Wood said, “ because they have initiated incentives to lure skilled people there. Hong Kong and Singapore are very popular for those making career moves. Asia overall is where many people are going for their careers.”
There also are quite a few “serial expats,” those who move from country to country. “For some, returning to their country of origin from wherever they reside in the world holds no appeal and so they have flown further afield to find new opportunities in expat hot spots like Dubai, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong,” Wood said.
Not all is perfect, though, in expat-land. Expat complaints ranged from bad property deals to banking problems. “I think that perhaps some of them did not do enough research before they moved,” Wood said. “You hear stories of people who were sold land or property that was not what they thought it was. We also heard from Americans who were concerned about the impact the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) was having on their ability to open a local banking account. In some places it was preventing them from getting a bank account.”
You can find out all the details on FATCA in our article “FATCA Impacts American Expat Local Banking.”
As for what expats are looking for in the future, Wood said it is all about relevancy. “They are in a foreign territory and want to equip themselves to fulfill their aspirations. And so they are only interested in what is directly relevant to them. Whoever is providing services to expats really needs to be on the ball to be totally relevant to their specific needs.”
If you are interested in participating, the 2014 Expat Survey will get underway in July.