At one of the regular expat happy hours in London in 2015, we started to notice some trends.
“There are a bunch of trailing spouses this week and not as many perpetual travelers. Did you do something different to promote the event this time?”
“Nope, that’s just how it worked out this week.”
From that point forward, a few of us made a game of identifying the types of expats who were attending the happy hours for the first time. With some practice, we got pretty good at it.
I know, I know, I know…you’re not supposed to make generalizations about people, but this exercise was harmless enough. We treated everyone the same and gave all the first-time attendees a warm welcome, but we noticed some things over time.
Specifically, we identified four types of expats:
- Type A achievers
- Perpetual traveler
- People escaping something
- Trailing spouses
It’s common for expats to fall into more than one category, but one of the types of expats is always the dominant one. For example, a recently divorced person could decide to take some time off and travel the world in a way that wasn’t an option when they were married. So, escaping something first, and engaging in perpetual travel second.
Each of the types of expats has some unique characteristics. You’ll be able to peg them pretty fast once you understand the nuances. Let’s get to it.
These people are the achievers. They move abroad for a job opportunity because they like the challenge and they have the experience to justify the move as a logical step in their careers. They are usually working for the same company where they worked in their home country, or they are taking the next step in title and responsibility with a new company.
Of all the types of expats, this one is the most common in the developed parts of the world (developed = the most expensive). They are usually planning to work abroad temporarily (a few years), and the duration of their expat experience is commonly governed by the the employment visa laws in the host country. Most countries have visa rules in place that will force you to apply for a more permanent type of visa once you stay past a certain number of years. Working for a few years abroad with a plan to return to their home country is a common situation.
The perpetual travelers are the people who are living in a new place because they want to see the world. Wherever you find them is just one stop on their journey, which may or may not have any planned end to it. The telltale signs of the perpetual traveler are cagey answers to questions like, “What do you do for work?” or “How long are you planning to stay in ____?” Their non-answers or half-answers are the giveaways.
Of all the types of expats who run afoul of immigration laws, the perpetual travelers are usually the ones. They may called themselves “digital nomads” and they tend to be drawn to places where they can easily stretch their bank accounts to extend their traveling. Southeast Asia and Central America are popular destinations for perpetual travelers because of the low cost of living and the relatively relaxed immigration laws.
People escaping something
Sometimes people move abroad because they want to get away from something. It could be escaping their past (like a failed marriage) or escaping for physical safety reasons (like the refugees from Syria).
Moving to a new place gives people a chance to start over and reinvent themselves. Much of that process is psychological, but forcing yourself to adopt a new routine, make new friends and learn about a new city/country/culture is a good way to do it.
These types of expats usually won’t introduce themselves as people who are escaping something, but you can figure it out pretty quickly if you pay attention. This often a secondary trait that’s disguised as a minor consideration when, in fact, it was the primary reason they moved abroad in the first place.
Last, but not least, are my favorite types of expats: Trailing spouses.
Trailing spouses are usually in unique situations. Sometimes they are dragged along kicking and screaming, and sometimes they embrace the opportunity to live somewhere new. No two trailing spouse situations are the same, even though there are some common characteristics.
One of the hardest things for trailing spouses to manage is their TIME. Sometimes the trailing spouse will not work (either by force or by choice) and they are commonly in charge of the household tasks such as grocery shopping and taking care of their children. Immigration visa restrictions sometimes prevent the trailing spouses from getting proper jobs in their new locations, so they can find themselves stuck with the desire to work, but no real options to do so in a traditional setting.
The pain and suffering of trailing spouses was the inspiration for our business. We make our services available for all types of expats, but it was the trailing spouses who were the original inspiration for us. Putting all the best remote jobs on our expat job board is just the beginning. Over time, we will expand our services to support more elements of expat life.
Which type of expat are you? Leave us a comment and briefly tell us your story. You may find that you have more in common with the folks here than you expected. Who knows? Maybe you’ll make an expat friend in your new city, too!