7 common myths about expats
There are as many stereotypes about what it means to be an expat, as there are definitions of expats. I take a look at some of the most common myths and reveal some fascinating insights.
The definition has changed
Today’s definition of an expat has to be multidimensional and expansive, and take into account the many different types of expats and the nuances of different relocation scenarios. For example, "international knowledge worker" refers to an employed non-native in a host country. Employed non-natives who stay for 3-6 months are known as short-stay expats.
Internationals who start, or transfer, a business in/to a host country are called entrepreneur expats or freelance expats. The term lovepats refers to the partners of international knowledge workers. International students follow their studies in a host country and commuter expats are those who travel to a host country to stay there for a brief period.
And there are perhaps as many misconceptions about what it means to be an expat as there are types of expats!
The 7 most common myths about expats and the expat life
Below are the 7 most common myths (adapted from "What if the sky was the limit? Sourcing a responsive economy, securing access to talent" by Nicole Van Haelst & Danielle Emans, published by the International Community Platform).
This research was done in the Netherlands but many of these myths - which may reflect opinions of the host country, host employer or of expats themselves - apply to expats worldwide.
Expat myth #1
- Expats stay in their host country for a relatively short period of time - max 4 years.
The research, however, shows a variety of scenarios. At one end of the spectrum, we see global citizens who settle and stay for at least eight years or do not expect to leave the country at all. This group goes through the same phases of life as a "regular" citizen; for example, getting married or starting a family.
On the other end of the spectrum are the so-called "free movers", the growing number of "short stay" internationals who stay for approximately one year.
Expat myth #2
- Expats typically arrive in this family set-up: man on an international assignment, with a spouse who doesn’t have to work and children who go to the international school. He earns a lot and the family only stays for a couple of years.
In fact, most internationals arrive in the Netherlands as singles. What’s more, those who find a partner (local or international) have the highest chance of settling in their host country.
Expat myth #3
- Expats come to a country because they cannot find work in their own country.
A whopping 91.9 percent of internationals in this study were in a professional occupation prior to their move. Indeed, their move to the Netherlands was often initiated or even encouraged by the host employer - to fill a skills or expertise gap in the Dutch job market or because the employer has a preference for foreign talent (or an international team) and the value this brings for innovation and the transfer of knowledge.
Expat myth #4
- All internationals were born into a life of privilege and have a secure expat contract.
Internationals often have to make personal and/or professional sacrifices and need to be flexible. Forced career changes and a high risk of unemployment are the two common challenges they share. What’s more, opting for an international assignment often implies "collateral damage" - that is, unexpected or unintended losses.
Expat myth #5
- Internationals who follow their partner here do not need or want to work.
Many internationals leave a career when accompanying their partner to the Netherlands. The majority are actively looking for opportunities in a paid job or are seeking to start or grow a business. Partners are often highly educated, ambitious and agile. Dual careers have become the standard and are an important issue that deserves more attention.
Expat myth #6
- All internationals are satisfied, safe and sound in their life-long contracts… few want a change.
Over 80 percent of all internationals in the study were open to a new opportunity, whether a new job, entrepreneurship, voluntary work or study. This also applied to people who were in a steady job.
Expat myth #7
- Tax rates and salary are the most important incentives for internationals.
The most important incentives are a career or an education (this is true for 64 percent of respondents). Moreover, internationals look for "the total package" of life, career, and soft as well as hard incentives.
Have you come across these misconceptions? Are there any expat myths you would add? I would love to hear from you!