Is COVID-19 the end of the expat world as we know it?

Is COVID-19 the end of the expat world as we know it?

With more than 30 million people worldwide (officially) diagnosed with COVID-19 and numbers rapidly growing, people, the healthcare system, the economy and more are severally impacted by the virus. One by one, countries went in and out of lockdown and the travel industry and workforce mobility were almost brought to a standstill. Now, the second wave is right around the corner. So, in what ways does COVID-19 affect the expat world?

The impact of the new coronavirus on expats

Often far away from their home and family, many expats and internationals around the world are starting to ask themselves the following questions:

  • Am I safe in the country I’m living in?
  • Is local healthcare as good as healthcare in my home country?
  • Do I still want to live far away from my family?
  • Is my job secure, and if so, for how long?

Various expat groups are impacted in different ways. The internationals who decided to move to another country to live there permanently are obviously less impacted than expats who are used to changing countries every three to five years.

Also, young (single) expats often face very different challenges than their older expat peers with families. For example, one of the main socially related problems for young (single) expats during the lockdown is solitude. At the beginning of 2020, newly arrived expats had a limited time to establish a new social circle. As the lockdowns were imposed, people had to stay home, isolated. Although Zoom, Skype and WhatsApp are doing their best to connect us with others, they will never replace human touch and face-to-face connection.

Older expats, depending on their origins and current location, might start asking themselves, is the healthcare system of the country they are living in better or worse compared to that of their home country. Is working abroad worth taking the risk?

Obviously, another big issue is layoffs. Expats and internationals are not the only affected group, of course. Nevertheless, expats might come across various issues when laid off and searching for a new job. Especially ones whose work permit is dependable on their employer.

The impact of the coronavirus crisis on expat families

The expat lifestyle has not always had the best reputation when it comes to family ties. But the corona crisis took this to the next level. Making travelling difficult, if not impossible, the pandemic has caused people to drift apart, physically and emotionally. Couples being separated on different continents. Grandparents not being able to visit or be visited by their children and grandchildren. Expats may become even more aware that although the expat life can be adventurous and glamorous, it may not always be enough to replace family connections.

The impact of the coronavirus on international companies

International companies hire expats for various reasons, such as: attracting talent, transferring knowledge and experience globally, having people who they can trust in faraway destinations, amongst others. Needless to say, the COVID-19 crisis has impacted many (international) companies, some in positive ways, others less so. Some of the negatively impacted companies have already started to lay off their employees.

However, what COVID-19 has also proven is that working from home and running companies with virtual and global teams, although often quite challenging, is not impossible and could offer long term benefits.

New possible trends

While the main question, "will international companies put a hold on hiring expats long term?" remains to be answered, a couple of new trends seem to be emerging. First of all, digital nomads could prove a better choice than stationary expat employees. Digital nomads rely on their expertise and a fast internet connection - they could be hired from anywhere in the world. Of course, companies / countries would need to deal with immigration regulations fast to make this solution workable on a bigger scale.

For some positions, mainly senior jobs, international companies could still be in favour of hiring expat employees, who may serve as their “ears and eyes” in the local company and help to transfer knowledge and experience at the same time. People will surely keep on moving, but while doing so, there might be a shift in motivation. International employees might become more attracted to the countries with a stable healthcare system, rather than exotic locations.

Dealing with a crisis

While all this sounds like a pretty dark story, it doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless and you cannot do anything. If you are an international / expat employee affected by the corona crisis, make sure you:

  • Check your legal situation with an immigration / employment lawyer before signing any papers if you have been laid off.
  • Always reach out for professional help when you are feeling depressed.
  • Know where to find local information regarding the healthcare system and procedures related to the corona crisis.
  • Reach out to people if you feel alone, even if only online. Expat communities are among the strongest ones. Always make sure you have someone to talk to.
  • Invest (time) in education. Lots of organisations have made it very affordable to follow various courses online, so don’t be afraid to learn something new.
  • Help others around you, if you are one of the lucky ones not affected by the crisis.

Stay safe and healthy and feel free to share in the comment section below if and how corona crisis has impacted your expat life!

Dorota Klop-Sowinska


Dorota Klop-Sowinska

Official Member of Forbes Coaches Council. I specialize in international career and expat coaching. I am the author of the book Career Jump! How to Successfully Change Your Professional Path...

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