The year 2016 is just getting started, but the month of January is nearly a thing of the past — sadly, so are many New Year’s resolutions. But just because you still hit the “snooze” button every morning, this doesn’t mean that there are no more opportunities to make the most of the next eleven months.
While some people put “move abroad” on their list of New Year’s resolutions, those already living abroad often face different obstacles. Last year, during our Expat Insider 2015 survey, we asked over 14,000 expatriates about their most common problems — the facets of expat life they struggle with.
Perhaps it’s time to get started with the things that actually affect our lives the most and find out how to embrace expat life to the fullest.
All the Lonely People — Or: #1 Revive old friendships, embrace new ones
More than half the expats surveyed admitted that they miss their personal network of family and friends. Geographical distance requires quite a bit of time and money to bridge. It’s probably no coincidence that the survey respondents who seem to feel loneliest live in the relative isolation of New Zealand.
Make that your resolution #1 — spend more time with family and friends, be it during regular visits or just virtually. If you used to have a favorite shared activity, revive that ritual: pencil in a weekly date for, say, watching a popular TV show together and discussing it afterwards. It’s not the activity that matters: it’s the time you take to talk to loved ones. The regular contact also ensures that the annual reunion back home doesn’t collapse under the metaphorical weight of cramming twelve months’ worth of interaction into twelve days.
Technology offers a myriad of possibilities to help you forget that you may be several thousands miles apart, but it also holds the danger of isolation. It’s essential to find just the right balance between keeping in touch with your (emotionally, rather than geographically) nearest and dearest and putting yourself out there to meet new people. And never forget: There are plenty of others who feel just like you! Meeting them and talking to them about the experiences you share will make dealing with some of the issues that expats face so much easier. After all, as the German proverb goes, a problem shared is a problem halved!
Nobody will be able to replace your family or your oldest childhood friends, but you might find someone else to add to your loved ones. Living abroad is a unique opportunity to form close and lasting relationships – despite and quite possibly because of the challenges we all face. Being away from our personal support network might leave us more vulnerable to some extent, but it is just this vulnerability that can also make us more open to the world and to the people we meet.
Money (That’s What I Want) — Or: #2 A penny saved is a penny earned
Two out of five expats are worried about their future financial situation, especially retirement provisions. Unsurprisingly, this applies especially to expats in their late 30s: many people are now raising children and worry about balancing their family’s present-day needs with saving money for the future.
Living and working abroad has some financial long-term risks: due to a spotty record of paying social security contributions in your country of origin, your chances at getting the maximum state pension are probably slim, and plenty of private pension plans are bound to one specific country. Unfortunately, not all expatriates are senior executives who often have an annual household income of 100,000 USD or more — which the average person moving abroad can only dream of.
Happy are those expats who have chosen one of the best destinations for the “money-savvy”, which the InterNations Expat Insider survey has also identified: expats in Ecuador, for example, are most satisfied with their financial situation and their household income while profiting from the best-rated (read: lowest) living expenses worldwide. Those living in Thailand and Hungary are especially content with the affordability of housing for expats.
Obviously, you can’t just up and leave for Quito, Bangkok, or Budapest to join the ranks of the financially lucky ones. But there are some things that everyone can do to save a nice nest egg, no matter where they live.
Get started by taking a good long look at your finances. First, take meticulous note of every single expense for the next month. Second, while you’re busy tracking that, make an overview of all your assets and liabilities worldwide. That will at least give you a good idea of where to begin.
The Lonely Hearts Club Band — Or: #3 Be awesome on your own
The third most-cited problem of the expats surveyed was their relationship status — or, rather, their lack of a relationship: 38% of expats didn’t only bemoan their singledom, but also agreed that expat living makes finding the love of your life difficult.
True, it might seem that way when you are inundated with invitations to weddings you’ll miss (on account of living on another continent) or cute baby photos in your Facebook feed, right after your last date told you they have accepted another assignment and will be moving to Shanghai soon.
So what can be done about that? Apart from envying those blissfully happy expat couples in destinations such as Costa Rica or Malta, who report complete satisfaction with their romantic life in the Expat Insider survey, that is. If you’d like to overcome that secret twinge of envy, the most helpful advice is probably this: what would you do with your life if you were 100% sure that you will never ever find that special someone?
At first glance, this attitude might look defeatist. Actually, it forces you to rethink your priorities — career, international travels, hobbies, extended family, volunteer work, etc. Once you decide to go actively looking for Mr. or Ms. Right, it reminds you to save some time for all the other things that matter in life.
This approach could also help you find the right kind of person: there’s no point in dragging yourself to one pub crawl after the other, in the hope of meeting that special someone, when you would rather get up early the next morning and explore the country side, or go on a stroll through the city’s art galleries. The most important thing is to get out there and do what you enjoy doing, maybe join a group or club to find others who are in a similar situation and share your interests — and just be happy doing what you love.
No matter which issue you identify with the most, maybe we can help you a little along the way. We can’t move your family halfway round the world, send you a winning lottery ticket, play match-maker, or even switch off your “snooze” button, but perhaps other InterNations members can come up with helpful ideas, provide good cheer, or offer moral support.
In our communities around the globe, we feature InterNations Groups dedicated to professional networking, coaching, or finance and investment. There are groups for singles and those for LGBT expats and friends. Just in case you don’t even know where to get started.
And if you need some more inspiration for kicking off the New Year, have a look at our “Get 2016 Started” campaign for worldwide InterNations Official Events and Activities in 2016.