The Pros and Cons of Choosing a Destination with a Large Expat Community

Posted by on Jul 16, 2012 in live abroad, moving abroad | 4 Comments

Expat communities are present in nearly every town and city in the world, and when you choose your new country when you decide to work abroad you will find that sometimes the expat communities are larger than others.

Here are some of the pros and cons of choosing a destination which has a large and active expat community to help you to make your decision.

Expat dinner © by blmurch

Pros of a Large Expat Community

When there is a large expat community in your destination you may find that it is easier to meet people when you first arrive. There are often activities such as pub quizzes and sports meet-ups to get involved with, so it may be easy to make new acquaintances and feel more at home straight away.

You should also consider the employment advantages that a large expat community may bring with it. There may be opportunities for finding work through your new connections, or even new clients through the expats or their contacts, and some simple networking may be all you need to get your business up and running.

Expats are often the best people to provide you with advice on all things legal and cultural in your new destination. You may be able to find a good English-speaking accountant and lawyer through your new contacts, get advice on opening a bank account, find somewhere to live and become more familiar with local issues.

If you are moving to a country where English is not the first language then it can be very lonely and hard work making friends at first. A large expat community means you can meet people without having to master the language, which is very convenient when you first arrive.

Cons of a Large Expat Community

One of the largest potential issues when there is a large expat community is that you may find you engage in less cultural immersion. An expat community provides you with an instant source of contacts and friends, but you may end up getting caught up in an expat bubble and experience less of the local culture as a result.

You may find that more expats means that there is more competition for jobs. If you go to somewhere with fewer expats you may stand out more from the crowd and your skills may be in higher demand. Even simply speaking English can be in high demand in some places where there are fewer native speakers.

The fear for many people when there is a large expat community is that they miss out on seeing the country as it really is. The reason behind many people’s decisions to go abroad is to experience a new way of life, but if you do not end up meeting local people and instead you spend all of your time with people from the same culture as yourself then you may find that you do not enjoy the experience you were expecting.

Consider the Expat Community when Making Your Decision

It is very important to consider the size of the expat community before making your decision on a destination, but remember that even if there is a large and active community you can always minimise your time spent with other expats if you want to.

Many people find that a good balance is the key, so that you can enjoy meeting up with other expats but still enjoy immersing yourself in the local culture which will lead to a richer overall experience.

4 Comments

  1. Christopher Lean
    July 17, 2012

    I agree with the points raised in this article. I suspect a lot of expats end up mixing with other expats, just because they have the same nationality. Possibly, a lot of the people they mix with would not be their first choice back home.

    Single expats often get drawn into a drinking culture where the only real point of contact is the pub. Those that immerse themselves in the local culture are likely to have a fuller life experience that does not revolve around bars, and get involved in local schools, sports clubs, group holidays and the normal visiting for coffee etc….

    Also, I often wonder what the locals think of insular expat groups. If a large group of foreigners were in the UK, did not learn the language and did not immerse themselves in the local culture then they would be criticised by the UK locals.

    Reply
  2. Phil Byrne
    Phil Byrne
    July 17, 2012

    Good points Chris.
    I certainly think I was guilty of some of these points when we first left the UK. I think though, as we get used to our new world, that’s when we are best placed to integrate – all just takes a little time. I certainly miss far less things from back home in England than I used to.

    Reply
  3. Martie Quick
    July 19, 2012

    Having lived abroad for 12 years ago I agree that some cultural assimilation is important but please dont build your hopes up. If you are living in a none English speaking country it is essential that you are fluent in the native language if you want to make true lasting friendships. Being able to say “hello, how are you” is pretty boring for a local to hear after while. If you are to add true value to their lives you must be able to discuss feelings, problems, the past, the future etc. It is impossible to get to this level in a year or even two. There are no quick fixes or majical interactive CD’s that will fast track you. Just bloody minded determination and a lot of hours of study and practise. It took me 8 years to properly learn Spanish.
    In the meantime, expat communities are vital for your sanity, your initial homesickness, to bring you things from home you miss, your security and help with day to day issues. Consider this, expats tend to be transient. They rarley stay in a foreign country for the rest of their lives -and the locals know this. So it takes time to learn the language, the cultural differences and persuade locals you’re going to hop on the next plane when you get a job offer in Timbuktu. If you are not involved in the expat community, living abroad can be very lonely, frustrating and more diffiuclt than you could ever imagine. Of course, you will always find local companies with English speakers in situ to “help” you with visas, doctors, lawyers, translations, but they will charge you a premium for their services.

    Reply
    • Phil Byrne
      Phil Byrne
      July 20, 2012

      Thanks for those comments Martie, where are you living in South America?

      Reply

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