Today my mom asked me how to become an expat. I had to think about it for a moment.
Becoming an expat is easy in concept but difficult in practice.
Four Easy Steps To Becoming An Expat
Becoming an expat can be done in 4 “easy” steps:
- Sell everything you own
- Move to a country
- Apply for whatever long-term visa/residency/citizenship is offered
- Live there.
Before you move, depending on your situation, some type of income generation may be necessary. That would be 5 steps.
(Mom you have retirement income so you won’t need this step).
Usually, you must apply for a long-term visa/residency/citizenship before you enter the country. Now, that’s 6 steps. But 6 steps doesn’t sound easy.
(So mom, other than selling everything you own, I think you can do this).
Do You Have IT To Be An Expat?
You need to consider if you want to be an expat before you take step one. Do you really have the personality for the expat life?
- be adventurous
- be open-minded
- have a liberal outlook
to live in another country or to travel from country to country.
If you are conservative and think there is a right way and a wrong way to do things, please stay home.
Let me give you some examples:
- If you feel a beer or shot of hard liquor is inappropriate at 8:00 in the morning, you are going to be shocked by much of the world. I’m not talking about 20 something-year-old backpackers binging, I’m referring to polite company and older individuals (40 for example) starting the day with a Raki.
- Would you be offended with an invitation for a drink with new friends or business colleagues at a strip bar?
- Does standing in line for 45 minutes only to be told you are in the wrong line drive up your blood pressure?
If any of these examples strike you as “just wrong” you are not cut out for expat life.
I’m not saying you have to indulge or even like any of these or the thousands of other cultural differences you will encounter. But, if you are not willing to go with the flow you just won’t last long abroad.
I don’t regularly take shots of Raki at 8:00 AM, but I view this choice as equal to choosing tea or coffee. The 45-minute wait in the wrong line along with another 45 minutes in the correct line is an hour and a half of reading time or language study (my favorite pastime).
(Ok mom, you might be shocked at first by some of the unexpected differences but you are pretty easy going and I think you’d adjust quickly).
The American Disadvantage
If you are American, which the majority of my readers are, there is another item to consider. Collectivism versus individualism. The majority of the world skews toward collectivism while many of the individualist countries have a culture of politeness. American culture is both individualist and often viewed as rude.
For many Americans, functioning can be difficult in an environment in which they must consider others.
(Mom, you’re polite and self-aware. You always consider others so you will have no problem with this).
A Sad, Typical Example Of An American Tourist
I received a good dose of American self-absorption today. This morning at the produce market a woman near my age stepped up to the cashier at the same time I did. We were the only two at the counter so I stepped aside and allowed her to go first. Unfortunately for me (and 7 customers who accumulated behind me while we waited for her) she was a self-absorbed American.
We were at a local market. She spoke no Spanish whatsoever and was annoyed that here in Mexico everyone spoke Spanish.
You Don’t Have To Learn The Whole Language
Let me just interject here, you do not need to learn the language of every country you visit (although you can – click here). If you don’t speak any of the language, it’s best to stay in the tourist areas where people do speak English. If you do want to experience the ‘authentic’ culture go with a group or someone who can speak a bit of the language. Don’t screw up everyone else’s day because you’re the ‘adventurous one’. Real adventurers prepare themselves. Adventurers don’t go ice climbing without an ice ax or go off the beaten path without learning at least a few keywords and phrases to communicate.
Don’t Be THAT Person
What transpired with the woman was all too common:
- Things had to be done her way.
- Visibly annoyed that the local, in a local area, did not speak English.
- Oblivious that others were waiting while she had numerous request all of which took a long time to communicate:
- “Do you have a smaller package of this”
- “Do you have mint?”
- “Can you grind these seeds?”
- Inconsiderate of the local’s time who have jobs, kids, or other errands to attend to. She was on vacation with all the time in the world.
- Shocked that this corner store, not much bigger than my kitchen, did not accept credit cards.
- No knowledge of the cost of living and her comparative wealth. In English, she said, “I don’t think I have enough to pay for this.” She then laid down four 500 Peso bills (2,000 Pesos). Her total was 235 Pesos.
When she walked away she did not notice that the line of 1 person, me, had expanded to 8 because of her self-absorption.
I can’t understand her desire to be here when she expected things to be the same as they are in America. If you want to be an expat you have to expect things to be different.
To be an expat, you have to see different as interesting and fascinating, not wrong. I write more about that here.
(So Mom, you have so many interests I think you will love the expat life).
How You Really Become An Expat
Really you just need to want to be an expat. If you are super flexible, supremely open-minded, liberal thinking, endlessly patient, and embrace differences then, the expat life is probably for you.
The next step: go!
You’ll make it work.
So mom, do you really want to do this? I think we’d have fun together.