How has the pandemic affected expats?
A monumental shift of expat trends happened during the pandemic: we started appreciating life. The old adage “work to live; not live to work” became more than a saying. We actually started making the changes that would allow us to choose our personal lifestyles.
Many illuminating research studies have been conducted that quantify the changes in expat trends. Examples include a survey by the Transamerica Institute of more than 5,000 U.S. workers who report that 78% have changed life priorities as a result of the pandemic. In an Oracle AI@Work study, 88% say the meaning of success has changed for them, and that they’re now prioritizing things like work-life balance, mental health, and work flexibility.
Gallup recently asked 13,085 U.S. employees what is most important to them when deciding whether to accept a new job offered by a new employer. Sixty-one-percent cite greater work-life balance and better personal well-being.
The expat trends noted in the general population extend to expats living and working abroad. A Cigna study focused only on expats explores five key life components: family, financial, physical, social, and work. The survey included 11,922 people aged 18-65, in Australia, Belgium, Mainland China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, The Netherlands, UAE, UK and U.S.
The study reveals how the priorities and characteristics of expats are changing.
‘Lifestyle’ is a term that includes a multitude of factors, including mental and physical health, family, location, work, and the balancing of finances to support goals.
Lifestyle has now replaced finances as the number one priority for those living, or planning to live, overseas (Cigna). Along with this, the desire to be closer to family is now a top three priority, ranking above job market considerations by more than a quarter of existing expat participants.
While lifestyle is the most important factor for expats of all ages, add a new concern: geopolitical safety is a major reason for wanting to relocate for:
- 20% of ages 25 – 34
- 25% of ages 35 – 49
Health is now a major priority for all groups, with 23% of existing expats considering moving in order to have access to, or afford, better health care.
Mental health issues emerged in the general workforce Transamerica survey. The survey found that 46% of people in the workforce agree that they ‘often feel anxious and depressed’ and 62% are ‘somewhat’ or ‘very concerned’ about their mental health.
Stress is affecting more expats than ever before (Cigna). When compared to workers in their home markets, the percentage of expats reporting feeling stress was 90%, compared to 77% of those in their home markets. The survey goes on to report that 89% of expats’ stress comes from having to be ‘always on’ for work and not being able to unplug.
When travelling to visit family was relatively easy, being physically close to them was of lesser importance. After experiencing pandemic lockdowns, closed borders, and often-changing travel restrictions, proximity to family has become more important. Seventy-six percent of expats surveyed said that being close to family and friends is more important than before.
Over 25% of existing expats now make proximity to family a top three priority, over job market considerations. For expats who have been abroad for more than five years, it’s priority number one.
Cigna reports that people are choosing to take roles that are closer to home, with a move away from ‘long haul’ expats destinations, towards more localized, regional roles. These expat trends contribute to a shift away from moving to some traditional low tax hubs in Asia, as people’s priorities shift from finances to lifestyle.
One of the most noticeable trends is a demographic shift away from mid/senior career movers, with expat hopefuls in their 20s and 30s increasing:
- 37% of those age 18 – 24, and 34% age 25-34 want to move abroad.
- 13% of those over the age of 50 are hoping to move abroad.
Forty-five percent of U.S. workers who quit a job in 2021 cited the lack of flexibility to choose when they put in their hours among the reasons they quit (Pew Research study).
People who are considering a move abroad say that flexible hours are critical: it is one of their top three considerations.
Finances and Retirement
Mirroring the general population, financial concerns are contributing to expats’ worries. Only 38% of expats are confident about the current financial situation, falling to 19% for expats currently residing in Switzerland. Swiss consumer confidence is at a 50-year low, even though its economy is doing better than many countries in Europe.
When looking at their long-term financial situation, just a third of expats think they have sufficient savings for retirement. However, this is more than the 22% of Americans at home who feel this way.
Of those planning to move abroad, 31% rate ‘seeking a better job market’ as their number one reason. This may be part of a strategy to earn more now, as 55% of expats said they are planning to retire earlier, even if it means having less money than they originally planned for (Cigna).
The views expressed in this article are not to be construed as personal advice. You should contact a qualified and ideally regulated adviser in order to obtain up-to-date personal advice with regard to your own personal circumstances. If you do not then you are acting under your own authority and deemed “execution only”. The author does not accept any liability for people acting without personalised advice, who base a decision on views expressed in this generic article. Where this article is dated then it is based on legislation as of the date. Legislation changes but articles are rarely updated, although sometimes a new article is written; so, please check for later articles or changes in legislation on official government websites, as this article should not be relied on in isolation.
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