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British Expats’ Current Favourite Nations Examined

A survey undertaken by the UK Post Office has revealed the current top 5 favourite nations with British expatriates.  Countries like New Zealand and Canada are conspicuous by their absence, and instead it’s perhaps surprising to see countries like Thailand and America making the grade.

The survey reached out to British nationals living abroad to determine whether their new life makes them happy, what they miss most about home, what their current concerns are now that they’re resident overseas, and where most in the world they like living.

If you’re unhappy with the state of your life in the UK at the moment and you want to know where other Britons have finally managed to make a happy home for themselves, the survey will make interesting reading for sure.  And in this report today we’re going to examine the pros and cons, advantages and less than positive potential factors about each country in the British expats’ current top 5 nations to choose for a new life abroad.

1)  France

France is of almost universal appeal because it seemingly offers something for everyone.  It’s close to ‘home’ in the UK so it is extremely accessible, yet it is certainly foreign enough culturally, linguistically, historically and geographically so that anyone who moves to live in France can really feel like they have successfully expatriated!

For retirees it can offer a very quiet and laid back pace of rural life – for city slickers there is the ultimate urban destination in France in the form of Paris!  Families choose France because they believe it could offer their children a better lifestyle, and couples choose it because they want to live the dream.

As a Brit you don’t need anyone’s permission to move to live in France (well, there is some red tape, but you don’t have to apply for visas in advance of your relocation).  What’s more, you can work in France, have your children educated in their schooling system and even tap into their health system if you’re working and paying taxes, or you’re beyond retirement age.

However, as a recent entry in the Expat Telegraph will show, the dream is sometimes a nightmare.  An article by Melanie Jones shows why her dream life in France turned out to be exactly the opposite of everything she and her husband wanted for their family…so bad were the rural isolation and poor state schools that the Jones family returned to the UK.

Yes France does has an awful lot to offer – you can find perfect peace in the country, you can find better weather than in the UK, you can find sophistication in Paris and stunning views as well as welcoming neighbours.  You can also find racism, isolation, under funding, over pricing, nepotism and crime!

France could be a perfect country for you – or it could be your worst nightmare.  Just because it’s geographically so close and all Brits seem to believe we ‘understand’ the French and France doesn’t mean a move will be easy and integration assured.  Like any new country move you should spend time in France exploring the regions and determining where you could make a home for yourself.

You need to know that the cost of living is not significantly less, that the weather is not perfect, that transportation links outside of the main cities are non-existent and that if you want to make a living in France you need exceptional skills, an excellent grasp of the language and luck.

2)  Spain

The dream of living in Spain is one held by many Britons of all ages and from all walks of life.  For some, the thought that you can live in perpetual sunshine and not have to learn the local lingo is a draw, for others it’s the other side of Spain away from the tourist beaches that appeals to them most.

Spain is also quite close to the UK geographically speaking, it does enjoy excellent weather on the Mediterranean coastline for example, and because may Brits already live there, integration can be relatively smooth.  However, parts of Spain such as Mallorca practically die in the winter because tourists drift away and everything gets boarded up – and it does get cold!  Other parts of Spain such as Marbella are currently a crime hotspot.

The nation has been extremely badly impacted by the economic downturn, entire developments remain unfinished and some people are truly stuck living in Spain when they’d rather flee back to the UK.

To live in Spain you need to love the nation – ideally you’ll have a comfortable pension or income to live on, you’ll speak Spanish and your move will be a permanent one if you buy a house in the country.  Otherwise, try renting instead of buying so that you’re not tied to one location if it becomes less desirable.

Just like France, Spain can represent the fulfilment of the dream on every level – but do your homework and research to ensure you get your move right.

3)  America

America can be a fantastic place to live if you’re of working age, and you are therefore in receipt of a visa allowing you to take up the offer of employment or enabling you to start or buy a business.  Otherwise it is impossible to move to the US – unless you marry an American citizen!

The visa rules for the United States are arguably the toughest in the world particularly if you’re from the United Kingdom – there are no green card lotteries in the UK!  So, if you can fulfil the financial or skills criteria of a working/business/investment visa, you can go and live in the land of the free!

The advantages are too numerous to mention – exceptional healthcare (as long as you can afford it – and you have to have insurance) – great schools and extra curricular activities for your children, as long as you’re living in an affluent part of America.  Huge houses in vast lots of land – if you can afford to rent or buy one, and plenty of opportunity for everyone – as long as you keep on qualifying for your visa year in year out.

If you buy or start a business and employ enough American citizens to keep on qualifying for your visa, you make enough money each year and you don’t fall behind on your business’s ongoing successful development, you can stay.  If not, get out and leave everything behind.
If you’re in employment, be sure your skills are in wide demand because if you lose your job you’ll need to get another one quickly!  America can offer you an exciting, big lifestyle, you can integrate more easily because there is theoretically no language barrier, and Brits are relatively welcome across the States.  However, the negative side is that the yanks on the immigration desks are very suspicious of all foreigners – so you have to ensure your residency status is secure at all times!

4)  Australia

I don’t have the stats on this, but I have a feeling that a high proportion of Brits who emigrate to Australia have never actually been to Australia before!  We often receive questions from those who are attempting to make a new life down under, and who have been shell-shocked by how hard it is!

Yes, Australians speak English, but culturally they are far removed from Brits – so don’t assume you’ll fit in with no trouble at all.  Australia is different on many fundamental levels – what’s more, it’s so incredibly far from home that if you move there you may well feel a huge homesickness that could undermine even the most positive aspects of the move.

You can access better weather, better communities, a better way of life, less commuting, better jobs, good healthcare and education in Australia.  You can make great friends, benefit from fabulous amenities, facilities and activities.  All of those are facts.  However, you have to get a visa to go and live and work down under.  And aside from this hurdle, you have to over come the distance thing and the fact that as much as Australia looks like a perfect place to live, it has its downsides.

I would so strongly urge anyone contemplating expatriation to go and spend an extended period living in Australia before committing.  Get a tourist visa and go and look closely at all aspects of the country.  You need to be so sure, otherwise you will have wasted a lot of time and so much money and all you’ll be left with is disappointment.

5)  Thailand

Thailand has been creeping up the popularity stakes quietly over the past few years.  It was once only considered a party destination for drugged up teens or a dodgy sex tourism stop for the unmentionables – but Thailand is gradually shaking off these exceptionally negative labels and emerging as a potentially great place to live for expats of all ages.

You can retire and live very well in Thailand on a modest pension, you can go and work in Thailand or set up a business and do very well, or just make a comfortable living – enough for you to have a middle class standard of living.  For anyone it’s a fabulous place to live if you want to be in a tropical ‘paradise,’ and the travel and tourism opportunities in the nation are exceptional.

Unlike the other nations mentioned above, there is a great onus on you as an individual to spend time in Thailand working out how and where you could live before you embark on a move.  You might think that being in or close to the heart of business in Bangkok will be essential, but then when you experience the fairly hectic pace of life up close you may feel that actually, it could turn you off Thailand totally!

Expats often stick together and their neighbourhoods become priced up as a result – if you ‘pioneer’ and live in a Thai neighbourhood with Thai facilities in your home (Asian toilet and no hot water for example) you will not only get more for your money effectively, but you’ll be much more likely to integrate with locals.

Learn some Thai – although most expats say it’s nigh on impossible to master!  But with a little language you will go a long way towards much more harmonious and successful integration.  Explore the vast nation, find a place to call home and then don’t expect to sit still every weekend as there will be so much to discover.

Thailand is perhaps a good place for the more adventurous expat – not because it’s a very difficult country to live in, but because there is so much to discover that it’s a waste to live in one location and never explore further afield.

It’s true that the Thai people are so generous, welcoming, giving and respectful – coming from the UK I can guarantee you’ve never experienced anything like it.  But at the same time, the transition can be difficult if you’re not comfortable living outside your zones of familiarity.  Pretty much everything is different in Thailand – so visit first before you’re sure you want to live there.

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