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Changing Face of Expat Fortunes: Surviving Abroad on Less

As the holiday season is already upon us, and with Christmas fast approaching for British expats no matter where in the world they’re living, a financial awareness that’s already been heightened in many by the changing face of the world’s economic fortunes, seems to have come to a head for many of our readers.  It seems that expatriates are increasingly worried about money matters, and about their general stability abroad.

We’ve received a number of comments and emails on this subject specifically, so we thought we’d put a small questionnaire out to some of our opted in readers to assess the situation further.  Whilst there are still executives and professionals thriving abroad, increasingly expats feel under fiscal pressure it seems; and not only are they surviving abroad on less money, they’re surviving on less job security and less overall stability in their international lives.

It’s specifically at a time like this that you realise just how vulnerable we expatriates can be.  We don’t have a state support system to fall back on, we are solely responsible for our financial security, and these realities are often played out against a backdrop of heightened instability if we’re living in a nation where politically or fiscally we feel unsure or unsettled.  Below are the findings of our ‘changing face of expat fortunes’ survey, and we’d very much welcome your own comments and feelings…

We asked 75 readers to take part in our survey to assess whether expatriate attitudes have changed in the last three years.  We asked ‘bearing in mind the state of the global economy, with Europe, the UK and the US especially badly affected, do you personally feel your financial status has been negatively affected by the events of the last three years?’

The majority of respondents replied that to a lesser or greater extent, they had seen their financial status negatively impacted over the last three years.  Comments ranged from unemployment to inflation affecting expats, and from increased tax rates to a poorer return on investment related income being a cause for less financial stability.

7 respondents out of our 75 explained that they did not feel that the wider global economic issues had negatively impacted them, but not one respondent gave us any indication to suggest that they were better off currently.

We went on to ask about the wider implications of less fiscal security: ‘assuming your fiscal status has been negatively impacted since global economic insecurity started circa 2008, how has this impacted or affected your life abroad?’

This drew some very full and frank responses from our readers.  One of the strongest messages imparted by those living abroad and in employment was that general job insecurity had increased.  For some it was a case of them feeling insecure in their current role or with their current employer, and for 37 out of the 75 people surveyed it was the stated case that the insecurity came from a lack of options and alternatives for employment locally.

This meant that the expatriates in question were all concerned that if they lost their jobs they would not be reemployed locally.

We wanted to ask our expatriates about whether they felt their ‘immigrant’ status left them in any way at a disadvantage at a time like this: ‘assuming your fiscal status has been negatively impacted since global economic insecurity started circa 2008, do you feel that your expatriate status has in any way exacerbated your exposure to resultant problems?  Or do you feel that as an expat you have more freedom and more options open to you?’

The responses to this question were as broad as the question itself!  18 respondents specifically mentioned the fact that they feel greater exposure to risk now that they are expats, because they are aware there is no buffer zone for them in the form of a state support system.  We read of expats feeling under increased pressure to have the likes of mortgage protection insurance in place, and to save rather than spend in the current climate in case of job loss.

21 expats advised us that having relocated abroad once, they were not overly daunted at the prospect of potentially having to relocate again if employment or financial factors dictated.  None of these expats had children in tow…

Finally we wanted to know how expats were prioritising their spending at the moment. ‘Once again assuming that your fiscal status has been negatively impacted since global economic insecurity started circa 2008, has this affected how you’re spending or investing your wealth, and how much disposable income you have?’

If you remember, only 7 out of our surveyed respondents felt that they had been fiscally unaffected by the global economic crisis, therefore we had 68 responses to our final question that all painted a very similar picture.

Without exception our expats advised that they had cut back on non-essential purchases – but opinion and action was very divided when it came to whether expats were saving more or less as a result of changing economic fortunes.  As one male respondent living in Dubai told us, “I’m saving every penny I’ve got left over because I just don’t know how long my job’s going to last, and it wasn’t a case of making hay while the sun shone for me before the crash, I was spending it as fast as I could earn it.  Now I want to have something to show for my time here, so I’ve become a bit of a joke among my friends as frugal has become my new mantra!”

Elsewhere, one expatriate female currently living in France explained, “we moved here for a better quality of life.  The plan was that I would only have to work part time so that I was always at home when the children were at home.  Initially this dream seemed achievable, but now it’s turning into a nightmare.  My husband’s salary is completely taken up with all our outgoings, and our only so-called ‘disposable income’ comes from my pittance of a salary.  There’s nothing to save, it all gets spent.”

The division between those who were saving hard and those who had very little left to invest each month was almost 50:50.  The conclusions we therefore drew from our survey was that the absolute majority of our assessment group had faced very changing fortunes since moving abroad, and whether it was a case of living with increased job insecurity or simply lower disposable incomes, 68 out of 75 expats were definitely living abroad and surviving on ‘less.’

As an expat, do you feel our target group’s responses are a fair reflection of life abroad currently?  We welcome your own comments and conclusions…

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