Having successfully expatriated from the United States to the Czech Republic, I’m quite familiar with all the benefits and drawbacks of becoming an expat. Though specific factors depend a lot on where you’re thinking of moving, there are a few general considerations to take into account. These are some general pros and cons of becoming an expat.
Con: Becoming an expat requires you to prove why you should live there
You typically don’t need a reason to simply exist in your home country. You can be unemployed, work three jobs, or choose to take a road trip for eight months and you don’t have to justify yourself to anyone. But when you want to be an expat, you need to demonstrate that you’re moving for a justifiable reason, whether it’s a job, a study program, or family reunification. This also means your ability to remain in the country depends on the reason why you’re there. If you applied for an employment visa, you need to keep the job to keep your legal status.
Pro: You may have far better opportunities abroad
On the other hand, you may have very good reasons to live abroad. Instead of putting up with terrible job prospects, shitty salaries, and poor benefits at home, you can simply go where the jobs are. Your experience and skill set might be in high demand in another country, making it easy for you to get a visa and find work that actually pays you what you’re worth.
In addition to better employment conditions, you may find more favorable housing prospects in another country. If it’s becoming prohibitively expensive to live in your home country, there’s a good chance you can find a better housing market somewhere else in the world. You might be able to live in a much nicer place for a third of what you used to pay in back home. Perhaps you’d even have the opportunity to own a home.
Con: Expatriating is a tiring and expensive process that you have to repeat frequently
When you’re trying to live legally in another country, you have immigration costs that repeat every time you have to renew your visa. Whenever you apply for a visa renewal or residence card, you need to pay the government again. If you need assistance with the paperwork or translation services, you have to pay an immigration specialist or a lawyer. If you change addresses or change jobs, you have to notify the government. The bureaucracy and paperwork are a pain in the ass to say the least.
Con: Taxes can be a nightmare
Unless you renounce your citizenship in your home country, becoming an expat means becoming responsible for two sets of taxes each year. Some countries have totalization agreements with each other, which saves you from having to pay taxes in both countries, but even still, you have to file and claim your earnings twice. If there’s no totalization agreement between your country of citizenship and your country of residence, expect to pay taxes annually to both countries. Unless you’re interested in getting well-acquainted with domestic and foreign tax laws, you might need to get an accountant.
Click here for more information on how to file taxes in the US as an expat.
Pro: Taxes abroad may go a much longer way
If you don’t give yourself a chance to experience a different reality, you might not realize how much better public services are elsewhere. You don’t have to live with high crime rates, expensive health care, endless traffic, or inefficient public transportation; there are places in the world where these things aren’t an issue. As an American expat, being able to walk into a hospital and pay zero dollars without fear that you’re going to get a $300 bill in three weeks because they sent a blood test to the wrong lab is a priceless benefit.
Con: You miss out on life back home
Becoming an expat can be considerably isolating. It’s not always affordable or feasible for you to travel home whenever you like. Sometimes that means missing out on birthdays, weddings, pregnancies, and the general passage of time. You won’t have regular brunch dates or even just the opportunity to relax and sit together with your family or friends. And you’ve never experienced grief like losing a loved one or a pet when you’re on the other side of the world.
Pro: It gives you an airtight excuse to get out of social obligations
For many people, life consists of work, errands, and an endless stream of social obligations. These are the events that don’t add anything but stress to your life but that you’re forced to go to anyway. The good thing about living abroad is that you don’t have to go to your cousin’s third baby’s communion because you’re out of the country.
Con: Language and culture can be a huge barrier
Unless you’re moving to a country where you already know one of the official languages, you might find yourself a fish out of water because you can’t easily communicate. To the extent that this affects your life as an expat depends on how much your native language is spoken in the place where you’re planning to live.
Culture shock might be another source of unhappiness. Any number of cultural factors might make you uncomfortable, like the way the servers treat you at restaurants or how (un)welcoming locals are to foreigners. You may find the people too cold and unfriendly (or way too friendly), rude, or disrespectful. You may have to abide by laws and norms you’re not used to and that you think are ridiculous. Unfortunately for you, when in Rome, you have to live as the Romans do.
Pro: Life might be happier somewhere else
People wonder why the rate of gun violence in the US is so high – gun laws, lack of mental health. Maybe it’s because simply living there makes you want to shoot someone in the face multiple times a day. People are overworked, underpaid, hateful, ignorant, and have very little social support. Maybe people in Finland don’t go out and shoot each other because new parents have 14 months of paid maternity leave. Or because companies are required to give their employees 30 days of paid time off a year. Or maybe it’s because people there value the things that matter in life – like family, love, and happiness – over making money.
One of the most beneficial things about becoming an expat is that you learn more about what makes you happy in life. Maybe you’d be happier and more fulfilled in Spain or Costa Rica, where you can take a siesta in the middle of your workday. Or in Japan, where it’s socially acceptable for adults to spend an entire afternoon at an arcade. Or in the Czech Republic, where you can read at the park while your child plays without fearing that he’s going to get kidnapped and murdered if you look away for two minutes.
Pro: Being an expat can be as permanent or temporary as you want
Even if it seems like a monumental decision, becoming an expat doesn’t have to be permanent. In fact, it’s temporary by nature unless you stay long enough to qualify for permanent residency. So if you’re considering moving abroad, take it one day at a time. If you decide you’re unhappy or too homesick, you’re under no obligation to stay for the length of your visa. But if you at least give it a try, you might find that a completely foreign country can be home, too.