10 Expat Myths That Apply (Almost) Everywhere

It’s true many software developers have the easy path to become expats anywhere, which gives the false assumption that they’ve almost co-opted the distinction or title. There are other types of expats these days. They work in the San Francisco Bay Area.

There’s the foreign service officer or government worker and the foreign recruit working for a multinational company. Some stay for 3 to 6 months. Others stay longer — for years and even beyond which just means it has been a productive time both for themselves and their companies..

Expat labels come and go and are not the same in different countries.

In the past, there were more elaborate labels like the international knowledge worker —the non-native in a host country. A shorter name is used in Europe: internationals but it’s not the common name in the United States. More recently, the term commuter expat gained headway.

The only way anybody can tolerate the word “international” if it’s used to refer to students — thus, international students but they’re not expats if they’re in the US merely to study, such as in many cases now, those students find themselves starting their own business as well. Technically, those who come for business are entrepreneur expats.

And there are common myths about expats, which came out in this document titled “What if the sky was the limit? Sourcing a responsive economy, securing access to talent”. While this study was based in the Netherlands, it applies to many countries as well, including the US. In general, though, they have be working to be called one. For good measure, expat.com’s list of expat myths is also included here.

Expat myth #1: Expats stay in their host country for a relatively short period of time, maximum of 4 years

The research indicates that global citizens who settle and stay for at least eight years or do not expect to leave the country at all. This group goes through the same phases of life as a “regular” citizen; for example, getting married or starting a family.

On the other end of the spectrum are the so-called “free movers”, the growing number of “short stay” foreigners who stay for approximately one year. For many, however, there’s no coming back home if they get exposed to a good quality of life.

Expat myth #2. Expats are wealthy

Even though many expatriates look abroad for better career prospects and a higher salary than what they earn in their home country, there’s a common belief that expat employees receive a high income. Sometimes they are just break-even if the assignment is from company to company.

Expat myth #3: Expats typically arrive in this family set-up: man on an international assignment, with a spouse who doesn’t have to work and children who go to the international school. He earns a lot and the family only stays for a couple of years.

Many singles come to the US for work. Those who find a partner (local or international) are more likely to stay.  Software developers are getting younger — and they marry late. Many come from China and India.

Expat myth #4: Expats come to a country because they cannot find work in their own country.

Tech workers and healthcare professionals are in demand everywhere, even in their home country. But Silicon Valley is the center of all tech innovations because that’s where the big money is flowing.

Nursing is in demand because there are more than 35 million people who are 65 years old and above who need to be taken care of.

Expat myth #5. Expats must be able to speak English all the time to live in America

Yes, it’s true one needs to be able to speak English at work but America is a melting pot of different cultures. There’s bound to be a social community  (church, restaurant, neighborhoods) where one can connect with their compatriots.

Expat myth #6: All were born into a life of privilege and have a secure expat contract.

Foreigners often have to make personal and/or professional sacrifices and need to be flexible. Forced career changes and a high risk of unemployment are the two common challenges they share. What’s more, opting for an international assignment often implies “collateral damage” — that is, unexpected or unintended losses.

Expat myth #7: Those who follow their partner here do not need or want to work.

Many expats leave a career when accompanying their partner. The majority are actively looking for opportunities in a paid job or are seeking to start or grow a business. Partners are often highly educated, ambitious and agile. Dual careers have become the standard and are an important issue that deserves more attention.

Now, there’s the current issue being contested in Washington. Can spouses of expats get a working visa as well? It’s a hot button issue that if stricken down, could exclude many professionals from coming to work in the US if their spouses cannot work.

Expat myth #8: Expats can’t wait to go back to their home country.

It’s equally hard to return as it was to leave home in the first place. Leaving Northern California is not easy. The mild temperatures are the best. Nature abounds and people are chill.

Expat myth #9: All expats are satisfied, safe and sound in their life-long contracts; few want a change

Many expats are open to new opportunities, whether a new job, entrepreneurship, voluntary work or study. This also applied to people who were in a steady job. People in general are not open to change but expats come with fresh eyes and hope for a better life. They embrace change. Many get culture shock. They realize that working in Northern California may not be as stressful as they initially thought.

Expat myth #10: Tax rates and salary are the most important incentives

The most important incentives are a career or an education. Moreover, expats look for “the total package” of life, career, as well as soft and hard incentives. To sum up, they all seek the much-touted American dream.