What are the challenges of an expat life | Live Work Travel USA
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Is the Expat Life for You?

Many people dream about moving to America, starting a new life in the Land of Opportunity and they begin to search more and more reasons why their own homeland is not good enough anymore. There are many reasons that can make you want to leave. The biggest ones are war and living in a country where you have to fear for yourself and the life of your loved ones. Fear of being judged because of your religion, race, political opinion or sexual orientation. And there are other reasons, that might not sound very important compared to the previous points, but can as well make you miserable in the long-term. Fear of job loss, making ends meet, mood swings due to extrem and dragging weather. A lot of it is phsychology and the only solution seems to be to just get up and move to another place. Another country. Even another continent. But will this really solve your problems?

The United States are giving away over 50,000 greencards every year and people from all over the world can take part in this lottery system. Besides the people described above, there are also a lot of dreamers and wannabe expats from first world countries amongst the lottery participants. Winning a greencard makes everything sound so easy. Like collecting your ticket to your new and better life at the gas station around the corner. Kiss your friends and family good bye and start over fresh.

Starting over – That’s exactly what the expat life is all about. It comes with a lot of sacrifices and challenges, that you might not want to hear about when you sign up for the lottery. Not to mention that most of the lucky “winners” don’t even receive the card because they failed to meet all the medical, educational and administrative requirements. Did you know that approximately 125,000 people in 2013 got the good news, that they have won the greencard lottery? The Department of State already knows, that a lot of people will fall through and therefore announce more winners than they have greencards for. Others who successfully managed to meet all requirements and end up with the card, get cold feet or don’t have the financials to make that big step. It’s a big risk to take and it’s even bigger when you have family that depends on your income.

Job

Unless you’re financially independant, employment is the number one reason why you might fail in America. You need an income and therefore a job – self employed or the old-fashioned way. But with thousands of immigrants coming into the US every year plus thousands of new college graduates looking for jobs in their own country, the market in your profession could be very tough. However, with a top notch resume and excellent communication skills you can also stand out from the crowd, because you have an international background. Make it one of your selling points to impress potential employers. It takes courage to move to another country and starting over. A skill that companies like.

Language

Can you imagine there are many people who don’t even speak English and take part in the greencard lottery? Language skills are sometimes overlooked and people think they can start learning the language after they have moved to America. They say once they have to speak the language they will pick it up quickly. Well, it’s not that easy, especially if you need to find a job soon because your life savings are nearing the end. America is not going to catch you when you run out of money. There are enough homeless people on the street to prove that.

Friends & Family

This one can be easy for some, and the hardest thing ever for others. Leaving your friends, your siblings and your parents behind. There will be a lot of tears when you say good bye and sometimes it feels like it’s good bye forever. Even though we have internet today and video chatting is as easy as making a phone call, it will not be the same than seeing and talking to each other in person. Feelings just don’t get through the internet sometimes and body language doesn’t get across that well during a chat. While you’re super thrilled to start your adventure, your loved ones might be heart broken. Later on, once you got settled in America and daily life becomes routine, you might get homesick too and maybe even doubt your choices. Especially during events like Christmas, when you usually gathered around friends and family back home. The toughest part at some point will be when your parents pass away or they get sick and can’t live without a caregiver anymore. A time when they really need your support. You’ll once again doubt your choices and will question, if you’ve spend enough time with them when you had the chance or if it was the right decision to save the money for a flight back home year after year. Will you be able to handle this? If you decide to move away, make sure to visit your friends and family as often as you can, while you can.

 Immigration and Getting Adjusted

What you probably did not think about much is that a lot of things just work different in America. Bureaucratic things like the endless process of getting your visa/greencard approved. Things like getting your SSN or driver’s license, applying for a work permit for spouses, job hunting, signing a lease or buying a house, enrolling your kids to daycare, school or college. The list is long and some things will be easy, others very complicated and frustrating. Good language skills and making friends fast will help you to steer through the administrative jungle that’s ahead of you. It is however doable and even if you’re not good at making friends, who could assist you, there are plenty of good forums out there with very supportive members, e.g. www.visajourney.com.

hammock

Living Expenses

Americans don’t pay a lot for gas, right? That’s something the whole world knows, so you might think life is cheaper in the States. As with every country, it really depends on what region you live in. Living expenses in California and New York City are so high, that many people just “enjoy” it for a few years until they move into other states and smaller cities. The average house in San Francisco costs $600,000 and rent for a one bedroom apartment in New York City can easily be $2,000 a month and more. And that’s not even in a good part of the city. Check out this post about the cost of living in NYC. There are however also plenty of places throughout America with very low living expenses. The choice is yours, but most likely your job will dictate your options. If you don’t have a job yet, bring lots of savings to keep you afloat while job hunting. It’ll make you sleep better at night and stay focused to get the job you’re looking for.

Education

Do you have kids and a stay-at-home spouse? Then you better start saving for college, because American tuition bills are amongst the highest in the world. The average annual tuition (plus expenses) at a private nonprofit four-year college is about $35,000. There are cheaper options too, like community college with a 2-year degree for a few thousand dollars a year. You’ll also get a discount if your child goes to a college in the state you live in. All these numbers are of course per student. Good luck with 4 or 5 kids. You’ll spend a fortune for their education and hopefully won’t have to sacrafice your retirements savings. Or they will have to get student loans to cover the expenses, that they will have to pay off for a very long time.
If your kids are still very young and both you and your partner have jobs, you’ll have to find a place for them to stay during the day. Number one option is daycare, which can be even more expensive than college when you add it up. Calculate with $10,000 to $20,000 per year depending on where you live. I’m sure there are places that charge below or above this range, but this should give you a rough idea. My wife and I were able to save some money with a part-time daycare from Monday through Thursday and have a friend watch our daughter on Fridays. So there are other options. Au-pairs would be another one. Or grandma, if you’re so fortunate to have her nearby.

 Climate

Not sure what weather you’re used to, but in America there can be any climate you can imagine. From the desert in Nevada, to the freezing cold winters in the north to tropical weather in Florida, there is something for everyone. As long as you can choose where to live. You might end up in a place with a climate, that is totally different from the one you are used to, which can be good or bad. Remember the people who are suffering from constant bad weather? It could be even worse, if you just can’t take the heat in Florida or can’t deal with the dry air in Arizona. Did I mention tornados and hurricanes yet? There could be natural disasters right around the corner that you only knew from TV, ready to tear up or flood your house.

This paints a pretty dark picture of the expat life, huh? It doesn’t have to be all bad, but with everybody just wanting to live the American Dream it could be helpful to read about the challenges as well. Moving to another country is an extra-ordinary step and will bring you lots of life experience, but it can be very tough as well.

Are you an expat or planning to be one? Please let me know in the comments. I would love to hear your opinion about the points above and any others that you can think of.

 

Sources:

http://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2010/08/24/the-average-cost-of-a-us-college-education

http://connect.wolfsdorf.com/?p=1572

Photo sources:

Widimedia.org

http://www.progressive-charlestown.com/2012/09/labor-unions-and-american-dream.html

 

9 Responses to “Is the Expat Life for You?”

  1. steve razz says:

    I am a Canadian citizen but find it very expensive to continue to live here. I have had a job offer and would like to relocate to Florida, also because of the weather. What are the required steps to be able to do so?

    • Dan says:

      Hi Steve, I’m not an expert, but you will most likely have to get a work visa through your employer. I found this site, which sounds promising to give you the answers you are looking for:
      http://www.canadiansinusa.com/index.html
      Also, check out http://www.visajourney.com to connect with other expats from Canada and to learn from their individual experiences. Not sure if the US and Canada have special agreements regarding employment. Good luck and sorry I wasn’t of any help.

  2. marine says:

    Hello Dan,

    I’ve read a lot of your posts and I would like to thank you for all these very useful information! I will move to Buffalo NY i 2 months as my husband is transferred in the subsidiary of his company and I really don’t know how I will live this new experience! I’m excited to discover new things but I’m also afraid to be far from my family and to not find a job !!

    Can’t wait for your next post :)

    • Dan says:

      Hi Marine,

      Thank you so much for your nice comment! :)
      Comments like your’s always motivate me to keep going and find new interesting things to write about. The list is still long fortunately.

      How exciting that you’re going to move to the U.S.! Where are you from and what do you do?
      I’m sure you’ll love this new experience, even though it comes with some hurdles sometimes. It’s still so worth it and I would never trade it for anything.

      Enjoy packing and safe travels!
      If you have questions I’ll be happy to help.

      Dan

      • marine says:

        Yes I also think we’ll not regret it! It’s just “fear of the unknown” :-) I’m from France and I work as Marketing Coordinator. I checked on internet and it seems to have many offers in Buffalo!

        I have not really contacted companies yet as I’ll have to wait for my “work permission” which takes around 3 months (visa L1).

        • Dan says:

          Yes, you’ll have to wait until you have your work permit. Could be a little frustrating to wait for it, but without it, it doesn’t really make sense to do job hunting. But you can prep your resume while waiting and check out job postings that interest you to figure out what companies are looking for.
          To get ideas about what salary to ask for, check out http://www.roberthalf.com/creativegroup/marketing-salaries, although I always find their numbers pretty high.

          • marine says:

            Thank you for the link! I made the test for my function and yes I find the salary a bit high. You’re right it’s frustrating to not have the possibility to look for a job directly when I’ll arrive … I’ll have to be patient :-)

  3. Elijah Knight says:

    Hey Dan,
    I’m currently living in the UK I’m looking to move out to the states but don’t have a green card or visa how do i go about getting in to the USA and would having a vacation and looking at jobs while being there help me

    • Dan says:

      Elijah, it surely doesn’t hurt to spend a vacation in the U.S. to get a feel for this country and keep your eyes and ears open for employment opportunities. Maybe attend a job fair in some cities and be super prepared for any tough questions. Polish up your resume, bring a few copies with you and make sure to let companies know about your situation and that you would require a work visa in order to start working in the U.S. It could be interesting to learn how willing companies are to hire people abroad. I guess it all depends on your skills and if these skills are in high demand.
      Good luck!

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