Yes, we are considered as an expatriate family. Just because we relocated to a different country for work, with relocation compensation, we are labelled as expatriates.
According to Wikipedia, In common usage, the term Expatriate is often referred to professionals or skilled workers sent abroad by their employers, who can be companies, governments, or non-governmental organisations. Effectively migrant workers, they usually earn more than they would at home, and more than local employees.
Immediately, I spotted a common misconception in the description. Expatriates do not usually earn more than they would at home. Many of them I know earn about the same wages they would back in their country after you take away the prevailing taxes, the exchange rates as well as expenses that they will not incur if they are back home. For an example, I would not incur rent if I’m back in Singapore because we will be living with family. If it is not money, then why would someone uproot themselves from their comfort zone and torture themselves from homesickness and culture shock? Believe it or not, money is not the reason why many of us relocate. Searching for a new adventure, challenge ourselves, creating new dimensions in our resume, exploring new opportunities in our industry are just some of the reasons that motivate us to pack up and go.
So while it may seem that many of us are paid handsomely to be away from our family and loved ones, some of us are paid as much as the local hire sitting next to us.
Sure, many of us are living among the expatriate community (usually in better and safer environment) where we create a strong bonding community in place of our family and friends back home. And property popularized by expatriates are usually very expensive. Sometimes, these expenses are covered by the relocation compensation package, sometimes the incumbent chooses to have that benefit converted into cash instead of rental and it wouldn’t be unusual if your package doesn’t cover such additional expenses at all.
So the next time you meet an expatriate, please don’t go “Wow! You’re living the good life.” instead think about the additional expenses like a high rental, expensive air ticket home during holiday seasons and medical emergencies that your company’s insurance won’t cover because you are a foreigner.
Unlike decades ago, companies have to dress up their relocation compensation (housing allowance, car and chauffeur, children’s education coverage etc) to attract talents willing to exchange their sanity for unknown adventures in Asia, it is much more common to have the same talents requesting to move overseas for better exposures and experiences. Companies found that they do not need to even offer compensation in order to get someone to move.
But of course, Asia still offers in general, a good life in comparison to many developed countries like the States and Europe. Where else are you able to hire a live-in maid for USD$400 a month? It is an unthinkable luxury to have a helper to look after your housework and your kids in Europe. Or get a brand new car at USD$7,000 or even lesser? Or have your better half not working but spending time at home with your children or exploring new ventures/hobbies? Or not having to worry about 4 seasons when there are only 2 seasons in Asia – sunshine and rain? (Likely to battle with humility than frostbite.)
Still, comparing to our local hire, I still hate it when someone comments that we are living the ‘high life’ just because we are expatriates. It is as if more money justifies the whole lot of things we are missing out if we are back home. The missed birthdays/anniversaries/important dates of our family and friends, the fear of losing our own culture that is fading with each additional year, you growing out and away from your home country (I felt I’m a tourist in Singapore whenever I’m back), your old social life moving forward without you and the feeling that no matter how long you have been in the same place, you’ll never be a local.
So like all situations, if you haven’t been in one, the grass always seem to be greener on the other side. Many may think being an expatriate means good pay package and high luxury life but not many see the sacrifices behind the move that will last for more than 2 years.
Do you agree with me? Are you an expatriate too? Share with us your thoughts.
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