The expat blind spot

Updated: Jan 26, 2021

Expats are fantastic

Despite, or perhaps because of the challenges faced by living and working abroad, expats are some of the most impressive people you can meet. They are likely to be high achieving, hard-working and often really interesting and empathetic individuals. They have moved themselves, and perhaps their families, to another country with all the associated upheaval and turmoil that comes with organising visas and international logistics. This alone demonstrates bravery and resourcefulness when we all know moving house within your home country is stressful enough.

Consider just a few other challenges expats have to overcome. Things like navigating a foreign healthcare system. A system where not only the process for getting an appointment and paying for treatment is entirely different, but the whole philosophy and approach to healthcare can be completely alien.

Or how about finding somewhere suitable to live without local knowledge of different neighbourhoods? No understanding of what landlords or mortgage lenders consider as ideal candidates. No experience of how utilities are set up and or how to avoid unnecessary fees and get the best deals.

Or what about learning to get along with new work colleagues? Ignorant of how seemingly mundane actions can be perceived, something as simple as eating lunch at one’s desk to meet a deadline could be perceived not as being conscientious and hard-working but someone anti-social and unhygienic. The workplace can really be a cultural minefield!

Successive navigation of these experiences demonstrates the resilience, open-mindedness, creative thinking and resourcefulness of an expat. Studies have shown that expats that learn to speak another language might actually become smarter too. However, expats are only human and they do in fact have an “Achilles heel”: their mental health.

Expat surveys

Expats have been studied by researchers for decades. In recent times, as global enterprise has expanded, surveying expats has been commonplace for many international businesses. Some companies publish their reports online and HSBC and Aetna International, in particular, publish their findings annually.

The actual statistics vary (I advise you to check for yourself, even a simple google search of ‘expat-mental health’ returns over 4.5 million results) but on the whole, research has shown that expats are