Can You Fail at Being an Expat?

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A magazine interviewer asked me a question I’d never heard before the other day.

“How many expats fail?” he asked.

“I’m not sure what you mean.”

“Well,” he said, “how many expats return home before they die?”

It took me a while to recover, but finally I answered, “I know lots of expats who go back home for lots of reasons, but I don’t consider any of them failures for not dying first.”

“But,” the interviewer asked, “isn’t the point of being an expat to go away and stay away?”

Finally I understood what he was getting at. Many people… even many expats… think that moving abroad is a one-way proposition. After all, if you do the research and find that there really is a happier, healthier, more affordable place to live outside your home country… and you actually move there… going back to the place you left while you’re still breathing can only mean you’ve failed somehow, right?

Not at all. As one of my favorite sayings states so well, “Life is what happens to us while we are busy making other plans.”

Take Bob and Donna. We attended a little going away party for them at a local bar recently… they were moving back to the States. They’d been living happily overseas for eight years, and everyone wanted to know why they were “bailing out” at this point.

All they had to do was show the copy of the sonogram they’d received via email from their daughter in Wisconsin.

“It’s a girl,” beamed Donna. “First grandbaby. The kids are trying to pick a name, and it’s come down to either Katelin or—” there was a little catch in her breath… “—Donna.”

Failed expats? I don’t think so.

Bob and Donna had no plans to sell the little condo they’d been living in, either. “We’ll rent it out,” said Bob. “The cash will come in handy, and when we want to come back down and spend some time, we’ll have a place we already know and love.”

And as it turned out, Bob and Donna weren’t the only ones at their farewell party who were going back. Carl let it slip that he was heading back to Florida soon.

“Nothing against the medical care here,” he said, “but the best heart surgeons in the world are at the University of Miami; that’s just a fact. And I qualify for Medicare next November. My doctor here did a great job diagnosing my bum ticker, but with all the work it’s going to need, I have to make the move and take advantage of Medicare and the University health center.

“And Florida doesn’t have state income tax. I won’t live as cheaply as I would here, but I’ll manage.”

As Carl and Bob and Donna clearly show, things change. The reasons for leaving your home country… and the reasons you had for choosing your destination country… may not stay the same over time.

In fact, it is very likely that they won’t stay the same. Change is the one constant in life, and if personal circumstances change or the conditions on the ground in either the home country or adopted country change, a smart person takes that into consideration and changes their plans with them if necessary.

In other words… the same reasoning process that lead to a decision to move overseas just might eventually lead right back home, at least part time, if things change in certain ways.

Recognizing that and doing something about it isn’t failure. It’s the same good sense that leads many expats overseas in the first place.

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