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6 common misconceptions about British expats

British expats have a mixed reputation abroad. Here are our top six misconceptions people have about British expats.

Written by E4E Editor on 3 November 2014

For British expats, there are few things more annoying than the stereotypical opinions of people they’ve left behind in the UK. We’ve summarised six of the most common misconceptions people have about British expats.

1. All expats are open minded

There’s a misplaced theory that because someone is willing to move abroad, they have a much more open mind about life. In many cases this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Just because somebody has moved abroad, does not change the way they think or behave. In fact, depending on the strength of the local expat community and common reasons for people relocating, it’s not uncommon to find British expats with a more restricted lifestyle and set of opinions than when they left the UK.

This isn’t always the case, but not all expats are moving abroad to broaden their minds and experiences.

2. Expats move abroad to avoid tax

While it’s often the case the British expats are moving to find better paid employment overseas, the proportion enjoying reduced taxes are quite low.

In many cases, the move abroad has been dictated by their employer restricting the choices for where they can relocate, meaning they have no say on their tax situation.

In some circumstances, due to the lack of a double tax treaty combined with still being classed as a UK resident, tax payments can actually be much higher, and certainly a lot more complicated which can lead to financial punishments if the correct advice is not sought.

3. All expats enjoy a better life abroad

Recent studies actually suggest that, while expats tend to romanticise about a life abroad, within a few years, home sickness kicks in – or the realisation of the state of local economy leads expats to want to return home.

In recent years, the unexpected twist of the global recession has hit many expats hard who overstretched themselves and their pensions and, due to currency constraints, are forced to live on the breadline as their pension won’t cover their costs. This has been especially true of British expats in Spain who have struggled due to the devaluation of the pound. Combined with falling house prices in Spain, returning home is also less of an option, with many expats finding that the sun is the main source of happiness as they stick out the recession in the hope for things to improve further down the line.

4. British expats don’t integrate into society

The typical image of British people abroad, talking English, confining themselves to “pubs” and talking loudly and slowly to locals in an attempt to have a conversation is incredibly dated.

It’s true that there are strong expat communities abroad and places where expats will go to meet up, equally a lot of time and effort is spent mixing with local people and communities to improve their quality of life.

This is aided and supported by online communities which offer expat friendly advice based on location.

5. All British expats are over 65 sun worshippers

When “British expat” is mentioned, often the first thought is of a tanned, leathery British couple sitting on a sun lounger, drinking a cup of tea after enjoying a full English breakfast.

While this can be the case in certain locations, more often than not British expats did not move abroad to sit in the sun for 360 days a year. In fact, a large proportion of expats have relocated to countries which see the sun no more than you’d find in Britain.

There are over 1m British expats currently living in Canada, France, Ireland and New Zealand – countries which encounter more extreme weather conditions than the UK (such as sub-zero temperatures, higher rainfall, fewer sunshine hours and stronger winds).

6. Expats are rich, multilingual and successful individuals

A common belief that moving abroad is for the preserve of the multilingual, successful CEO or most open minded individual. It’s quite simply not the case.

While it’s true that integration into a new culture and society is made much simpler with substantial wealth and an understanding of the local language and customs, it’s far from a necessity.

For British expats moving outside of Europe, often the most complicated element is securing a visa for your move, while those planning to move within the EU often find that it’s as easy as buying a house, and finding a removals company.