This is a preview to the Preface from the book Should I Stay or Should I Go? by Paul Allen.
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Perhaps you’re standing at the kitchen window, watching the rain make paddling pool-size puddles on the lawn. Or you’re nose-to-tail in rush hour traffic after yet another 10-hour day in the office. And all the while you’re thinking, “Why am I here? Why am I doing this?”
Instead you picture yourself kicking back on a sun lounger, a cocktail in one hand, sunshine sparkling off the cool, blue pool beside you.
Or maybe you dream of a chalet high in the mountains, from where you can watch the last reds of sunset splashed across the snow-capped peaks ...
If any of this strikes a chord then you’re in good company.
US consulting firm New Global Initiatives has undertaken a series of surveys into the numbers of Americans who are relocating abroad, for reasons other than their jobs, military service, or education. Polls conducted for the organisation by Zogby International, and reported on the US News website, found that 1.6 million US households had decided they will relocate abroad, with another 1.8 million households said to be seriously considering moving1. In addition, 7.7 million households were reported as “somewhat seriously” contemplating relocating overseas.
And many have already done it. The Association of Americans Resident Overseas points to figures from the US State Department which estimate there are 5.26 million private US citizens (i.e. excluding those affiliated with the US Government) living abroad2. However, given there is no census of American citizens overseas, and so no hard data, this figure is thought to be on the low side.
Columnist Alan Paul, who wrote the award-winning The Expat Life blog for the Wall Street Journal, moved to Beijing with his family in August 2005 when his wife, Rebecca, became the Journal’s China bureau chief. “I pushed her to pursue the job because I thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he says. “I had always wanted to live abroad but thought I had missed my chance.”
And it has proven to be an amazing experience. “China is an incredibly dynamic, fast-moving, optimistic place right now. I loved the fact that every day was an adventure. I loved shopping at local markets, eating local food, and so on. I sort of anticipated all of that before I moved. The biggest, most pleasant surprise though was the great, tight-knit, fun-loving expat community we became members of. We had fantastic friends from all over the world and we became one another’s families.”
Canada likewise has no accurate official record of the number of its citizens living overseas. Research conducted in 2006 by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada though estimated the Canadian diaspora was approximately 2.7 million strong, of which 1.7 million live abroad on a permanent basis3.
Of that 2.7 million, the majority (1.2 million) were living permanently or temporarily in the United States. Another 644,000 lived in Asia, while 499,000 were in Europe, and the other 380,000 were scattered around countries in South America, the Caribbean and Africa.
Other developed nations are seeing similar shifts. An estimated one million Australians – out of a total population of a little over 21 million – are reported to be living overseas, with a fifth of them in London.
Meanwhile, a BBC/ICM poll conducted in 2006 found more than half the British population have considered or would consider emigrating4. And at least 5.5 million British citizens already live overseas permanently, reported a December 2006 study by the Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr)5.
Many are retirees. The ippr said one in 12 British pensioners were already living abroad, and that by 2050 as many as a fifth will do so. But the profile extends across the societal spectrum. There are sports instructors, builders, plumbers, doctors and engineers. Some are backpackers on a gap year who never get around to returning home. Others are professionals with young families, or those at the tail-end of their working lives seeking a final career challenge.
And it’s a continuing trend. According to figures from the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS), 207,000 British-born citizens left the country in 2006 to live abroad, the highest number since current records began in 19916. On the opposite side, 81,000 citizens came back, making for a net exodus of 126,000 citizens for the year, or over 2,400 every week.
The most recent figures, for 2007, show the number of British citizens leaving the UK for more than a year were a little lower, at 171,000, due at least in part no doubt to the credit crunch and subsequent financial crisis. However, the ONS pointed out that in comparison to the 1990s emigration remains high7.
The question is will you be among the millions of people around the world who are uprooting their lives in search of a better one elsewhere? Are you going to be one of those who make their pool-side fantasy a reality?
It’s certainly not as hard as it may seem to the many people who feel trapped by their jobs, finances, family, or whatever other reasons you care to name. What it does take though is a concrete decision, followed by decisive action.
Which is where most people’s dreams fade into nothing. For whereas the various survey results suggest there are millions of Americans, Brits, Kiwis, Canadians and whoever else saying they are keen to move overseas, a relatively small percentage actually do make the jump each year.
So what happens to the rest? There must be an awful lot of people mooning over the possibility, yet they keep putting it off as something they’d like to do “someday.”
But you know what happens. Instead another week goes by, then another month. Before you know it Christmas is rolling round again, and you’re still in that same job, the same house, living the same life. And all the while that nagging thought keeps scratching away at your insides – what if ...
So what’s holding you back? If you dream of a better life – whatever that looks like – don’t you think it’s time you took some real steps towards that future?
As Benjamin Franklin’s adage goes, “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Certainly there’s no shortage of information to help you go, from the multiplicity of moving abroad TV shows, to exhibitions, books, magazines and websites.
Most of these resources though concentrate on the mechanics of living abroad: where and how to buy a property, how to get a visa or a residency permit, how to open a bank account.
But going is only the first part of the experience. What’s harder is making your life abroad a happy and successful one.
Go back to that figure on the UK’s net migration for 2006. While more than double the number emigrated, there were still 81,000 people who decided to return home.
Some may have dashed back gladly, others reluctantly. But whatever the reason behind their return, a sizable proportion of those moving abroad don’t make their life there permanently. Instead they conclude their home country is where they want, or need, to be.
And that’s where this book comes in. For it addresses the most important issue of all: should you go in the first place?
Is moving abroad really right for you? Do you have a temperament that will be suited to the expatriate life? Or are you the type of person, with the sort of circumstances, who ultimately would be best placed staying where you are?
Yes, the whole life abroad thing sounds great. And yes, moving overseas can lead to a healthier, happier, richer life. But it is no fairy godmother solution. Every relocation has its downsides, its inevitable stresses and frustrations. And sometimes it simply doesn’t work out.
So by removing those rose-tinted spectacles and unveiling both the ups and downs of life as a foreign resident, this book will not only help you make your decision, but help you make the best decision you can. And that can save you a ton of money in wasted transport costs, legal charges, removals fees and property expenses, not to mention all the emotional strain and upheaval.
Should you stay or should you go? Answer that all-important first question and at last you’ll be able to take the requisite practical steps towards the life YOU want to live.
Because whatever you decide, it’s time to be happy and start really living. You owe it to yourself, and all those people closest to you.
So read on and let’s find out.