If your chosen country has few other foreign expatriates, consider whether you might feel isolated, or whether you will enjoy the experience of being the only foreigner(s) in the local community. Life can be very challenging if hardly anyone else speaks your language and the culture is radically different. Remember that if you go to a country with a large expatriate population you will have an almost ready-made social network, there will probably be international schools that your children can attend and you will be able to find familiar imported products. However, those living almost exclusively in large expatriate communities miss out on getting to know the locals and experiencing the native culture, often one of the most rewarding aspects of living in a different country.
Consider whether you are likely to fit into the culture of the country you are thinking of moving to, particularly if is very different from your own. However, don’t forget that when dealing with the intricacies of daily life, there can be major differences even between countries such as Britain and America – to the frustration of many trans-Atlantic settlers! If considering a move to a very different society, such as from a liberal western democracy to a Middle Eastern Islamic society, you will likely face huge cultural differences. For example, women may have less freedom of movement in such societies, and the consumption of alcohol may be prohibited or allowed only in private homes. Similarly, in some eastern countries such as China, the concepts of personal privacy and freedom do not exist as they do in the west. In becoming an expatriate, you will become much more conscious of the need to observe cultural norms and traditions, something that you probably would never thought about when living in your home country.
You and your family may be involved in various organisations or activities at home that might not be available in your new country, including particular churches or other religious institutions. You should investigate what options are available in the new destination, and whether it would present any difficulties if you have to adapt your leisure, social or spiritual practices to the new environment.
It is important to research the year-round climate of your chosen destination, particularly if you have only ever visited during the summer holiday season. Life may be very different in the middle of winter, particular if the weather conditions are extreme. Take into account any environmental risks such as earthquakes or cyclones, and whether the level of risk would be a concern to you and your family. Try to find out whether there are other health hazards such as high pollution levels or high levels of pesticides in local produce. These may be a particular concern if you’re travelling with children, or if family members suffer from respiratory conditions such as asthma.
If you are thinking of moving to a northern European country, consider whether the lack of sunshine, and the relatively short daylight hours in winter, would be a problem for you and your family – remembering that it is often dark by around 4.30 p.m. On the other hand, summer offers the benefit of long light evenings in these countries, although it may be too cool to want to stay outside for long. If considering a move to a country with a hot climate, find out how high the temperatures and levels of humidity actually are and consider what it will be like to live and work in such conditions, bearing in mind of course that you will probably have air-conditioning to help cool you down when inside.