Reviews of my favorite books written by expatriates, journalists, and diplomats on what it's really like to live abroad

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Book Review: The Truth About Moving Abroad (& Whether it's Right for You) by Paul Allen

I hadn't realized how pervasive the dream of living abroad is until I read the stats in Paul Allen's new book, Should I Stay or Should I Go?: The Truth About Moving Abroad and Whether it's Right for You. Turns out nearly 10 million Americans are seriously considering moving to another country for at least a while, and nearly 50% of British citizens yearn for foreign shores (presumably sunnier ones.) However, roughly 25% of Brits who take the plunge and actually emigrate wind up moving back home again often because the reality of living abroad wasn't for them.

Should you get serious about your dream, or would you be happier as an 'armchair emigrant'? I know I've often wondered myself as my own family's target date for formally moving to the Balkans grows closer. So, I was happy to get Paul's book.

First he gives a light overview of some of the most popular countries - Australia, Canada, Mexico, France, the UK, and more. (Serbia didn't quite make the list.) Next, he examines the 10 'make or break factors' for living a happy life abroad. This was the most interesting part of the book for me because it's not information I can get from any guidebook.

For example, did you know people living in northern Spain may be plagued by flies throughout the extra-long fall season? Or that people in San Diego spend many sunny summer days cooped up indoors with the air conditioning at full blast just to cope with the heat?

And, the cost of living in most European countries is much higher than in the US. For example, Chicago is a bargain compared to Madrid. Cost of living overseas also fluctuates a lot more than I had expected, countries that were fairly cheap as recently as 2002 are now harder to afford. That could make planning hard for people on a fixed income. Healthcare costs for expats may also be rising as governments save money by restricting national healthcare systems to their own citizens alone.

Paul's 'lifestyles' chapter is perhaps the most insightful. For example, although he expected to explore all of Europe on holidays when he moved from the UK to Spain, he wound up spending every holiday back in the UK visiting family. Also, if you're lucky enough to land a job overseas, bear in mind that expats often have to work far longer hours than they did back home, especially if they're reporting back to an HQ in their original country.

The point of this book is to add a dose of reality to your expat dreams. Paul has included both personal stories of his own experiences as well as lots of charts and graphs from formal research studies. I like that mixture of anecdotal and observational data a great deal.

If you've already lived in another country for an extended period (longer than a holiday) then you may not learn much. But, if you haven't, and you're even remotely seriously considering moving abroad, I'd recommend this book strongly. Expatriating is too big a decision to make with nothing but stars in your eyes.

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