Anecdotally, the answer to has Covid-19 burst the expat bubble is that, for many, yes it has. Plenty of expats, like us, are still bobbing along, however, we know of other families whose expat bubble burst with a sudden bang, leaving the rose tinted glasses of their lives abroad shattered for good.
There are several major push factors driving global nomads homeward, including job losses, schooling, healthcare concerns or political instability. Equally so, there are other factors pulling expats home, family reasons probably being the biggest one. For others still, the added layers of uncertainty, bureaucracy and stress on top of the regular expat hurdles were the straws that finally broke the camels’ back. These expats have decided that the pros no longer outweigh the cons, prompting them to cut their assignments short.
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Unemployment has forced plenty of expats to return home.
Losing your job is rarely a pleasant experience. Generally, a sudden job loss results in financial hardship and the need to find alternative employment.
In expat circles, your visa status is often tied to your job. Therefore, no job means no visa and the consequence is the need to uproot every aspect of your life and return home at short notice. This means that not only do you lose your job, but also your community, your child’s school, your home, even your phone number – all at the same time.
Conversely, other nomads have found themselves locked out of their host country when borders closed, with no foreseeable way to get back in any time soon meaning they have had to give up their job and ask friends or employers to pack up on their behalf. With goodbyes unsaid and their time cut short, these expats have not had closure.
Family Life and/or Responsibilities
For others, the ongoing disruption to family life has become too big a burden. Plenty of expat families have been apart for months and months, with no end in sight. Our nuclear family spent 5 months apart in 2020 due to border closures and it’s pushing two years since we’ve seen manyof our nearest and dearest.
Equally, for those with with elderly or sick relatives or children at boarding school, the pull to return home has grown stronger.
Every country has handled the pandemic differently, but most kids have experience school closures and the lucky ones have had online lessons. Some parents have chosen to return to their home country where schools are open, preferring the continuity of their child’s education. Conversely, others have returned to their home country where schools remain closed/have tougher Covid restrictions because they feel more comfortable that their children are not at risk in a classroom environment.
Relocation Woes: Moving Internationally During Covid-19
International relocation is stressful, international relocation during a pandemic is a new and special kind of stress-test, because of the added difficulty of finding community and connection amidst online schooling and lockdowns. Then of course there is also the added layers of paperwork and constantly moving goal posts in terms of paperwork needed for travel and vaccine and quarantine requirements and the increasing hoops to jump through to move pets and personal effects.
Lack of Community and Connection
Moving is isolating and lonely at the best of times, but for those who moved in recent months, depending on their destination, there have been limited opportunities to kick start their new network. In some cases, this lack of connection has proven too much, causing expats to give up and go home.
Additional Moving Costs and Red Tape Hurdles
The costs and in some cases restrictions on relocating pets have suddenly added to the burdens of global living. Panicked pet-parents have been trying to find new routes, pet companions for unaccompanied pets or even new homes for their furry friends in scenarios where transporting pets has become too complicated, costly or impossible.
With all the pressures and shortages in the worldwide shipping scene, the cost and lead times for shipping personal household goods skyrocketed over night. Every week we hear tales of expats who are waiting for their furniture and other items to be delivered, only to be told repeatedly that it has been delayed – yet again – and that the cost has meanwhile increased, even doubled or tripled….and that on top of that they are liable for storage charges racked up en route, bringing them to a point where they either have to pay up or – when the cost of shipping far outstrips the value of the goods – abandon the shipment altogether.
Healthcare, Social and Political Social Unrest
For any expats based in countries with poor healthcare facilities or lack of vaccine availability, what may previously have been considered a manageable risk, may have become a deal breaker.
Additional social or political upheaval driven by vaccine inequality/lockdown standoffs/poverty caused or exacerbated by Covid-19 there have also been factors driving expats away from certain locations.
“You chose to live abroad”
Yes, as expats we choose to live far from home, but just as you would be in a pickle if you signed up for a job and then you were given an unexpected pay-cut, or you bought a home with a beautiful view and somebody built an ugly great factory ruining it and polluting your local neighbourhood, the choices made by many expats were made under entirely different circumstances.
We’re still in the bubble and have been fortunate to have speedy access to vaccines and live in a city that has had phenomenally low rates of Covid due to strict border and quarantine controls. On the flip side, the strict border and quarantine controls have meant visiting home has been off the cards.
Expat life is often like a game of musical chairs, but now all the rules have changed without warning, the music has stopped and someone took an unexpected number of chairs all in one go leaving plenty of expats landing flat on their behinds.
And now of course, with the recent discovery of the Omicron variant and the resulting precautionary travel restrictions, many expats have found their longed for Christmas reunion plans torpedoed at the last minute.
Out with the Old, in with the New
Conversely, while this unexpected expat exodus has been underway, so too has the pandemic given rise to newly minted expats. Some of these first timers have decided to escape from Covid related problems in their home country and seek greener grass elsewhere. Others have realised that with more work going online, they are not necessary tied to working in one location anymore and have decided to try somewhere new.
How about you? Has your expat bubble burst or is it just a bit flat, leaving you feeling deflated?
Are you staying put? Moving on? Going home? Or leaving home for the first time?
How are you coping? Okay? Brilliantly? Terribly?
I can safely say that home has never felt so far away…