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Why do people move to Western countries?

Posted on March 17, 2012
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East vs. West or the importance of employment over the quality of life

When time comes to decide whether to move to the eastern side of the world or to fall over for the East, the Standard of living is the key. A recent poll conducted by Expat Forum in conjunction with Barclays Wealth International, highlights that over the 20% of expats look for a better quality of life within the Western countries.

Despite the fact that employment is way ahead of any other reason to move to Eastern countries the general ranking of other reasons we discussed are fairly similar between the Eastern world and the Western world. The specific percentages associated with each and every reason are different between the two groups but there does seem to be some kind of consensus among the expat community.

There are many major differences between the Eastern world and the Western world much of which seems to centre round culture and the economy. There is no doubt that cultural differences between the Eastern world and the Western world are attracting more and more expats as well as economic prosperity which is being experienced in countries such as India. So while on the surface those moving to Eastern countries and Western countries appear to be leading very different lives, they would seem to be moving for relatively similar reasons.

Thus, Standard of living (20.29%) is a very popular reason for expats to move overseas to the Western world with just over 20% of the vote, Employment (40.49%) is the main reason for those willing to part to the other side of the globe, whereas it just comes the second for those making the move to the West (17.39%).

It is unclear as to whether expats in Western countries have moved from other Western countries or indeed they have moved from other areas of the world. Whatever the reason, moving for an improved standard of living is a reason which is at the top of the list of many expats. There is no doubt that we have seen significant improvements over the last 50 years with regards to the standard of living in the Western world.

Interestingly, while there have been major improvements in many Eastern countries with regards to the standard of living available to the majority, poverty is still a massive issue in countries such as India. It will be interesting to see whether, in the future, those at the bottom of the income ladder are able to climb even a small number of rungs towards a better life. Unless everybody is able to benefit from increased investment by governments and private companies, those living in abject poverty are unlikely to see a major change in their own lifestyles.

Employment (17.39%) is always going to be a major factor in the minds of anybody looking to move to a new country to begin a new life. Therefore it is no surprise to see that employment, at just over 17% of the vote, is number two in our poll of reasons to move to Western countries. The truth is that everybody needs an income to survive and with many multinational companies now operating in numerous countries around the world there are opportunities to move overseas for those with a flavour for travel. Among other considerations to decide to move abroad for the sake of a better job, you should think of opening an offshore bank account that allows you to match the currency of the account to that in which you receive your income (the most likely case would be paid in sterling, US dollars or euros).

However, it would be interesting to see the figure if we re-ran the poll today because the on-going problems with the European economy are having a devastating impact. Some may be surprised to learn that employment is only second in the list of reasons to move to a Western country although it appears that more people are more bothered about their standard of living.

Golden retirement and adventurous travelling, powerful reasons to move to the West

Some people may be surprised to see retirement as number three with the 11.18% of the total votes in the list of reasons to move to Western countries when you take into account other elements such as the weather, taxes and the cost of living. However, there are many countries in the Western world which offer a very favourable climate for those looking for a peaceful idyllic lifestyle in their later years. So perhaps we should not be surprised to learn that retirement overseas is becoming a factor which more and more people are now considering as they look to plan into the future.

When looking at retiring overseas you need to ensure you have sufficient funding, sufficient knowledge of the country and the area you are moving to and have something of a buffer between your finances and your financial requirements. Having this in mind, is advisable to take a look to the Barclays Wealth International financial planning guides, as they offer a simple way to a better understanding of your options to wisely invest and manage your wealth or more down to the daily needs, explaining you how to making international payments, sending money abroad and making international money and currency transfers.

But there is another powerful charm in moving to the West: Travel the world (9.52%). It would seem that the Internet has been something of a phenomenon with regards to those looking to travel the world, opening up new markets and offering online information on every element of every country around the world. As a consequence, travelling the world is now the fourth most popular reason to move to a Western country, something of a significant increase over the last 50 years. It is also worth noting that European immigration policies have been brought together and there is free movement for European citizens within all EU member states. Whether this is having an impact remains to be seen but countries such as the UK seem to attract more than their fair share of immigrants from both European and non-European countries.

Cost of living (8.90%)

It is something of a surprise to see the cost of living has only the fifth most important popular reason for moving to the Western world. This would seem to indicate that the standard of living, employment issues, retirement and the ability to travel the world are more important. Whether or not this is correct remains to be seen because this is perhaps one of the more surprising results of our online poll. However, it could just be that the cost of living across the Western world is broadly similar therefore it is not really an issue or a deal-breaker.

The on-going economic crisis across the Western world, and indeed the Eastern world, may well change the opinion of expats and perhaps lead to more consideration with regards the cost of living in your new homeland.

Weather (7.66%)

The weather is a subject which is always on the minds of expats looking to move to a new country although it is not always number one. The subject itself is the sixth most popular reason for moving to a Western country which when you consider the likes of Spain, Portugal and other sunny climes across Europe, is perhaps broadly in line with what one might expect. However, it is easy to forget that expats from all around the world move to the Western world from a variety of different reasons and depending upon where they have come from the weather in the Western world, and particularly Europe, may seem attractive.

Romance (7.45%)

If there is one thing that our online poll has shown it is the fact that love and romance is certainly not dead in the world of the expat community. A surprising 7.45% of those who took part in our online poll put romance as the seventh most popular reason for moving overseas. In reality there are very few people who would move to a new country on a “wing and a prayer” but then again if you are able to find love in a new country, would you say no?

While the “Mills and Boon” stigma attached to moving to an overseas country for love is all good and well, you also need to be realistic about your future finances, future situation, and future prospects. If you’re able to “find love in a foreign land” then this would literally be the icing on the cake for many people.

Taxes (3.31%)

While we have seen employment, the standard of living and retirement take the three top spots as reasons for moving to Western countries it is perhaps something of a surprise to see that the taxation issue in foreign lands is basically overlooked. Only a disappointing 3.31% of those who took part in our online poll suggested that taxation systems in their new homelands were the main reason for moving to the country. In reality we all need to ensure that our finances are in place, we have stable income for the future and the money that we earn and the money that we save is not overtaxed. Therefore, taxation should be an issue to consider when looking to move overseas, whether in conjunction with one or more other considerations.

Other reasons (11.59%)

There were many other reasons for moving overseas which took in everything from family issues to food, from culture to travel and everything else in between. While there was some overlap between “other reasons” and some of the main ones which we have covered we did seem to attract a fair number of “comedy reasons” which were entered in a tongue in cheek manner.


While standard of living, employment, retirement, travelling the world, cost of living, the weather, romance, taxes and crime were mentioned as the main reasons for moving to Western countries, the situation is only slightly different for Eastern countries. The top reasons for moving to Eastern countries were employment, standard of living, travelling the world, retirement, cost of living, the weather, romance, crime and taxes.

It is no surprise to see that financial issues seem to be foremost in the minds of the majority of expats looking to move overseas. This is perhaps the main reason why we have seen an explosion in the number of expat banking facilities over the last 20 years and it looks as though this market still has potential for more growth in the short, medium and longer term. Whether or not the on-going worldwide economic downturn will impact upon expats moving for employment and money purposes is debatable because if the situation is bad in your homeland then maybe it could be better in a new country?

For those moving to Western countries the standard of living (20.29%) and employment (17.39%) were the two main reasons although for those moving to Eastern countries employment (40.49%) was by far and away the most popular with standard of living in second place with just 16.60% of the vote. While many of us would have expected to see a significant difference in the popularity of individual reasons for moving overseas to Eastern and Western countries, there are only minor adjustments in the overall list. However, it is very clear that employment is by far and away the most challenging factor for those looking to move to Eastern countries.

It would be interesting to run the same poll again in one year’s time after the worldwide economic downturn of recent times. Would the results be different? Time will tell…

Mark Benson

16 Mar 2012

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