At the end of last year I mentioned that we would likely make a change in residence this year. So perhaps a few of you are waiting for an update on that...
We are always in search of that ideal situation. John's career allows us to travel and experience different cultures by living as expatriates. The more we move around, the more I appreciate the ways that a location has such a variety of unique positives and negatives that makes it more or less desirable as a place to live. And those can really change depending on the life stage of the person considering them. Global shifts also make it appealing for us to stay flexible -- one place may be very attractive for a few years and then that can completely change because of world events.
All that said, we are at a point where we don't want to be moving to a new country every year. John is in search of the best move for his career and we both look to places that are the most appropriate for raising a young family when we have one. Our time in Norway has been completely frustrating. Have you ever moved somewhere or undertaken a project where it felt like at every step forces were working against you? Where every move you made was met with opposition or strife? That pretty much sums up our time here. With a few (a very few) exceptions, it's been almost as if the universe is saying: "Get out..." (Remember Eddie Murphy's poltergeist voice in Delirious? Yeah, that's become kind of a running joke in our house).
Too bad we can't stay, baby.
So we've been looking around. I thought it might be interesting to share some of the destinations we've seriously considered. I just came across the HSBC Expat Explorer Survey, which I had not seen before but seems to be very popular. Singapore and Thailand are the highest ranked overall. I am a little surprised by Thailand being second, not so surprised by Singapore, though for me it's not so appealing because of the humidity and how far away it is from Europe and North America. If we were to go there we might as well just move to John's hometown of Perth. Cayman Islands or Bermuda? Uh, yes please. Too bad those aren't really an option for us work-wise. South Africa ranks higher than Australia? That's interesting. I've never been to South Africa but I would not have picked that one just based on economic indicators. Norway isn't even listed. I should note that if you tick the box for "Raising Children Abroad" (in addition to the other ones) you get a completely different list, with Hong Kong, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands leading the pack.
But never mind about everyone else's opinion. Here are some of the places we've seriously considered:
A job opportunity in Baku came up at the end of last year. It was a rotational position, which would have meant that we spent eight weeks in the city and then had two weeks off (repeat). Very appealing for travellers. Not so much when the contract would require the selection of only one destination to fly in and out from every time. These packages are really geared towards workers who leave their families in their home country when they go away for the 'on' rotations. We don't have one home city we would choose. And even if we did, going back there every two months is not appealing to us in the slightest. We didn't want to fork out the extra money for onward flights so we had to let this one go.
I don't know much about Baku. The culture would have been interesting to explore for a year or so and the location is pretty central. I liked the fact that there is a decent sized expat population and that I could potentially learn Russian and practice it there. More on that later.
Expat Explorer Survey says: Not listed
O Canada - why not? We've always wanted to travel there. I visited Vancouver and Victoria many years ago and enjoyed it. Canadians are friendly and we wouldn't have a language barrier. They have a public healthcare system that is similar to that of Australia and Norway, so we wouldn't have to deal with private insurance waiting periods and premiums, etc. Of course, the job was in St. John's, which isn't exactly Toronto or close to anywhere else in the country. Things would be expensive there as they are in most places that are presented to us. The weather would not be an improvement to Stavanger, in fact, it sounded slightly worse. In fact, the entire island sounded a bit like Stavanger based on things I read in a few expat forums. But Canada remains on our list as a potential place to live should the right opportunity arise.
Expat Explorer Survey says: #21 (#3 if you have kids)
I've lumped the European countries all together because that's about the way we talk when we look at jobs anywhere in the EU. If you aren't qualified to work in the European Union (either as a resident or because you have a UK passport), the visa restrictions can be a huge pain in the arse. An agent dealing with a job in France told us it can take six months for a work permit - just a preview of the French bureaucracy if we actually moved there, I suppose. Netherlands employers never seemed to get back to us, we assume for the same reasons. Ditto for Spain and Italy. These would be amazing places to live for the cultural experience, of course, but salaries are also lower, taxes high and languages would have to be learned. At least we have a head start with our Spanish and Italian.
Expat Explorer Survey says: Only Switzerland, Spain, Germany and Belgium make the top 20. If you have kids, the Netherlands ranks number four for raising children.
Both Qatar and Oman have been on our minds for the last couple of years as potential places to live. The latter is the most appealing for us as a Middle Eastern destination but we have not seen a single job advertised there. Qatar looks good for salaries and taxes, good infrastructure for expats, cultural interest and location. Doha would be a smaller city compared to a place like Dubai. We are still considering both of these.
Expat Explorer Survey says: #16 (not enough data for those raising children)
I would absolutely love the chance to live in Moscow. Russian history fascinates me, both past and present. I'm also really keen to learn the language. Of course, Moscow is very expensive and I'm not sure how it stacks up when it comes to things like healthcare. But the salaries are high, taxes are low and the cultural experience factor tremendous. Unfortunately we've seen fewer and fewer job opportunities here as the months go by. Those that we do see are in places like Sakhalin, which doesn't really appeal to us. If I'm going to a place like Russia, where the language barrier is going to be huge and the culture and politics completely different than places I've experienced before, I want to be in a major city.
Expat Explorer Survey says: Not listed
United Arab Emirates
Dubai isn't exactly my idea of a fabulous travel destination but I think living there wouldn't be so bad. The heat is, of course, a factor. But it's a transportation hub with great airlines and affordable flights to anywhere in the world. It's a middle point between the United States and Australia. The culture is very westernized, with more foreigners than locals as well, which means a depletion in cultural appeal but an increase in ease of lifestyle, including language and availability of goods and services. Healthcare services are also modern and widely available. Something that comes into play for us is the issue of private health insurance in a location. Not that we necessarily want it, but should our expat status make us ineligible for the government or public healthcare system, then concerns arise regarding things like waiting periods. More on this when I get to the United States.
Expat Explorer Survey says: #20 (#5 if you have children)
Unless a company is willing to jump through the requisite hoops to sponsor John for a visa, forget it. The UK is currently killing itself with its oppressive immigration regulations. Salaries are also lower here than elsewhere, which doesn't necessarily knock it off our radar. But we are looking to maximise earning potential and the UK isn't a cheap place to live. I have not done too much research on other aspects of living there because the visa issue has never made it seem feasible to us.
Expat Explorer Survey says: #27 (#8 if you have children)
And finally we have my home country. For as many things that I love and miss about the US that make me want to move back there (conveniences, diversity, travel opportunities, etc), there are probably just as many that give me pause. At the moment, the two looming largest are the situations with the economy and healthcare. Because Obamacare is on the horizon and will tightly regulate private insurance companies from January 2014, those companies have become very aggressive in their policy structures. This means that things like maternity riders and coverage for pre-existing conditions are unheard of for private insurance. Buying into a group plan is costly if the employer doesn't cover it for spouse or family and waiting periods would apply to us. And unlike in many other countries, with the US there is no government health system to fall back on unless you have a very low income. For some people, their access to healthcare dictates everything they do - from staying in a job they are unhappy with to the quality of the care they receive in general. Considering the relatively lower salaries on offer in the United States, this makes it tough to consider.
Like the UK, the US also suffers from crippling immigration policies. While some skilled worker visas do exist and can be quite easy to obtain, they may also be restrictive in some aspects. When you look, for example, at what happens if you lose or decide to leave your job in Norway as a foreigner (you get six months to find another one), versus what happens should the same occur in the States (you have to leave the country in 10 days), it's hard to say that putting ourselves in such a situation is appealing. Getting John a Green Card on the basis of our marriage is easier said than done as well. I would need to move back to the US and re-establish my residency first. This would mean getting set up with a home and a job on my own. I would then have to sponsor him to come over. This could take many months. He has applied for the Green Card lottery, just to have another option should he be successful. This would simplify the process and allow us to apply from offshore without my having to become a sponsor with all that entails. We will find out in May if he got it.
Expat Explorer Survey says: #22 (#6 for raising children)
And then there's the option of just staying in Norway. Not a bad one at the moment, though by no means ideal or long-term. John has work here for the foreseeable future in a job he's happy with. Our visas are valid until sometime in 2014. We have healthcare. Of course, my experience with the public healthcare system here has been shocking so far, but, hey, at least if we have some kind of medical emergency we can be assured it won't bankrupt us. Megan Starr and I covered some of the pros and cons of living in Norway in our posts about things expats should know before moving to Norway. We've given up the lease on our house so the biggest inconvenience for us would be having to move. Of course, locking ourselves into another year lease means that we lose that flexibility. It's a tough call. At the moment we are seeing what the next several weeks bring in terms of job opportunities. We'll keep you posted...
Are you considering an international move at the moment? What are some of your thoughts and feelings on the matter?