Why 2019 is a great year to live abroad

Around 50 million people live outside their native countries, enticed by the many benefits of expatriation. Such an upheaval isn’t without its challenges but as we approach 2019, an expat survey* suggests there’s never been a better time to live abroad.

Why 2019 is a great year to live abroad
Photo: Anete Lūsiņa/unsplash

Moving abroad once meant sporadic contact with friends and family. But that’s no longer the case – advancements in technology like video calling and social media make it easier than ever to stay in touch with the people back home. You might even speak more than you did before the move!

It’s not the only common expat struggle that technology has eased. Simple things, like a visit to the doctor can seem insurmountable when you don’t speak the local language or understand the healthcare system. But nowadays a quick Google search can answer nearly any question and you can see a doctor online, in your own language, with virtual doctor services like the one available on some of AXA’s global health plans.   

Find out more about AXA’s global health plans

With all these advancements facilitating life abroad, it’s no wonder that expats are happier than ever. In fact, 52 percent of expats* say they have a better quality of life than they did in their home country. And of those who moved abroad for an adventure, nearly 95 percent* believed it lived up to some or all of their expectations. It seems there’s never been a better time to live overseas and the majority of people who do have found happier, more fulfilling lives.

Of course, finding happiness abroad depends on what you’re looking for. Happiness looks different to different people; for some it means more money in the bank while others are simply searching for a better quality of life.

Boost your bottom line

If you’re keen to increase your personal income then moving to a new country could boost your bottom line. The average expat income is $99,900 (€87,597), a 25 percent* increase since relocating. In fact, more than one in ten expats say their income has doubled since the big move. In Switzerland, where in 2016 the median monthly wage before taxes was 6,502 francs (€5,450), expats earn around 54 percent* more than they had at home.

Money doesn’t always mean happiness and expat life can present other opportunities. An increasingly common reason that many people up sticks is to seek better work-life balance. So it comes as no surprise that 53 percent* of expats believe they divide their time more equally between professional and personal activities in their adopted country. In France, that figure rises to 75 percent*, where three quarters of expats say that they have found a better mix of professional and personal life.

Expats in Spain also see significant improvements in their personal lives. With Spain’s milder climate, slower pace and community-driven culture, close to three-quarters* (73 percent) of expats believe that their quality of life has improved. In fact, Spain is ranked the number one country for a more active social life compared with an expat’s home country.

The great outdoors

The warmer the climate, the more likely you are to spend outdoors, right? Think again. Expats in Norway are the most likely to take part in more outdoor activity, with 59 percent* of those living in the Scandinavian country spending more time than before in the great outdoors. The benefits of being around nature are well touted so moving to Norway could mean a step in the direction of a happier life – and as the Norwegians say: ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing’!

City life, on the other hand, comes with many perks – expats in capitals like Berlin have plenty of opportunities to indulge their every cultural whim. At the same time, they enjoy a more affordable cost of living – 61 percent* of expats find life in Berlin cheaper than back home – while 57 percent* say a reliable and convenient public transport system makes it easier for them to get around.

It could well be that the move abroad is spurred on by wanting a better life for your family as a whole. In Sweden, where family life is highly valued, 36 percent* of expats have children compared with 29 percent* of expats overall. Expat parents in Sweden are unsurprisingly satisfied with the country’s subsidised daycare and public school system with 72 percent* saying the quality of childcare is better than it was at home.

Perhaps most tellingly, just 15 percent* of expats around the world are planning to leave their adopted country ahead of schedule and only 23 percent* have been through a repatriation process. With increased mobility, technology that enables you to speak to friends, family or even a doctor wherever you are in the world plus the financial and lifestyle benefits, 2019 is undoubtedly the year of the expat.  

Find out more about AXA’s global health plans

With AXA’s global health cover, you and your family are protected at every stage of expat life. Find out more about AXA’s international health insurance and start living the expat life you’d always hoped for.

*Reference: HSBC Expat Explorer Global Report 2017

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Meet the expat who is now Sweden’s youngest PhD

Stefan Buijsman, 20, just finished a PhD in the philosophy of mathematics. He tells The Local what his work is all about, and why Stockholm was the best place to do it.

Meet the expat who is now Sweden's youngest PhD
Stefan Buijsman. Photo: Anna-Karin Landin

Sweden’s youngest PhD has had a busy few weeks. Since completing his doctorate – becoming the youngest person in the country to do so – he has done plenty of media interviews about his work, appearing in over 50 publications.

“It’s been great, because you don’t normally see philosophy in the news!” he tells us when we meet in his office at Stockholm University. “And not many people have heard of the philosophy of mathematics.”

Summing up his thesis, Buijsman explains: “I'm looking at how we learn maths – and trying to understand what it is. Is maths about anything real, or is it just something we’ve been making up for 3000 years?”

Buijsman, originally from Leiden in the Netherlands, completed his work in just one and a half years (after finishing his Master's aged 18).

“The main reason was that I had lots of supervision from two very good professors; they were one of the reasons I chose to come to Stockholm. I wrote a chapter of my thesis every two weeks, then they’d tell me for three hours straight every single thing that was wrong with it. I’d write something new and then two weeks later we would repeat the process!”

The philosopher credits Sweden's more informal working culture with making this possible. Compared with the Netherlands, he says “getting help is easier here, people are very approachable. So it's much easier to go to a professor and talk about what you’re interested in or struggling with”.

Stefan meets the Dutch Ambassador after completing his PhD. Photo: Anna-Karin Landin

But what makes his speedy completion of the doctorate even more impressive is the fact that he didn't need to pull any all-nighters in the library to achieve it – quite the opposite.

“I try to limit very strictly how much I work,” says Buijsman. “In my experience, if I work more than 35 to 40 hours per week, it’s too much. Especially with work that’s mentally demanding, your brain needs long breaks so you have the energy to be creative.”

This relaxed – and very Swedish – approach to working hours has also given the academic plenty of time to get to know his new country and to meet people.

Why Stockholm attracts so many international researchers

He hasn't found that his age has been a barrier to socializing with fellow PhD's.

“I skipped my first class at the age of four, I have always been around older people so I don’t really know anything else. For the first two weeks, it’s a bit strange for everyone else, but then they get used to it – I’m doing the same kind of work so people forget that I'm 20.”

Despite being close to a decade younger than the average PhD in Sweden, Buijsman wasn’t nervous about his defence – the public debate with professors which marks the conclusion of the degree.

“It was a lot of fun!” he laughs. “One of the professors is designated as your 'opponent', and they question you on your ideas. We spent half the time just discussing my ideas and getting excited about what to do next.”

Indeed, Buijsman's work could prove very useful for teachers, psychologists, and everyone who has ever complained that they just don't 'get' maths.

He explains that the field of philosophy of maths has for a long time been dominated by two groups: “One group believes numbers are things which really exist, and that when we do mathematics, we discover things about them. The other believes they do not exist, and we just make everything up.”

Photo: Anna-Karin Landin

Buijsman's research looked at how non-experts use maths in everyday life, for example when shopping – and discovered that “absolutely none” of the theories philosophers had come up with can be applied to how ordinary people use maths.

“This means some people are making it all more complicated than it needs to be – and we don't have a good understanding of how people learn maths.”

Having reached this conclusion in his PhD, Buijsman's post-doctorate studies – which he started “pretty much immediately” after finishing celebrating – will look at how people do use maths in real life.

“What’s next is the interesting and useful bit,” he says, adding that he hopes his work will prove useful for teachers and psychologists, as well as students.

“It could be very helpful. Of course, telling people some philosophical story of what numbers are isn't very useful, but right now we don't have a story that everyone agrees on anyway. Understanding how we learn maths may help give us more effective teaching methods.”

The 20-year-old received offers from several universities when he was applying to do his PhD, and chose Stockholm not only because he was keen to work abroad – “getting to know a new culture is nice even though Sweden and the Netherlands are fairly similar!” – but also because Sweden is one of the few countries with funding for his field.

He hopes that other countries will start taking a leaf out of Stockholm’s book when it comes to research funding.

“In the Netherlands and other countries, the rationale for cutting funding to the humanities is that it isn’t producing anything economically valuable straight away.”

“Swedes have much more long-term thinking – they recognize that this work could be very beneficial to society, it just doesn’t produce something that you can sell one year after the research has finished. The system is also much more flexible so you there's a lot of opportunity to do whatever you are passionate about.”

As for whether he will stay in Scandinavia once his three-year post-doctoral studies have finished, he isn't sure. “It depends on job opportunities, which are always a very uncertain thing in the academic world,” says Buijsman.

“But I certainly wouldn’t mind if it became long term!”