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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

Love Knows No Language Barriers for US Expats

While some US Americans moved abroad for love, others are enjoying their retirement. Their language skills are nothing to write home about in any case.
  • 48% in a relationship with a local resident
  • Over two-fifths want to stay forever
  • One-fifth are pensioners
  • Close to one-quarter work part-time
  • 29% are very happy with their life abroad

Expat Statistics 2016

Expat Statistics on US Americans Abroad — infographic


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Looking for Love & Adventure

When making the decision to move abroad, 35% of US Americans were to some degree prompted by a spirit of adventure. A fair share says they simply wanted to live abroad in general (31%) or in a certain country in particular (24%), too. When asked to narrow it down to their most important reason, however, what made many go to their current host country were matters of the heart: 15% moved for love or because they wanted to live in their partner’s country. Work-related reasons, on the other hand, only add up to close to a quarter of the respondents (24%); the global average is notably higher with 35%.

In Love with the Locals

As love is one of the main motivating factors for the move, it does not come as a surprise that almost half of the respondents who are in a relationship (48%) have a partner who comes from the country they are currently living in. A smaller group made up of more or less three-eighths of expats (37%) has a partner of the same nationality, a fact that, with 45%, is more common across all survey respondents in a relationship. A higher than average 92% live in the same country as their partner. A quarter of the US American respondents who are in a long-distance relationship (27%) indicate that this is due to different career priorities.

Staying Forever and Ever?

Nearly a quarter of the US Americans (24%) have been living in their host country for over ten years already. However, the distribution of percentages here does in fact not differ much from the global averages. US Americans do stand out when it comes to moving abroad for good, though: more than two-fifths (41%) wish to stay in their respective host country forever, against 31% worldwide.

When it comes to previous stays abroad, US Americans once again show comparatively average numbers: it is the first time venturing from home for not quite three in ten (29% vs. 27% worldwide), followed by 24% who have lived in exactly one other foreign country before. Stays in four or more countries are reported by 18% of US Americans, a number that is once more on par with the overall average.

While Germany is a popular destination for 7% of US Americans (the same as the overall average), they are also found comparatively often in Central or nearby South American countries such as Mexico (5% vs. a global 2%), Costa Rica (3% vs. 1%), and Ecuador (3% vs. 1%).

Getting By with English

US Americans are not exactly polyglots. Indeed, 32% of them speak just their mother tongue, whereas globally this is the case for 12% of survey participants. However, almost two-fifths (39%) speak two languages and 21% even three. Possessing skills in four or more languages is comparatively rare with 9% against 31% worldwide.

Close to half of the expats hailing from the US (49%) say they speak the local language(s) of their host country only a little or even not at all. Luckily, only one in ten completely agrees that it is hard to live abroad without speaking the local tongue, a sentiment echoed by 16% of respondents worldwide. Overall, the language barrier is somewhat of a problem for three in ten US American expats.

Leaving Work Behind

A significantly lower percentage of US Americans (22% vs. a global 41%) work as either employees or managers, while with 15% nearly double the global average (8%) are teachers, academic staff members, or researchers, typically at international (36%) or language schools (17%).

However, what really stands out is the one-fifth of US Americans who live abroad as retirees. This is the case for just 8% of all survey participants. A notable majority of US American pensioners (65%) even say they specifically moved abroad in order to retire. The high share of retirees also corresponds to the comparatively older age of US Americans abroad: 50.2 against the overall average of 43 years. In fact, more than half (51%) are over 50 years old.

Happy Expats despite Lower Incomes

Of those not yet retired, close to half (48%) generally agree that they are now earning less than they would back home, with 24% even going so far as to state that they earn a lot less now. For comparison, across all working survey participants, 27% and 11%, respectively, say the same.

One factor behind this may be the higher percentage of part-time workers (24% vs. a global 15%), who spend an average 20.1 hours a week at work. Regardless of money and working times, though, US Americans appear very much content with their lives in general: 85% say they are overall happy, with close to three in ten (29%) saying they are very happy.

Further Reading