Three quarters of expats surveyed across global markets claim confidence about continuing their way of life, according to a new survey by Aetna International.

Those already living abroad have felt most confident in markets where COVID-19 death rates have remained among the lowest or the response to COVID has been swift and effective.

The latest Internations Expat Insider Survey also confirmed Aetna International's findings on traveller confidence as it stated that seven in ten expats whose plans for moving to another foreign country were thwarted by COVID are still looking to move abroad within the next two years.

"In what has been a difficult and uncertain time, confidence is key. Especially for those planning and trying to build a life in another country. Whatever their motivations for moving abroad, expats play an important role for both local and global communities. Returning to some sort of ‘normality' is what everyone is hoping for but feeling safe with access to quality health care is paramount to this becoming a reality. Wherever we are in the world" said Damian Lenihan, executive director of Europe at Aetna International.

With restrictions and isolation on arrival still being a factor when travelling to many countries in 2021, it would not be a surprise if interest in expat experiences had significantly dipped, but the opposite seems to be true. 75% of expats surveyed said they are still very or fairly confident about continuing with their way of life.

Of the regions surveyed, there seems to be a correlation between how the pandemic was handled and increased expat confidence.

The most confident responses came from Singapore (88%) and UAE (87%), while countries that felt a greater impact of the pandemic had comparatively lover levels of confidence from expats looking to continue their way of life (Germany 64%, Mexico 70%). Even in these cases, over two-thirds of expats remain confident about living and working abroad.

This confidence is closely related to the perceived safety of their chosen country. While 54% of expats surveyed moved back to their home country at some point, this number was far lower for expats based in Singapore and the UAE than those in Germany or Mexico.

Confidence by country

Confident to continue living as an expat (very and fairly confident) / Never had concerns about working abroad during the pandemic

Singapore 88% / 29%

UAE 87% / 31%

Germany 64% / 43%

Mexico 70% / 29%


Why are expats so keen to return

Lifestyle benefits 

What is it about the expat experience that makes so many people eager to return to their pre-pandemic way of life? From improved career opportunities to the chance to experience new cultures, the benefits of the expat experience vary for everyone, but a common reason why many people choose to move abroad is the intention of improving their work-life balance and adopting a healthier lifestyle.

Due to the pandemic, considerations around well-being have become even more of a focus, allowing existing expats to further enhance their lifestyle.

Aetna's Expat Experiences Survey 2020 demonstrated that expats were still finding many improvements compared to life in their home country, even when the pandemic was at its peak:

  • Expats feel happy (43.7%), safe (42.2%) and welcome (37.1%) while living abroad
  • Expats see locals as friendly (49.4%) and welcoming (42.5%)
  • Expats have made improvements to their health and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic:
  • 60% admitted to eating more healthily
  • 27% said they are drinking less alcohol
  • 43% said they are exercising more.

The combination of feeling happy and safe while living abroad, along with improved health and lifestyle, has contributed to the feeling of confidence - with 75% of those surveyed saying they were confident in their decision to continue living as an expat.

Availability of work

While there is a lot of positivity, the majority (two-thirds) of the expats surveyed expressed concerns about working abroad during the pandemic, perhaps in part due to the uncertainty around jobs and the economy. What is being done to rebuild their confidence?

Following the implementation of vaccine programmes, many countries are looking to make a rapid recovery from the economic downturn since the start of 2020. One of the ways they are doing this is to encourage international travel and help expat workers feel comfortable enough to return.

While it will vary from industry to industry, skilled expats are generally in a strong position to find well-paid jobs with significant benefits and support as result.

For example, expats in the UAE have traditionally found it difficult to get permanent residence. That has now changed as the government seeks to boost economic recovery and growth with a range of inviting new pro-expat policies and revised residency laws. To encourage their return, skilled expats are now able to apply for citizenship. As UAE nationals have visa-free travel between Gulf states and can buy property anywhere, these measures provide a level of security for the future of the individual and their family.

Other countries might not be taking such dramatic measures, but many are still trying to encourage expats to return. As economies look to bounce back, the need for skilled workers could result in a range of opportunities for expats whose skills line up to their host nation's needs.

Reassurance over family health

70% of the expats surveyed said that access to quality health care was a concern during the global pandemic - the importance of ensuring the health and well-being of close family members has taken on increased importance as the world begins to open up again.

The survey found that when considering a job opportunity abroad, family health and well-being benefits were considered important by 87% - more than the financial package or even which country the family would have to move to (both picked by 85%).

Protection of both family and individual health is a key consideration for employees. By acknowledging this and adapting to support these expectations with revised employee packages, that extend to protecting the health of their family, businesses can reassure expats that their families will have support available if it is needed.

The range of services available to support the physical and mental health of expats continues to grow, providing reassurance that care can be provided wherever they choose to live. Examples include:

  • EAP services
  • Mental health support
  • Virtual health
  • Health Hub
  • Mobile tools

The survey concluded: "Even though pandemic restrictions are easing in some countries, uncertainties about the future remain and may be making people think that moving abroad for work is not a risk worth taking yet. But with countries actively looking to encourage expat arrivals with improved policies, businesses providing staff with more support for family health and well-being, and opportunities for improved health and well-being, now could be the right time for expats to return to the lifestyle they fell in love with."

To read the full survey, click here