Reasons for migration in the past

Large populations have in the past migrated from the UK to other countries, for example, from Scotland during the 18th and 19th-century Highland clearances to Canada, New Zealand and Australia and from Ireland to the USA during the potato famine of the 19th century.

Many migrated to the UK from the Indian Subcontinent and the Caribbean during the 1960s and 70s where there was a labour shortage, for example, to build motorways and houses - immigration was encouraged.

The Expatriate

The term 'expatriate' is used in the UK to describe someone who lives abroad usually for a long, often indefinite, period. It may be for work, retirement or to be closer to relatives. If working abroad on an assignment, it may be for a set period.

  • However, in many countries, including the UK, those coming from abroad to work in a similar capacity are commonly, and contradictorily, called 'migrants' until and if they get UK citizenship.

  • There is no specific time abroad that makes someone become an 'expatriate' but they are usually only granted temporary residence and will remain under the auspices of their home country embassies or consulates unless they change their nationality eventually to that of their new country of residence.

  • Permits or Visas regulate the length of stay for someone moving to a new country in this manner. In contrast, an asylum seeker is someone who enters a foreign country for a variety for reasons without a visa or work permit (see lesson 7) and then applies for immigrant status under the rules of that country

Organisations will usually, but not always, assume a duty of care to the individual and family members while abroad but may not, for example, be able to advise on the availability of local medical facilities.

  • Travel is now fast, relatively cheap and easy to arrange so many staying overseas for extended periods revisit their home countries to see friends and relatives regularly.

The importance of family support

Families may move for the employment of just one partner, and as a result, the roles of the entire family change. For example, a husband or wife may give up paid work as well as children having to move into a very different education system.

  • These issues can lead to family tensions but if considered carefully in advance this can prevent or alleviate ongoing problems

  • Schooling is sometimes arranged for older children in their home country with visits to their parents during school holidays if good schooling is not available locally.


Preparation and health considerations for long or undefined periods abroad can be complex, particularly when whole families are involved.

  • Whenever possible, ample time should be allowed and preparation not rushed. All the issues described other courses 2-10 apply.

  • A brief visit to the proposed destination in advance can help reduce the fear of the unknown, although this may not be possible. Arranging to meet other expatriates, ideally in advance, can be invaluable during the 'settling in' phase.

  • Finding out some details about local conditions and medical facilities can be reassuring and affect health preparations.

  • Facilities for pregnancy and schooling for children need consideration as well as childcare provision.

There are charitable organisations such as HealthLink360 that specialise in giving general health advice for travellers and also psychological support.

  • Registering promptly with your local Embassy or High Commission is valuable as a source of advice particularly in areas where there is political unrest.

Adjusting to new surroundings, languages, foods and poverty

A banana leaf 'plate' in India
Many find encountering extreme poverty for the first time very stressful

Learning some of the local languages helps integration with the local community. However, unless their work role demands this, many expatriates socialising mainly together, sharing experiences, pleasures, difficulties and giving mutual support.

Accepting and preparing unfamiliar foods can be challenging as well as bartering over food prices in a market. 'Kitchen basics' in the past, such as continual hot water, a reliable cooker, washing machine and refrigerator may be difficult or expensive to obtain in remoter, often rural, areas.

In poorly resourced countries, expatriates may find adjusting to poverty with compassion while at the same time avoiding disabling anxiety and frustration very challenging.

For more on cultural adaptation and 'culture shock' see Course 3 (adapting to environmental and cultural change) and Course 8 (travellers health issues after return to their home country)

Communicating with home

Keeping in touch with friends and relatives overseas is now much more straightforward with phone calls, texts, tweets, facebook, emails, real-time video conversations - very different from 100 years ago!

  • However this does not remove many of the challenges of moving permanently or semi-permanently to another part of the world. Personal, family, language, environmental, social and cultural challenges remain.

Problems which can occur after return home

So-called 'reverse culture shock' can be a severe and an unexpected challenge when an assignment ends and the travellers decide for various reasons, often children's secondary education, to return to their home country. They may have settled very closely and happily into their new surroundings and adjusted to the local culture.

Readjusting can be as demanding as it was on the outward journey, both for adults and children, through losing contact with friends made overseas, rekindling relationships at home and finding new jobs.

See also ThirdCulture Kids website

If expatriates have been living in so-called 'less developed' countries, they often come back with a very different perspective on what is needed for a happy and fulfilling life, compared to the ideals of the 'consumer society' in their country of origin where money and possessions are commonly considered to be important status symbols.

  • Also life's experiences such as illness and death may once again be treated as a failure or something to be hidden from view - very different from that in many localised more self-sufficient and less urbanised societies where a human detachment from nature has not taken place.