Are expats a dying breed?

In a world of deglobalisation, what next for the expat community?

by Éilis Cronin
Ernest Hemingway

What image does the word “expat” bring to mind? For many, it’s hard to avoid the rather unflattering stereotype of an older white man blundering around in a foreign country; a character popularised by the writers and filmmakers of the 21st century. For example, the lead character in Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana – the vacuum cleaner salesman recruited as a spy and sent to Cuba to drink copiously and fail his assignments. Or the incompetent writer mistakenly sent to cover war in east Africa in Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop. Or even today’s overly sensitive detective in the BBC TV series Death in Paradise.

Perhaps you are picturing executives that have fallen out of favour and been shifted out of sight, out of mind. Hong Kong residents even have their own acronym for them, FILTH – Failed in London, Try Hong Kong.

And yet, if these depictions ever were true, it doesn’t make business sense to ship substandard employees out of the way. Especially not now, after transportation and housing costs rocketed during the pandemic: shipping a container from Asia to western Europe is three times more expensive in early 2022 than it was 12 months ago. Throw in soaring private school fees and real estate prices in heavily industrialised destinations, and the total is already at six figures.

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