Crown Relocations is NZ’s leading moving company.

What’s Changed? The Past 20 Years of Expat Life

How Has Expat Life Changed, and Is It Still Worth It?

Expat life today has radically changed.

Technology, work dynamics, and global connectivity have shifted the “who”, “why” and “how” of who is moving, work culture and lifestyle. But how has this occurred?

As a company that has been moving millions internationally for nearly 60 years, we’re uniquely positioned to delve into both trend analysis and personal stories from expatriates who have witnessed this evolution firsthand. 

Expat Life 20 Years Ago

The global landscape for expatriates two or more decades ago was markedly different from today’s world. Firstly, and most obviously, the 2000s were vastly less digitised, and characterised by regionally focused economic environments.

Expatriates then, as now (75% of expats in 2021 reported an increase in income according to the HSBC Expat Explorer Survey), were tempted by lucrative expat packages, which included substantial benefits such as housing allowances, international schooling for children, and generous relocation and travel budgets.

These packages were seen as compensation for the significant adjustments required, in a time when the global mobility landscape was less about lifestyle choice and more about career necessity and financial incentive. As we’ll see however, cost-consciousness has, to a large degree, made these packages somewhat less lucrative.

These days expatriates are as likely to be Asian as they are Western. Moreover, emigration routes for expatriates have changed.

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As we’ll discuss in more detail later, India has emerged as one of the key suppliers of professional labour for the Gulf states, while the US is seeing an increasing trend of Americans moving to Latin America.

While it would be too extreme to say generous expat packages for westerners are a thing of the past (expat salaries are still markedly higher than equivalent roles in their home country), it’s fair to say they’re less common than they once were.


Technology: Making Expat Life Easier

Methods of communication are by a big margin the most radical change. Internet coverage and speeds were more limited. This previously limited access to online resources, social networks, and communication tools, making the expatriate experience more challenging.

The reliance on traditional methods of communication meant that expatriates had to adapt to a new culture with less support from today’s ubiquitous online resources. But it wasn’t just a matter of being able to communicate instantly with friends and family. A range of online applications from banking to auctioning to restaurant reviews now make adapting to a new home more user friendly, and discovering new communities has never been more straightforward.

There’s also one very direct way in which technology has changed expatriate lifestyle, and that’s the emergence of remote work. This is distinctively “of the 2010s”, with modern telecoms infrastructure opening unprecedented opportunities for professionals to live in one country while working for an employer in another, enabling a more flexible expatriate lifestyle: In a 2023 study, some 17 million Americans identified as “digital nomads”, for example. There is also some suggestion that better internet technology has made shorter-term expat assignments more common.

In summary, these technological strides have not only made the world smaller but also expanded the horizons for those seeking to build lives and careers abroad.


Expat Trends: No Longer Purely West to East

We spoke earlier about the diversification of expatriates themselves, as well as new “routes”. For example, from India to the Gulf, or from the U.S. to Latin America.

These are examples of changes to a traditional West-East emigration pattern that characterised what was meant by “expat” 20 years ago. The rise of emerging markets has both serviced international assignments, with countries like India and China being traditional destinations for expatriate talent. However, we’re seeing a reversal of this trend as human capital in these countries becomes more skilled and capable. To illustrate, of the 13 million Indians living overseas, over 60% are based in the Gulf and these are increasingly professionals rather than labourers.

Things have changed for westerners too. In the 2000s western expats were primarily drawn to financial hubs and rapidly developing cities in Asia like Hong Kong, Singapore, and Shanghai, oil-rich countries in the Middle East such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia. 

While these remain, and likely will remain important destinations for westerners, many companies with operations or based in East Asia now increasingly prefer to promote local staff to positions that would have once been given to expats. This reflects both concerns over the costs of expat packages as well as increasingly highly skilled and trained local labour.

In terms of expat formats, as agreed by their companies, we’ve noticed a trend towards shorter assignments and project-based work, partly due to advancements in technology that facilitate remote collaboration, reducing the need for long-term relocations.


Adapting to New Cultures: A More Sensitive Approach

The integration of expatriates into new cultures has evolved significantly, with an increased emphasis on cultural sensitivity, language acquisition, and local engagement. While these are services all major mobility companies will offer, today’s expatriates are more proactive in understanding and respecting the nuances of their host cultures, facilitated by a wealth of online resources and language learning apps that were not available two decades ago.

This access to information has encouraged deeper immersion into local communities, fostering better communication and stronger connections with native residents. As a result, expatriates are not just living in but truly becoming a part of their new environments, enhancing their experiences abroad through enriched cultural exchanges and more meaningful participation in local life.


Interview With A Veteran Expat: Norah Franchetti

Norah Franchetti_Group Marketing VP, Crown Worldwide Group | 20 years of Expat Life


Norah is our Group VP of Marketing at Crown, with decades of experience within the organisation. Norah first became at an expatriate at 21, after moving to Hong Kong, later she moved to Los Angeles, spent time in Shenzhen (before it became a megacity), then London and finally, Dubai.

She’s uniquely placed to offer an insight into how expat life has changed both from a business and personal perspective, with over 30 years of having been in different expat locations and professional roles.


“So many things have changed. When I first lived in Hong Kong we had to book a time with Cable & Wireless to call home and could only afford a few minutes to let them know I was ok.

No video calls – it made it tough, and any written communication was by letter; my parents would write every week.

It was tough to make friends and join groups with no Internet or social media. Luckily, I worked in an expat restaurant and was able to make friends, many who have remained for life.”


“Now it is so much easier to communicate with home and all the friends I’ve made along the way that live in every corner of the world. Work life is interesting as with tech we can work around the clock, and it takes a certain discipline to make sure you maintain a good work life balance.”


“In the early days, expats had quite a lavish lifestyle with company support not only for housing and education for their children but for golf debentures, sports clubs, partner support, maid and many times a nannie, flights home and other support all covered by their corporation.

This still happens to some extent in the more ‘difficult’ countries but there any many new types of expatriates including the popular ‘local hires’ who may attract a few benefits or none. We also see politics affecting where people want to live; for example, people wanting to move to the UAE from economies that are less high growth, and it makes it very competitive and challenging, particularly as living costs are high.”


“I was lucky in many ways as a young girl going to Hong Kong and finding an expatriate restaurant to work there. I met other girls doing a similar thing and made some lifelong friends.

I worked for a while in China in the 80’s and culturally it was very different. China had not long opened up to the world and the locals were not used to seeing Westerners. Apart from the language differences, there were a lot of differences between our cultures; how we interacted with people, space, the way we ate – so many things!

When I moved to the US, I thought it would be simpler, but found as they say, ‘It’s two nations, divided by a common language!’ Again, there were many cultural differences, but fortunately I adapted well.

Here in the UAE, there is such a melting pot of people. It’s so very easy to integrate and make friends. There are many expatriate and specific nationality-type social events for new expatriate to attend, and I found it, probably the easiest to adapt in all the places I’ve lived.”


“My advice would be to anyone considering an expatriate life that they go there and spend some time looking at how people live – housing, education, if there are children and if they talk to people who live in the city.

There are many support opportunities online, expatriate clubs and I would suggest taking the time to even attend a meeting or certainly talk to the organisers. Some countries are easier to find work than others, and some immigration will not allow certain nationalities to work there, so obviously this needs to be checked out.”


The Role of Support Services

The growing emphasis on support services is a response to the needs of the mobile workforce. These services were initially exclusively logistical, focusing on the physical aspects of relocation such as housing and schooling. However, as the expatriate landscape has diversified, so too have the services, expanding to include cultural training, language instruction, and even emotional support to help expats navigate the complexities of their new environments.

Digital platforms such as Crown’s Customer Portal now offer a personalised, on-demand system covering everything from visa processing to finding local communities, mirroring the shift towards more comprehensive and accessible support. Alongside a dependable, skilled human element in the form of a “Move Manager”.

Successful expatriation goes beyond mere physical relocation, requiring a holistic approach that addresses the social, cultural, and psychological aspects of moving and living abroad. Indeed, the concept of expatriate mental health is now reflected in a broad range of research and is a baseline requirement to a successful expat experience.


Is Expat Life Still Worth It?

Emerging trends such as digital nomadism, shifts in geopolitical dynamics, and growing environmental concerns have already been noted by the press at large. The rise of digital nomadism, fuelled by advancements in technology and a growing acceptance of remote work, suggests a future where the concept of being an expatriate is more fluid and boundless, allowing individuals to blend travel, work, and living in a global mosaic.

Geopolitical changes and environmental sustainability are also becoming critical factors, influencing where and how people choose to live and work abroad, as well as how international relocation companies like Crown conduct our business.

The global workforce is undergoing significant changes. Professionals are increasingly seeking remote work opportunities across borders, while international relocation companies are adapting to meet the demands of this diverse marketplace.

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