I recently received a gracious email from Peter Mayle, the author of ‘A Year in Provence’ and various other popular France-based books and novels.
I had contacted his publisher in New York to ask if he’d consider writing a review of the print version of my book on the pros and cons of moving abroad (due, I heard from the publisher yesterday, to be out in January – just in time to help you through those New Year blues!).
A couple of weeks later I got an email direct from Peter apologising that his policy is never to write reviews, but wishing me the best of luck with my book. It was a shame from my perspective, but I greatly appreciated him taking the time to respond to me personally.
And he must get bombarded with similar requests, so I understood his decision to decline. I can’t say I blame him either – no doubt he has more enjoyable things to do, like writing his own books, and relishing what appears to be an idyllic existence in the Provencal countryside.
Indeed, his depiction of the expat life in his classic ‘A Year in Provence’ was a big influence on my own decision to try something similar in Spain – although somehow I have never been able to achieve the sedate pace of life he recounts. No doubt he’s incited thousands of others, like me, to try following in his footsteps too.
In fact, I reckon he’s responsible in large part for the results of a new report by banking organisation Halifax International, which found that France is the number one destination for British expatriates, accounting for 16% of the total. Given France’s proximity to the UK and its many charms perhaps this should come as no surprise.
Spain, with 10%, was second.
However, the report found destination preferences were clearly split by age.
For example, two-thirds of British expatriates living in France are in the 55+ age group, with 35% of them 65 years old and over.
Meanwhile, the USA – with 8% of the British expat population – was the most popular destination outside Europe. Here half were aged 45-64, indicating a higher incidence of professional expats.
Australia, which placed joint 4th with Switzerland and Germany in the overall rankings (with 4% of the total), was particularly popular with the 16-35 year old group – one third of respondents in this age category named Australia as their favourite location.
Many British pensioners, by contrast, leaned towards Canada, which was voted as the ideal overseas destination by 12% of people in this segment.
Figures for American expatriates, or the intentions of prospective emigres, are harder to come by. However, according to the Association of Americans Resident Overseas, which uses the most recent State Department figures, most go to Mexico, followed by Canada.
But while there may be very good reasons for these countries’ relative rankings, this doesn’t mean you should follow the herd. Rather, it is imperative to think carefully about where will be best for YOU.
The popularity of Mexico, France and Spain, as well as Italy, can be explained by a host of factors – cost of living and living space advantages, balmy climates, the slower pace of life, their vibrant cultures, etc.
But for English-speakers there is also the language consideration. Can you speak – or be willing to learn – enough such that you are at a level of fluency that will allow you to feel comfortable in your destination? (Relying solely on other people’s ability to speak English is a bad idea).
Canada has a lot going for it too. Space and living costs are attractive. There’s beautiful scenery, the high quality of life in its cities (as attested to by Mercer Consulting’s annual surveys), a recognisable culture, the warmth of the people.
For Brits though one big disadvantage is the distance from family and friends. And then there are those winters!
There’s the distance factor too for Americans and Brits making the transatlantic hop to each other’s countries. The East Coast of the States may only be a seven or eight hour flight from the UK, but it is still a day’s worth of travelling. And if you have kids in tow it’s not something you necessarily want – or can afford – to do too often.
And I won’t even get started on the British climate.
But there are great work opportunities in both places (assuming you can get a visa), similarities of identity and values, and the joys of their respective landscapes.
Then there’s Australia, with its promise of sunshine, beaches, an array of spectacular sights and some great cities. Plus 24 hours on a plane if you ever want to make it back home to see family! Not easy, as the many people I know who have moved Down Under tell me.
In short, all locations have their disadvantages, their challenges and problems. And they all have their wonders and attractions too (well, most places at any rate!).
The key is in finding that combination of factors that works best for you – the need to balance your priorities in terms of language, cultural affinity, distance, climate and economic conditions.
In some areas you will win, in others you’ll lose. For there is no perfect destination. And therein lies the decision you have to make.