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Americans Overseas: The Growing Expat Community

Posted by Melissa Morr on Apr 26, 2016 10:00:12 AM


Global mobility trends show that more than three million Americans annually choose to move from the US mainland to a wide variety of countries around the world. Although that figure only represents a measly 1 percent of the overall US population, three million individuals is still a significant number of people. Although data shows that some of these people were sent overseas as a part of the armed forces, or as a retirement-based decision, many expat Americans move to other countries because of their civilian employment.

n fact, because the US Census Bureau does not specifically track expatriates, the three million figure may only represent half of the American citizens who choose to live overseas. While many of these people relocate to relatively close locales such as Canada or Mexico, a noteworthy number move to European or Asian or South American destinations to pursue business interests. The State Department estimates that nearly 7 million Americans were living overseas by 2012.

Age Is Just A Number

Data from a 2010 global mobility trends study can be extrapolate to create a "typical" expatriate profile: a married male, in his 40s, half of whom relocate with minor children. So while the belief persists that most expats are straight out of college professionals looking to jumpstart careers, that particular age demographic represents only 10% of expats.

International Assignments

A Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) study shows that 44% of workers who conduct business outside of the US are doing so under long-term assignments – those assignments that last a year or longer. An additional 16% are moved overseas on a temporary basis – assignments lasting between 6 months and a year. The remaining 40% simply travel frequently between a variety of countries.

Additional information shows that:

  • Nearly half of internationally-assigned workers have already completed prior overseas assignments,
  • Nearly all agree that overseas assignments are both necessary to the work of their company as well as necessary to career progressions, and
  • Many feel like their organization's global mobility practices are supportive of overseas moves while still resulting in challenges like cultural differences, future repatriation, and the ability for spouses to find work overseas.

A Hundred Countries, A Hundred Reasons

The "why" behind expatriation can be the hardest of the global mobility trends to quantify, because the reasons number as high as the countries involved. In fact, the number of reasons why an employee will be sent overseas is nearly as hard to pinpoint as the number of foreign workers abroad. Nevertheless, the SHRM study finds that the top four reasons global organizations rely on global mobility are:

  • The inability to find talent locally, necessitating the importation of professionals,
  • The need to train local workers with specific skill sets,
  • The desire to develop global economic insight and understanding in mainland workers, and
  • Individual development.

While individual employees also have a variety of reasons for accepting overseas assignments, global mobility trends show that most reasons can be boiled down to the understandable desire to advance careers through enhanced experience and knowledge.

Moving Ahead by Moving Abroad

What do these trends mean to your organization? If you already have a strong overseas presence, you can use these statistics to both benchmark and become more aware of the impact of global mobility on individual workers. If you are just beginning to enter the global marketplace, especially in emerging economies, you can align your goals and strategies by studying what other corporations have experienced. Either way, you and your organization are in good company, fueling global mobility trends with ever-increasing numbers of expats.

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Topics: Freight forwarding, Expat Moving Services

Melissa Morr

Written by Melissa Morr

Melissa Morr is the manager of corporate relocation and private relocation at Accelerated International Forwarders. She leads the team of international coordinators and is involved in all international moving services for both corporate and private relocation. She has worked within the industry for 31 year, including employment at North American International, Allied Special Products, Prudential Relocation, and Brookfield Global Relocation Services.

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