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The 2018 Aetna International Expat Experiences Survey: The results

Aetna international wanted to know the answers to several questions about expats, their lives, their children and the challenges of moving to another country.

And so, we surveyed 500 expats from around the world living in a variety of other countries (including, but not limited to: Dubai, Thailand, U.S., UK, China and India) in March 2018.

This article contains:

  • A downloadable PDF of the entire survey data
  • The key findings
  • Data visualisations of some key results
  • The list of questions asked
  • Respondent demographics

Download the complete survey data here

Key findings

  1. The hardest aspect of relocating for children is ‘saying goodbye to family members’ (77%) [See Figure 3, below]
  2. The least difficult was making new friends (19%) [Figure 3]
  3. The two most common pieces of ‘best advice for parents relocating with children’ are ‘visit before moving’ and ‘involve them in decisions’. [Figure 1]
  4. The most common view expats have of what locals think of them is ‘important’, followed by ‘vital’ and ‘rude’. [Figure 6]
  5. The most common thing expats wish they’d known about before moving was ‘finance’. [Figure 7]
  6. Respondents said that the most important aspect of moving was ‘sorting out banking and finances’ (72%) and spent 54% of their preparation time doing it — a difference of only 18%. While respondents said ‘checking out safety and security was fifth most important (50%) they only spent 7% of their preparation time on it. [Figure 4]
  7. Learning about new cultures and traditions’ was seen as the least important of nine factors, but it still occupied more time that the more important factors of researching local amenities and safety and security. [Figure 4]
  8. The most common word associated with living away from home was ‘safe’ (with 60% of respondents citing it from the list). [Figure 5]
  9. ‘Hostile’ was the word least associated with living away from home (with only 11% of expats citing it) [Figure 5]
  10. 11% of expats ‘like themselves less’ since moving abroad [Figure 8]
  11. 35% of expats say relocating has changed their sense of personal identity [Figure 8]
  12. 31% say they are ‘a better person’ since moving abroad (see the raw data for breakdown by country of residence) [Figure 8]

The results

Figure 1

Infographic detailing what advice expats would give to parents relocating with children, followed by the top 14 answers presented in a pie chart Infographic detailing what advice expats would give to parents relocating with children, followed by the top 14 answers presented in a pie chart


Figure 2

Infographic detailing what aspect of relocation expats found hardest, followed by the top 14 answers presented in a pie chart Infographic detailing what aspect of relocation expats found hardest, followed by the top 14 answers presented in a pie chart


Figure 3

Bar graph answering how hard expat children found eight aspects of relocating abroad Bar graph answering how hard expat children found eight aspects of relocating abroad


To get the lowdown on moving abroad from expat parents who have “been there, done that”, we recommend reading this article: Relocating abroad with children: 26 pieces of advice from expat parents.

Figure 4

Bar graph comparing how much time and importance were spent on nine aspects of expat relocation Bar graph comparing how much time and importance were spent on nine aspects of expat relocation


Figure 5

Bar graph offering the top 15 words expats associate with living in another country Bar graph offering the top 15 words expats associate with living in another country


Figure 6

Bar graph offering the top 17 words expats think are used in host countries to describe them Bar graph offering the top 17 words expats think are used in host countries to describe them


Figure 7

Infographic answering what expat wish they'd known before moving, giving the top 17 answers in a pie chart Infographic answering what expat wish they'd known before moving, giving the top 17 answers in a pie chart


Figure 8

Infographic answering how much expats like themselves, if they feel they are better people, if their sense of self/personal identity changed and whether they've re-evaulated their priorities since moving abroad Infographic answering how much expats like themselves, if they feel they are better people, if their sense of self/personal identity changed and whether they've re-evaulated their priorities since moving abroad


Find out how the surveyed expats think they're viewed by locals

The questions

Below are some of the questions asked. Please download the full data set to see the full list of questions:

Q1.      What aspect of your relocation did you find the hardest…and why?

Q2.      How easy did your child/children find the following aspects of relocation?

  • Saying goodbye to friends
  • Making new friends
  • Starting a new school or college
  • Settling into a new house
  • Language barriers
  • Cultural differences
  • Different foods and diet
  • Saying goodbye to other family members

Q3.      What one piece of advice would you give parents relocating with children, that would help to make their lives easer or happier?

Q4.      Rate the importance of the following and the amount of time spent on each:

  • Finding somewhere to live
  • Learning about new cultures and traditions
  • Looking into new foods, diet and where to shop
  • Researching local amenities
  • Researching health care
  • Finding the right schooling or child care
  • Checking out safety and security
  • Sorting out banking and finances
  • Planning for a change of lifestyle/new challenges

Q5.      What do you wish you had known before relocating that would have made these things easier?

Q6.      Just select all of the words you felt or feel about being in your new home. Select as many or as few as you think apply: safe, disappointed, welcomed, bored, scared, isolated, overwhelmed, indifferent, inspired, love, let down, hostile, challenged, trapped, familiar.

Q7.      From the following list of words, select all those that you think people in your new home might use to describe you as a visitor living in their country: a burden, important, exploitative, helpful, hostile, refreshing, inferior, superior, destructive, vital, dominating, insular, rude, rich, friendly, insensitive, fun.

Q8.      To what extent do you agree with each of these statements?

  • "Since moving abroad, I like myself less”
  • “I am a better person since moving abroad”
  • “My sense of self, and personal identity has changed since living in a foreign country”
  • “Since moving abroad I have re-evaluated my priorities”

Respondent demographics

Respondent expat demographics detailing employment status, how many children, rate of income and marital status in separate pie charts. Respondent expat demographics detailing employment status, how many children, rate of income and marital status in separate pie charts.


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