Skip to main content

Those thinking about a job or retirement abroad should consult their foreign counterparts, who believe they're getting a better deal stateside.

According to a new survey from HSBC, foreign expats living in the United States do so for the long haul. Nearly two-thirds (65%) live here for more than five years. compared to just 44% of U.S. expats living abroad who stay in their host country for the same amount of time. The U.S. is a favorite among first-time expats, with 63% of respondents in the United States reporting it was their first time living abroad.

More than one-third (37%) of expats living in the United States do so with cultural immersion in mind. Roughly 42% socialize more often with Americans than with other expats, while 37% said they met a long-term partner during their time in the States. Among families, 61% said it was easier to raise a child in the United States than in their home country, while our out of five (82%) send their kids to public schools (with only 6% opting for international schools).

Surprisingly, 54% of U.S. expats actually like the cultural immersion element of living abroad. Only 39% socialize more with other expats than with locals, with two-thirds (66%) reported that they are integrating well into their new host countries and 58% finding it easy to make friends. Also, roughly the same percentage (36%) of U.S. expats say they found love in their new country.

However, U.S. expats are a bit more predisposed to international schools (41%) than their counterparts who come to the U.S., with 51% enrolling their children in their host country’s local schools. Also, as a 2013 report from Cigna and the National Foreign Trade Council uncovered, U.S. expats living abroad are not only sent to their countries by employers on short assignments, but they're bringing a lot more baggage with them.

In 2001, the last time Cigna conducted the survey, expats aged 25 to 34 made up 35% of those surveyed, compared to 17% in 2013. During that same span, the number of expats traveling with a spouse or partner soard from 8% to 23%. Meanwhile, 78% of expats had a need for health care while living abroad.

Those on assignment with spouses or partners and children were most likely to have to use health care facilities, with 91% doing so compared to 67% of singles. It's the one area where U.S. expats hold a distinct advantage: 40% of those living in the United States found the U.S. healthcare system more, while 40% of U.S. expats abroad found the local health care system easier to navigate than at home.

“Greater recognition of the challenges of being on assignment in the United States is vital," says Sheldon Kenton, Cigna's senior vice president of global employer sales. "Navigating a complex health system, as well as developing an understanding of the financial and tax consequences of working in the U.S., all present considerable challenges to U.S.-bound expats. My personal experience as an expat has further driven home the crucial need for better preparation, guidance and support.”

It's the financial aspect of living abroad that tends to trip up folks from the U.S. While more than three-quarters (76%) of all expats said moving abroad made their finances more complex, 38% of U.S. expats struggled to organize their finances, while 39% of foreign expats said living in the United States made setting up their finances easier.

“With three out of four expats finding some part of personal finances more complex, the expat life clearly brings with it personal benefits as well as many complications, often times from unfamiliar financial regulations and tax obligations,” said Jacques Herman, head of international retail banking and wealth management for HSBC Bank USA.

Granted, U.S. expats abroad aren't helped by the Foreign Account Tax Compliant Act (FATCA), which requires folks with U.S. citizenship (even without a U.S. residence) to report taxable assets. Yet, as 3,400 U.S. citizens who renounced their citizenship last year can attest, that doesn't necessarily help you escape Uncle Sam's collectors. The fees associated with renouncing citizenship jumped from $450 to $2,350.

Meanwhile, according to HSBC, almost half (45%) of expats moving to the United States rank finances as their most important consideration: especially the 39% who earn more than $101,000 per year here. Although the cost of living is generally higher here, 59% of expats here reported they had more disposable income. That money is going toward significant investments, with 53% reporting that they can now afford to own one or more properties, while 48% can now afford a nicer car.

On the other hand, less than one-third (30%) of Americans living abroad are motivated by finances, and their paychecks back that up. Roughly 45% make less than $60,000 per year, while less than one-third (27%) make more than $101,000. However, the 48% of U.S. expats who say they have more disposable income have spent it on domestic help (38%) and luxurious holidays (35%). By contrast, less than one-quarter (24%) can now afford to own one or more properties.

If all you're going to do is move to a new country to get taxed twice and spend poorly, you may as well stay home.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held TK positions in the stocks mentioned.