Expat Life - Covid-19 CoronavirusWithout a vaccine that works long-term, there is no return to “normal”. There is only life with coronavirus.
The COVID-19 crisis is fundamentally different to what has come before. This virus has changed the world for everyone. Until a vaccine is discovered (keep in mind that there has never been a vaccine for a member of the coronavirus family). Until that vaccine is tested to ensure it is safe, stable and effective. Until billions of doses of that vaccine are manufactured and distributed to all corners of the earth. Until there are no more outbreaks world-wide. There is only life with coronavirus. This virus has changed the world. To what degree and how, nobody knows for sure, but let us consider the impact on expatriate life until there are no more outbreaks of Covid-19 world-wide.
An Expatriate is defined as “a person who lives outside their native country” [Oxford Dictionary]. The word comes from the Latin terms ex ("out of") and patria ("country, fatherland"). A more modern description of an expatriate is perhaps a “professional migrant”, someone who voluntarily lives outside their country in order to take up a job opportunity and a better or at the very least a similar, quality of life. An expatriate professional migrant is different to an immigrant in that they intend returning to their home country and do not therefore consider themselves to be local in their host country.
Expat International TravelChoice: In the corona world most people would choose to stay at, or close to, home. If you travel overseas you risk being caught in an outbreak and unable to get home. Few will choose to do that.
Most expatriates maintain a close relationship with their home / base country and travel home from their host country to visit family and friends, participate in important events like weddings and funerals as well as to share religious or traditional occasions. Expat’s also often use the opportunity to explore other countries on vacation. Either option of course means flying, either home or elsewhere, usually for between 1 and 4 weeks at a time.
The virus has clearly made international travel extremely challenging. The likelihood is that the “new normal” for an international flight will start with virus testing 48 hours before departure, being subject to further checks on departure and arrival including being sniffed for signs of the virus by specially trained dogs, followed by 14 days of quarantine on arrival at own cost with fines for failure to remain at the address provided to authorities. This process will likely be repeated on the return trip. Travelling will not be a pleasant experience. The price of air tickets will likely become more expensive as social distancing will require passengers to be separated by empty seats. In addition, the traveller runs the risk that if an outbreak occurs during their trip, they may not be able return for some time, risking their employment. This process will make international trips of 1-4 weeks impractical. Given limited annual leave, this means we are likely to be taking local holidays rather than travelling internationally.
Does removing the ability to go home for family occasions or to take a vacation outside the host country make the prospect of expat life less attractive? Each individual expat will have to decide for themselves depending on how close they are to their home country and the quality of life they experience in their host country.
What is life likely to be like on the ground in expat home and host countries, outside the obvious international travel challenges?
Like the pandemics that came before, it is common sense, resilience and the ability to adapt that will ultimately determine how we live with Covid-19. We need to understand how our lives have changed, accept what we cannot change and find ways to keep safe while participating in the economy.
Expat Life Without a Vaccine
Social distancing is incompatible with the kind of life we have always known. As long as we have to live with the virus, without a vaccine, the old way of life is gone.
Social distancing has infinite implications for all aspects of our lives, from the workplace to schools to our communities. Take one example: If handshaking is not safe now, should it stop for ever? If you are not going to shake hands, would you ever hug or kiss anyone other than close relatives living in the same household again?
Life around the world without a vaccine will see us fighting the pandemic through various levels of lock-downs, restrictions on the movement of people, the wearing masks and gloves in public and at work, social distancing, contact tracing using technology (and thousands of people operating the technology), washing our hands regularly, not touching our faces, staying healthy and fit etc etc, for the next several incubation periods.
“Test, track and trace” will be ongoing with governments and health authorities tracking chains of transmission and isolating people who are infected.
The knock-on effect on quality of living will continue to go beyond the immediate impact of the virus. Financial well-being (global economic depression and debt), job security (massive unemployment), stressed family bonds and emotional well-being will be tested.
Change will come with the choices we make whilst staying safe. Outside of a lockdown, while maintaining social distancing and health regulations, we may be allowed to go to the cinema, the theatre, the pub, the nightclub, and the open-plan office — in fact anywhere and anything that will bring you into close physical contact with strangers, BUT many of us will no longer want to do them.
Consumers and businesses must agree and make their own choices within the new regulatory frameworks that govern how we live. This will largely be driven by cost-benefit analysis. Is the benefit worth the risk? For example, is going to that restaurant or going on holiday worth the risk of going out in public, in proximity to possibly infected strangers?
Change comes with the need to learn new skills to ensure everyone stays safe such as:
- How to work remotely
- How to build trust with clients to provide goods and services online and reduce travel
- How to split classes or offices to ensure social distancing
- How to deal with higher levels of stress and mental health
Expat Life After a Vaccine
Once we have a vaccine that works, and we've mass vaccinated as many people around the world as possible, there will still be outbreaks. There will still be many years of chasing outbreaks as they pop up randomly in various cities, states, regions and countries and the accompanying lockdowns. We will need to have the equivalent of the polio-eradication programme or the smallpox-eradication programme, globally, which could take years (if ever) before the world can be declared coronavirus free.
In the post vaccine future, after years of lockdowns and social distancing, people are likely to be more focussed on resilience and the best interests of society rather than economic and financial growth, efficiency and shareholder returns above all else. As a result people and countries, are likely to become more nationalistic. This will be clear in the move by governments to be less dependent on other countries and ensure greater resilience to any future crisis by encouraging the production of essential technology, goods and services within their own country, using robotics, machines and automation as much as possible rather than virus prone people. There is therefore, likely to be more resistance to immigration, the movement of people around the world, and expatriate assignments as this could result in viruses being brought back into the country.
Economic recovery is likely to take years following deep recession around the world. However, the future economy is likely to be different to the one we had before the pandemic. The rise of surveillance, the retreat of globalism and death of cash, the pandemic’s economic impact will be felt for decades. It is likely to be different both as a consequence of the pandemic, but also due to the change that was already taking place in areas such as robotics, machine learning, 5G, and artificial intelligence in the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) that is blurring the boundaries between the physical, digital, and biological worlds. These innovations are likely to speed up as a result of economic necessity, triggered by the pandemic, improving management and governance of the global environment and delivering the systems change required to create clean, resource-secure and inclusive economies.
Eventually, as the world economies recover and strengthen, the work of creating the future will begin in earnest. The world of work will likely have fewer offices as some people will continue to work from home now that it has become the norm. Work environments will be modified to ensure social distancing and comply with new health regulations. As people continue to avoid restaurants and retail shops, choosing instead to order online, we will see fewer retail properties and more warehouses and delivery vehicles. We may even see office blocks being converted into housing. People are less likely to travel internationally, both for work and for pleasure.
On the positive side, the pandemic has been good for the climate and nature in general. Air pollution has been significantly reduced, water is becoming clearer, and wildlife is returning. History shows that crises such as Covid-19, speeds up research, innovation, and political decision making. What normally takes years gets done in days. It brings awareness of our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Change is inevitable, but right now it is at full speed.
Much like the period after the 1918 Spanish flu, hopefully the rest of this decade will be known as “The Roaring 20s” as it again becomes safe to go to the mass participation events, sports stadiums, cinema, bars and restaurants and of course travel overseas.
Before you consider taking up an expat assignment consider not only how much you need to earn in another location to compensate for cost of living, hardship / quality of living, and exchange rate differences using the calculators, but also consider the risk of being caught in an outbreak and unable to get home. Would you feel safe having to stay for long periods of time in the host country unable to leave? Are you prepared to not be able to travel home to your family and loved ones? Do you have confidence in the state healthcare, who are likely to treat you should you contract coronavirus?
Until we get that vaccine we all need to stay home more, stay safe through social distancing, and prioritize the health and well-being of yourself, your family and your community. If you decide to take up an expat assignment, do your homework and make sure it is worth it.
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