Are expat surveys simply fodder for sponsored advertorials?

Published:  7 Feb at 6 PM
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Do expats’ opinions really count, or are they just fodder for survey companies’ advertorial articles?

The various annual expat survey reports can make or break specific locations, dependent on respondents’ opinions on everything from quality of life, health and well-being, happiness, safety and security and even digital life. A cursory glance at the results might lead would-be expats to believe respondent demographics only include wealthy, career-oriented expat professionals, but many in other life sectors such as retirement could be persuaded to make a bad decision based on a survey inappropriate for their needs. In addition, many popular surveys may well be out of date by the time they’re released, as the expat world is shifting faster than ever before.

For example, according to an article,the recent Expat Insider study was based on data collected in 2017. Surveys seem mostly to express the views of professional expatriates on generous salaries and perks, and the resulting advertorials posing as advisories are aimed at millennial entrepreneurs or, more often, would-be expat retirees looking to invest their pension pots. Whilst expat professionals should well be able to look after their own lives and finances, it’s not so easy when planning for the later stages of life as a retiree. In this sector, reliable expat opinions given by those who’re already in a favoured location and know what’s good, what’s bad and what’s likely to get worse are mostly found on the expat forums in the vast majority of popular expat retirement destinations. Local English language media outlets are another reliable source unless they’re located in countries whose governments aren’t that keen on free speech.

Another advantage of researching real lifestyles rather than using surveys is that laws, rules and even demographics can change incredibly quickly. One example is Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s beachside city and a favourite holiday haunt for Cambodians and their families. Over the past few years, the resort has attracted a good number of expats who loved the laid-back lifestyle, bought or built properties and generally settled down to enjoy themselves. Sadly, some two or three years ago, Chinese developers moved in with devastating consequences for locals and expats alike, and the resort is now unrecognisable. Chinese-style development has ruined the beach fronts, some 50 high-rise casinos are in full operation, local shop owners have been forced out, sewage and rubbish is everywhere and the expat community has moved on to Kampot and Kep. Cambodians can no longer afford rentals and the price of land has soared, meaning locals are leaving their homes and businesses as well.

The above hasn’t made the major news outlets, neither is it mentioned in expat-aimed advertorials, but it’s all over Cambodia’s expat forums, thus warning off those who were considering the beachside location as a retirement hub or for a small business start-up. Another example of the importance of local news getting to would-be expats is the present upheaval in financial requirements for Thailand’s so-called retirement visa. Although it, too, hasn’t made world news, it’s all over local media and forums, and may well deter those who were considering the country as a secure home from home in their older years. In this case, the reality contradicts just about every advertorial extolling Thailand as the perfect retirement destination for UK and USA pensioners. It’s also a good argument for would-be expats to steer clear of surveys and get their information online from those who’re actually living it. In these troubled times, expat voices really do matter.
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