Are expat clubs out of fashion

Published:  26 Jul at 6 PM
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Once upon a time, if you became an expat in any one of dozens of far-flung destinations, it was almost obligatory to join at least one local expat club.

Over the years, expat clubs have been seen as a refuge for expats fresh from thier home countries. Reasons given for becoming members of an organisation run by volunteers and aimed at creating a social scene were many, including making new friends, practical help for newbies, advice on immigration and visas, interesting talks by long-term expatriates, networking and tips on how to avoid the pitfalls of living in an unfamiliar culture.

By the end of the 20th century, such clubs were popping up in even the most unlikely corners of the planet and were attracting a growing number of members. Some 50 years ago, a plethora of expat-aimed social clubs were set up on Spain’s Costa del Sol, mostly catering for older expatriates and retirees from the UK, America and mainland Europe.

English-speaking groups such as the British Society and the American Club had hundreds of members, creating a home from home for all. It wasn’t long before expat hubs in other favoured expatriate destinations were founded, even as far away as Asia and the Middle East, all offering much the same services and assistance.

Fast forwarding to the present day, the original Spanish clubs are either failing or defunct, with memberships falling from the high hundreds to under 100 mostly elderly expats and few new members. Reasons given include the sad fact that the majority of original members are long dead or returned to the home country, and younger expats don’t have any interest in the clubs’ activities.

Another reason might be that, over the past decade, the focus on services provided seems to have shifted to the creation of a captive audience susceptible to the hard sell of everything from overpriced, touristy activities through sales of off-plan condos to downright dodgy financial advice from unqualified, often illegally working expat IFAs backed up by unprincipled offshore insurance companies.

It’s not just the Spanish and other mainland European clubs who’ve allowed these unwelcome changes, as the syndrome is alive and kicking in Asia and other far-flung outposts. Hopefully, newly-arrived expats looking to enjoy a social life with like-minded people may well decide to reinvent the entire expat club concept, perhaps using the wonders of the internet age to create a self-help society happy to welcome all who simply need friends.
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