I grew up in the suburbs of Manchester in the 50’s & 60’s and never thought about working abroad.
The further I had ever been was London.
Becoming disillusioned with my life in Manchester I sought a transfer to utopia, London in the swinging 60’s, yeah man!
Needless to say it did not take long to realize that paying rent for the first time means you have to work two jobs to make ends meet. Even then I couldn’t afford to enjoy anything that was on offer.
After a few years of simply existing I started enjoying my life. Then one morning, the miners strike hit us and the British government answered with the three day working week.
Hold on, that was three days-pay-per week so back to two jobs.
Finding work overseas
As I was sinking further and further into debt I read an ad in the Telegraph.
Engineers wanted in Qatar, TAX FREE SALARIES
To be honest I had literally no idea where Qatar was or anything about the place. I just saw tax free salaries, free accommodation and air tickets and my only thought was “I’ll have some of that.”
10 days later, July 10th 1975, I was fully vaccinated and on a flight to Doha, Qatar. When the plane door opened it was 10pm and I almost collapsed as I walked towards the terminal.
For someone who had never left the UK, the heat was well above 100 F and I felt I was inside a convection oven.
The good life of a Permanent Expat
I grew used to the heat and really loved the holidays, I travelled a lot and went where I wanted and when I wanted. These were good times:
- 3 years in Doha, Qatar.
- 10 years in Dubai ,UAE.
- 2 years in Doha, Qatar.
- 15 months in London, UK.
- 1 year Dubai, UAE.
- 10 years Muscat, Oman.
Looking for a base
In 2002 disillusioned with the Middle East I decided not to renew my contract.
I did not know what I was going to do. I felt I had to setup a base and put down some roots.
I must have been dreaming.
After a few weeks of crashing at my mother’s, I went down to London for an interview and was met with
“You have no UK work history”
“You can’t do that its not your job description”
“How do we know you will not be looking to go overseas again”
Back on the road
I then called a contact, at an international hotel chain in London who I had worked with on projects in Dubai and Oman. I basically wanted to get contacts on who might be recruiting.
During the meeting he received a frantic call from the general manager of a property in Africa. Their chief engineer had just literally dropped dead and needed a replacement immediately.
The question was not can you go but WHEN?
So two days latter I was off to Madagascar and I can assure you it is nothing like the movie. It is the nearest thing I have seen to hell on this earth.
We managed to get an engineer from South Africa to transfer so my stay there was only a month.
On my way back to the UK I was advised at the transit desk in Amsterdam that my flight to Manchester had been changed.
I was now going to South America.
Once I arrived I was advised to carryout technical audits on five properties in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, and Costa Rica
As soon as I finished I got sent to Prague to project manage the disaster recovery of the property after the floods of 2002.
Then off to Athens to open the refurbished property for the 2004 Olympics.
Finally I ended in Guam, a tiny island in the Pacific, to manage a large refurbishment project for the international hotel chain I work for.
Just when I was getting settled there, I was transferred to Warsaw, Poland to open their new property.
When the hotel was opened I was promoted to Regional Director responsible for the technical operation of the properties in Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, Ukraine & Turkey.
I live in planes travelling four days a week, a different bed every night, and many languages and cultures to deal with.
Landing in America
I moved to the Portland Oregon 2 years ago and I’m still here now.
So after 36 years as an expat I should know what are the pitfalls of being a permanent Expat and the following are the major ones:
- You start to believe your life style is normal and will go on forever.
- You make acquaintances not friends as your life is one big airport transit lounge.
- You have no home base or sense of belonging.
- I lived and worked on 5 continents but do not in my heart feel truly at home anywhere.
- I own property, pay taxes but I am classified Resident Alien.
- I can not vote in my homecountry.
- I am a stranger to my country of birth and have less rights there than a recent immigrant or even an illegal immigrant. .
I am virtually unemployable in my country of birth.
Where is my home?
Where I am at that moment in life.
Would I do it again, definitely, without any hesitations.
This is a guest post by Kevan Gorton, a life long expat who works as director of property operations for an international hotel chain and for now calls Portland, Oregon his “home”.