Home is where the heart is… as long as it’s overseas

There are very few images more laughable than that of the typical Brit abroad; stone-coloured chinos, blue shirt and hat à la Michael Palin, or baggy shorts, scorched beer belly and balding but for a handkerchief.  Indeed there are certain places outside of the UK, on sun blushed coasts or amongst rolling rural hills, that closely resemble say Swindon or Crawley. But what is it that these adventurous explorers are leaving Britain for?

100 years ago the chief motivation for leaving one’s home country was one of two things; either forced migration to escape famine or persecution, or economic migration towards centres of business where money could be made. For many migrants these still form some of the principle reasons for mass movement. Whether it be Eastern European labour migrating westwards towards the UK in the search of better jobs and pay, or the movement of American Youth towards either the East or the West Coast, this is still a factor that spurs people to leave behind what they know and start afresh elsewhere.

The fact that so many migrants still choose to come to the UK as it demonstrates that the country, and in particular London still has comparatively higher standards of living and wealth creation that other areas. However, British expats seem not to be basing their decision to move on economic factors but rather on rather more aesthetic and leisure-based ideals.

Of all of the British expats registered living abroad, of which there were approximately just over 4.5million, only 35% had chosen to make their new homes in the top 10 economies of the world. More Brits chose Australia (can’t think why) than anywhere else, even though Oz ranks only 13th in the global GDP rankings. Yet China, the world’s second largest economy and tipped to overtake the US over the course of the next two decades, received only 38,000 and the vast majority of these went to the former British stronghold of Hong Kong. Perhaps most shockingly Briton’s second top destination for expatriation was Spain, which last weekend asked for a 100billion bailout from the EU, is ranked only 12th in the world GDP rankings and was earlier this week compared economically by several commentators to Uganda. This combined with the fact that Portugal, already living on ECB life support, also features in the Brit’s top ten underlines the fact that for UK citizens, economic reasons for leaving home are a very low priority.

The chief reason for this is that the vast majority of Britons leaving behind these shores have left work and retired; not so much silver foxes as silver migrating swallows, flying south for a never-ending summer. Reasonably well-off and looking for a place in the sun to settle, they care little for the economics of it all, despite the obvious danger of buying property in failing economies. But more worryingly, what it does show is the on-going reluctance of economically active Brits to start plying their wares overseas. The reasons for this are complex but this lack of willingness to interact with the largest and fastest-growing economies in the world means that Britain’s position in the Global GDP top ten, already reduced over the past year with Brazil knocking us out of 6th place,  is, at best, very insecure indeed.