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American expats find better work-life balance but limited career growth abroad

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Americans are more likely than their global counterparts to move abroad for love or to seek out adventure, according to The Future of Working Abroad report from Internations, an online community of expats around the world.

In a survey of 8,313 working expats living in 175 destinations, just 36% of Americans said their primary reason for moving abroad was related to their job, compared with 47% of global expats who gave the same reason.

Instead, Americans are more likely than the global average to say they moved away from the U.S. in order to live in their partner's home country or to pursue a relationship (16%, compared with 10% of global expats) or because they were looking for an adventure or personal challenge (8%).

By contrast, the third most-cited reason for global residents to move abroad is to attend school or university (8%).

Americans embrace flexible work while abroad

The Internations report finds American expats on average are slightly older than the global average of people who move abroad: 47.8 years old versus 43.1 years. The most common countries Americans move to are Germany, Italy, Mexico, China and Japan.

One in four works in education, including teaching English, which is above and beyond the share of expats working in education from any other country. Other top industries for Americans abroad include working in IT and in marketing, advertising and communications.

Americans are much more likely to work as a freelancer, 21%, compared with others around the world, 11%. The ability to set your own schedule in a new career, and be surrounded by a more leisurely way of life, could be a uniquely American reason for leaving the country to work abroad.

A recent Gallup report found that U.S. workers are some of the most stressed employees in the world, with rates of daily stress, worry, sadness and anger trending upward since 2009 and made worse during the pandemic.

Even expats working in the U.S. rate their own work-life balance worse (29% negative) compared with expats working anywhere else (16% negative), according to the Internations report.

The adage "that 'people in the U.S. live to work, while others work to live' probably has a bit of truth in it," says Internations CEO Malte Zeeck.

Meanwhile, American expats are overwhelmingly happy with the newfound work-life balance they get while living and working abroad and rate their job security and working hours favorably. A majority 78% say they're able to work remotely in their current jobs abroad, and roughly half telework full-time.

They could be trading happiness at the expense of career growth

However, Americans might be gaining better work-life balance at the expense of having fewer opportunities to advance in their careers while they're abroad. Less than half, 45%, rate their local career opportunities favorably.

Relocating internationally could result in a career stall, if not setback, if the worker has to overcome a language barrier, navigate a limited local job market or figure out how their educational qualifications translate to a new country, Zeeck tells CNBC Make It.

American expats are also more likely to work part-time, which could reflect that they skew older and could be nearing retirement. By age range, just 19% of American expats in their 30s work part-time, compared with 28% of those in their 50s and 45% of U.S. expats 60-plus.

"As expats get older, they are probably preparing for their retirement already and may be drawing on savings and investments to get a better work-life balance with fewer hours spent at work," Zeeck says.

Meanwhile, Americans who move for the sake of their partner's career are also more likely to have a part-time job, possibly because they're struggling to find a job that matches their own qualifications, or if they have to overcome a language barrier.

Further, American expat spouses may also choose to focus on supporting their partner and taking care of their family after a move, Zeeck says. "Especially among traveling spouses — those who relocate from the U.S. because their partner found a job abroad — the quota of part-time workers is fairly high at 45%."

Check out:

The top 10 countries where expats are happiest with work, life and cost of living

Here’s how expats living in the U.S. rate work-life balance, cost of living and overall happiness

U.S. workers are among the most stressed in the world, new Gallup report finds

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