As an expat, are you the elite or the hired help?
Every expat knows their answer. The answer is different, depending on the country. In fact, it depends on two factors: what country you’re in and what country you’re from.
Depending on where you are, and from where you hail, you rank higher in social status or you rank below others.
In one case, your job is something that very few if any native citizens can fill. In the other case, they assume you fill a vacancy which no one locally wants.
In one case, native citizens assume your salary is much higher than theirs. In the other case, because you’re not local, you probably earn a pittance.
Why? In both cases, it’s because you’re an expat. Let’s look at some examples.
Example 1: Local workers in Prague perceive foreigner workers from the West as the “elite.” Take me and my job here: I sit alongside of a few Czech management peers, doing nearly identical work. However, my salary is 1.5 to 2 times their salary, which is already several times the nation’s average salary. Sure, sometimes I get teased as being on an expat contract (which I’m not) or being overpaid (which I am), but I’m fine with it. Wouldn’t you be?
Example 2: Another personal example. As an English teacher in South Korea, my salary was well above the cost of living, easily allowing me to send 20-30% back home. And my accommodation was provided for free. Sound good? Well, the accommodation was actually a 12′ by 12′ classroom, complete with chalkboard and a long, fluorescent ceiling light. Instead of desks and chairs, my classroom apartment had a bed and dresser. Water was available from the school’s bathroom. So, while my commute to work was only a flight of stairs, I was clearly the “hired help.”
In verbal and nonverbal terms, the perception from the school director and his staff was that I was only a mouthpiece which spoke native English and my value stopped abruptly there. And I was fine with that, too, as it was all part of a great experience.
Example 3: Foreign workers in Dubai are the extreme -on both ends. Laborers from countries such as India, Philippines, Pakistan or less developed countries may earn more than if back home, but are considered much worse locally. And the least fortunate will end up living in squalor in labor camps.
On the other extreme end, Dubai workers from the west, e.g. Europe, Australia, US, enjoy a lavish lifestyle, commonly including free housing, paid school fees, even annual flights home -above and beyond a massive salary!
In fact, this is the case throughout much of the Middle East. But Dubai is arguably the extreme even when compared against its neighbors. If you can respect some particularly strict social laws, then get a job anywhere in the Middle East, and you’re living large!