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Island enjoys a safe, chilled life say expats

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But, according to a new study, it’s also one of the worst places in the world to make money. Alix Norman takes a closer look

Roughly 70 million people around the world are expats; people who live outside the country of their birth through choice. The definition is hazy and hotly debated (where do immigrants and refugees fit in? How long do you have to stay before you’re no longer an expat?). But one thing, according to a new survey from expatriate platform InterNations, is clear: expats in Cyprus – which hosts thousands of Brits, along with substantial numbers from Australia, South Africa, America, Canada and Russia – are not terribly happy.

Published in mid-July, the 2022 Expat Insider Report, surveyed 2,000 respondents in 52 countries. And Cyprus did not fare well! While the top 10 nations for expats included the UAE, Spain and Australia, Cyprus was relegated by respondents to 49th place – fourth from the bottom. And there seems to be one, major gripe: work.

‘Expats [in Cyprus] are unhappy with their personal career opportunities and working hours,’ reveals the study. ‘Nor do they see a purpose in their job. 28 per cent feel they are not fairly treated and rate their personal finances negatively.’

When it comes to disposable household income, it’s the same thing: almost half of respondents said they weren’t making enough to live comfortably, and over 80 per cent had a gross income of less than $50,000 a year (compared to the global average of just over 50 per cent).

“I’ve yet to meet a local expat who’s not struggling financially,” says Lorna, a 49-year-old Brit based in Limassol. “Granted, my circle doesn’t extend to wealthy Russians of multi-national employees, but most of the expats I know are having a hard time of it.”

Single-mum Lorna has lived in Cyprus for years. She still loves the island, and couldn’t imagine moving back to the “greyness of England. But I feel life here is becoming increasingly difficult for expats,” she says. “During the pandemic, I couldn’t pay the rent on my café and had to close down. Suddenly, at the age of nearly 50, I couldn’t feed myself or my daughters.

“It’s been my experience that you can survive here, but you can’t save money,” she adds. “Though if you’re after a safe, chilled life, Cyprus is the place to be. I live in the very centre of Limassol, but I feel completely safe – you can’t say the same for any British city, can you?”

Louise brings up a good point. In the report, one of the few categories in which Cyprus scored well was Safety and Security, placing 28th out of the 52 nations surveyed. It also ranked 27th for Ease of Settling In, 28th for Finding Friends, and 29th for Local Friendliness – proving that, if nothing else, we’re a fairly welcoming place.

“Chris and I moved out to Paphos in late 2019 – possibly the worst time!” says 59-year-old Geraldine. “Chris was born in South Africa but his family roots were here. So the plan had always been to move to Cyprus when we had enough saved.”

The couple sold their Johannesburg shops and relocated “on a trial basis. We originally thought we might start another business in Cyprus,” says Geraldine, “but the pandemic got in the way. Thankfully, we had enough saved to call it a day, or I don’t know what we would have done. I know local expats who are still struggling for every cent when they should be thinking about retirement.”

Despite this, says Geraldine, fitting in was easy. “We made friends very quickly, and there’s rarely a day goes by when we’re not attending a meeting or club. It’s such a small place that it’s easy to get to know people, and everyone is very welcoming.”

But, expats actively looking for work in Cyprus often have a harder time of it, the survey suggests. The island scored second from last in Work Culture and Satisfaction, third from last in Career Prospects, and fourth from last in Working Abroad. It was also in the bottom 10 for Salary and Job Security, Personal Finance, and Work and Leisure – categories that all reflect the difficulty of finding (and keeping) rewarding, well-paid employment.

“I honestly thought it would be easy,” says 24-year-old James, who left Australia for Cyprus in April. “I’d finished my degree in Digital Media; I had friends in Larnaca who talked about all the sun, sea and parties. So I thought why not? Everything digital is in English; it’s not like there’s a language barrier.”

In actuality, James is still searching for a fulfilling, well-paid job. “I guess it’s who you know, not what you know,” he laments. “I did some work for a local FOREX company, but the hours were insane and there was no security. And the pay was unbelievable – loads of my local friends still live with their parents well into their 30s. Now I can see why!”

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“I think the simple truth,” says Kevin, an American based in Nicosia, “is that the average salary might well be considered poverty in the States. At the same time, prior work experience counts for very little – qualifications are king in Cyprus, and woe betide anyone who has a degree that isn’t commonplace!”

As a former employee of the United States government, Kevin found his Masters in Curriculum and Instruction was unrecognised by local authorities and, like Lorna, had to carve out his own niche: “My wife and I combined our skills in people management, education, and psychology to create our own business,” he explains.

Bucking the trend, the recruitment agency makes a point of “working only with clients who are professional, treats employees well, and offers a good salary.” But it’s a drop in the ocean, Kevin concludes.

“I think expats know they’re not going to make the same money in Cyprus as abroad. They know it’s harder to find and keep rewarding employment. But the lifestyle kind of makes up for it. Cyprus is sunny, slow, and safe. Not a combination you see in many other countries around the world!”

 

To read more on the Expat Insider 2022 survey, visit https://www.internations.org/expat-insider/

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