Help And Support For New Expats And Retirees Overseas
The thought of being a stranger in a strange land is exciting for some and paralyzing for others. Expats are by nature an adventurous lot; still, many would-be expats are overwhelmed by the prospect of being so “out of their element,” so they never leave their home porches. Some boldly go on their exploratory trips only to return home overwhelmed and intimidated. This is why it’s so important to plug into networks of expats in your destination country.
One organization that I have found to be very valuable in this context is the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham). Most countries have AmCham offices that are also members of regional organizations, such as the Association of American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America (AACCLA). These are private-sector entities and boast membership rolls full of expats.
These members are not the expats swinging in hammocks with margaritas in one hand and fishing poles in the other (though there’s nothing wrong with that, of course). These AmCham members are energetic businessmen and -women who could perhaps best be described as modern-day pioneers. Many have had to forge their own relationships with local businesses and government agencies. They’ve taken their lumps, and like true entrepreneurs they’ve learned their lessons, grown savvier, and developed to become not only part of their local business communities, but also important parts of their adopted societies.
And they are an incredible resource. Some of the old-timers (expats for 30+ years) can tell stories Mark Twain might envy. They are able to steer the new, bright-eyed expat in the right direction and to advise who to associate with and who to avoid. As any businessman or -woman knows, choosing reliable and capable people to work with is one of the most important and also most challenging parts of launching and operating a business successfully. And, as any new resident in any area knows, it can be overwhelming to set up a new home, to find a social circle, and simply to live your life without a little help. Add on the task of doing all this in a new country, possibly one where you don’t speak the local language…and it can be downright daunting. As Robert A. Heinlein put it, it can be “…something like talking with an echo. You don’t get any argument, but you don’t get results either.”
AmCham can help you get results. This organization, everywhere it exists, operates within a network of reliable people who are both capable and willing to help.
In addition to social matchmaking and business facilitation, AmChams also help to provide links between the private sector and the local government of a country, as well as the U.S. Embassy. AmCham offices are not government agencies or extensions of “big brother.” They provide a means for connecting with local government in practical and pragmatic ways to assist your agenda, whatever it might be.
AmCham offices are all operated on a voluntary basis. These are groups of businesspeople who genuinely care about providing quality business resources for incoming expats, as well as maintaining the integrity and the success of business ventures in the host country.
The first step to reaping the benefits of these organizations is to become a member. Each AmCham office operates differently, but the cost of joining is not great. For example, AmCham Belize (of which I am a member) offers an annual individual membership for only $100 Belize dollars (US$50).
AmCham offices host many events throughout the year, including mixers and celebrations marking local and globally recognized holidays. Phil Hahn, the president of AmCham Belize (and my dad), reports that this year AmCham Belize will be hosting a Harbor-Cruise Mixer, an Embassy outreach event, and, on Dec. 21, an “End of the World Celebration.” These types of gatherings provide an opportunity to have a good time while connecting and mingling with people you’ll find make potentially very good partners, both socially and professionally.
Joseph Campbell told us to “Follow your bliss and doors will open for you that you never knew existed.” Wherever your paradise may be, wherever you find your bliss, follow it. But don’t remain a stranger in a strange land. Instead, become a friend, in a familiar land. With some help.