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Updated 16 May 2021

While Covid-19 has certainly had an impact on public health, the world economy and social behaviour, it has also had an influence on people’s priorities and migration patterns. The reasons for people to either remain in their own country or move to another is predicted to change post-pandemic.

During peak infection times, many expats have managed to move back to their home countries just in time for border closures. Once borders are opened again though, moving to cheaper, less populated places will look more attractive to people than it may have in the past.

Will I stay or will I go?

One big consideration is whether a country or city has been labelled a ‘red zone’ or a ‘green zone’. ‘Green zones’ are places that have managed to flatten the curve, while ‘red zones’ tend to be big over-populated cities with high infection rates. It may be difficult to predict exactly which countries will be affected by this, but large American cities such as New York, whose infection rate at times has been five times the national average, are more likely to lose people to the southern, more rural states that are less populated.

While America and the UK have fared relatively well in vaccinating their respective populations, countries such as South Africa are far behind schedule and may only reach their vaccination targets by mid-2022, and will likely see people fleeing their borders to countries such as New Zealand and Canada.

All you need is WiFi

Technology is another factor that could influence peoples moving patterns. As companies increasingly opt to close offices and have their staff work remotely, people are able to live anywhere in the world and earn their salary from back home. This is especially popular among young professionals who haven’t settled down with families yet.

Remote working has a positive impact not only on an expat’s adopted country’s economy as they would buy locally, engage in tourism and travel activities, and contribute to the housing market, but also on their home country’s economy as they would still be drawing their salary from there and paying tax. Meanwhile, local jobs remain safe, as remotely working expats won't take up employment in the local job market.

Costly living 

For young professionals who are buckling under the pressure of high rent, among other costs, moving to a place with a gentler cost of living is becoming more and more attractive. The result of coronavirus on struggling economies is an ever-increasing cost of living, which may be another reason for people to move to countries where they are able to enjoy lower taxes and a better lifestyle. The obvious added benefit of moving to more rural areas with lower costs of living is that they tend to be less populated and have lower infection rates.

From jetsetter to homebody

On the other hand, seasoned expats, who generally move around on work assignments, have realised during the pandemic the benefits that come with staying put in one place. The priorities of these people have changed from being driven by money to rather enjoying a good work-life balance. Being able to spend more time with family and friends during lockdown periods has deterred erstwhile jetsetters from wanting to travel and move around for work. And although this might have a negative economic effect on countries that are considered expat hotspots such as Dubai or Singapore, it could have a positive impact on these workers’ lives back home.

All in all...

While there are many factors at play here, the prediction is that Covid-19 will most likely lead to a semi long-term change in global moving patterns. Ultimately, the pandemic has shifted people’s priorities, and the reasons behind the choice of destination may no longer be based on where the jobs are, but where they can enjoy a better and safer lifestyle.


Further reading 

► See Expat Living for articles aimed at answering all expat-related questions. 

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