The shocking failure rate of emigrating

Emigrating is a lot like starting a new relationship. But it's a new relationship with a country rather than a another person.

There's a honeymoon phase, where you're dancing on clouds. It's beautiful, it's new, it's beguiling.

Then there's the back-to-earth phase. It's no longer a physical and emotional holiday. Dancing on clouds is replaced by the practicalities of life.

And there's a doing phase. There's work to be done. Time is soaked up by all those things that need doing.

There might be a moving-in phase.

Unfortunately, at some point, there may also be a "WTF moment". This is when you ask yourself "How the hell did I get here?" and "Did I just make the biggest mistake of my life?". You have a simple choice. Work hard to get back on track. Or bail.

Around 50% of marriages end in divorce (source) and in my experience, around 50% of immigrants to New Zealand un-emigrate within 3 years.

Sorry about that hideous made-up word. Un-emigrate! My English teacher would have thrown the chalk at me for that. But is there a word that means the opposite of emigrate?

Of the 40 or so immigrants I've met, about half of them moved back to their country of birth within 3 years. I realise that's a long way from being a statistically significant sample, but it's my experience.

Before moving, I'd have assumed the emigration failure rate was about 10%, maybe 20% at most. I'd never have guessed it was 50%.

Of the people I know, a family of 4 moved back to Ireland and then wished they'd stayed in NZ, 1 couple split up, with her staying in New Zealand and him flying back to Holland, a family of 3 moved back to Bolton, England and are loving it there, 2 returned to Germany due to ailing parents, a couple divorced and he stayed in New Zealand but she took their (New Zealand-born) daughter to England, a family of 4 returned to Cambridge, England to be with their extended family, and a family of 4 returned to Somerset, England due to ailing parents.

I know several relationships that couldn't take the pressure of emigrating. My marriage was one of them. It would be a cop out to say the pressure of emigrating breaks marriages but emigrating is stressful, and that stress has an impact on relationships.

Often, one person stays in NZ and the other returns to their country of birth. That's no biggy if you don't have kids. But it becomes a huge deal if you do.

It sounds incredible, but I heard of a family where after the parents got divorced, one child then grew up in the UK with the mother, and the other child grew up in New Zealand with the father. So the divorce led to the siblings living separate lives on opposite ends of the Earth.

Most people get married for life. And most people emigrate if not for life, then certainly for the long haul.


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