I wrote about this topic previously but have new and surprising data.

According to a 2021 Pew Research study, 93% of ADULTS with a college degree have traveled internationally, and about 70% of that group have visited 3 or more countries.

WOW.

My perception is that 100% of my peers have traveled internationally – and it appears my perception was spot on.

Pew’s percentages are higher than reported by other studies, but this is likely because they are estimating for a subset: ADULTS (thereby excluding children) who also have a 4-year or higher college degree.

The Pew study found that 90% of American adults whose household income is greater than $80,000/year have traveled internationally. About 72% of those with incomes between $30,000 and $80,000 have traveled. International travel falls to 48% of those with less than $30,000. (Keep in mind that incomes vary over time – a person may today be retired on a limited income but had a greater income in the past when they traveled.)

In 2018 (pre-pandemic) between about 7 and 11 million Americans traveled abroad every month (depends on month, more in the summer, for example).

How many Americans have, at some point, lived in another country?

Could not find an answer to that so came up with a broad estimate – and it appears to be near 1 in 3 residents of the U.S. have lived in another country at some point in their life.

How could this be true?

  • An estimated 15% of U.S. residents were born in another country. For some states, such as California, the percentage is higher, at about 27%.
  • In any year, about 3% of Americans are living or working abroad (not including military personnel). This group includes persons who work abroad for 6 months, or a few years, and then return. Over time, this cumulatively is a large percentage as new persons replace those who have returned to the U.S. For example, if the rotation in this group is 1/2% per year, that could add up to 10% of the population over 20 years, and more over a longer period of years.
  • I understand most military personnel will be stationed abroad at least once during the time in the military – about 1 million are stationed abroad each year. As of 2018, about 7% of the adult population of the US was a veteran.
  • Almost one-half million students study and live abroad each year, as high school exchange students or as college study abroad students. Over a period of time, this adds up cumulatively to a large number of U.S. residents who have lived abroad. Up to 20% of 4-year students that have graduated, have studied abroad. (Note – the # varies by year and has been increasing over time.)

15% + 3% + 7% is 25%. That’s 1 in 4 U.S. residents.

Next, add in those who worked abroad in the past, but have moved back to the U.S., or those who have studied abroad, and this can easily add 10-15% more to the total over 20 or more years.

Thus, a reasonable estimate is 35% or more of U.S. residents have had experiencing living abroad for some period of time (ranging from a summer to years long trips).

Obviously, there may be overlap between these groups – for example, a foreign-born American resident may do a study abroad in college and then join the U.S. military, and then take a foreign job! My simple estimates would count that person 3 times!

A reasonable guess is at least 1 in 4, and probably 1 in 3 U.S. residents have studied, lived or worked abroad.

In a globalized world, who do think will move into management positions and grow their career upwards?

A survey of employers found that 64% were more likely to give “greater professional responsibility” to those with international experience.

Since that survey likely encompassed all types of businesses, the percentage is likely much higher in multi-national corporations and businesses that have international sales. In fact, within businesses doing international sales, this figure likely approaches 100% who will be more likely to give responsibility and promotions to those with international experience.

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3 Comments

  1. […] About 1 in 3 U.S. residents were born abroad, or studied, lived or worked abroad. I extrapolated that figure from published data. […]

  2. […] about 35% of the population. That figure does not include people who have merely traveled abroad. An estimated 93% of Americans with a 4-year college degree have traveled internationally, with 70% of those visiting 3+ countries, and 28% having visited 10+ countries. In 2018 […]

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