Where Should I Move?
Ask anyone who’s moved overseas for a work stint for either themselves or their partner and I’m pretty sure they’ll tell you, it was a mind-altering and mind-expanding experience, and one that is likely, never to be forgotten.
Even if it wasn’t quite the job of their dreams or the place they’d hoped would become their home away from home, people generally come out of these experiences a little wiser (and jaded). No just kidding! I mean fulfilled, of course! Changed forever.
So, if you just happen to be toying around with the idea of moving overseas or find yourself in the enviable position of being offered a job abroad, this post might be for you.
Here are a few questions you might want to ask yourself first.
Does the Culture of the Country Interest You?
Now, here’s a good one. We all know that experiencing a different culture is a life-changing experience, which can be both good and bad. When I think about our time in Hong Kong and in mainland China, the cultural experiences we had, still blows my mind.
Was I interested in Chinese culture before we moved to Hong Kong? Truthfully, not overly, but I had been to Hong Kong before and at the very least, the glittering harbour city had me intrigued. It was so different to anywhere I’d ever lived as far as everything from the traditions to the customs, foods, ways of living and thinking. And when we lived there, whilst my mind felt like it was on a continual roller coaster ride, absorbing new knowledge faster than you could say, “I want to get off,” it was invigorating.
Of course, the more I found out, the more I wanted to learn, and the more addicted to living life on the edge, I became.
And of course, as you know, we then moved to the mainland and that was a whole different beast! But one I was eager (if a little naively) to go head to head with.
Suffice to say, your transition to your new home, will be much more rewarding if you feel positive towards the country and take an active interest in that country’s culture.
If the country you’re transferring to is completely alien to you, chances are you can expect to feel some sort of culture shock (which is a very real thing, trust me) and adjusting isn’t always easy. The more mentally ready you are for it, the better off you’ll be.
Ask yourself if you can handle the differences in living standards, language barriers, food, cultures, etc.
Imagine what it’s like to be somewhere where the usual holidays and traditions you embrace aren’t even celebrated, not even Christmas. It might be a tough ask but you’ll definitely find out what you’re made of.
For some, there are things that are simply deal breakers. And that’s ok. Not everyone’s cut out to live away from home. You need to really want to experience something out of the ordinary and be prepared to stick it out for the long haul, hurdles and all.
Try to find someone who’s lived and worked their before, to get their views on what to expect.
And if you can, having prior knowledge of the market your new role will operate in it will definitely be to your advantage. There’s every chance, you’ll hit the ground running with limited opportunity to do this. It will only make you more effective in your role if you can reduce what can be a super steep learning curve.
Are You Allowed to Be There?
This is an obvious one, but you’d be surprised to know how difficult it can be getting work visas for some countries and it often comes down to your home country’s relationship with the country you’re transferring to.
Obviously, if you’re going with a company whose sponsoring you, they will endeavor to support you in every way possible and the transfer process is likely to be a lot easier. You’ll still need to comply with all the regular rules and regulations of getting a visa in that country though. Take our first visa experience in China for instance, you can read here for some idea of what we went through! Chaotic and confronting, to say the least!
Oh, and there’s nothing worse than getting everything ready to move, both mentally and physically, only to be told you can’t get a work visa.
This also goes for spouses accompanying you, make sure they’re up to date with the country’s laws and their expectations aren’t going to be crushed when they arrive. Some partners might expect to start a job instantly too, but just because you’re living there with your employed spouse, there are many countries you simply won’t be able to work in.
And make sure your visa doesn’t expire while you’re there. In some countries this means grave consequences, like deportation or even imprisonment. And do make sure you dig out all that paper work and pack it safely in your luggage.
Here are a few expat mistakes I’ve learned along the way, that you can hopefully avoid. 😉
What Job Prospects Are There For You?
Chances are you will want more than just a ‘living’ wage when you make the gigantic decision to move to a new country. You’ll be leaving behind much of your support network and you’ll likely incur a lot of expenses during your adjustment period.
Obviously, it’s a far better option to have a job waiting for you in your destination country, but if that’s not the case, be sure to arm yourself with enough savings to last you, until you are, at the very least, employed. In fact, even if you have been guaranteed immediate employment, it can never hurt to have savings for that rainy day. You never know what can go wrong and in a strange country, this could make or break you.
Check out the country’s wage and tax structures and make sure you know the legalities on filing tax returns there and back home.
What salaries and living expenses can you expect?
While we’re on salaries, when you’re talking about lifestyles in different countries, gross salaries aren’t always the perfect predictor of the quality of life you can expect. Different countries can mean vastly different costs of living as well as perks that don’t necessarily reflect how enjoyable (or unenjoyable) a country can be to live in.
For instance, a developed country like Japan, Singapore or Hong Kong with an excellent public transportation system may have relatively high living costs, but being able to move around easily and affordably can make all the difference. I’m thinking of Hong Kong with its affordable and efficient train systems and ‘cheap as chips’ taxis. There’s no urgent need for a car, which is a huge savings.
If you are presented with a ‘job package’ before you decide to take the plunge, keep all that in mind. The salary may be lower than what you’re used to but there could be considerable tax breaks and lifestyle savings.
Comparably, in mainland China, the cost of living was relatively cheap, but the quality of life was also significantly more challenging than back home. For us at least.
Look at how much food costs, power, internet, petrol, cars, schooling etc. All of these expenses can be game changers if you’re not prepared. Oh and if you want to know some of the cheapest cities to rent in. Check this post out.
While we’re on schooling, if you are taking children with you, it pays to know exactly what sort of schooling your country of choice has. Are there international schools, do they speak your child’s language, is the curriculum on par with theirs at home and how much are school fees? Moving overseas can be just as tough for our kids. Here are few tips to help them.
How Safe is it?
Naturally, political, cultural, and economic strife can be cause for concern, and these issues can directly affect crime rates and YOUR safety.
Even things like the traffic situation, as well as the state of public works and infrastructure, can have a direct bearing on your health and safety.
Think about how well buildings are made and what sort of weather conditions impact the country. For example, is it a place regularly affected by typhoons? If so, does the infrastructure reflect this.
What about hygiene standards? Do you need to be cautious about what you can and can’t eat? Are there quality hospitals and medical facilities in place?
Before you move, check whether the company you’re working for provides health insurance. If not, I can’t stress enough how important it is to invest in international health insurance. There are plenty of packages targeted at expats and overseas workers. Now Health International and other specialized insurers are usually able to offer wide coverage for lower rates.
How Important is it to Have a Support Network of People?
Some countries are especially popular destinations for expat workers, whether it’s because of the living conditions, geographical location, work opportunities, tax breaks etc. Moving to a new country or even just a different state or province can be incredibly difficult, and while I believe there will always be an adjustment period (I give it nine months, just like a pregnancy), having likeminded people who’ve moved out of their comfort zone, around you, will make everything that much easier. Of course, you want to try and meet the locals as well, but bear in mind, the more unique a host culture is to your own, the harder it might be to find fellow expats who’ve got your back.
Before you go, think about taking language classes and studying as much as possible about your prospective host culture.
On a work level, if you’re in a key expat city, join some local organisations, such as InterNations or the relevant Chamber of Commerce. Otherwise, seek out other expats in similar roles. It’s a great opportunity to learn and connect with likeminded career professionals and you won’t feel so alone in your new role.
No matter how hesitant you feel, if you’ve got the bug, I say, go do it! We only live once, right?
No matter how challenging and different to your own country, and no matter how long or short your stay is, one thing I’ve learned is you’ll never regret it.
Go forth and conquer!