When you go overseas as an “expat” invariably a lot of the ‘organising’ is done for you, under what’s known as an ‘expat package’. And while they are not seen to be quite as prestigious as they once were in the days of old, they do offer a level of financial comfort and help with acclimitisation.
Whilst they clearly differ greatly, from job to job, country to country, person to person, usually there are a number of perks that go hand in hand with living in a foreign country, whether it’s paid international schooling, regular paid trips back to your hometown, rental accommodation and food paid for (or at least partly reinmbursed), a car, a driver, or both etc.
And often many of the countries today that require expats to work in them are still developing, which means for the most part, your lifestyle is going to be a lot cheaper than the one back home.
Many companies have a rating system for the countries they send foreigners into, depending on the level of hardship they represent. The harder it’s deemed to live there, the more perks you get to make up for it, not to mention 25 per cent salary weighting, in many cases.
Xi’an in north west China is dubbed ‘a city of extreme hardship’ by many corporate companies, but sadly it wasn’t deemed so for us, with many more hotels in far more remote places in China, laying claim that title. Still, I’m not complaining, after all we did get to live in a hotel, and as much as that also came with its drawbacks, many of you will have heard me attest, yes that did mean I could dial 0 for room service, at any time, day or night!
Coming back the other way, though, requires a very different ‘state of mind’. (If you have to look at You Tube when it comes to operating the vacuum, let’s just say, you’re not alone!)
Still, in the eyes of many (including your employer’s) it’s your home town right? Or at least your home country, so on the surface, you should be pleased as punch and find everything fairly straightforward. Apart from a few acknowledgements, aka “we know this must be quite tough for you, settling back in” it’s just a case of quietly slipping back in and getting on with it, isn’t it?
For us, yes, a lot of it is remarkably foolproof (except those dang vacuums). With English as the native language it makes for a pretty good start. Just how far can you go wrong? Being understood wherever you set foot is a major bonus.
But don’t be fooled, setting up a new life is not without its challenges. First of all there’s that thing called ‘reverse culture shock’, which for all intents and purposes is a genuine thing! You may have read about our first few weeks Down Under in my previous post: Aliens Down Under.
“What do you mean, you keep mistaking the rumbles of the washing machine for fireworks outside?! This isn’t China!” A friend says. But to me, the latter seems far more plausible.
On a practical note, moving back the ‘other way’ can also set you back a small fortune, so be prepared!
A lot of the time, companies will foot the bill for specific things like flights home, temporary accommodation, storage of belongings etc, but they will often expect you to pay first and reimburse you, (sometimes much) later. Savings or a high limit Credit Card that works everywhere is a pre-requisite in a move like this. Even if you’re in line for a company credit card, it’s not always immediate.
So, when that call comes to move back home — as much as you’re either whooping for joy or (like us) quietly scared out of your wits – there are some crucial things you’ll need to get onto, pronto!
Without sending you into a pre-move meltdown (which is also highly acceptable), here’s the list to get you into gear! If anything, the big move will surely test your admin skills, not to mention your ability to multi-task especially when it’s all done in the middle of packing, unpacking, plane trips, hellos, goodbyes, old jobs, new jobs, old schools, new schools!
Sometimes the company you’re moving home with will help you organise this, but often they won’t or perhaps you are moving of your own accord, so the buck stops with you.
You’ll need to find professional removalists asap and have a set date for it all to unfold.
Shipping companies want inventories of everything you’re sending and if you’re coming from a country like China, for example, there is a list a mile long of things that can’t leave the country with you (i.e. no prescription medication, cleaning products or food). Some things can be a little on the absurd side, ahh hello ‘no Christmas decorations’ so don’t be afraid to challenge them.
You will usually be required to get three quotes for your company, which means three different moving companies coming to assess your treasures well before the big day!
Once the removal company is chosen, they will want an itemised list and possibly the value of everything you intend to ship back. Can you even remember? How about what’s in storage? A handy tip, is to keep anything like this on file for future moves.
It can take two or three days to pack your belongings, so be prepared.
And if you’re doing it yourself, we all know this is no mean feat. Even if you’re not physically packing your belongings in boxes, it’s a major effort sorting through a few years of taking shelter in one home. What seems like a small job can take weeks, so my advice – start early!
Shipping can take anywhere from several weeks to a few months so whatever you do, don’t forget to leave enough clothes, medications, kid’s toys, books, as well as important documents like birth certificates, marriage certificates, evidence of shipping, moving companies, bank statements, pay slips etc. (I cannot stress the latter enough)!
In saying this, you also need to check how many kilos you’re allowed on the flight home and if you’re up for paying for excess baggage, or if this is something your company will foot the bill for. If you need to get rid of things, start early, advertising amongst friends or on relevant online sights.
And it may seem obvious but if you’re somewhere that hasn’t involved travel (highly unlikely) make sure your passport is up to date with six months validity.
Check your previous contracts and make sure there are no clauses about repaying things you’ve received in the expat package, i.e. kids school fees in advance.
If, you’re not moving back into your old home or are temporarily renting, make sure you’ve got storage set up for your belongings when the shipping does arrive.
If you bought a pet overseas who has now become a bonafide member of the family, there’s no way you’re leaving your pampered pooch or kitty cat behind, right? But first things first, you should really check the rules in your home country. In Australia, they are tough! (Who can forget Johnny Depp’s dog!) There was no way we were getting a pet overseas no matter how hard Small Person pleaded (and mummy hoped) because it’s a long, long wait in quarantine and an expensive exercise. Also check with the company repatriating you as the return cost may be part of your package. (Side note: Back home, currently scouting pet shops!)
SELLING/BUYING A HOUSE
Perhaps you’ve got an investment property or a house that’s no longer suitable for your now larger family? You’ll need to look into selling this if it’s something you need to do to get a more suitable property. Set the wheels in motion as soon as you can. It’s not a quick task. Start with a call to your real estate agent back home.
If you do plan to buy a house, at any time of life, this is a pretty big life decision. You’ll need to make sure your finances are in order. (Which means having a bank account in Australia or the country you’re going to) make sure they’re willing to give you a home loan, research the legalities in that city, like capital gains tax, stamp duty, real estate fees, solicitor fees etc. If you are searching from overseas or simply don’t have the time to look once you’re back, a buyer’s agent is often a great solution. House hunting every Saturday is a big commitment! FYI – a lot of banks won’t talk to you until you are on the ground.
If you’ve been away for any length of time, it’s more than likely you no longer own a car… and if you’re like us, perhaps haven’t paid much attention to cars, models etc in many years. You’ll also need to research what’s out there and what’s affordable for you and your new life. With a new package that’s not an expat package, going home can be significantly more expensive. “Ah hello Nicole, that’s right, no mini convertible for you!” Oh and will you and your spouse both need cars? Can one of you take public transport? Don’t forget with buying a car, comes the added expenses of registration, insurance, tags for the tolls, finance, petrol etc. Thankfully as we found out, most dealerships will sort out the registration for you. Remember, you will need insurance before your car leaves the lot.
And if public transport is on your radar, check the current status. For example in Sydney they no longer take cash on busses and trains, it’s all about the Opal card.
Oh and is your driver’s license current? You may be required to drive the minute you’re home, and if you haven’t for sometime, there’s every chance you’ve neglected to look at your licence. Can you even find it? Dig it out and make sure it’s current or start organising how to renew it.
You’ve probably been covered under some pretty hefty health insurance as an expat… there’s every likelihood this won’t be the case back home and you’ll need to take out your own or potentially see what your company now offers and what that covers. Don’t forget, if you’ve been away for a significant period, things change in the local health systems. You may need to renew things like your local health card – as I found out, if you’ve been away overseas for more than six years, the equivalent in Australia, known as a Medicare card needs to be applied for, all over again!
You may also need certain vaccinations for your new country, particularly if your children are starting a new school which expects them to be up to date with the country’s specific immunisations. If you can do this in your current country, it will save one more thing to do when you arrive. If you’re in a second tier city like China though, it’s clearly not possible, so check out which doctors will do it as soon as you arrive home.
Next thing is to make sure you’ve got appropriate accommodation when you return home. If it’s not to your old house or staying with family…can you afford a hotel/serviced apartment until you find more permanent lodgings? Depending on the city you’re going to be residing in, these may not be cheap. Try Air B n B’s…which can be a little cheaper in the short term. Plus make sure you are set up with most every day essentials you’re likely to need.
If you’ve got children,
mum’s desperate for them they’ll probably need to to start school asap!
This can prove a catch 22 (and a major headache) with a lot of schools wanting you to be in the right ‘catchment zone’ before they “let you in”. Make sure you read up on this and know your options. One idea is to rent in the area you want your child to go to school in, but then you may also have the added pressure of buying property in that particular zone. Don’t be afraid to keep your kids home for a few weeks until things are clearer in your mind.
If you need to rent somewhere, and the city you’re returning to is not your old city, do some research on which areas will suit you and your family. Is it close to work? Will there be a commute required? What are the schools like? What’s around the area? And, realistically are the suburbs you like affordable?
If you’ve been living overseas in a city environment, you may find it difficult slipping back into suburban life. Perhaps you need to choose suburbs more reflective of your current situation, to ease yourself back into your new life and make assimilation that little bit easier?
Once you come out of hibernation, you may very well need to get yourself a new phone if you’ve been on a company phone. Or like me, had a phone courtesy of my husband’s company. You’ll also need a new plan or at the very least a SIM card. There are plenty of new options out there now so do your research. Most plans these days, do include the cost of the phone. It’s a good idea to check that where ever you are setting up home temporarily also has the internet, if this is also something that’s crucial to your daily life.
NO FIXED ADDRESS
As with anything like the above, most places (rather inconveniently) want an address from you, which can be a complete ‘p in the a’ when you’re in a hotel for a few weeks and trying to set everything up or in temporary accommodation. Can you use someone else’s address, a friend or someone in the family?
A lot of these “setting up” process also require pay slips, evidence of utility bills etc which can be frustrating, when you’re madly trying to explain you’ve just come out of Mozambique or similar. Yes, really!
During your time abroad, there’s a good chance you may also have let your bank accounts lapse. Check that you’ve got at least one account for your new pay to go into (often the company will set this up but it may not be straight away) and a credit card that can be used in your home country. If you do want to send your money back home before you get there.. we’ve always used OFX and they are a long time partner of Mint Mocha Musings. Click here if you’d like more information.
If you or your husband is starting a brand new job, this is more than likely going to take up a lot of the spouse’s time trying to settle in and process everything. You’ll probably be used to it – having already made the big move abroad (most likely) for work and returning home is no different. Expect the unexpected and to feel unsettled….knowing this too shall pass. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
If you or your partner that’s not employed is also looking for a new job, it can be a double dose of chaos. Try to manage it as best you can and remove those pre-conceived expectations of wanting it all organised NOW.
OLD STOMPING GROUND
You’re also (hopefully) likely to have a lot of family/old friends wanting to catch up and see how you are and there’s absolutely no doubt, if you’re like me, you’ll be wanting to touch base with everyone, immediately. This is where you need to hold your horses.
Take it slowly and remember it’s simply not possible to see everyone, at. the.same.time! Just stepping out of your comfort zone into a new country, even if it is home, can be overwhelming and fraught with new experiences, good and bad. It’s no longer your ‘new normal’ and settling in is a process which hopefully your friends will understand when you need to say ‘no thanks’ until the time is right.
After all, don’t they say moving countries, starting a new job, selling a house and buying a new home (each on their own merits) are in the list of the top most stressful life events?
And, remember to breathe….
This is repatriation.
You’ve got this!
**If you missed my post on making the decision to repatriate….check it out here!