I was speaking with a friend of mine about how I actually ended up overseas the first time (after the military) and we got to wondering how many ‘ex-pats’ there are. Now, I am defining an ex-pat as a person who works and lives outside their home country. My estimate was so absurdly low I’m embarrassed to say what it was. I found a link http://paragonrelocation.com/new-report-shows-record-number-of-expats-worldwide/ that says the actual number is around 50 million. Wow! And growing.
Interestingly enough, the top three countries for producing ex-pats are (in order) India, China, and the U.K. I am kind of curious that the Philippines isn’t in there since they have so many OCWs (Overseas Contract Workers - approximately 2.5 million as of 2015). And the area that has the most ex-pats working there tends to be the Arab Gulf.
Now, when I speak about ex-pats in the context of this article, I really am looking at white collar professionals. I’m not trying to be elitist, but I was thinking about people like me. The company that produced the report wanted GBP2,000 for it so I didn’t get it ☺, but I suspect a very large proportion of what they consider ex-pats are NOT white collar professionals. They tend to be, especially in the Gulf, manual labor, janitors, housekeepers, drivers, mechanics, construction workers, etc. And there are millions of them because generally the Gulf Arabs don’t do those types of jobs. Anyone who has worked in the Gulf will know exactly what I am talking about. And just hang around the World Center in Hong Kong on a Sunday and see the throngs of Filipina and Indonesian housemaids.
So, this article is really about IT professionals, engineers, finance specialists, project managers, and other professionals.
Not only am I a TCK, but I have been working and living overseas pretty much my entire life. From the time I was an infant I was traveling overseas with my parents, then I had a brief interlude in the military, and following that I went right back to being a professional expatriate.
Why am I writing about this? Because I think that working and living the ex-pat lifestyle is one of the most rewarding ways to live life that I can imagine. It is responsible for me being the person I am today. Not only am I proud of that person, but I have led a life that few people could. And I have enjoyed it immensely.
I thought I would talk about some of the factors that are involved in living and working overseas. Not only from the point of view of how one might go about actually finding work overseas, but also about some of the factors involved with actually making a move and learning how to live in a country that is not your own. The article will be in three parts.
In this initial article I will address briefly how to go about finding a job outside your home country as well as factors you may wish to think about when actually considering a job.
In the second article I will address some of the issues involved with actually working in another country, and in the last article I will deal with the issues involved in living in another country.
When I went back overseas in the early 90s, I was really clueless. But at least I knew there was an overseas market, that I wanted to be there, and I had an idea about publications that might have possible job listings. And in fact, that's exactly what I did. I applied for several jobs in a civil engineering print publication. Why Civil Engineering? Because that’s what my dad did and I thought there were still jobs of that nature available overseas. I applied from the point of view of an IT guy and it worked. I sent out maybe 15 or 20 letters and resumes by airmail, (talk about dating oneself), and of those letters I sent out, I got a (single) reply from a Turkish company, interviewed, and a few weeks later I had been hired. I was incredibly lucky, looking back on it 😀.
These days, I suspect it may, generally, be much easier to find a job overseas. However, I think one is far less likely to be able to garner the high dollar expatriate type packages that were more prevalent back in the 60s, 70s, and so forth up till about the 90s. Those are just not that common unless you are a very senior executive. Or unless you get what are considered ‘hardship’ postings like in Iraq, Afghanistan, or the Gulf.
But I think it is easier to find a job outside your home country than it was years ago. The study mentioned above says that there will be an additional 5 million ex-pats by the end of 2017 – so, no reason not to be one of them. And in fact, if you want to go the digital nomad route, then it is easier still, provided that you have, of course, somewhat of a business idea, an online presence, have established how it is that you wish to work and what you can possibly provide to customers.
But if you just want to find a job working for a company then you should research publications/websites in your field and find companies that have operations overseas. Specifically research those companies, find out what kind of operations they have overseas in the countries you are specifically interested in, and then address your resumes accordingly. If you have a contact of some sort in any of those companies that may know anything about it, use them to the best of your ability. But research and due diligence will always stand you in good stead when you apply to a company like this for a job. That research will help you understand whether these companies provide anything in the way of relocation allowances, overseas allowances, repatriation costs on an annual basis, medical care etc.
So. What should you consider when contemplating a job overseas? I think the following are the standard things you need to be thinking about:
· Tax status
· How will your dependents be handled?
· Schooling (for children)
· Health Care
Relocation: Who will pay for this and to what extent? Will they move household goods? What about your dependents, if any? Personally, I would recommend against moving all your household goods to another country. I went through that numerous times with my parents, and I attempted it one time on my own. It just doesn't work very well. Sea freight is slow, stuff gets damaged, maybe the voltage on electrical equipment will be different, etc. Now in the 60s and 70s, when I was growing up, and moving all around the globe, in some of those countries in Africa and Asia, it was very difficult to get some of the things that you might want for regular household. Thus it was worth it to get stuff shipped to you. However, now, that is certainly not the case. For myself, and I grant that I am a bachelor, I can pretty much move from one country to another, with two, maybe three large suitcases and my carry-ons. Now that presumes that I am going to get lodging in, most likely, a furnished condominium of some sort. If you are a family, and you are moving, that may of course be untenable. So, you have to judge exactly what you may or may not need to move. But for the most part in almost any country you go to you should be able to find adequate furniture and appliances. But it is true, in many countries, that stuff that you take for granted you should be able to find high quality at a reasonable price… well you may find it, but it may not be a reasonable price. And I will mention here a number of items that I have had personal experience with… Mattresses, pillows, clothes, appliances, etc. I have a friend who is manic about the quality of the mattress he sleeps on and as a result he spends a huge amount of time hunting for mattresses and he will usually never get them at the same price that one can get them for in United States. And clothes. Especially if you are a large sized westerner, finding clothes in your size in places like Asia may be problematic.
Tax Status: Regardless of your country of origin, you need to ascertain what your tax status will be. Will you be responsible for taxes in the other country? What will your tax status be in your country of origin? Is there a tax treaty between your country of origin and the country in which you'll be working? All these and other questions you should have prepared when you end up actually talking to the company about the job. Not only for your own benefit, but also it will show the company you are interviewing with that you are a sharp cookie.
Dependents: How will they be handled? Will you get an allowance for moving them? Will your housing allowance (if any) cover a larger house? And what about schooling for the children? All questions to consider.
Transport: Will you need a car? How much will it cost? In some places, public transport is fine. In others, you may absolutely need a car. What are driving conditions there like? What is the relative expense of a car compared to where you are from? Singapore for example, even a small economy vehicle will run close to $US100,000 because of the egregious extra taxes which they impose to restrict the number of cars on the road. If the company will cover this or assist, well great. But if it is all on your shoulders, that is another thing altogether. And keep in mind, as a foreigner in another country, it is highly unlikely that you can easily get a loan for a vehicle.
Remuneration: When all factors are considered, are they planning to pay you enough? Look at that carefully. I am not going to cover this in detail. Common sense should be able guide you here. But you need to look closely at what your costs will be on the ground. They almost certainly will not be what they are in your home country.
Health Care: When you’re young and in good health medical care may not seem so important, but you still need to consider it, especially if working in a country that has less developed medical care facilities. And how will health insurance be handled? Will your dependents (if any) be covered?
So these are all the mundane things that you need to consider when deciding to work in another country.
However – and we will address this in the article next time, you really need to think about whether you are cut out for doing this. I.e. picking up to go live and work in a country not your own.